Friday, February 13, 2009


Things that haven't worked - HTC Touch HD

I picked up an HTC Touch HD at Christmas to replace an ageing and increasingly unreliable smartphone from around 5 years ago. The HTC falls into that category of things which seems marvellous at first glance but reveal their deeper and deeper inadequacies in use. Unlike some others I haven't had an issue with battery lfe, but like others I have found this to be a buggy and fragile affair in operation, with some weaknesses that seem positivel perverse.

The Touch HD runs Windows Mobile 6.1 with some of HTC's own user interfaces and programs as well. These are neither well integrated nor capable of fine tuning by the user. For example, it comes set up with a home (Today) screen option called Touch-Flo 3D, which offers finger-dragging movement between icons such as contacts (not the same contacts as in Windows), settings (not the same settings as in Windows) and other functions. The finger-swiping is neither intuitive nor reliable, and I think will quickly be discarded by anyone used to an iPhone. There's a Groundhog Day clock and some other bits and pieces. The phone function is brought into play either by pressing a "soft" button on the fascia orby tapping a Phone link at the base of the screen. Both take you through to a keypad screen which gives you recently dialled numbers, a switch between voice and video calls, and a Talk button to connect to the number dialled. Pressing Talk takes you to another screen with an End Call button, which then almost immediately goes dark. This means that unless you have been very quick and tapped the small Keypad button in advance, getting through to anywhere that has a "for option X press 1" dialogue is a complete nightmare of trying to bring up the keypad again without putting the call on hold or cutting the call off. There's a completely spurious (as in unnecessary) sliding bar mechanism for answering calls, which is so useless that HTC have already had to publish a hotfix for it.

But the single most frustrating thing about this whole front end is that IT'S NOT LOCKABLE. Which means you have a large and sensitive touch screen plus a large and sensitive volume control being activated by any and every tiny pressure they get while in your pocket or briefcase or wherever. There weren't any protective cases available for it by the time I left for Syria. HTC think they have made the phone lockable by introducing this as a settings option for the phone's Off button. But like so many things on this machine, it just doesn't work.

So I ditched Touch-Flo 3D and went for a standard Windows Mobile home screen, because there at least you can add a Device Lock to the items on the screen, and this actually does work - most of the time.

Other things that don't function as they should? Something called G-Sensor, which is supposed to work out which way up you're holding the phone and change the screen orientation accordingly. Nope. And there's no way to program a key to swap orientation manually from portrait to landscape and back again.

Tapping a video in a folder starts it running in HTC's own viewer (rather than Windows Media) which will only play in portrait format, so tiny. There's no way to make WM the default player, and no way to find, let alone remove HTC's unconvincing alternative.

The Touch comes with a couple of its own on-screen keyboards, which are nothing special, simply being variations of a standard qwerty keyboard. And for these there is a T9 option with auto-completion. Sadly, in fact inexcusably, HTC have taken this as a reason to disable an auto-completion option for anyone else's better keyboard layout, such as fitaly, which I have used for around twelve years and wouldn't swap for anything. I understand that there may be a registry hack to get round this, but why should it be the case? HTC aren't Apple, trying to lock people into their Way of doing things, or are they going that direction?

Files take ages to load, far longer even than on my old iPaq 2210, even though there's a fair chunk of RAM. A soft re-set needs the back of the case removed, which is neither ideal nor simple. And it's already locked up terminally once after downloading one of HTC's hotfixes, needing a hard (total) reset together with loss of data. Stable? I don't think so.

So I am very disappointed in this machine, and in HTC who have been specialising in smartphones for some time and really should have had the capacity to iron out the bugs in this one before release. If I'd paid full price for it rather than getting it as an upgrade from Orange, I would be spitting tacks. Not recommended.

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