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REVIEW: O2 Xda trion aka HTC Hermes
Posted by Arne Hess - on Wednesday, 12.07.06 - 17:34:59 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 77410x
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For some time now, I've used the 300 MHz version of the HTC Hermes as well as the 400 MHz version of the same device, here from O2 Germany which is called O2 Xda trion. While the 300 MHz version was an early development and field test device, without the final button layout nor with the final ROM, the O2 Xda trion I got from O2 for this review is the final hardware, with the updated button layout, casing and colors as well as it features the new button layout. But even more important is the CPU, which is the same ARM-based Samsung 2442A processor as used for the 300 MHz version but clocked to 400 MHz.
This brings me to the overall features of the Xda trion. It features basically everything, a Pocket PC Phone Edition can features today, except GPS but the devices features the latest Windows Mobile 5.0 including AKU 2, communicates via tri-band UMTS/W-CDMA or quad-band GSM, GPRS and EDGE as well as via Bluetooth Bluetooth (compliant with v2.0 without EDR), W-LAN (IEEE 802.11b/g compliant) and the good old IrDA. Cable-wise it support mini USB slave connections and supports microSD memory cards.
The device has 128 MB ROM and 64 MB SDRAM on board and is powered, as I said before by a Samsung 2442A processor with 400 MHz. Last but not least it features two cameras, one on the backside with 2 megapixel and macro mode and another CIF camera on the front side for UMTS video telephony.
Two highlights of the Xda trion are the slide out QWERTZ keyboard (please note, that the device I received for the review is a German Pocket PC and therefore it's featuring the German keyboard layout) and a jog wheel - most of us might know from BlackBerry devices - for easy one-hand operation since it supports three way up/down (left right - depends on the application) navigation including submit functionality.
Last but not least, the devices features a 2.8" transflective QVGA TFT-LCD with backlight LEDs, touch-sensitive screen and measures 112.5x58x21.95 mm and weighs 176 g including the battery and the stylus.

Beside the device, the battery and the stylus, the sales pack includes a charger, a USB sync cable, a second stylus, several CDs and manuals (not in the picture bellow) as well as a wired stereo headset and a belt-case but no cradle:

Compared to the initial Hermes reference design, HTC redesign the button layout and added two more buttons around the d-pad. Before, the button layout was - more or less - the same as the HTC Wizard layout which included two application buttons for the Inbox and the Internet Explorer Mobile, two soft-buttons, the call start/end button and the d-pad. Now, with the final version, HTC also added a Start button and a ok button:

The new start button always opens the start menu, doesn't matter in which application you are and allows you fast and convenient switching between the applications. The ok button is either used to confirm popup-notifications or to close/hide screens and applications:

Talking about the Hermes compared to the Wizard. Both devices follows the same idea - providing easy input options with its slide out keyboards and I must say, the Hermes keyboard is way better compared to the Wizard keyboard. It's easier to find and push the buttons, since the keys are larger and plain to each other. On the other hand, HTC wasted some available space.

This makes the keyboard way smaller, compared to the HTC Universal, on the other hand it is more similar to the Universal keyboard than to the Wizard keyboard, even if it misses the fifth number row:

Nevertheless, while the Hermes features nearly the same footprint (it's slightly longer) of the Wizard, it's a little bit thinner but 16 g heavier. However, in the daily use, Wizard users will not feel a real difference between both devices:

As mentioned before, the Hermes features a new button layout concept and also on the side of the device, HTC added some more buttons. On the left you have on top the jog wheel, followed by a new Start/ok button, the voice dial button and on the bottom the microSD card slot:

The Start/ok button hide/closed application windows, while in an application and opens the Start menu, while in the Homescreen.

On the right you have on top the power button, followed by the Communication Center button and and the bottom the camera/shutter button:

On the bottom of the device, you have from left to right the infrared port, the (always required) soft reset button and the microphone whole. Bellow you have the battery cover lock bar and the mini USB port. Indeed, it's a mini USB port, even if it looks a little bit different:

As you might notice, the device doesn't has a headset port (doesn't matter if 3.5 or 2.5) and indeed, the design lacks this port but instead of using a dedicated headset port, HTC decided to use the mini USB port for the headset. In the mobile phone industry, this isn't anything new anymore, latest since Motorola did the same with its V3-series devices but for sure, you can not use your high quality stereo headset with the device, at least not out of the box but it requires an adapter.

On the back you have the 2 megapixel camera on the top, with a self portrait mirror left to it (above is the external antenna connector) and a photo light right to the right:

The camera also features a macro mode which is a nice gimmick but doesn't adds real value to the overall quality of the whole camera.

If you remove the battery cover you get access to a removable battery and under the battery you will find the (U)SIM card slot:

For sure, the Hermes works with both cards - the GSM SIM cards as well as with UMTS USIM cards.

Talking about the intrinsic values. The O2 Xda trion is powered by the German Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition (competitive devices like the HTC TyTN and others are powered by different language packs for sure) and already includes, right from the launch the Microsoft Messaging and Security Feature Pack (also known as AKU 2). With the MSFP, the Xda trion supports Microsoft's Push E-Mail feature (which requires Microsoft Exchange 2003 SP2) but the Xda trion's AKU 2 also includes the Bluetooth stereo profile (A2DP and AVRC) which allows you to listen to audio wirelessly through Bluetooth stereo headset.
As far as I've heard, this was one reason for HTC to upgrade the CPU to 400 MHz. Another reason was, that HTC wasn't satisfied with the video telephony results of a 300 MHz CPU.

Since the Xda trion is powered by Windows Mobile 5.0, it includes all the standard Office Mobile and Outlook Mobile applications, including Internet Explorer Mobile and Inbox. However, HTC has integrated the MMS client a little bit smoother, while it still comes from ArcSoft.
However, because the trio is an O2 Germany product, it also includes the Homezone/Cityzone indication for both - GSM and UMTS. Unlike with the HTC Xda's before, this time HTC implemented the Genion indicator itself and it appears on the Homescreen as well as on the dial pad:

Talking about the Homescreen: As always, also the Xda trion is decently branded only but isn't including the O2 Active User Interface anymore. Instead, O2 Germany added a some shortcuts to the Homescreen which launches the major applications:

All other applications are well known from other Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Editions.

I've heavily used both HTC Hermes's during - the 300 MHz and the 400 MHz version during the last weeks for the typical tasks you might use a Pocket PC Phone Edition for: PIM, E-Mail, web browsing, Remote Terminal sessions as well as GPS navigation, listening music and watching TV through my Slingbox.
As always, I haven't used the device too much for voice or video calls, since I'm a Windows Mobile Smartphone lover which I prefer - for telephony - over Pocket PC Phone Editions. However, during my test calls, the called party sounds good and warm and also the called party understood me fine.
Nevertheless, for a UMTS device, mobile data is even more important and the Xda trio supports UMTS with 384 kbit/s right out of the box. However, it's also HSDPA ready already but this feature isn't activated yet, as the O2 Germany product management told me. Nevertheless, O2 can remotely activate HSDPA as soon as the next UMTS evolution is up and running in O2's own network. Since it's not working yet, it's not a problem at all, that the Xda trion isn't supporting HSDPA today but it's something you have to keep in mind, if you plan to buy an Xda trion from O2 to use with with HSDPA-enabled networks, like Vodafone D2 or T-Mobile Germany.
But the way, UMTS is implement already is pretty satisfying. For instance I've watched a lot of place shift TV during the FIFA World Cup and I've reached top speeds (according to the SlingPlayer Mobile) up to 300 kbit/s and more and here the 300 MHz version differentiates from the 400 MHz Hermes. While watching TV via the Slingbox wasn't such a great experience with the 300 MHz prototype, the stream bucked and I had some picture and audio dropouts, it's working way smoother with the 400 MHz final version. So indded, the 100 MHz upgrade adds some real value to the overall package and improves the user experience. Same happened with locally played videos while audio played always well, doesn't matter if 300 or 400 MHz.
Another interesting test scenario is to use a Bluetooth stereo headset while watching a live stream since this includes many device resources, from the radio interface to the application layer to another radio interface. Watching place shift TV and listening the sound through Bluetooth stereo with the 300 MHz version is nearly impossible, you really feel that the CPU is working 100 % and more. Even if the 400 MHz version also faces some problems with this combination, it works and you can use this combination but don't come to the idea to run another task in parallel.

Final Conclusion

Many Pocket PC users and Windows lovers put all their hope into the Hermes and the question is, if it is the best Pocket PC Phone Edition device so far which I have to answer with a clear no - it isn't. For me, the best Pocket PC Phone Edition stays to be the HTC Prophet (aka O2 Xda neo and others). But and this is important - the HTC Hermes is the best UMTS device I've used so far! Why not the best Pocket PC but the best UMTS device?
Well, the Prophet offers nearly everything I need and want in a small and light housing: GSM/GPRS, W-LAN, Bluetooth a decent camera and it is running Windows Mobile 5.0. And the Prophet's standby-time is unbeatable. Unfortunately it misses an important feature: UMTS which I can hardly live without and therefore the Hermes is my device of choice at the moment.
While the keyboard is a great addition, I don't use it too often. If I want to use a Pocket PC with a keyboard, I prefer to use my O2 Xda Exec (HTC Universal) since the keyboard suits better for longer text input. The Hermes' keyboard is great for a short SMS or IM conversation, also good for a quick E-Mail or reply but typing longer texts doesn't work at all. On the other hand, it wasn't designed to enter longer texts and therefore it does it pretty well, for what it was designed for. Way better than the Wizard did, which I never got addicted to. But for sure the keyboard adds additional thickness as well as weight and it's a trade-off. Something I seriously dislike is the QVGA screen which makes web surfing or Remote Terminal session not half as nice as it is with the Universal. On the other hand, the Hermes is smaller and lighter than the Universal which is the reason why I'm always carrying the Hermes with me, but never carried the Universal all the time.
You can already see in the few sentence above, that I have pretty mixed feelings, if I compare the Hermes with other Pocket PC devices but if I compare it to other UMTS devices, nothing compares to the Xda trion. This device finally gives UMTS (today) and HSDPA (later) a sense! Web surfing, E-Mail, media file access over the air, all this starts to become fun with a UMTS device and here, the trion is unbeatable at the moment - if you compare the size to the features.
Unfortunately, all the feature richness pays into the standby time of the device. Using UMTS data will definitely drain the battery and if you use Bluetooth in addition, it drains even faster. On the other hand, I've watched full football games, including extra time and penalty on the device and it even lasts battery at the end of the game to do some extra E-Mail and web browsing.

So yes, I have a clear recommendation for you, to use the Hermes as well - but only if you use mobile data heavily and you need a fast Internet access, wherever you go and stay. If you are using your Pocket PC just for navigation, here and there an E-Mail and from time to time some web access, you can stay with something smaller and lighter, like the HTC Prophet. But if you want the full power in one device - the HTC Hermes is your choice.

For sure some of you will dislike the microSD card slot, I dislike as well as well as disliking the way, HTC has designed/left the headset port but hey, that's how everything develops. Nothing stays forever and I remember well how big the whining was, when HTC introduced the miniSD the first time. Today miniSD is standard and same will happens with microSD (which is a standard in the mobile phone industry already) and for the headset we will see sooner or later adapters, that we can continue to use our standard MP3 player headset.

All together I can say, that the HTC Hermes isn't a "uber device" at all but what it does, it does well and it offers a feature richness, we haven't seen so far and sometimes it's the small details like the jog wheel/Start button combination which works simply great to navigate through the device menus as well as for reading E-Mails and viewing web sites. Unfortunately - for me as a leftie - the wheel is on the left side and because I hold my device with the right hand (to hold the stylus in the left hand), it's not that comfortable if it is, if you hold your device in the left hand but okay, I can not blame anyone for building a device for the right hand use.
I really enjoy to use the Xda trion and seriously hope, I don't have to give it back to O2 Germany too soon, since I would definitely miss something.

Cheers ~ Arne


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