Thanks to O2 Germany and HTC Europe, I've recently received their versions of the HTC Elf. From O2 Germany I got a German Xda nova and from HTC Europe I got an English Touch. Since both devices are the latest and final hardware but neither includes all accessories nor came in the final sales-boxes, I'm not going to call it a review but preview only.
HTC caught some attraction when the Taiwanese device maker announced the HTC Touch earlier this month for some good reasons - with the HTC Touch; HTC introduced the TouchFLO technology to their Windows Mobile device platform and I'm sure most of you have read everything about TouchFLO and the HTC Touch already. Nevertheless, since O2 brings up the Xda nova on sale from tomorrow, it makes sense to have a closer look on both devices again, identifying the similarities as well as the differences.
Both, the HTC Touch and the O2 Xda nova are based on HTC's Elf reference design platform and with the Elf, HTC tried to create a simple to use but stylish device to attract the consumer market better. Therefore the Touch/nova misses some of the latest but greatest technologies while on the other hand it sports new features. The HTC Elf platform is powered by Microsoft's latest Windows Mobile version - 6.0 Professional which means it's a smartphone. Both devices supports GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 90/1800/1900 MHz while 850 MHZ is left. This is pretty unusual for HTC devices, were all the latest devices quadband GSM. Nevertheless, leaving 850 MHz makes the device cheaper in production and therefore it's cheaper on sale. Also left is UMTS, not to talk about HSDPA but this isn't a big problem today - not for the segment HTC and the carriers try to target with the Touch. On the other hand, the Touch/nova features Bluetooth 2.0 and WiFi b/g which makes it a mobile broadband connected device anyway - as long as a HotSpot is in range. Powered by a TI OMAP850 CPU at 201 MHz, the Touch/nova includes 128 MB ROM and 64 MB DDR RAM and both - HTC and O2 Germany are giving a free 1 GB microSD card with their versions of the HTC Elf.
On the back, the device features a 2 megapixel CMOS fixed focus camera for photo and video recording. And at a compact size of 99.9 mm x 58 mm x 13.9 mm the HTC Touch/O2 Xda nova weights 112 g only.
While the O2 and HTC designs are pretty similar, they have their differences. For instance O2 Germany decided to give the Xda nova housing a high gloss black finishing while HTC has given the HTC Touch a soft-touch like finishing:
Another difference, as you can see from the pictures above, is the button-layout. First of all both devices are reduced to the max. They neither have soft-keys nor application shortcuts or anything else most other Windows Mobile Professional/Pocket PCs have today but all you have are the two call buttons and the D-PAD. The soft-keys are not necessary because the screen is designed to be used with the thumbs and the application keys are left in favor to give the device a simplistic design. However, O2 decided to use bigger call keys for their device while the HTC keys are pretty minimalistic as well. I like both designs and it's always a decision everybody has to make himself.
On the back there is no difference and here you have the camera as well as the loudspeaker which is used for Media Player playback, etc.:
On the left, both devices only have the volume slider (no voice notes button):
On the right you have the camera button and in the middle the flap under which the device hosts the SIM and micoSD cards:
On the bottom, both devices features the HTC typical propriety mini USB port which is used for sync and charging the device as well as connects to the stereo headset, with right to it the soft reset whole and left to it the microphone:
On the top you have the power button only:
Most impressive anyway is the used TouchFLO technology, HTC is developing for 2 years now. It might be a coincidence that the first TouchFLO devices are launched just in the moment, Apple is going to launch their iPhone as well, but HTC hadn't find a better timing anyway since so many publications wrote about it since it was announced. How is HTC's TouchFLO working? Unlike the standard touch screens as used so far for Pocket PCs, TouchFLO features a steady acrylic glass which makes the screen rocking solid. On top of this acrylic glass, HTC added a thin clear film which takes the touches and unlike standard touch screens, this film reacts on wider pressure as well. However, it supports both kind of pressures - fine stylus and thick thumb pressure which makes this technology so unique. But this allows using TouchFLO displays with both - finger thumbs and stylus.
Also different from previous touch screen is the fact, that a TouchFLO display isn't counter-sunk in the frame but flat and the touchable area isn't the screen only but the whole glass area (like on the photo bellow where the area where the O2 logo is, is also used for navigation):
With this concept, HTC had in mind to make the use of the HTC Touch as easy as possible and making the HTC Touch/Xda nova a real smartphone. Therefore HTC also developed a new Today screen plug-in and a TouchFLO optimized user interface which includes access to the most important functionalities.
The Today screen plug-in is optimized to be used with the thumb and includes a big clock, weather information (including forecast of a given city) and a launcher:
Unfortunately O2 Germany left this Today screen application out of their Xda nova but reduced the overall Today screen look and feel and uses a slightly different launcher only:
The TouchFLO optimized user interface (which is used by both - HTC and O2 Germany) is a kind of virtual cube with three pages. As soon as the thumb slide from the logo bellow the screen up to the top, the main page of the UI opens which includes shortcuts to predefined (unfortunately to customizable or changeable) applications. Unfortunately, O2 (bellow right) changed this screen a little bit and replaced the Comm Manager shortcut with a Comcenter shortcut (O2's Comcenter allows to synchronize the device over the air with the Comcenter service by using SyncML), as well as replaced Calendar and Tasks with Wecker (alarm) and Notizen (notes):
While not part of O2's TouchFLO page, both - HTC and O2 are also using a thumb-improved Comm Manager with bigger icons for their versions of the HTC Elf which makes the thumb-use of the Comm Manager easier as well:
Sliding the finger from the right to the left changes opens the media page:
While Videos and Photos opens the Microsoft Pictures and Videos application, Music opens HTC's self-developed music player interface called Audio Manager. Sitting on top of Windows Media Player Mobile, this interface provides an easier to use interface to use the device as a MP3 player:
Sliding left again opens the call and contacts page:
Here you can add 9 contacts to the quick-dial buttons as well as you can switch to the phone interface or the call history and open the contacts application. The phone interface is also reduced since it doesn't include the call start/end button anymore but here you have to use the hardware keys instead. This leaves more room for the other buttons, like the number pad:
So far so good and the new TouchFLO interface is a pleasure to use and well optimized for thumbs. However, the biggest problem is, that most other applications makes no use of this anymore not to say that all other applications are the standard Windows Mobile 6 applications which means a user has to use the stylus sooner or later again.
While it might be possible to scroll through the Inbox to pen and read a received SMS or E-Mail, latest if you want to reply you cannot use the thumbs anymore because the HTC Touch/O2 Xda nova only provides the standard user interface including the standard SIP keyboard:
I wouldn't go that far to call this implementation ineffectual since we have to keep in mind it's still a Pocket PC/Windows Mobile Professional smartphone but new users which are not used to use the Windows Mobile platform (or PDAs in general) might get lost and irritated if PDA-like applications opens which have nothing to do anymore with the nice previously seen thumb-optimized GUI but which requires the use of the stylus. At least for the basic phone applications like SMS and E-Mail I would like to see a thumb-optimized GUI as well, for instance using the Phone application to read and create SMS and MMS applications since this would be the similar user experiences as on traditional mobile phones.
While we are talking about all the other applications - these are the standard Microsoft Windows Mobile Professional applications including Outlook Mobile, Office Mobile (but not the latest version with support for Office 2007 XML-based files which is expected to be supported with a later ROM update) and Windows Live and Windows Live Messenger.
For some reasons one application is left again - Remote Desktop. While it's part of Windows Mobile 6 Professional, the manufactures seems to leave it now (for instance also E-Ten left it in the Glofiish X500+). And while most users will never miss it, hardcore users will miss it for sure, especially because it's not available as a separate download from Microsoft to be installed after.
Both, the HTC Touch and the O2 Xda nova convinced me as a mass-market consumer device. The overall ID and look and feel of both devices is simply great and you cannot believe how small and the device is until you hold it in your hand. It fits perfectly into a pocket or hand-bag and I'm sure HTC, O2Germany and any other carrier which will sell this device will attract many customers.
Is it an Apple iPhone killer? By far no, it's not but this was never the intention to be. It might be coincidence (or not) that the release date of the Touch/Xda nova was so close to the iPhone launch. Also we have to keep in mind that the device isn't (officially) launched in the US yet, where the iPhone is launched next week while the iPhone will take until end of this year before it hits Europe (and even later Asia).
So what does the Europeans and Asians get today? A great Pocket PC Phone Edition, maybe the best consumer-oriented so far.
It's definitely not made for hardcore techies and geeks since it misses too much functionality, even if the TouchFLO technology will also attracts these customer type. While I can easily live without UMTS supports at such a device, it's a pity that it hasn't GPS included. Not that I'm a hardcore GPS user on Windows Mobile devices (I have a inbuilt navigation in my car anyway), the HTC Elf with its TouchFLO could be the best GPS Windows Mobile device yet thanks to the new screen technology. TouchFLO is indeed pretty inventive and it's a pleasure to use - as long as you are using the TouchFLO optimized applications. As soon as you are back to the standard applications, you don't have any benefit of it anymore but again you have to use the stylus. Might not be too dramatic if you don't wrote SMS, MMS or E-Mails but since I'm writing 10 - 15 SMS per day, for me it is dramatic because I don't want to use a stylus for such an easy task - not if I have a device which was design with thumb-use in mind.
Nevertheless, it works great as a (smart)phone as long as you are used to use PDAs. It might not be ready for the mass-market today but it's a start into the right direction and I'm sure, the next generation of TouchFLO devices will become even better. Hopefully TouchFLO is a technology HTC is going to make as a standard feature of its future range of devices; it's definitely worth.
The HTC Touch is already on sale across Europe for roughly 400 Euro without a contract. The O2 Xda nova will be available from today from O2 Germany from 49,95 Euro only - with a 24 month contract.
Cheers ~ Arne