We keep repeating that the smartphone/communicator market has been experiencing lately a rapid surge. And the fading PDA market has been contracting from year to year. The outlook for the communicator market development is rosy, the current sales dynamics back up these prospects. Running ahead of this review I'd say that the number of the devices upcoming by the end of this year will be surprising for many. Special place will be given to Windows Mobile platform, there will appear maximum quantity of models based on this platform, the new operating system WM 2005 will contribute its mite (the code name Magneto).
The lion's share of the devices will be produced at HTC plants in Taiwan, The list includes new HP communicators and upcoming communicator by Dell (not yet announced), operator's communicators and the successful Palm Treo 650/670.
The company produces devices for popular brands (design of devices, specs are exclusive in this case), besides it works out communicators (let's call them the etalon platform), which come out under different trademarks. These are operators (O2, Orange, T-mobile and others) and just companies (Qtek, I-Mate). But to say the truth, such models almost do not differ in design or specifications. What can be different? The standard kit, the set of preinstalled applications (including russification), the existence/lack of an integrated camera, service support and certification.
Our article of today is devoted to HTC Alpine platform (the code name, not advertised in public). The mass auditorium will get familiar with one of the following models: Qtek 2020i, I-Mate PDA2, O2 XDA IIi, Orange SPV M2500. By the end of product's life cycle the number of indices might count for 3 dozens, and that's not the limit. There won't be difficulties with names for the European customers, they'll just buy a device under the trademark of the operator they are bound with. But in countries, where there isn't a developed operator's market such approach won't do, as it might confuse potential buyers and result in price wars (official vendors will have to take into account the grey market). Currently the official Russian market involves devices under I-mate and Qtek trademarks (for example, the shipments of T-Mobile are not and cannot be official even theoretically, as this operator doesn't render its services in Russia). HTC Alpine initially appears as the Qtek 2020i and then with a slight delay as the I-mate PDA2.
Till last year all product line of HTC smartphones was divided into 2 distinct directions - (large) Pocket PC devices with the sensor screen and (small) smartphones with the phone keypad and non-sensor screen. Last year a third direction penetrated the line, it occupied the middle position between the first two, we talk about HTC Magician (it is still the smallest communicator with the sensor screen based on Pocket PC platform, the review is available here).
This year in addition to existing directions the company decided to introduce an update of an old model. The old shell of HTC Himalayas got the new filling (new XScale PXA272 520 MHz processor, 1.3-megapixel camera and, naturally, Wi-Fi). Change the filling, keep the shell and get HTC Alpine, finally, everything is quite simple. The company saved time on development and extended its model line. Many users of HTC Blue Angel need Wi-Fi, and very often they do not use built-in QWERTY-keyboard. So, HTC Alpine became a compromise (Wi-Fi available, no built-in QWERTY-keyboard). Well, all necessary introduction words have been said, let's pass over to the review.
The communicator almost doesn't differ from its predecessor, see it on the photo. We notice differences, when we turn the models over. Well, there is just one distinction noticeable with the naked eye - a camera lens.
Shell dimensions aren't small, don't forget they was inherited from the previous model, the model is larger and heavier than Sony Ericsson p900. HTC Alpine lies comfortably in hands, no doubt it's a communicator for man's hand. Compare dimensions and weight with other models:
The assembly quality and materials are traditionally of high level. All details fit each other, there is no backlash. On the face of it the surface feels metallic (as a matter of fact, it's a high quality plastic).
The front panel isn't crowded with elements, as we used to see it on Pocket PCs (for example, there are plenty of them in HTC Blue Angel). There are a soft 5-directional joystick, Cancel/Talk and two application buttons - Contacts and Calendar. You'll hardly find it comfortable to play arcade games (few buttons, inconvenient location of buttons, a soft joystick), but it can be considered a flaw, as this device is meant for other functions, rather than gaming.
At the left side you see a sound volume slider. With some additional utility you can assign other actions to it, for example, Up/Down (it will be easy to read e-books and browse Web-pages). There are also a voice recorder button and a camera button. All side elements feature a soft move, but thus they are vulnerable to accident strokes, when you remove your communicator from the case (you'd better activate hold function). The back panel of the Qtek 2020i hides a battery compartment and a camera lens, nothing else.
There is nothing at the right side. At the upper bound you find a silo. On the top are traditional elements: an SD/MMC slot with SDIO support (i.e. in addition to memory cards, it's possible to plug accessories, such as the GPS-receiver), Power button and an infrared port (SIR). At the bottom rests a 2.5 mm connector for the headset, it is protected with the rubber gag (a stereo headset comes in the package).
The supplied headphones produce good sound of MP3 files. The remote control has "Talk" and "Cancel" buttons, sound volume wheel and also the mic.
The cradle stands out with the slot to charge a spare battery.
The smartphone is equipped with a removable Li-Ion battery capacious of 1300 mAh (against 1490 in HTC Blue Angel). The maker claimed 168 hours standby (about 7 days) and 4 hours of talks. The device worked for 3 days with low use of PDA mode (1.5 hours at all), wireless adapters off, 10 minutes of talks over the period. Under the active use - 7-8 hours (MP3, Internet via GPRS, 1 hour of Wi-Fi, 20 minutes of talks) - the smartphone was good for a day till the battery charge dropped to 10%. In case of lower load (by 40%) the battery life extended up to 2 days. If you are an active user, you'd have to charge your HTC Alpine once per 2 days, or once a day.
In case of the PDA mode with the radio block switched off the results aren't high, if we compare with the rivals, see them on the diagram above.
From battery matter let's say some words about SIM-lock. It is located under the battery and made quite in classic manner. We didn't face any problems inserting/ejecting a SIM-card.
СWe can witness a definite trend with Pocket PC smartphones - a shorter screen diagonal, decreased from 3.5" to 2.8-3", due to shorter diagonal the dimensions of the device get smaller. HTC Alpine inherited all dimensions (including the screen) from its predecessor, i.e. the diagonal measures 3.5". Other features are standard - a 320x240 pixel resolution, 65K colors.
It's a typical Pocket PC screen with 320x240 pixels, 65k colors and a 3.5" diagonal. It behaves well under the sun and indoors, you can always make out the picture, even under the direct sunlight, though the colors might slightly fade. There are 11 backlight levels.
Unlike HTC Blue Angel the screen doesn't have the "yellowness effect" (if you look at the screen from below, white colors invert into yellow). It's a psychological factor, the fact doesn't affect the work with the device, as we look at the screen at right angles usually.
The communicator is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, the previous model had a 0.3-megapixel camera. The camera settings are rich.
There are 5 main shooting modes available:
Here are format variants of the files and their resolution:
You can set auto light adjustment or choose among the following: Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Night. There are the following effects available: Grayscale, Sepia, Cool, Negative. You can also adjust contrast, brightness, saturation, hue and sharpness.
The quality of photos proves to be good, if we compare with direct rivals. I'd say it can be considered one of the best (however it is far from Sony Ericsson K750i, for example).
Photos under good light:
There appears some noise on the photos taken indoors, they are more blurred:
Examples of video:
Bluetooth and WWI-Fi adapters can work simultaneously, the on/off process takes several seconds. The simultaneous work is required, for example, when you use IP-telephony via Bluetooth headset.
Bluetooth.HTC Himalayas used built-in drivers by Microsoft, that was a weak point, as those drivers feature low functionality, besides some important profiles are missing, the settings are minimum. Like HTC Blue Angel the device comes with Broadcom drivers, which became silent industrial standard for Pocket PC. We faced no problems with Bluetooth functionality, all profiles worked smoothly (no problems with Bluetooth headset, as in case with some driver versions for HTC Blue Angel). WM2003SE lacks voice dialing and voice control opportunities by default. This problem is solved with exterior programs in all latest Pocket PC smartphones. HTC Alpine can use an utility offerd by Fonix, if you have another device, you should pay for it.
Wi-Fi. HTC Alpine got a substantial advantage due to Wi-Fi (home access point, corporate IP-telephony). Wi-Fi receive sensitivity turned average: with home access point the communicator showed mid level, but the notebook reported perfect signal level. Nevertheless, within a 3-room flat there were no problems with Wi-Fi reception. The support of WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) is very important for corporate use of the smartphone, WPA protection is deemed more secure than WEP. It's possible to adjust Wi-Fi power consumption.
GPRS. HTC Alpine supports Class 10 (4 receive channels, 1 send channel), as well as Class 8 (3 receive channels, 2 send channels), you can switch between them. Under the conditions of Moscow cell network MTS GPRS connection worked steady, though not that fast, as we wished.
The smartphone can be used as an external GPRS-modem for a notebook or desktop PC, there are 4 different ways for PC connection (via Bluetooth, IrDA, COM, USB). Wmodem application is in charge of it.
As for the wireless part, we can say, everything is implemented correctly on both hardware and software levels. Currently there aren't many communicators on the market with built-in Wi-Fi, well, this is a serious competitive advantage of HTC Alpine. As for weak points, there is no support of EDGE.
HTC Alpine carries 128 MB of RAM onboard, ROM available makes up some 60 MB (you can use it for back ups and main programs). One of the key distinctions of the new model is Intel XScale PXA272 processor with highest clock rate of 520 MHz. The tests revealed that the productivity is at the same level with the previous model working at 400 MHz. The likely reason is that by replacing the processor the developers left the old motherboard tuned for old processor type.
As usual we used SPB Benchmark test package to test productivity. For this purpose we've chosen actual Pocket PC communicators.
This index describes Pocket PC's CPU speed. Equal processors perform the same, the difference can be a measurement error.
The file system index describes Pocket PC file system speed (read/record/move). We see an average result.
The platform index describes total Pocket PC platform speed including the built-in applications. The results resemble that of the previous test, as built-in applications speed depends on file system speed.
The synchronization speed shows average level, but the gap from the leader isn't considerable, so we can neglect it.
Integrated SPB Benchmark index describes total Pocket PC speed. We expected more than average results. However there is enough productivity to complete all tasks of this communicator. You'll notice the difference only running video or playing resource-intensive games.
To test graphics productivity we ran tests of the PocketQuake in the mute mode (turn the sound off by nosound 1 console command, leaving other settings unchanged). We see the same level with HTC Magician.
The video productivity of HTC Alpine (without optimization for Wireless MMX) spotted the result similar to HTC Magician (Qtek s100).
BetaPlayer test with hardware acceleration with Wireless MMX (integrated into Intel XScale PXA27x) revealed average results. The communicator can't be sped up.
Intermediate total - the productivity level is quite enough for a QVGA communicator, the processor power is sufficient in most cases. However according to our tests the 520 MHz processor doesn't perform at most, we see the level of a 415 MHz processor.
HTC Alpine is powered by Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC SE Phone Edition. The Phone edition differs from the ordinary WM2003SE (follow the link to learn about its standard applications) in several extra applications to manage phone functions. Like the Qtek 9090 the Qtek 2002i has a rich set of extra programs (with few changes). Usually the set of extra applications is poor, extra utilities are meant for newcomers and yield in functionality to all analogs. Here we see, there are some really useful programs.
Album. The utility views various multimedia files (possible extensions are: bmp, jpg, gif, avi, mp4, 3gp, mid, wav). The possibilities of this viewer are rich - slideshow, comments to the file, simple image editing, color dispensing histogram.
ClearVue PDF и ClearVue PTT. These are two utilities to view PDF documents and MS Power Point presentations. The formatting is kept, there is no problems displaying Cyrillic's.
SPB GPRS Monitor. This application was developed by SPB Software House. To my mind, currently this is the best application to calculate GPRS-traffic, not only for Pocket PC.
SPB GPRS Monitor. Данная программа – дело рук российских разработчиков из SPB Software House. На мой взгляд – это лучшая программа для учета GPRS-трафика на сегодняшний день, не только на Pocket PC.
MIDlet Manager launches J2ME applets The games designed for Nokia Series 60 smartphones got launched and worked normally. Using some tricks it's possible to launch J2ME on ordinary Pocket PCs, but that's not a trivial procedure. In this case you shouldn't think of anything, everything is installed.
Photo Contacts. In the standard WM2003 address book you can't assign a photo to a contact, but Photo Contacts removes this shortcoming. At the incoming call you see the photo of the caller.
There are several essential programs to work with the SIM-card (Contacts, SIM-menu).
xBackup. An essential utility for the data backup. You can copy either all the data, or contacts and calendar events. The opportunities are minimal, but the utility completes its main function. The settings include Permanent Save utility, which eventually transfers PIM data (contacts, calendar, tasks, connection settings) from RAM to ROM, thus in case of drained battery all important data will be safe.
ZIP. It's an application to work with compressed files, by default the system doesn't support compressed zip files.
Windows Media 10. New version of the media player by Microsoft. It got new design, there appeared a comfortable system to organize the content. .
I'd repeat that the Qtek 2020i has a rich set of extra programs, which is non typical for Pocket PC devices.
The network reception quality of the Qtek 2020i proved to be good. The sound volume of the call is high, you'd better set your own wma track for the incoming call, create it with Movie Maker (included in the standard MS Windows XP package). The vibration alert is average in strength.
HTC Alpine successfully extends the current product line of HTC, with minimum expenses for the development. The new filling was in the previous model. Well, here is the list of differences between Qtek 2020i (HTC Alpine) and Qtek 2020 (HTC Himalayas).
We advise you to choose HTC Alpine instead of HTC Blue Angel, in case if Wi-Fi is required and you do not need an integrated QWERTY-keyboard. Extra 120 MHz and the camera can hardly be considered crucial improvements in this case, this is just a nice supplement.
The model will be commercially available from mid April. Its price tag is at the same level with HTC Blue Angel, or even slightly higher. We can expect a dramatic price cut, after the initial demand will be met.
Published - 24 May 2005
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