It's a case of 'live by the stylus, die by the stylus' for the Windows Mobile-driven HTC Touch Diamond2. Unlike finger-friendly touchscreen phones such as the iPhone, the Diamond2 uses a resistive touchscreen, and you'll need a tiny poker to get the most out of this powerful device.
The Diamond2 is available for pre-order on CleverKit.com for around £390, and is expected to go on sale on contract in May 2009.
With the Diamond2, HTC has ditched the faceted piano-black case that gave the original Touch Diamond its name. Instead, it's gone for a sober-looking matte metal front and maximum screen real estate. In our opinion, the Diamond2 veers slightly too far towards understated and takes a wrong turn into boring, but it's certainly sleek-looking.
The Diamond2 sticks with its understated motif by having four very subtle buttons on the front. We found them large enough to use, but they could be bigger, since there's plenty of unused space.
The Diamond2 also has a touch-sensitive zoom control running along the bottom of its screen, which intelligently solves the problem of having a resistive screen: the lack of multitouch. Since you can't zoom with a pinch of the fingers, and zoom menus can be frustrating, a zoom control is handy. We found it rather fiddly, however. You have to swipe your finger along the control to get it to work, and we'd have liked the option to tap on zoom in or zoom out for finer control.
The mirror has two
The zoom control is just one of many ways in which HTC has tried to overcome the well-known user-interface quirks of Windows Mobile 6.1. We're not just being WinMob haters: even Microsoft knows that it sorely needs an update, and 6.5 is looming on the horizon.
HTC's TouchFLO user interface covers the hideous visage of the Windows Mobile home screen with a veil of more finger-friendly shortcuts for the main features. The TouchFLO home screen has a fun, sliding menu that you use by dragging your finger horizontally along a series of customisable icons. Each icon leads to a TouchFLO application that tries to capture the glamour of features like Apple's Cover Flow.
The menu looks good but, because the Diamond2 uses a resistive touchscreen, you'll have to exert pressure to make it respond. It's possible to make it work with a fingertip, but we often found that we accidentally selected things when we only wanted to scroll through a list of options. It worked better with a fingernail, but the best response was achieved when we used the stylus hidden away in the side of the device, like mad Mrs Rochester.
Unfortunately for the Diamond2, it's not 2001 and we're not willing to wield a tiny pointer to get stuff done on our smart phones anymore. The TouchFLO interface definitely makes Windows Mobile easier on the eyes, but, together with the resistive touchscreen, it's not as finger-friendly as we'd like.
And TouchFLO hides a dirty secret -- underneath it's still Windows Mobile. When we strayed off the reservation of TouchFLO applications, things looked as tiny and dated as ever. For example, Windows Media Player presented us with a list of music and video files so small that we could barely tap them with a fingernail.
Another problem with combining the TouchFLO interface with Windows Mobile is that the two don't always seem to keep in touch. For example, when we transferred over music and video using Windows Media Player, we couldn't find our video in the TouchFLO media gallery, but we did spot it in the handset's Windows Media Player application.
Similarly, when we stopped writing a text message in mid-flow, we could find it again in the Windows Mobile messaging application, but, when we went through the TouchFLO interface, our half-finished draft was nowhere to be found. With more practice, we think we'd learn to master these quirks, but learning to use the Diamond2 is almost like learning to use a new PC interface, and that's just too complicated for a phone.
Although we struggled with the touchscreen interface, the Diamond2 offers a good typing experience, thanks to the huge array of text-entry options, from Qwerty and alphanumeric soft keypads to handwriting recognition, with quick gestures for things like copy and paste.
We stuck to the Qwerty keyboard in our tests, because our handwriting is barely legible using a pen, let alone scrawled with a fingernail on an 81mm (3.2-inch) screen. The letters are too small for our liking -- once again, more suited to a stylus than a finger -- but the keyboard is responsive and didn't drop letters even when we typed our fastest. The predictive text feature is also fast and accurate, helping a great deal when we missed the tiny keys.
A series of tubes
Surfing the Web with the Diamond2 is a pleasure, thanks to HSDPA and Wi-Fi connectivity, and a great built-in Opera browser. One browser feature we particularly like is the default Google search box, which shows up on the home page almost instantly when commanded.
There's also a YouTube application built into the browser, so that you can keep up-to-date on funny nerd dancing and suchlike. We had no trouble accessing videos, and they looked gorgeous on the Diamond2's screen, with some of the smoothest playback that we've seen on a phone.
Along with its Web prowess, the Diamond2 keeps you connected with stereo Bluetooth and GPS, which works with the built-in Google Maps. If all these features aren't enough, there are thousands of Windows Mobile applications out there to download and install.
The Diamond2's 5-megapixel camera did a good job of capturing our photos in good light, particularly panoramas, thanks to an easy-to-use stitching feature. Shots were somewhat noisy in low light, since there's no flash, but still sharp. In bright light, we found colours slightly washed out, but we would trust the Diamond2 to take the occasional snapshot without any trouble.
Similarly, we found video recordings sharp, but the colour reproduction and responsiveness to changes in lighting could have been better.
The HTC Touch Diamond2 is packed with features, including great Web-browsing capability and a big, beautiful screen. HTC has done its best to patch the usability flaws of Windows Mobile with the TouchFLO interface. But, while we like TouchFLO's design, we feel it just doesn't make enough of a difference once you move past the home screen. We still needed a stylus to get the most out of the millions of tiny options, and the choice of a resistive touchscreen doesn't help.
But, if you don't mind wielding the tiny wand and you'd happily trade the instant usability of the iPhone for a barn full of features, the Diamond2 could be for you.
Edited by Charles Kloet