I’m always looking for my next phone. My BlackJack II has served me well, and continues to do so. The biggest flaws with it are the lack of Wi-Fi, and the GPS being painfully slow to initialize, so slow that it is barely usable. But, those faults aside, I have been pretty happy with the device. But, that is no reason to stop the endless pursuit for the ultimate cell phone. And the latest one I tried is the much anticipated and oft discussed HTC Diamond Pro. I’ve used several HTC devices before, including the 8125, the Tilt, and the G1 Android, and in general HTC makes solid and very reliable hardware. The Diamond Pro promises a mix of HTC hardware, cutting edge styling, and iPhone like touch screen gestures and interactions, and so I picked up one of the very first available in the U.S. (released as the AT&T FUZE). The HTC Diamond Pro is a Windows Mobile device, and HTC has created a touch screen UI called TouchFLO 3Dthat sits on top of Windows Mobile. I took the device to MAX with me, and used it for close to two weeks before drawing conclusions – yep, I so wanted to love this device. But, well, here’s the scoop:
Pros

  • The HTC Diamond Pro comes with Windows Mobile 6.1. And yes, I know that some won’t see that as a pro, but 6.1 really is superior to v6.
  • The HTC Diamond Pro is sleek and is styled really nicely, the thing just looks cool.
  • More importantly, the slide out keyboard is one of the best I have used on a device this size, it feels right, the tactile feedback is good, it even features Caps Lock LEDs etc.
  • The screen is clear and bright, well lit, and usable even in bright daylight.
  • Superb Wi-Fi, and equally good Bluetooth (although I wish Microsoft would finally fix Windows Mobile so that it published cell and battery strength via Bluetooth).
  • The stylus is stored really well, with (what I assume is) magnetic pull to easily hold it in place and reducing the chances of losing it.
  • Like most HTC devices, connectivity and power are via a mini USB connector. This should be standard for all devices, and vendors like Samsung (who like to change connectors between phone versions) should take note.
  • The camera is superb.

Cons

  • The device is slow, make that painfully horribly frustratingly annoyingly slow. The touch screen version of Windos Mobile is indeed more resource intensive, and TouchFLO seems to make it even more sluggish. The device needed a much faster CPU, and by not providing one HTC has basically rendered the device too sluggish to use. Yep, first con, and this one just about renders the phone useless. But it gets worse, much worse.
  • TouchFLO 3D looks really cool, check out the screens linked to above. But as hard as TouchFLO 3D tries, it can’t succeed. Why? Because it is a thin veneer over Windows Mobile which was designed for use with a stylus. The gestures to move through favorite contacts are ok, but when you need to display all contacts you drop to the standard Windows Mobile contact list which was never designed for fingers, it needs a far more precise interaction. Same thing for the calendar, and messaging, and e-mail – when the area to touch or click is a little button or an X at the top of the screen, finger control is useless. You are going to need to try multiple times, or pop up the included stylus, and that gets frustrating very quickly. The problem is that Windows Mobile was never designed for finger gestures the way iPhone was, and TouchFLO 3D does not replace enough of Windows Mobile UI to change that.
  • Now combine the previous two points, and the bad news gets much worse. TouchFLO 3D is so slow that it sometimes won’t respond to gestures at all, so you end up trying again, and again, and then it catches up with all of them, and thus doing things you never intended – dialing wrong numbers or prompting you to delete contacts or changing settings. Unacceptable.
  • The device is rather uncomfortable to hold next to your ear for any extended period.
  • The keyboard slides out far too easily. If you hold the phone to your right ear this won’t be a problem, as you’d need to push up to open the keyboard. But hold it to your left ear, and your thumb ends up holding the keyboard closed and your four fingers try to push it open, and the four fingers tend to win. So, you’re talking, and suddenly you have an open keyboard on the side of your face, which is not comfortable and highly conducive to pressing wrong keys.
  • One of the things I like about iPhone is that it seems to intuitively know what you need to do. For example, hold the phone to your ear and the screen blanks, move it away and it comes to life. The Diamond Pro blanks after a few seconds, but never comes back to life until you press a button, which may also pop up a menu or hang up or something else.
  • MicroSD slots do not belong under the cover, enough said.
  • Phone volume is terrible, highest volume is not high enough.

Bottom line, this phone is an absolute failure. As I said before, I really tried to like the device, but after two weeks just had to return it. Interestingly enough, when I did return it, they asked me my opinion (they know me personally at my local AT&T store, scary, huh?) as I was the very first to buy it at this location. I gave them much of this feedback, and they acknowledged that they’ve had several returned already, and all with similar complaints.
The HTC Diamond Pro has been pitched as the first real challenge to iPhone. And while I am not an iPhone fanboy, I can still state unequivocally that there is no comparison.
Now, to be very fair, the biggest problem with the device (the sluggish and inadequate UI) are not entirely HTC’s fault. Windows Mobile comes in two flavors, a version for touch screens and a version for non touch screens. The latter does less, but is always more responsive, and far better suited for one handed operation. The former does more, but is slower, and is designed for careful and precise stylus use – it was never intended for casual finger gesturing. HTC’s biggest failure with this device was trying to make Windows Mobile do things it was never intended to do, and then not backing it up with the horsepower to even attempt doing it.
For now though, there is no way I can recommend the HTC Diamond Pro, and am back to using my Samsung BlackJack II.
There are other Windows Mobile touch screen devices out there now. The new LG Incite looks interesting, but lacks a real keyboard, which is probably a deal breaker for me (that’s actually the main reason I gave up on iPhone). The Samung i907 (aka Epix) is based on the BlackJack II, but uses Windows Mobile for touch screen, and introduces a touch pad that moves a mouse cursor, an interesting UI concept that may make Windows Mobile touch screen better suited for one handed use. I need to play with both, although of the two, the latter seems more interesting. If (or when) I get to try these, I’ll be sure to post a review.

5 thoughts

  1. I’ve got the PPC-6700 from Sprint, which is really the HTC-Apache. I love the keyboard on it and am very wary of replacing it with a device that doesn’t have one. I waited and waited for the Touch Pro to show up, but then I just couldn’t pull the trigger on it for some reason. It looks like the logical successor to the Apache, but most of the cons you described are things that would drive me bonkers. I think my decision’s between the iPhone and the G1 now. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the review. I am currently waffling back and forth between an iPhone and a HTC Fuze (HTC Diamond Pro). Now I basically have to sit and think if I really want an Apple product or if I should spring for a blackberry instead.

  3. Ben,
    I have had a lot of phones in the last few years, several HTC devices as far back as the "Blue Angel" and more recently the HTC 8525, the BlackJack II and the Blackberry Curve. I have gotten to use iPhones off and on a bit as well.
    I picked up the HTC Fuze right before Thanksgiving and I am really happy with it.
    This is by far the best device I have ever owned.
    The TouchFLO 3D interface does give me most of the "gee whiz" factor of the iPhone, while the full slide out keyboard gives me practical functionality.
    I have experienced the slowdowns you describe occasionally, but this is usually the fault of another windows mobile "feature"… pressing the ‘x’ button doesn’t actually close your apps, but instead minimizes them, so you can easily end up with a ton of apps running consuming resources.
    I am not too impressed with the battery life on this phone. I tend to be a heavy user and the phone will complain of critically low battery life by 8 or 9 pm if I use it off and on all day without recharging.
    I am always in the habit of keeping my phone docked to my laptop or charging while in the vehicle so I am able to overcome this shortcoming.
    Anyway, I just wanted to throw in a different perspective of this phone.
    Thanks for blogging your phone experiences and please keep it up!
    I am very interested to see what you think of the Samsung Epix.
    I toyed with it in the store and found the touch pad mouse was pretty intuitive to use.
    Good luck in the hunt for the perfect phone!

  4. Hi,
    The HTC diamond series are definitely bad, HTC tried to open his market to a bigger public and they made a big mistake.
    By telling that HTC uses standard connectors, it’s a lie because you don’t have a plug for normal headphones (except for HTC touch HD)
    I think if we want to compare cell phones, the HTC touch HD is definitely the one you should take.

  5. Ben I share your pros and cons. I share them so much that if someone wants to buy my HTC Touch Pro just let me know… With the current Windows Mobile 6.1 + TouchFlo 3D the device is hardly usable. Just trying to get to the overview of WiFi hotspots is tiresome. Is there nobody out there that has build a nice front end for Windows Mobile? If Flex was running on it and would support a lot of functionality (e.g. making phone calls, gps access, wifi support) then I would start right away! I’d even make it talk to BlazeNET 🙂

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