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Review of GSM-communicator HTC Touch (Elf)
Part one – after a glimpse
Live photos of HTC Touch
In the first part we are going to cover general things – we are not going to look into most of the features and technological talents of the device. It is rather an attempt to figure out what is the thing we get wrapped up as the HTC Elf. Such prologue for the review of exactly this device is essential otherwise our readers are going to come across the question “why is the fuss about another communicator?” and in his turn, the author of this article we get more than one letter of hate.
Up until its debut, that took place literally a few hours ago, on June, 5, this communicator has gathered an avalanche of rumors and guesses around.
That’s why today we are going to speak on why and for whom HTC has created the model codenamed Elf. Why up to the very last moment all data on the device was kept under “top secret” stamp and the news posts around the Web featured a mythical Elf or the P3450. The latter name, specifically the digital index has been omitted for good. So the market is seeing “HTC Touch” release.
Following our tradition, let’s take a plunge into the not so distant past. First clues about the model were leaked into the Web some time early in January. Here we do mean news items on various sites. On one of these January days, when I was paging through the RSS-feed, I accidentally spotted a post on a HTC’s entry-level model. Then, like it always happens, the news spread like fire all over the Net, from large portals to smaller, so that we could put together the bits of information on the Elf.
This story with how the information spread has something special to it – at first the news features quite obscure specifications, moreover, up to May, there wasn’t any real-life image of the device. In other words, they all were sharing one and the same sketch or even a fake.
It is interesting that one of the foremost treats of the HTC Elf was already in the early reports on the device – “it is slim, light and portable”
Early in May one of the sites got its hands on the first real photos of the device that are now posted almost everywhere. And at that moment some light was finally shed on the HTC Elf. It is not a big deal to find some real-life images of the device – any search engine will readily give you thousands of pages if you submit “HTC 3450 dopod”. But we have them below. Moving on.
One of the mentioned specific features of the communicator was the 3G support, while the rest of its spec sheet was pretty much par for the course, which automatically stuck the “budget” stamp on it. In fact, one would hardly call it “budget” right after learning about its expected price, which makes up 500-550 USD. But there are some other, more valued factors that allows you to look at the HTC Elf from a different angle.
I suppose, many are already bored with my “Windows Mobile in trouble” craze and pessimistic forecasts. That’s why I’m going to describe the problem in just two words here.
I guess, few would argue that the classic Windows Mobile communicator has little to do with “visual appeal”. Meanwhile, for handset makers the question of design has been one of the top-priorities for some years now. With the development of technologies, the gap between the powerhouses and unsophisticated phones is getting smaller and occasionally design steps onto the scene to make all the difference. Naturally, companies may maintain traditional division into segments and category for as long as they want, but even in this case, design has already slid into the process of mobile phone development.
It might seem that I pay too much attention to the looks. And on top of that, to the looks of such convergent device as a communicator, where it by no means the deal-breaker. But take note that every manufacturer should be either confident about the future and prospects of his area, or keep developing even further. In the case with Windows Mobile and HTC in general, the only way to go is rapid development of the platform. Both in terms of technology and looks.
Just for the sake of it, try to remember how many devices housed in unconventional form-factors (other than candy-bar) and running WM? HTC X7500, HTC S710, and a couple of models by Samsung. The rest is a really lackluster picture. The thing is, since Nokia and Sony Ericsson are pushing right now, and the respective platforms, Symbian and UIQ, are getting more and more popular, the share of Windows Mobile in current market environment will be getting thinner.
Ease-of-use and functionality are still the key points for the end-users; however the mass market also cares for smooth looks and pocketable dimensions. More and more users are getting into the way of seeing devices get more and more petite. Sooner or later, this was bound to touch Windows Mobile platform. Otherwise, these devices would always remain “the things for the savvy ones”.
A small reservation – we got our hands on a white unit with glossy finish. However, Russia will get black-pained models with soft touch coating.
How it looks and how much it measures – these are one of the best things about the model, interface aside (more on which in the second part).
The Elf is substantially smaller than most today’s communicators – with its dimensions (99.9x58x13.9 mm, 112 g) is gets in line, maybe only with the Samsung i710 and definitely would be in one boat with any smartphone. Some words on the WOW-effect that products of an American company are so proud of and that others are trying to reach.
Of all those who twiddle with the HTC Elf, a few went out unimpressed, while vast majority appreciated beautiful lines and appealing looks. Of course, it is nowhere near, for example, the iPod, which makes some want it badly right after having a glimpse of it. It is important to understand that the emotions we mentioned above came from users unfamiliar with Windows Mobile, which is quite something. In this respect, the Samsung i710 is somewhat similar, having comparable dimensions and fetching design.
Smooth casing lines lend the device the feel of a pebble. We could tell you much about what kind of tactile feelings it deliver, but it is better to try it out once, otherwise you won’t get the whole picture.
HTC Elf is the first device to utilize a brand-new, never seen before, controls system. It might sound odd, but it is only now when the makers have finally come to realize the true potential behind touch-screens and the evident stylus-less device management concept. Though, the question is, to implement this scheme, some efforts should be made.
The first thing you run into, apart from very portable dimensions – the screen surface. We have already come to expect it to be recessed into the casing, which is due to several reasons: first, for the sake of its safety, and then to reduce the number of scratches and scuffs it picks up. In the Elf however, it is not. The display’s surface is mounted flush with the front fascia. Apparently, it’s been made not for design’s sake alone, but also to make for easier stylus-less device management.
Another step towards out of the ordinary controls scheme is forgoing navigation buttons. The Elf’s front plate houses only the five-way navigation control and pick/hang up keys. That’s it, no dedicated Start or Back buttons. Even the keys for answering and rejecting a call are shaped as two narrow hairlines backlit with green and red respectively.
The left-hand side houses the volume rocker, while the opposite spine – camera shortcut button. On the tip is the power button, and again, that’s all about the dedicated keys found on the Elf. The missing navigation block renders single-handed device management with the help of hardware keys almost useless. But like we said above, the developers had a simple goal – tailor the device to navigation with fingers. Without touching the hardware buttons or stylus at all.
You will learn how it all turned out in the next part of the review, where are giving a lowdown on the new HTC’s shell. And for now, let us take a fast look at it.
This is the name, under which the device is introduced into the market. The core idea – ability to handle the touch-display with fingers. In order to make this happen, over at HTC they have developed a new Windows Mobile shell, called “TouchFLO”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Previously, they company had “VueFLO” for the motion sensor in the X7500.
Even today we can say that this idea is pretty much positive, as it finally unleashes the potential of a touch-screen. Undoubtedly, it is only the initial stage, since for text input, stylus is still a must, if you don’t want to install extra software; though the course they have taken as much of an improvement.
A few words on the hardware
Everything is par for the course here. It is exactly the same platform as that utilized in the HTC P3400. It bases off TI OMAP 850 CPU running at 201 Mhz, and boasts Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.
We will see how speedy this Elf is in the upcoming part of the review, but even now it is clear that it will be at least not a worse performer than the HTC P3400.
The 2 Mpix camera that the Elf comes with, is also nothing special against the backdrop of the competition. Below you can check out the images taken in maximum resolution; but it’s worth noting that the final firmware version is likely to put up better quality. For now, you can see blur on the edges and not particularly sharp snaps.
The release of HTC Touch is, without vanity, even if not a revolution in the world of Windows Mobile, then decidedly, a remarkable event. If it gets proper advertising campaign and concept development, HTC has what it takes to inject new life into the market.
In the next installment we are taking a closer look at the commercial unit, painted in black, which will be available in Russia.
Published 07 June 2007
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