The HTC Touch2 was the first phone to hit our desk that runs the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5. And then it hit the wall, the floor and wherever else we could throw it, because Windows Mobile is still frustrating to use. But HTC has done a good job of covering it up with the TouchFlo interface, and the Touch2 is packed full of features, including free access to Microsoft's new My Phone online syncing service.
The Touch2 is available online for around £310 SIM-free. We'll update this review with pay-monthly and pay-as-you-go prices as soon as they're announced.
Resistive is futile
The Touch2 is a compact little creature, packing all its smart-phone prowess into a body measuring 55 by 104 by 13mm. It's very pocket-friendly, but, with a 71mm (2.8-inch) touchscreen, it feels more crowded than some of its competitors. It doesn't help that the touchscreen is of the resistive variety, so you have to exert some pressure to get it to respond. Resistive screens have been improving -- hello, Samsung Tocco Lite -- but the Touch2's isn't a good example. It feels squishy, it's not bright or vivid, and it sits below the surrounding bezel, which might make you feel like you're staring into a well.
The touchscreen is still usable, particularly if you use a fingernail or the included stylus. But it's not fun or pleasurable to whizz around the user interface, especially since the Touch2 isn't all that fast. Also, with Windows Mobile 6.5 and TouchFlo both on the device, we felt like we were stuck in the middle of a battle to the death between two user interfaces.
Go with the TouchFlo
Much of the hard work that Microsoft has put into its latest mobile OS isn't immediately apparent, because Windows Mobile 6.5's home screen, lock screen and 'honeycomb' grid of main applications have been replaced by TouchFlo versions (the TouchFlo home screen has a ribbon running along the bottom, offering shortcuts to the main apps, such as email and contacts). Also, the revamped Internet Explorer isn't the default browser -- Opera has this honour -- although this situation can be changed in the settings.
Straight out of the box, TouchFlo does a good job of offering up the main functions of the phone. But, when you dig deeper, you'll meet more closely with Windows Mobile 6.5, and that's where things can become confusing.
Visit the settings menu through TouchFlo, and you'll see five options for settings you can change. Go to the settings menu via the Windows Mobile start button, and there's a different group of nine options. Both routes have advantages -- the TouchFlo settings menu makes it quicker to access common settings, like Wi-Fi, while the Windows Mobile menu offers more in-depth options -- but having both routes available is confusing, and this kind of duplication is everywhere. For example, we managed to change the wallpaper in both menus to two different images that showed at different times.
Typing in tiny town
TouchFlo does a great job of perking up the virtual keyboard, using some of the tricks that we saw on the HTC Hero. For example, you can hold down a key to choose a number or symbol instead of a letter. That's especially helpful when typing passwords, which are often a mix of all three.
As well as the Qwerty on-screen keyboard, there's the choice of an alphanumeric keyboard or a compact keyboard, with two letters to each key. We prefer the Qwerty version, but the keys are very tiny and there's no landscape option, so, if your fingernails have been bitten to the quick, you're sure to struggle.
Something else we miss in Windows Mobile 6.5 is multi-touch capability, whereby you can zoom in on photos and maps by pinching your fingers together on the screen. The iPhone brought this functionality to town, but it's a feature now also shared by the Hero and Palm Pre.
The Touch2 makes up for the multi-touch deficit by having a touch-sensitive area under the screen that lets you zoom in or out by sliding a finger across it. We prefer this to on-screen buttons that hide parts of the image, but it's still not as accurate as multi-touch, because you can only zoom into the centre of the page. On a Web page covered in tiny links, zooming is essential, and multi-touch is so intuitive and speedy compared to other methods that we just don't want to live without it anymore.
On the other hand, we welcome Windows Mobile 6.5 with open arms, due to some useful improvements. The most obvious on the Touch2 is the inclusion of bigger, finger-friendlier icons and menus. The start menu, for example, is a staggered list of big icons, instead of the tiny icons of yesteryear. We only wish the makeover had gone further, because applications like Windows Media Player still look dated and haven't had a usability overhaul.
Back right up
Microsoft's app store, Windows Marketplace for Mobile, wasn't up and running on our sample Touch2. There was just a splash screen, boasting 'coming soon'. In the meantime, there are still hundreds of great apps for Windows Mobile that you can put on the Touch2, but there's no easy way to find or install them.
The other flagship service touted by Microsoft, My Phone, was up and running. Similar to Apple's MobileMe and Nokia's Ovi, not to mention a host of other offerings, My Phone offers a Web-based service that backs up and syncs your phone over the air. That means no more plugging in a USB cable to sync contacts, transfer photos and music, or back up files from your phone to your computer.
We found My Phone easy to use, both on the phone and in our Web browser, which isn't Internet Explorer. We especially like the simplicity of the My Phone Web site, and the fact that you can upload media files that you want to transfer to your phone, although huge movies are a no-no, since there's a file-size limit. The service lacks the ability to track your phone by its GPS signal, or wipe it remotely, but Microsoft says it's still in beta, so more features are likely to be on the horizon.
Besides these new services, the Touch2 is packed with the wealth of features that we've come to expect from HTC's Windows Mobile handsets. You can record video, listen to music in umpteen file formats, snap photos on the 3.2-megapixel camera, and save everything to a microSD card. There's also an FM radio, or you can stream audio over Wi-Fi or 7.2Mbps HSPA, and you'll hear everything as it's meant to be heard, thanks to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Touch2 is easier to use than previous Windows Mobile handsets, thanks to the combination of Windows Mobile 6.5's finger-friendlier interface and HTC's TouchFlo. This pint-sized phone is easy to pop in a pocket, but it offers a relatively small touchscreen, and, without a landscape version of the on-screen keyboard, you'll still have to wield the stylus, unless you have sharp fingernails. New services, like My Phone, should help the Touch2 bridge the gap with its competitors, but, until Windows Marketplace for Mobile is up and running, it trails far behind in terms of usability.
Edited by Charles Kloet