Friday, September 14, 2007

HTC Touch: Review... If I had to do it again, I wouldn't buy it.

It's been nearly 2 months since my previous pre-purchase review of the HTC Touch (see: HTC Touch - A touch of heaven in 112gms) and here's a quick follow-up hands on review.

Firstly, as a Windows Mobile 6 PDA - it's excellent for a low-end user like me.

True, the built-in memory's rather dimunitive and yada-yada-yada... But if you bought the Touch, I'm willing to bet that you did so because of the looks and the touch interface - not so much for the computing power and functionality.

Having said that, it's quite usable. Although I must say I don't use the productivity software as much as I thought I would. I'm very much old-school in that I still use a big, paper desktop diary/planner where I can scribble notes, appointments etc into individual boxes for each day. And notes... well, I have plenty of post-it notes in my wallet to remind me what to buy at the supermarket.

And I don't use the Outlook email or any email of the PDA because I'm too cheap to pay for one of those exhorbitant data plans from the telcos.

I have used the supplied MS Office Mobile... maybe once... since I bought this, and only to test out how it looks.

So, I'm strictly wifi and games only. And in this regard, the Touch fares no worse than other PDAs. It probably is better in real life, because I bring the Touch with me everywhere since it's so light. I'm not one to lug a regular fat, ass-sagging PDA around.

I've installed 2 Opera browsers - the Java-based ultra-lite one as well as Opera Mini. I actually find the simple Java one faster and easier to use.

As for games, I'm into strategy games. I don't mind a game of Minesweeper, but for the fact that it's awfully hard to get a good time using the stylus only (the stylus move that replicates the left+right mouse click to expose surrounding squares is very hard to get right consistently and I keep blowing up mines because of it). I'm finding that a lot of simple games that we take for granted on PC eg. Tetris, are a pain in the ass when it's stylus-only play. And many games are still made for the older Windows Mobile platforms, with their obsolete versions of vb and runtime files etc, which makes installation and operation in WM6 a bit tricky if you're not a geek.

So, right now, my main game is Pocket UFO. It's a Russian port of the hugely popular XCOM game for Windows. And I have to say that they were able to fit nearly the ENTIRE game (with the complete tech tree, turn-based combat, maps, sound and music - albeit a much smaller library) into around 10MBs. And it can be installed into the memory card which is great since the Touch has so little built-in memory to spare.

So, that's the PDA part. Now for the phone.

As a phone... the Touch SUCKS! 3 things...

1. Contacts.

WM6 uses Outlook for the contacts and calls lists. And it's okay... although it takes some getting used to if you've always been using regular handphones. But being able to separate or specify whether to use phone and/or SIM contacts would have been nice. So, if you're like me and like to keep a complete list of contacts in your SIM-card (simply because you switch SIM cards a lot... duh), you're farked. Each contact's doubled up. And the nifty Touch-Flo contacts cube... well, you can only use the contacts in the phone, but not the SIM. So to use SIM contacts only (ie. leave the phone contacts empty) will preclude the use of the Touch-Flo contacts cube.

2. SMS / Messaging

Here, it uses Outlook as well. That's fine as it's actually a pretty good text editor. However, the standard WM6 keyboard is atrocious as the individual keys are half the size of a pea and is virtually useless if you don't use the stylus - which in turn makes one-handed messaging impossible. That's why I installed a copy of HTC Phonepad which is an on-screen T9 phone keypad for touch screens. And voila, one handed messaging is possible again. Albeit, it's fairly uncomfortable to do stuff one handed on the Touch because it's so wide. Unless of course, you happen to have hands large enough to handle at least D-cups single-handedly.

3. Voice calls

This is where it really, really sucks.

Call quality is good. Calls are clear and crisp, and the speaker phone is actually better than most regular phones because the speaker is very loud.

Where the Touch drops the ball, and drops it very badly - is in the transceiver itself. Mine kept losing the telco signal (3 or 4 times a day, I guess) but I don't know about it because the signal strength indicator is showing full strength. You don't know the signal's dropped until someone calls in (and immediately gets routed to your voicemail) or you try to call / sms out (that's when you see the signal strength indicator suddenly change from full to searching).

So, 2 issues here:

a. The hardware or software (I don't know which) is incapable of sustaining a consistent signal.

b. The firmware is incapable of updating the signal strength indicator automatically when the signal has dropped. Either it's not programmed to update or it simply can't detect that the signal has dropped when the phone is idle / standby.

It's is so bad that I have to make missed calls every couple of hours... just to kick the transceiver in the pants and prompt it to (re)connect to the network (if the line has indeed dropped). Sometimes when I have a particularly busy day, a slew of SMS and missed call notifications will flood in after I make a missed call. Seriously, it's that bad. And it's pretty damn frustrating when you're waiting for important calls / messages or simply have to be contactable at all times.

And as a result of putting my thoughts into words here, I have just now decided to switch back to my trusty old Sony Ericsson K800i as my primary phone. As for the Touch, I'll use it for the prepaid Malaysian SIM card that I usually use when I'm home (to avoid roaming charges). At the very least, I don't receive life & death calls on the prepaid line.

In conclusion, if I knew what I know now about the Touch... I wouldn't buy it. The phone bug is a definite dealbreaker... unless HTC acknowledges the problem and updates the firmware.

UPDATE: I've just reflashed the ROM (ie. system) to a newer version from the recently launched Wasabi Green edition of the Touch (to version 1.17.707.2G WWE dated 23/7/07 from the older 1.11.707.1B WWE dated 24/5/07 in the Soft Black edition). It also includes a new radio version 02.097.90 (up from the older 02.093.90). According to internet forums, I read that GSM reception is perceptibly improved. Let's hope that it also fixes the line drop bug.

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