of iPhone wannabes up their game
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
February 24-March 2, 2009; issue 1009
High Tech Office column
Apple’s iPhone has clearly
been a hit for Rogers/Fido – the only Canadian carriers with an
iPhone-able network. Other carriers and handset manufacturers have been
scrambling to offer something that’s like an iPhone but isn’t – and
will run on their networks.
But what accounts for the iPhone’s
success? Is it the large touch screen? Multi-touch gestures like
pinching to change the zoom on a web page or photo? A decent web
browser, unlike the awkward and limited browsers standard on so many
handheld devices? Built-in WiFi, so users can browse or check e-mail
online without using up data plan minutes? Apple’s App Store with its
growing library of add-on software?
Bell Mobility has loaned me
three touch screen handsets: the BlackBerry Storm and two from HTC –
their Touch Diamond and Touch Pro. (All are also available from Telus.)
Two other recent touch screen releases: HTC’s Google-powered G1 Android
and Palm’s Pre have not yet made it to Canada. This week, the pair from
Last year, I looked at the original HTC Touch. Still
available, its touch features are added on top of Windows Mobile –
sometimes awkwardly making it a smart phone that lost its keypad. The
two newer HTC models are the next generation and their touch features
are better integrated.
The Diamond ($49 with plan) is a bit
smaller then the iPhone; the Pro ($199 with plan) is heavier and
thicker due to its slide-out QWERTY mini-keyboard. Otherwise the two
are similar. Both include a stylus – useful, because some on-screen
elements are too small for finger tapping.
Unlike the iPod, each
includes a removable battery – a good feature. There is no removable
memory on the Diamond, though there is on the Pro. Each offers various
interfaces for entering text, including a virtual phone-style keypad,
“compact” QWERTY and “full” QWERTY onscreen keyboards and several
handwriting recognition methods.
For onscreen text entry, I
favour the full QWERTY keyboard, though this requires the stylus
because the virtual keys are too small for even my slender fingers.
Alternatively, the real slide-out keyboard of the Pro may be worth the
added heft (and expense) if you type a lot – responding to e-mail, for
Opera Mobile’s browser is the default web browser
rather than Windows Mobile’s Internet Explorer. That’s a good call.
Opera does a much better job of displaying complex web pages. Unlike
the iPhone, you can’t pinch to zoom in or out – instead, double-tap
onscreen to zoom. Move around the page by dragging a finger. As with
the iPhone, there’s no support for Flash animations. Unlike the
iPhone’s browser, Opera lets you copy and paste text.
models include built-in WiFi, promising better online performance than
connecting through Bell’s network. (Bell offers a $7/month unlimited
data plan, making data charges much less onerous – though you may have
to ask to get it.)
The Touch models can be synched to Outlook on
a Windows PC; there’s no official Mac support, though the third-party
Missing Sync ought to work. When connected to a PC, both models can be
used as external USB drives.
Like virtually every handset, the
Touch duo include cameras: 3.2 megapixel models. As well, there’s a
second low-resolution camera for video calls.
Unlike the iPhone
(at least officially), the camera doubles as a video camcorder. There’s
built-in music support, but you need USB headphones. The bundled
headphone that comes with the phone includes the antenna for the FM
receiver, one more reason to avoid third-party headphones for music
This year’s Touch models are a big step up from the
original. Using the stylus to enter text may be awkward, but the Pro’s
slide-out keyboard beats the iPhone’s virtual keyboard at that task.
Still missing – the way the iPhone’s hardware, software and features
like the App Store work smoothly together. •