Hands on with the HTC Touch HD

Taiwanese smartphone developer High Tech Computer (HTC) debuted its biggest threat to the iPhone 3G yet earlier this week, the HTC Touch HD, and I had a chance to use one for a few hours on Friday.

The Touch HD more closely matches up to the iPhone 3G than other HTC smartphones because of its huge 3.8-inch screen, one of the biggest available on a smartphone, which has more responsive touch capabilities than the Touch Diamond or Touch Pro, which sport 2.8-inch screens. The iPhone 3G has a 3.5-inch screen.

I was impressed by the Touch HD.

The sleek 3G (third generation mobile telecommunications) smartphone is probably the best hope for a Microsoft Windows Mobile OS handset that I’ve seen so far in the battle against Apple. The Touch HD has a Qualcomm 7201A microprocessor, the same as the Touch Diamond, and Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system.

The Touch HD’s huge touchscreen is what makes it a better rival to the iPhone 3G than other HTC products.

The Touch HD’s screen is speedier, more responsive, and far larger than the Touch Diamond, without losing the Diamond’s striking display quality. The Touch HD’s screen has WVGA (widescreen video graphics array) 800 x 480 pixel resolution. The screen on the iPhone 3G, by comparison, is VGA 480 x 320 resolution.

The only smartphone I’ve tried that compares to the HD touchscreen in terms of speed and performance is T-Mobile’s G1 (the Google phone), which is also made by HTC.

For the record, I’ve not yet had a chance to play with the iPhone, which won’t launch in Taiwan until December.

Ethan Chen, a supervisor at HTC, said there could be a few factors that make the HD’s touchscreen seem faster than the Touch Diamond that I tried out back in June. First, the larger screen size helps because finger movements on the screen are more pronounced than on the 2.8-inch Touch Diamond. Second, the touchscreen software made by HTC, TouchFLO 3D, has been improved since the launch of the Touch Diamond. The Touch HD has the latest improvements, as well as tweaks specific to its hardware components, said Chen.

There is also an update for the Touch Diamond, which people can download from HTC’s Web site.

The Touch HD performed well in a normal phone call with crisp voice quality and signal strength, and also created a sharp image in a video call with a Nokia N73. I had to wait several seconds for the video call to go through on Chunghwa Telecom’s mobile network. The picture of me on the N73 screen was nice, but the picture quality of my friend on the Touch HD wasn’t so pretty. I was told the difference in picture quality had more to do with the camera than the display.

Considering how nice the Touch HD’s display handled downloaded and onboard videos, the camera on the N73 may well be to blame for the poor video call picture.

The Touch HD screen handles video watching beautifully. The handset has a speedy link to YouTube from a button on its applications menu and I downloaded one short video in about 10 seconds. The video also filled the entire screen, unlike some handsets that leave a control bar or other items up on the screen.

The handset also takes nice video shots and has an uplink to YouTube as well, to post videos fast.

The 5.0-megapixel camera in the Touch HD snaps very nice photos. Not only is the quality good, but the camera clicker is displayed right on the touchscreen, and the delay between pushing the button and taking the photo has been reduced, which is nice to see on a smartphone. A lot of handset cameras seem to leave a delay between pressing the snap button and the taking of the picture, leading to blurred or missed shots. The HD has minimized this problem.

Another nice touch on the handset is using the GPS (Global Positioning System) function to tag pictures so you know exactly where you took a shot. The GPS also works with Google Maps.

The Touch HD is very similar in size to the iPhone 3G, with most of the face taken up by the screen. The HD weighs 147 grams with the battery inside and measures 115 millimeters by 62.8mm by 12mm, while the iPhone 3G weighs 133 grams and is 115.5mm by 62.1mm by 12.3mm. I find it funny that some companies (HTC included) list handset weight with a note beside saying ‘with battery.’ Why would a person carry a mobile phone without the battery? Which companies subtract the battery, the heaviest part of a mobile phone, from the weight listing?

The design of the Touch HD carries on HTC’s work in making fine handsets. It is curved round the corners much like the iPhone 3G but comes in black, and is slightly thinner than the iPhone. HTC has also solved the fingerprint issue noticeable on the Touch Diamond. Finger prints do not muck up the Touch HD like they do the Diamond.

The battery inside the HD is big and rated to last 680 hours on standby, or 420 minutes talking, according to HTC. The handset can handle 140 minutes on a video call.

The retail price suggested by HTC in Taiwan is US$776. The device will debut in Taiwan this December, while reports say launches in the U.K. and Singapore are imminent.

The 3G handset allows users to surf the Web over mobile networks or via Wi-Fi 802.11b/g. The smartphone works on WCDMA 900/2100MHz networks and supports quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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