A smart phone with a slide-out keyboard isn't exactly a rarity these days, but this model stands out from its rivals because it doesn't have the girth of a Russian weightlifter. In fact, it's only marginally thicker than your average candybar handset. The other big news is that it runs the brand new version of Microsoft's mobile phone OS -- Windows Mobile 6.
Orange will be branding the handset as the E650, so if you're on that network you'll be able to get it free on contract. Others will be able to pick it up for around £270 as the HTC S710.
The S710 is the best-looking Windows smart phone we've seen in a long time. The mirrored metal surround that circles the front of the phone contrasts perfectly with the black styling of the rest of the handset and the rubberised plastic on the rear makes it comfortable to grip in your hand.
The slick design is all the more impressive because the body of the phone hides a full Qwerty keyboard. To get at the keyboard you just push the screen to the left. When the keyboard pops out, the bright and crisp display automatically switches from portrait to landscape view giving it much the same feel as a clamshell PDA.
We wouldn't exactly describe the keyboard as spacious, but it's just about large enough for two-finger typing. The keys are also backlit, so you'll have no problems tapping out text messages or emails on the way home after a night out.
Of course, you don't always have to use the slide-out keyboard to control the phone. Every element of the software can also be driven by the keypad on the front. This has twin soft keys at the top along with a large direction pad that makes it easy to move through the menus. The number keys, however, are a tad on the small side, so popping out the Qwerty keyboard is definitely the best option when you need to type long text messages or emails.
To sync the phone with your PC there's a mini-USB port on the bottom. This is also used for charging the handset and for hooking up the headphones for use with the built-in media player.
This is the first handset we've seen that runs the latest version of Microsoft's phone OS -- Windows Mobile 6 -- which was formerly known as Crossbow. Apart from spruced-up icons, the bulk of the user interface doesn't look all that different from the previous version.
There have been some tweaks here and there, though. For example, the call history is now listed next to names in the Contacts list and the Calendar has been updated with a handy new appointment preview pane at the bottom of the screen.
Microsoft has also improved the messaging functionality. You can now resize text in emails, which is neat as it means less scrolling when reading long messages, and for the first time you get support for HTML emails.
The other major update is the inclusion of new XT9 predictive text messaging. It differs from the standard T9 software by the inclusion of automatic spell correction and next letter prediction. What this means in practice is that a list of predicted words appears at the bottom of the display as you type. So if you want to enter 'follows', you only have to type 'fol' and then pick the full predicted word from this list. It's useful for those who are slow at texting, but speed demons will often find it's faster to just type the whole word rather than move through the predicted list to find the right one.
Windows Mobile 6 also now supports editing as well as viewing Office documents via the Mobile Office software, but unfortunately this hasn't been included on the S710. Instead you're stuck with the ClearVue software, which only lets you view Word, Excel and Powerpoint files.
For storing files the S710 has 64MB of memory onboard, but you can add extra storage space using microSD cards. The card slot is situated on the right-hand edge of the handset -- a better arrangement than some smart phones that require you to remove the battery before inserting a memory card.
The S710 screen takes up over half the front of the phone, and although the display's resolution is a pretty standard 320x240 pixels, text and pictures look very crisp and colours are impressively vivid.
On the connectivity side, the phone has most of the bases covered. It supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and it's quad band so you'll be able to use it in most countries around the world. There is one fatal flaw, though: it doesn't work on 3G networks. Instead, when you're out of range of a Wi-Fi hotpsot, you're stuck with the slow data speeds supplied by GPRS. On a phone that initially seems so well-equipped for high-speed Web surfing, it's a major downer.
Smart phones can sometimes suffer from dodgy call quality, but there are no such worries here as voice calls sound impressively crisp and loud. The speakerphone also works well and is loud enough to be useful in average-sized rooms.
For taking pictures, the handset is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera. The jerky updates when using the screen as a viewfinder don't help when framing shots, but pictures are reasonably sharp. The colours, however, look slightly washed out, and it lacks an LED flash so it's not really suitable for taking pictures in low light.
For the most part the S710, which is driven by a 201MHz Omap processor, feels nippy, but there are times when it seems to struggle to keep pace with Windows Mobile 6. For example, it often takes two or three seconds to change the orientation of the screen from portrait to landscape view when you flick open the keyboard.
That said, the battery life was impressive. Making pretty heavy usage of all its features, including battery draining Wi-Fi, we got just over three days out of it before it needed to be topped up with juice. That's not too shabby for such a feature-laden smart phone.
There's plenty to like with the S710. It has a stylish and compact design, yet it manages to include a full Qwerty keyboard that's excellent for tapping out text messages or emails. The large display makes it ideal for surfing the Web while on the move and the battery life is impressive.
The lack of 3G support is a major disappointment, though, and the phone can feel a little sluggish at times. Nevertheless, we still think this is a seriously impressive Windows smart phone that's ideal for those who need to stay connected while out and about.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield