Hands-On With HTC Touch: Windows Mobile Innovation at Last

htctouchhands.jpgWhen's the last time you saw anyone make the slightest bit of innovation on the input scheme for Windows Mobile? Never? We thought so. But that's just what HTC's done with their TouchFLO app on the new Touch smartphone. TouchFLO actually lets you use the pads of your fingers—not just the tip like a stylus—to control things on the phone.

First, let's get the question everyone's asking out of the way. No, this is not an iPhone killer. It's not even close to being an iPhone killer. The TouchFLO app—which is the majority of where your touching is going to take place—is just a fancy launcher app on top of the Today street. Once you get past there and into the meat of Windows Mobile 6, there's not much touching to be had. And if you hate Windows Mobile, you'll still hate Windows Mobile.

That's not to say this isn't a step in the right direction.

This is how TouchFLO works: You can swipe your thumb (or any other finger) from the bottom of the screen toward the top in any phone to activate TouchFLO. Doing so actually takes a bit of pressure on the phone, as if you were pushing down with a stylus. Once you get it working, the TouchFLO app pops up.

You now have three screens you can swipe left-to-right or right-to-left to transition between. The effect is pretty much identical to Apple's Fast User Switching cube effect—though since this has only three screens, is more of a triangle than a cube. Each screen is essentially a bunch of shortcuts to the apps most commonly used on Windows Mobile, and serves as an improved launchpad over the Today screen or the start menu. There's email, SMS, IE, task list, Comm Manager, calendar, music, photos, video, call lists, contacts and even a Brady Bunch-style board with your nine favorite contacts.

So where does the touch come in? That was it. Swiping up to launch TouchFLO, swiping down to release it, and swiping left and right to transition between screens. There's also the large buttons that you can use your fingers to press, and the fact that you can scroll around in some apps with your fingers now as well. You can see why this isn't a real competitor to the iPhone.

And underneath all this touchy exterior, you still have the same old Windows Mobile 6. Once you get past the launcher and into the apps, if you hate WM6 you're still going to hate WM6. This is really the most important note. If you can't stand Windows Mobile, the Touch isn't going to change your mind. The specs of a 201MHz OMAP 850 processor, 128MB ROM, 64MB RAM, quad-band GSM, EDGE, and Wi-Fi have been seen in many other HTC phones like the Wing, and won't wow you in the realm of performance. But it gets the job done.

What is notable about this phone is the form factor. It's half as thick as the 8525 or the T-Mobile MDA, but still contains touchscreen and runs Windows Mobile 6 professional. The only thing missing is the slide-out keyboard, which makes this phone less a messaging and emailing device and more a read-only organizer. Boy, do we miss that keyboard.

But the Touch does have the rubbery texture found on both the T-Mobile Wing and the T-Mobile Dash, which still feels great. It's essentially a Dash if it ran WM6 Professional instead of WM6 Gimped, and you made the screen bigger and took out almost all the buttons save for call and end, a volume switch, the camera, the D-pad, camera and the on/off switch.

The call quality (including speakerphone) was excellent, just like it is all HTC phones we've used recently. The screen is flush with the rest of the phone, which is nice, and feels a bit harder to press than other HTC phones. That's probably due to the fact that you're going to be jamming your thumb into it for TouchFLO.

So in the end, what does the Touch bring to the table? A fancy launcher, somewhat usable touchscreen features, fancy graphics and even a revised home screen with a large clock, weather and another launcher. Do you need to buy an entirely new phone to get this? No, there are similar launchers on the market now, but none with the TouchFLO technology. But do you need to buy this phone if you want the thinnest Windows Mobile 6 Professional phone available? Yes.

It's available now in the UK, and will be coming to the US later this year.

Product Page [HTC Touch]

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