the past weeks I had the pleasure to use the recently announced
O2 Xda star (O2
Germany's version of the
HTC Touch Dual) Windows Mobile smartphone and if I say
I had the pleasure I definitely mean it was (and still is) a pleasure. Since the
introduction of the Windows Mobile non-touchscreen Smartphone, I haven't used
Pocket PC Phone Editions as my primary mobile phone anymore (except for some
shorter tests if I reviewed a device) but this smartphone I'm using now for over
four weeks as my primary smartphone. You might wonder what makes the device so
good, especially because it lacks some basic features like WiFi what I normally
request from all my smartphones? Well, it's the combination of design, size,
Windows Mobile 6 Professional features and HTC enhancements.
But first of all let us start with the specs. The O2 Xda star features
Windows Mobile 6 Professional and is therefore a touchscreen smartphone.
Unfortunately it supports triband GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 900/1800/1900 MHz and
singleband UMTS/HSDPA at 2100 MHz up to 3.6 Mbps only and while it sports
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR it lacks WiFi, not to talk about GPS. Therefore it's radio- and
connectivity-wise somewhat limited with a strong focus on the EMEA and APAC
markets but North American users, as well as international outbound roamers,
will be able to use EDGE at 1900 MHz networks only - if available.
Nevertheless, the other features, like the 2 megapixel main and front facing
CIF video telephony cameras, the Qualcomm 7200 chip at 400 MHz and 256 MB
ROM/128 MB RAM are absolutely state-of-the-art and the definitive highlights of
the Xda star are the slide-out SureType-like QWERTZ keyboard and the 2.6"
TouchFLO enabled Bio Touch touchscreen.
Typically for O2 Germany, the German carrier uses its own industrial design and
the Xda star
looks a little bit different to the HTC Touch Dual. Basically it follows the
design guideline of the
O2 Xda nova (bigger 5 way D-Pad with nicer arranged call
buttons) but unlike the Xda nova, the Xda star doesn't features a glossy housing
but a black soft-touch housing which is less fingerprint sensitive and
definitely feels nicer. Together with the chrome batten, it gives the rocking
solid device a great look and feel.
The device isn't overloaded with buttons and keys. Beside the D-Pad and the
call buttons it only sports the volume keys and the camera shutter. Nothing
else; neither softkeys nor the Windows Mobile typical Start or OK keys. This
gives the design a sleek look and feel:
However, as soon as you slide out the keyboard, you get the previously
mentioned QWERTZ keyboard (QWERTZ not QWERTY because this is a German device):
HTC offers two versions of the keyboard: a traditional 12 keys phone pad
look-alike version and a 20 keys QWERTY keyboard and O2 Germany decided to use
the BlackBerry Pearl like SureType kind of QWERTZ keyboard which means each
button features 2 characters. In addition, the keyboard features a full 10 keys
phone pad plus some special characters. For better usability, HTC added XT9 as
predictive text input mechanism which suggest the right characters and words
quite good. If a word isn't in the directory, it can be added manually to be
used later again. (see
the previous video for the keyboard in action).
Unfortunately HTC made a mistake in the implementation and the hardware keyboard
layout depends to the selected XT9 input language. As long as you have selected
German, everything is fine but if you switch to English XT9 (which can be common
if you often reply to English E-Mails), the layout switches to QWERTY while for
French it becomes AZERTY. That's definitely a bug which needs to be addressed.
HTC definitely invested some time to improve its
TouchFLO idea even more
the previous video view for TouchFLO in action).
In addition to the TouchFLO cube (which got a 4th page on O2 Germany's request),
HTC also improved the Connection Manager to make it more thumb-use friendly and
added QuickTasks which launches, if you slide out the keyboard (see
the previous video view for QuickTasks in action). However, QuickTasks only appears if you are
not in another application you might want to use the keyboard for (which
definitely makes sense):
QuickTasks allows you to create a new E-Mail, SMS or MMS straight from the
application as well as adding a new appointment, task, note or contact to
As I said, the TouchFLO cube features a fourth page now and includes two
application quick-launch pages, the multimedia launcher for fast access to your
music, photo and video collection as well as a quick dial interface which can be
Last but not least, O2 Germany finally also added the HTC Today screen
plug-in which was left in the first ROM of the O2 Xda nova. This Today screen
plug-in provides information about received messages and missed calls as well as
a customizable weather forecast, a customizable application launcher and access
to several phone profiles:
Application-wise, the O2 Xda star is nearly complete and includes, beside the
Windows Mobile 6 Professional typical applications like Office Mobile 6.1 (with
support of Office 2007 files), Outlook Mobile, Windows Live (including
Messenger), Internet Explorer Mobile, additional applications like Java ME,
Flash Lite 2.1, O2 Germany's O2 Commcenter SyncML client as well as a streaming
player (which can also stream
YouTube Mobile videos). Unfortunately Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client
was left again, which makes the device less attractive for administrators:
Optimized and slightly different to the original Windows Mobile user interface
is the software dial pad which is - again - TouchFLO optimized. Beside looking
different it also includes functions, Microsoft hasn't added to the original
dial pad yet - like a button for UMTS video telephony:
Furthermore, during a call, it offers you the possibility to open either the
contact's details or a blank note where you can enter some notes:
Also new is the camera interface which is - again - TouchFLO thumb optimized. No
need to use the stylus to change the settings or to snap a photo or record a
However, even if the camera features 2 megapixel, the results are still far
away from best in class Nokia or Sony Ericsson camera phones (bellow the
unedited original 2 megapixel photos - click to enlarge):
But anyway - for MMS and some blog postings, the quality is good enough
already but the 3 megapixel autofocus camera, as used for the
O2 Xda orbit 2/HTC
Touch Cruise would be the better choice. Nevertheless, snapped photos can be
viewed in HTC's new photo album application which is again thumb-use optimized:
This camera album allows you to easily brose through your photos, view them in
full screen mode as well as assign photos to contacts or send them via E-Mails as
well as MMS. Unfortunately, video isn't supported yet.
I said it initially that using the Xda star is and was a pleasure and you
might wonder why? Well, it's the combination of Windows Mobile 6 - which is the
best Windows Mobile version today, HTC's clever enhancements - TouchFLO works so
well that in most case3s you don't need the stylus, and O2's Xda star design.
The device is small and light, it fits easily into the pocket and it does what I
expect from a smartphone first: being a mobile phone. The TouchFLO/keyboard
combination is a pleasure to use, doesn't matter if you are looking for a
contact, if you have to enter a phone number or if you write a SMS or MMS
message. The most important mobile phone tasks are easy to use and the voice
quality is brilliant.
Furthermore it's a complete Windows Mobile Pocket PC and beside Remote Desktop
Terminal it includes everything I need. I definitely love the way HTC enhanced
some standard features and applications. Doesn't matter if it is the thumb
optimized scrolling through the contacts or web pages, switching between E-Mails
accounts or browsing though the photos - there is less need to use the stylus.
Even if TouchFLO isn't yet available for all applications (like browsing though
the calendar), HTC did definitely a great job if you keep in mind that they
still have to follow the Windows Mobile guidelines. Hope we will see further
improvements in the future as well.
Talking about the downsides: The missing W-LAN is definitely a downside for
me. Sure, it supports HSDPA up to 3.6 Mbps but there are reasons where WiFi
comes handy. Doesn't matter if you want to watch a movie via your Slingbox at
home or if you are in a hotel while travelling to reduce costs. The official
reason for leaving WiFi out of the Xda star (as well as the HTC Touch Dual - O2
hasn't cut it off but it's also not available in the HTC reference design) is
the fact that there was no space on the board. Might be true, could be wrong.
Quite frankly - if HTC enabled WiFi and maybe even GPS, there wouldn't be
another reason to by a HTC TyTN II or even a HTC Touch Cruise since the Touch
Dual/Xda star would combine best of the other two devices. So I can imagine that
it was left for commercial reasons which I can understand from HTC's point of
view but which is bitter for the user. Anyway - GPS can be added through
external Bluetooth GPS adapters and instead of WiFi you can use HSDPA, as long
as your carrier offers any reasonable data packs (which O2 Germany does).
Talking about Bluetooth and data: It took a little bit longer for HTC to support
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR but with the latest devices it's support. This makes the O2
Xda star a great wireless modem for Notebooks and I've used it quite a bit with
my Tablet PC. Speed was more than acceptable in HSDPA areas.
Okay - let me summarize why I like the Xda star so much: It's the design
(which I like more than the HTC Touch Dual design) and while the device is
feature-rich, it doesn't looks like a techie geek toy; it's the HTC specific
TouchFLO enhancement and the overall feature-set of the device; and - except the
missing WiFi - it provides everything I want from a Windows Mobile smartphone
and thanks to the customization, it's easy to use - even without a stylus which
I don't want to use for basic phone tasks.
The O2 Xda star is available since Tuesday this week, exclusively from O2
Germany. Without a contract, it retails for 419,99 Euro. Depending on the 24
month contract, it's available from 29,99 - 219,99 Euro.
Cheers ~ Arne