The HTC Touch Pro2 has been making the rounds to all the major carriers with much fanfare, yet its keyboard-lacking sibling, the HTC Touch Diamond2, has thus-far stayed hidden in the shadows, which is a shame since we loved the unlocked model when we reviewed it earlier this year. Fortunately, things have changed and AT&T is now offering a version of the smartphone, called the HTC Pure, that ships with Windows Mobile 6.5 out of the box and carries an affordable price tag of $149.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.
With Windows Mobile 6.5, the Pure offers a better user experience than Windows Mobile phones of the past by presenting a friendlier and simpler interface and a mobile Web browser with more power and better navigation. In addition, Microsoft adds some useful services, such as its own application store and its My Phone backup service. That said, if you're after a smartphone for Web browsing and multimedia capabilities, we'd recommend sticking with the iPhone. If you want something that offers a good balance of business and entertainment features, the HTC Pure is a nice alternative and certainly bests the carrier's only other touch-screen smartphone, the LG Incite.
Much like T-Mobile did to the HTC Touch Pro2, AT&T made some modifications to the original design of the HTC Touch Diamond2 to come up with the HTC Pure, and we can't say we're thrilled with the end result. It's not that the Pure is an ugly phone; it's just that it's ordinary. The Touch Diamond2 offered a bit more flash and wow factor with its ultraslim profile and brushed-metal finish, while the Pure kind of blends into the crowd, feeling a bit plasticky and slick. That said, the design is simple and clean, and the smartphone fits nicely in the palm of you hand and has no problems slipping into a pants pocket.
Fortunately, AT&T didn't mess with the display. The HTC Pure boasts a WVGA (400x800) resistive touch screen. Images and text pop with color and clarity, and though we would have preferred a capacitive screen since it doesn't require as much pressure or precision as resistive screens do, we found that the Pure's display worked just fine over our testing period. It also has a built-in accelerometer, which will automatically change the screen orientation from portrait to landscape when you rotate the phone. We found it to be quite responsive, but do note that this doesn't work in all apps, though it does for Web pages, e-mail, photos, and video.
As for input methods, the Pure offers an onscreen QWERTY keyboard, including a landscape keyboard. Despite looks, both the portrait and landscape keyboards are pretty easy to use and, with some practice, we were able to type pretty quickly with minimal mistakes. The buttons provide haptic feedback when touched, so you'll feel a vibration to let you know the screen has registered the command. All that said, don't expect the Pure to be an e-mail machine. It's fine for checking messages and for quick e-mail replies and texts, but heavy e-mailers might want to consider something with a physical keyboard.
On the left spine, there's a volume rocker, while the right side houses the speaker. The power button is located on top of the device, and there's a Mini-USB port/power connector/headset jack on the bottom. Yes, that's right; there's no 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. Instead, AT&T packages the HTC Pure with a 3.5 audio adapter as well as an AC adapter, a USB cable, an extra stylus, a 3.5 millimeter audio adapter, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
As part of the Touch series, the smartphone uses HTC's TouchFlo 3D interface. You can choose to stick with the company's tried-and-true UI or you can give the new Windows Mobile 6.5 Today screen a try. To hide TouchFlo, simply go to the Start menu, Settings, and tap on Today. From there, go to the Items tab, deselect TouchFlo, and check Windows Default. Here you'll also be able to select other apps you want add to the Home screen, while switching to the Appearance tab will let you customize your device with different background images or one of six themes, including five designer themes from Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, Rock and Republic, Ron Arad, and Vera Wang.
Back on the main page, you'll see the new layout, which is a bit Microsoft Zune-esque. A slide bar lets you scroll up and down through the various apps, which are noted in large, clear font. For certain items, such as messages and photos, you can swipe from left to right to see files or subcategories within that app. For example, in the Calendar section, you can do a sideways finger swipe to see upcoming appointments. It's certainly an improvement over the previous format, but we still preferred TouchFlo's UI, since it provides more information at a glance.
Another interface change you might have noticed when you went to change the Today screen is the new honeycomb layout of the Start menu. In an effort to make Windows Mobile more "touch friendly," Microsoft added more spacing between the repolished and more-eye-pleasing icons to reduce the chances of any mispresses. Microsoft also added new shortcuts for MSN Money, search, Windows Marketplace, and Microsoft MyPhone. You can move up and down the page to see all the apps with the swipe of your finger. In addition, you can rearrange the icons by doing a long press on one and then tapping "Move to top."
One other notable feature of Windows Mobile 6.5 is the new Lock screen. It shows upcoming appointments, missed calls, messages, and date and time right on the screen even if you've got your phone locked. If you've got multiple notifications (the number of notifications will appear next to the lock icon), you can touch the lock icon, which then presents a drop-down menu of sorts displaying how many of each--messages or missed calls--you have. Upcoming appointments are shown on the bottom third of the screen, along with the date and time. What's even better is that you can tap on each notification to go directly to the specific app (messages, phone, calendar) after unlocking the phone or entering your password or PIN (if you've set one up), rather than unlocking it, checking your notifications, and then launching the appropriate programs, so it cuts out a couple of steps.
Overall, the UI is certainly cleaner and looks sleeker than on the previous model. Windows Mobile 6.5 also adds more gesture support, such as being able to flick your finger on the screen to scroll through long lists, which is welcome, not to mention long overdue. How about multitouch next? The Lock screen is definitely useful, as well. However, is this all revolutionary? No. Microsoft still needs to play a massive game of catch up. Still, though, the interface enhancements, as small as they are, do make Windows Mobile a friendlier operating system for consumers and provide a better user experience, making the phone easier to navigate and understand.
Windows Mobile 6.5 highlights
In terms of features, Windows Mobile 6.5 brings three major additions: Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Microsoft's MyPhone backup service, and an improved Internet Explorer Mobile Web browser. Download.com has a more in-depth review of Windows Mobile 6.5, but we'll touch on them briefly here.
Joining its competitors (Apple, Palm, Google, and Symbian), Microsoft has created its own app store called Windows Marketplace for Mobile. It will ship on all devices running Windows Mobile 6.5 and will be made available to Windows Mobile 6.1 and 6.0 users, allowing you to search and download apps over the air right to your smartphone. Alternatively, you can buy apps online and then transfer them to your smartphone. The catalog offers free and paid apps in a range of categories, from business to lifestyle to entertainment to reference. The layout of the store is pretty plain, but it's easy to understand. From the main screen, there's a break out of apps by Showcase (featured programs for the day), Most popular, What's new, and Categories. Alternatively, you can find an app by entering a title in the search field at the top of the screen. The My Applications section allows you to manage the apps you have downloaded, check for updates, write reviews, or remove them.
Windows Marketplace is a little slow to load titles, but we were able to download several apps to the HTC Pure, including Facebook and Netflix Mobile, with no problem over AT&T's 3G network. New titles are added to your handset's Start page. Like the Android devices, your only option for installing apps seems to be on your phone's internal memory and not to a memory card. In the case of the HTC Pure, the smartphone offers 512MB ROM/288MB RAM. However, as we mentioned earlier, you can remove apps and Microsoft's MyPhone service backs up any purchased and downloaded apps, so you can reinstall them to your phone at a later time or if you lose your phone or buy a new device.
My Phone backs up more than your apps, though; it also stores your phone's contacts, text messages, e-mail, and photos to a password-protected Microsoft Web site. To log into the My Phone Web site, you will need to sign in with your Windows Live ID and password (if you don't have one, it's free to sign up and you can do it right from the smartphone) and there you will find all your phone's data. The relevancy of information will depend on how often you have your phone set to sync information with the My Phone service. From there, you can manage all your data, sync it to a new phone, or share photos with friends and family or upload to a social networking site.
The other benefit of the MyPhone service is that if your phone gets lost or stolen, you can remotely lock or wipe the data from your handset, while still keeping all your information safe on My Phone's Web site.
The last major addition is the improved Internet Explorer Mobile Web browser. For years, Microsoft's mobile Web browser, along with the BlackBerry browser, has trailed behind the competition in terms of usability. It's still not at the level of the iPhone's or Palm Pre's browsers, but there have been steps made toward progress. First, you now get Flash Lite support, so you can view Flash content right from the browser. You can also choose between a desktop or mobile view of Web pages, as well as the ability to scroll and pan. Zooming in and out of pages is also easier with the added toolbar and sliding scale, though you can use HTC's own touch-sensitive zoom bar below the Pure's display as well. Web searches are also now powered by Bing Mobile.
The productivity side of Windows Mobile doesn't change too much with the arrival of 6.5. The HTC Pure comes preloaded with the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite for editing native Word and Excel documents and viewing PowerPoint presentations. In addition, it offers Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server and support for POP3 and IMAP accounts.
As a phone, the HTC Pure offers quad-band world roaming, as well as a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, three-way calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory, and each entry can store multiple numbers, home and work addresses, e-mail, 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 a custom ringtone. Also, like the HTC Touch Pro2, you can view your contacts' status updates, any messages or e-mails you've exchanged with the person, and call history from a contact page. Search, in general, is easier since there's a Search Phone widget that will search your phone and its various apps, including e-mail, calendar, contacts, messages, tasks, and Word documents, to find results.
Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard for use with for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, object push, file transfer, personal area networking, dial-up networking, and more. The Pure is 3G-capable, though if you happen to be out of a coverage zone, the smartphone has built-in Wi-Fi to back you up and provides access to AT&T's Wi-Fi hot spots around the country.
Other AT&T services supported by the HTC Pure include AT&T Navigator, which you can use with the smartphone's built-in GPS to receive voice-guided navigation, AT&T Music, and AT&T Video. The carrier also throws in a number of extra apps, which you access from the dedicated AT&T Tab through HTC's TouchFlo interface. Such programs include MobiTV, The Weather Channel, and WikiMobile. The HTC Pure ships with plenty of standard personal information management tools as well, such as a Adobe Reader LE, Opera Web browser, a task list, a note pad, a voice recorder, and a calculator.
Finally, while the music and video capabilities pretty much remain the same as with the HTC Touch Diamond, the HTC Pure does get an upgrade in the camera department from 3.2 megapixels to 5 megapixels. As before, you get a wide range of camera settings and tools, including white balance and brightness controls, ISO settings, flicker adjustment, and various resolution and image-quality options. There's also a camcorder mode. Picture quality was good. We took several indoor and outdoor shots and were satisfied with the sharpness of images as well as the coloring. Bright sunlight did tend to blow out the picture a bit, and a flash would help for low-light situations. Video quality was acceptable, though clips could get a bit blurry.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) HTC Pure in San Diego using AT&T service, and call quality was fairly good. Like the HTC Touch2, we heard a minor background hiss during calls, which didn't interrupt conversation, since we could still hear our friend's voices over it, but it was definitely noticeable. Our callers didn't report any major problems, except when we had to raise our voice to compensate for some street noise and they said they heard a slight echo. Speakerphone quality was OK. There was some crackling every once in a while, and audio wasn't the richest, but we were able to carry on with calls and there was plenty of volume. We had no problems pairing the Pure with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
The Pure is equipped with a 528MHz MSM7201A processor and we didn't run into major delays or problems during our testing period. The smartphone was quite responsive and chugged along smoothly with some just some occasional moments of sluggishness, mostly with the browser. Using AT&T's 3G network, it took CNET's site 35 seconds to fully load, while CNN's and ESPN's sites came up in 9 seconds and 10 seconds, respectively. The revamped Internet Explorer Mobile is, indeed, a real improvement over previous versions. The new toolbar along the bottom provides easier access to tools. Navigation is much better, with the choice of views, pan support, and sliding zoom bar, though we still hand it to the iPhone and Palm Pre for ease of use. We also like Opera's browser for tabbed viewing. That said, it's nice to have the Flash Lite support, and we were able to play YouTube videos right from the browser.
The videos took a while to buffer, as did clips from AT&T Video. Picture quality was murky and the video would often have to rebuffer. Despite the annoyance of having to use the clunky audio adapter, we plugged in our Bose On-Ear headphones and enjoyed smooth music playback.
The HTC Pure features a 1100mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5.6 hours (GSM)/5 hours (3G) and up to 15 days (GSM)/20 days (3G). Unfortunately, the Pure fell short of the promised talk time, lasting only 3 hours and 40 minutes in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pure has a digital SAR rating of 1.27 watts per kilogram.