Navigation capabilities on smartphones are becoming an increasingly popular feature, and it's almost gotten to the point where a handset is scoffed at if it doesn't include GPS. Well, HTC is taking the concept to another level with its HTC Touch Cruise series by shipping the smartphone with full navigation software and maps. The first model debuted back in November 2007, but in January 2009, the smartphone manufacturer unveiled a revamped version of the HTC Touch Cruise, complete with an updated, and thankfully, slimmer design, and new geotagging software called HTC Footprints. The North American version of the Touch Cruise also ships with U.S. maps and comes with CoPilot Live navigation software, which includes your standard turn-by-turn voice directions, points of interest, and other useful extras.
The Touch Cruise proved to be a reliable navigator, and the Footprints app provides a great way to document and share your travels. As a smartphone, it was middle of the road, offering plenty of features but coming with the typical Windows Mobile sluggishness. The Touch Cruise definitely isn't for everyone; it will be most useful to those who travel a lot, either for work and play, and want to minimize the gadgets they carry on the road. The HTC Touch Cruise is available unlocked for around $500, which is pricey. However, remember that for the price, you're getting maps and full navigation features and won't be required to pay a monthly subscription fee to use them.
The revamped HTC Touch Cruise thankfully sheds some of the weight and bulk of its predecessor. The smartphone is much more manageable and pocketable at 4 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and 3.6 ounces (compared to 4.3 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.6 inch and 4.5 ounces). While being incredibly light, the handset has a solid construction and feels comfortable to hold as a phone or as a handheld navigation device and comes with a soft finish on the back. In addition, the Touch Cruise is a more attractive handset with its updated look and rounder edges.
Despite the smaller design, there weren't any sacrifices made to the screen size, which still comes in at 2.8 inches. The touch screen shows 65,000 colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution. While clear and bright, it's not as sharp as some other smartphones we've seen, such as the HTC Touch Diamond. Also, the screen tends to wash out in bright sunlight, which is common with most cell phones, but it posed a problem when using the Touch Cruise as an in-car navigation system since we couldn't see the maps very well. The smaller display size doesn't help, either, but this is mitigated in part by the voice-guided directions. Still, the Touch Cruise is better suited as a handheld GPS.
As part of the Touch series, the Cruise uses HTC's TouchFlo 3D interface that presents an aesthetically pleasing and easier way to access your information and applications. A toolbar along the bottom of the screen allows you to scroll through and launch applications, such as your e-mail, contacts, Web browser, and multimedia. As a GPS-centric phone, the Touch Cruise also adds tabs for the HTC Footprints geotagging app and Map Search.
Like HTC's other Touch devices, the Cruise offers several methods for text entry. You can choose from a QWERTY, a compact QWERTY, a phone keypad, Block Recognizer, and more. Most of the time, we used the full QWERTY mode but even then, we found it to be quite cramped. We couldn't type messages with just our thumbs, so we often had to use the stylus, which slowed us down. We encountered the same problem while entering destinations into CoPilot.
Below the display, you get a navigation array of Talk and End keys, shortcuts to the CoPilot and Footprints, and a navigation wheel with a center select button. The wheel is similar to the one on the original Touch Cruise; in addition to pressing it up, down, left, and right, you can rotate the wheel clockwise or counterclockwise to move through the menu items. It provided fairly good control, even though the wheel felt quite loose.
On the left spine, there's a volume rocker, but it's quite thin and a bit difficult to use when you're on a call and need to adjust the sound. The camera is located on the back, and behind the battery cover, you'll find the microSD expansion slot. Finally, there's a reset hole and a mini USB port on the bottom that also serves as the power connector and headset jack. We've said it before, but we'll say it again; the use of a nonstandard headset jack is quite annoying, and we hope HTC moves to a standard 3.5mm jack on future devices.
The HTC Touch Cruise comes packaged with a healthy amount of accessories, including an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card preloaded with maps, a wired headset, a protective pouch, a vehicle mount, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The HTC Touch Cruise continues to run Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition, so you get the same productivity suite and e-mailing capabilities as well as some extras, including the Opera mobile Web browser, a dedicated YouTube app, and MP3 Trimmer for creating your own ringtones.
The biggest draw, of course, are the built-in GPS and navigation abilities. The North American version of the Touch Cruise uses CoPilot Live for turn-by-turn guidance instead of TomTom's navigation software, which is still available on the European version. While we've experienced ease of use and accuracy from TomTom, CoPilot is no slouch in the navigation department, and in fact, it offers a couple of helpful extras.