The HTC Touch Diamond is a brave new product that tries to capture some of the iPhone's popularity by featuring a finger-friendly interface that looks better than anything we've seen on a Windows Mobile handset before. But can HTC apply Apple's success by using Windows Mobile and a fancy new interface?
The HTC Touch Diamond will be available soon on most major networks for free on a monthly contract.
The HTC Touch Diamond looks fantastic compared to any Windows Mobile phone we've seen before. It's not too large or small and has a thin profile, which makes it easy fit into a pocket. Unlike previous models, HTC has added an attractive twist to the design of the back of the phone by using a prism-like surface. It looks less boring that your traditional smart phone.
The Touch Diamond's VGA (640x480 pixels), 71mm (2.8-inch) touchscreen is very sharp and displays pictures really well. Unfortunately, it's very glossy, so you may struggle to see what's going on in bright light. Another disadvantage of the Diamond's glossy surfaces is that they pick up unsightly fingerprints on the back and face grease on the front. Expect to clean this phone often if you want to keep it looking good.
Underneath the touchscreen, you'll find a set of flat, clickable keys. Interestingly, the four-way navigation key doubles up as a touch-sensitive scroll wheel in certain apps such as the photo viewer, letting you zoom in and out of pictures. Bizarrely, the scroll wheel doesn't work everywhere, which is a shame, particularly since we would have liked to use it to scroll through long contact lists or music tracks.
Considering its size, the Touch Diamond is packed with features. It's one of the most feature-rich Windows Mobile phones out there and boasts almost everything you'd need on the move. There's GPS that you can use with Google Maps -- it looks great on the Diamond's screen, too -- and HSDPA and Wi-Fi, which makes browsing the Web and picking up emails fast and possible almost everywhere you go.
A customised version of Opera Mobile also makes surfing the Internet enjoyable. It lets you see an entire page and then zoom in on the parts you want to see properly. Opera Mobile also lets you open new tabs, which means you can navigate through a few different pages without needing to open new windows. It's one of our favourite apps and it works well on the Diamond's ample touchscreen.
Another customised app offered on the Touch Diamond is provided by YouTube. You can watch YouTube videos via Wi-Fi or HSDPA and search through YouTube's directory or just check out the latest videos. It seemed to load videos slowly using HSPDA and worked better using Wi-Fi. Picture quality on the Touch Diamond was much better than any previous HTC incarnations, thanks to its VGA screen. Still, it didn't look as good as on an iPhone because the screen isn't as large.
If you're not in the mood for videos and fancy games instead, the Touch Diamond comes with a ball and hole game. It's simple, but very fun: you use the phone's motion sensor to navigate a ball into a hole by moving the whole phone. You can 'feel' the ball bumping into the sides of a wall and the pressure of it dropping into the hole. New games using the Diamond's motion sensor have yet to be announced.
This is by far HTC's most consumer-oriented handset to date, so we were keen to see how good the music player and camera were. Joining these features together is a proprietary interface called TouchFLO 3D. It's more attractive and finger friendly than the standard Windows Mobile interface but -- and this is a big but -- it doesn't run very smoothly. While we'd like to say that HTC has cracked the touchscreen smart phone with its fancy new interface, we think that it's still got a long way to go.
The TouchFLO 3D's music interface looks similar to Apple's Cover Flow, but it's fiddly to use and at times froze up. You're better off using the Windows Media player. Annoyingly, you have to use the proprietary headphones to listen to music, which didn't impress us at all.
As for the 3.2-megapixel camera, it took passable shots in daylight, but the lack of a flash meant that photos didn't come out well in low light. Compared to phones such as the Nokia N82 or the recently-announced Sony Ericsson C905 -- both of which feature better cameras and xenon flashes -- we really think HTC has to up its game.
The problem isn't that TouchFLO 3D is badly designed: it's that it's sluggish and incredibly frustrating to use. Sure, we like that HTC has tried to make it easier to access features like music and photos. Sadly, the overwhelming reality of TouchFLO 3D is that it's far too slow compared to the iPhone's interface.
What makes matters worse is that the Touch Diamond's screen responsiveness and the TouchFLO 3D interface simply don't mesh together in a smooth and reliable way. At times, you feel like you're dragging mud rather than pushing an ice cube. We often found doing the simplest of tasks, such as dialling a number or text messaging, tiresome.
If you're wondering how the text messaging interface fares, don't get excited. HTC has implemented a variety of finger-friendly, on-screen keyboards, but there's a problem. In certain areas of the phone in which there are multiple fields, particularly areas that haven't been meshed well with the Windows Mobile interface, the HTC keyboards cover up the your typing area so that you can't see what you're doing.
While the Touch Diamond might look similar to the iPhone and have a few of the same interface features, this is definitely not an iPhone. The Touch Diamond looks slicker than any Windows Mobile device out there, but it's still very much a Windows Mobile experience. Every now and then, you're launched back into the familiar but fiddly Windows Mobile interface, away from TouchFLO 3D, and that left us deeply disappointed.
Battery life lasted around two days with moderate usage, which is good for a smart phone that packs as many features as the Touch Diamond does. If you want to save battery power, then don't use 3G, GPS or Wi-Fi too often.
We found the call quality ranged from okay to distorted. Certain calls produced an echo effect, which may or may not have been specific to our particular review handset.
We had high hopes that HTC might have cracked a Windows Mobile touchscreen phone that could compete with the iPhone user experience. It hasn't. We're genuinely disappointed that while the Touch Diamond might look great and have more features than a James Bond gadget, it doesn't come together smoothly. On paper, it sounds fantastic, but using it was ultimately frustrating.
One glimmer of hope: if HTC can recreate a similar product running on Google's Android OS, then maybe -- just maybe -- we'll get a phone that can run with the iPhone. For now, it was a brave attempt, but it's not there just yet. If you're after a great touchscreen experience, we suggest you look at the 3G iPhone, Samsung Tocco or wait for the next iteration of the HTC Touch.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday