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AT&T Tilt review: AT&T Tilt

AT&T Tilt

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
12 min read


AT&T Tilt

The Good

The AT&T Tilt features a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard and a tilting screen. The Windows Mobile 6 smartphone also offers the full gamut of wireless options, including 3G and GPS, push e-mail, a 3-megapixel camera, and support for AT&TMusic and Video.

The Bad

Speakerphone quality wasn't the greatest, and talk-time battery life was on the shorter side. The Tilt was sluggish at times, and picture quality was subpar. We also had problems acquiring a GPS fix.

The Bottom Line

The AT&T Tilt promises to be the carrier's most powerful smartphone for business users with its full range of wireless options, Windows Mobile 6, and innovative tilt screen.

Whether you know it as the AT&T 8925, the HTC Kaiser, or the HTC TyTN II, this highly anticipated Windows Mobile 6 smartphone officially got its crowning today as the AT&T Tilt. And we'd say the name is quite fitting given that it has a slide-out screen that tilts 40 degrees for a better viewing angle. It's a nice touch that we enjoyed, but there's more to this smartphone than an innovative design. It's packed with all the features a mobile professional could want in a smartphone: the full range of wireless options, including UMTS/HSDPA support and GPS, Windows Mobile 6 (AT&T's first WM6 device, in fact), and strong messaging capabilities. It can also entertain with support for AT&T Music and AT&T Video and a 3-megapixel camera.

We had the opportunity to check out a preproduction unit of the Tilt, and while we'll reserve final judgment until we have the finished product in hand, we think it will be a hit. Let us be clear that this is a device best-suited for power business users. It doesn't have the mass appeal of an Apple iPhone, and it certainly has its downfalls, too: It's hefty and talk-time battery life is somewhat short. However, the added features make it a worthy upgrade from the AT&T 8525. The AT&T Tilt will be available starting October 5 for $299.99 with a two-year contract, which isn't too bad considering all the features you get with this device.

Let's just cut to the chase and talk about what makes the AT&T Tilt so special, shall we? From the outside, the Tilt doesn't look that much different from its predecessor, the AT&T 8525. It has a PDA-like design and features a slide-out screen that reveals a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. However, there's one major difference between the two: The Tilt's screen tilts (hence the name; get it?) up to 40 degrees, mimicking a mini laptop. Though we never had any problems with the old design, we do like this extra functionality. It gives you a better view of the display, and it's nice if you just want to lay it on a flat surface and read through your e-mails, work documents, or view videos. Of course, if you so choose, you could compose messages in this position, but you'd probably have to peck away with your index fingers, which seems a bit uncomfortable and dorky. We found it easier just to hold the smartphone in both hands and let our thumbs happily tap away.

If the name didn't give it away, you can slide out the AT&T Tilt's screen and angle it up to 40 degrees for better viewing.

The keyboard itself is roomy with large rectangular buttons that are tactile and well-backlit, so we were easily able to type out e-mails, text messages, and the like. The number buttons are also easy see, as they're highlighted in silver--a stark contrast to the rest of the black keys. The only real problem we ran into was trying to press the two soft keys above the keyboard while the screen was tilted up. Having the screen in the upright position reduces what little space there is between the soft keys and the bottom edge of the front cover, so we kept banging our thumbs up against it. It's certainly not a deal breaker, though, and we were happy with the overall experience.

The Tilt's full QWERTY keyboard features large keys, so typing e-mails and messages on the smartphone is a breeze.

The AT&T Tilt's touch screen measures 2.8 inches diagonally and shows off 65,536 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution. Text and images looked sharp and bright, and the display was readable in various lighting conditions, including bright sunlight thanks to the tilting screen. You can change the theme of the Today screen as well as the background image, displayed menu items, and backlight timeout. The screen orientation will also automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode once you slide open the cover, but we noticed there was a slight delay during the transition (See Performance for more).

Below the display, you'll find a navigation array that consists of the Talk and End buttons, two soft keys, an OK button, shortcuts to Internet Explorer Mobile, the Start menu, and your Inbox, and a five-way navigation toggle with a central select key. All of these controls are easy to use, and we're particularly pleased with the spacious directional keypad. On the left spine, there is a push-to-talk launcher, an OK button, and scroll wheel that you can press to select a menu item. Once on a call, it can also be used to adjust the phone volume. The right side houses the power button, camera activation key, and stylus, while the microSD expansion slot and mini USB port are found on the bottom of the unit. The camera lens (no self-portrait mirror or flash) is located on the back along with speaker and external GPS jack, and the SIM card holder is actually on the backside of the front cover when slid out rather than behind the battery. Speaking of which, a minor point, but we found it extremely difficult to take off the battery cover. There doesn't seem to be a release switch, so we had to pry it off with a sharp-edged object. Another thing on our wish list is a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack.

The AT&T Tilt measures 4.4 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 6.1 ounces. We're not even going to lie; the handset is definitely bulky and heavy, so it won't easily slip into a pants pocket. However, we think HTC did a nice job designing the Tilt. The smartphone has nice rounded corners and boasts a sleek-black-lacquer-and-polished-steel finish on front, while the back features a soft-touch finish for better gripping. It's more comfortable to hold than the AT&T 8525 and Sprint Mogul, and feels like it has a more solid construction.

The AT&T Tilt is one hefty smartphone, but it has a solid construction and soft-touch finish for easy gripping.

The AT&T Tilt comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an extra stylus, a Getting Started CD, and reference material. Frankly, we're a little disappointed with the included accessories, as we would have liked to seen the inclusion of at least a belt holster or a wired headset. For more add-ons, please check out our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

With the barrage of smartphones that hit AT&T's lineup this year, it caught us by surprise that this is actually the carrier's first Windows Mobile 6 smartphone. It runs the Professional Edition, and the updated operating system brings a number of small but notable improvements over Windows Mobile 5. For example, there's a new Calendar ribbon that gives you a better view of your schedule at a glance with colored blocks for appointments and details of the event, such as meeting location, right along the bottom of your screen so you don't have to open each one. There's also a new e-mail search function that works like the Smart Dial feature on Windows Mobile 5 devices, where you start typing in a word while in your Inbox, and it will automatically pull up messages with that term in the subject or contact field. We won't run through every new feature here, but you can read all about them in our review of Windows Mobile 6.

As a mobile professional's tool, the Tilt comes with the full Microsoft Mobile Office Suite for creating, viewing, and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. In addition, there's an Adobe Reader client for opening PDFs. Other PIM tools include a calculator, a clock, a ZIP manager, and a voice recorder. To manage your memory and optimize the device's performance, you can view the amount of available memory under the Settings menu and stop running programs with the Task Manager. The Tilt comes with 256MB of ROM and 128MB SDRAM. There's about 87MB of user-accessible storage and 68MB of program memory, and you can always expand the capacity by using the microSD expansion slot, which accepts up to 4GB cards.

The AT&T Tilt is equipped with a microSD expansion slot located on the bottom of the device.

Of course, with the full QWERTY keyboard, e-mail and messaging is also a key feature. The AT&T Tilt ships with Microsoft's Direct Push technology out of the box so you get real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. In addition, the Tilt works with other e-mail solutions, including BlackBerry Connect and AT&T Xpress Mail. There is, of course, continued support for POP3 and IMAP accounts, but now you also can view e-mails in their original HTML format, regardless of account type. The Tilt also comes preloaded with AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo instant-messaging clients and supports text and multimedia messaging.

For voice communication, the Tilt offers world roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, and voice commands and dialing. The Tilt's contact list is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) and is quite robust. You can store up to 12 numbers for a single entry as well as home and work addresses, an e-mail address, an IM screen name, birthday, spouse's name, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or one of 26 polyphonic ringtones. The Tilt also supports AT&T's push-to-talk service, allowing you to instantly see the availability of your contacts before calling them and make individual or group PTT calls. PTT plans start at $9.99 per month.

Much to our delight, and we imagine yours as well, the AT&T Tilt offers the full gamut of wireless options: Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0, UMTS/HSDPA, and GPS. The smartphone supports a number of Bluetooth profiles, including those for wireless headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, and A2DP for stereo Bluetooth headsets. For surfing the Web, you can use the built-in Wi-Fi to hop onto a hot spot, or, alternatively, you can take advantage of the 3G support to get data speeds of around 400Kbps to 700Kbps (with the potential to hit up to 2Mbps) using AT&T's network. In addition, you'll be able to access UMTS/HSDPA networks while abroad. For your convenience, there's a Wireless Manager where you can turn on and off all the various radios.

With the built-in GPS radio, you can use a location-based service, such as AT&T's TeleNav GPS Navigator, and you can get color maps and text- and voice-guided driving directions, and points of interest right on the device. In addition, the TeleNav application can help you find the cheapest gas based on your location, share addresses with your contacts, and more. Just be aware that if you choose TeleNav GPS Navigator, this is an add-on service from AT&T that will cost $9.99 per month for unlimited trips or $5.99 for up to 10 trips; check out our full review of TeleNav for more information.

To get the most out of 3G, the Tilt supports the AT&T Video and AT&T Music services. Using AT&T Video, we watched clips of The Daily Show, MTV Mobile, ESPN sports highlights, and a few other videos. Downloads were speedy with barely any delay for video buffering. AT&T Music is a full-featured service that not only allows you to purchase songs from independent music services, such as Napster to Go and Yahoo Music, but also includes streaming XM satellite radio, music videos, MusicID for identifying song titles and artists, and a music news site called TheBuzz. Unfortunately, not all features of the service were enabled on our review unit, but we were able to listen to XM satellite radio and enjoyed smooth streaming audio. Of course, you can import your personal library of MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV files via microSD card, thanks to Windows Media Player 10 Mobile.

The Tilt gets an upgrade over its predecessor with a 3-megapixel camera, but there's no flash or self-portrait mirror.

Last but not least, the AT&T Tilt is equipped with a 3-megapixel camera with up to 8x zoom and video recording capabilities. The editing options are very similar to those found on its predecessor. In camera mode, you can choose from six resolution settings and four quality modes. Unfortunately, there's no flash, but you can adjust the white balance, add effects, and set a self-timer. The options are a bit more limited in video mode, but you can record clips with sound in MPEG-4 or H.263 format and choose from one of four resolutions.

Picture quality could have been better. The color tone was orangish, and we found that you have to have a really steady hand to get a clear shot.

Picture quality was OK, though not as good as we expected from a 3-megapixel lens. First, it was really difficult to get a clear shot since you have to have a super steady hand when pressing the capture button. It took us multiple tries to get a decent image. Even then, we thought the coloring was a bit dull and hazy, but we were still able to make out the objects in the picture since definition was sharp. As with most camera phones, the Tilt is fine if you need to grab a quick shot for a multimedia messages or an e-mail, but nothing worth printing out.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE; UMTS/HSDPA) AT&T Tilt in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was excellent. We enjoyed crisp audio with very little to no background noise or interference, and we got more than one "wow" from our friends, as they, too, were impressed with the sound quality. We were also able to interact with our bank's automated voice response system with no problem. Unfortunately, things took a dive when we activated the speakerphone. We had a hard time hearing our callers even with the volume cranked to high, as their voices sounded hollow. Meanwhile, they said we sounded far away and could tell we were using the speakerphone. On a good note, we were able to successfully pair the Tilt with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Nokia BH-604 stereo Bluetooth headphones.

As we reported at the beginning, we were sent a preproduction unit of the AT&T Tilt, which we hope explains some of the sluggishness we experienced during our test period. The delays weren't so bad that it prevented us from working, but the lag was particularly noticeable when changing screen orientation and working in various applications. Hopefully, these minor issues will be resolved with the final software update, and we will certainly re-evaluate the performance then.

All that said, we enjoyed working and playing on the Tilt. We had no problems setting up the smartphone to retrieve our e-mail and we were able to successfully transfer and work on various work documents, including PDFs, and Word and Excel files. The Web browsing experience was swift whether we were using Wi-Fi or AT&T's 3G network. However, we ran into some problems with the built-in GPS radio. It took at least 10 tries for the Tilt to get a fix on our position, and it repeatedly told us that the GPS signal was too weak and needed a better view of the sky. We can understand that, but we were already in an open area, so it was frustrating to have to sit there and wait.

Multimedia performance was mixed. We were truly impressed with how great videos looked on the Tilt. Audio and video were always synchronized, and while there was some pixelation, it wasn't as bad as we've seen on other devices. Unfortunately, the phone's weak speaker system takes away from the music experience, as songs sounded tinny and lacked richness. Again, we wish there was a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack to enhance this part of the smartphone.

The AT&T Tilt's 1,350mAh lithium ion battery is rated for up to 4.4 hours of talk time for UMTS and 7 hours for GSM and up to 14 days of standby time for UMTS and 15 days for GSM. In our battery drain tests, we were only able to get 3.5 hours of talk time on UMTS. We are conducting several more tests, so we'll update this section as soon as we have final results.


AT&T Tilt

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8