Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    A pair of iPhone wannabes up their game

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver 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 HTC.

    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 instance.

    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.

    Both Touch 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 listening.

    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. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
Search WWW Search