Round Robin: AT&T Tilt

Tilt Tilted

For the past few days, I've been working with the AT&T Tilt, a Windows Mobile smartphone. I've used Windows Mobile before, so this isn't quite the new experience that the BlackBerry Curve was, but I haven't used the latest version of Windows Mobile (version 6) either. I used WM5 with a Treo 750 for a while, but I ended up dealing with a bad bug that prevented calls from ringing. That was pretty much a killer for the device, and I stopped using it.

And that would be the end of the story, but for the Smartphone Round Robin. And here we are again.

First, Some History

Treo 750

When I last used Windows Mobile, I was frustrated at the lack of real estate -- I was used to a 320x320 screen from the Treo 680 (which I'll be using again next week), and the 750's 240x240 screen felt really small. When the pixels are limited like that, the seemingly glaring excesses of the Windows Mobile interface... the bars across the bottom and top of the screen, plus the right scroll bar: I was not a happy camper with how the real estate was divided. Dieter of WMExperts told me that WM6 was basically WM5, but with less bugs. The user interface, the way that Windows Mobile presents itself to people using it, was pretty much unchanged, and I figured that maybe I'd check out Windows Mobile again once their new version, Photon, was available. This was all pre-iPhone, so my options of escape were a bit limited.

But, that was a different device, a different Windows Mobile, and a different time. Which leads us, finally, to the Tilt.

About the Tilt

Att Tilt

The tilt is a Windows Mobile slider, meaning that it has an iPhone-like front, except that it slides up along the middle to reveal a full-sized keyboard along the front. The form factor, except for the sliding part, is a lot like the iPhone. Oh, and the double-thickness. The iPhone is perhaps a centimeter longer, but half the depth.

The Tilt is huge -- not a device that you can use with just one hand. And there are buttons all over the place -- one for the camera, one for power/sleep, one for push-to-talk, two OK buttons, and a scroll wheel. Then there are phone, hangup, mail, browser, start, left menu, right menu, and (another) OK key. Then there's the 5-way directional pad. Many, though not all, of these keys are present yet again in the slider keyboard.

The Size is Deceptive

Battery

The battery life on the Tilt is a bit of a disappointment. With the iPhone, I'm used to leaving wi-fi on pretty much all of the time. I recharge the phone about every two or three days. With the Tilt, battery life is great -- as long as that Wi-Fi is off, and I don't have any programs chewing up bandwidth in the background. I suppose this could be said of any phone, but given the size of the Tilt, I kind of expect more battery life out of it.

Beachball

Given the size, I also kind of expect more speed... response on the Tilt is a bit sluggish, which kind of surprised me. I don't know if it's a RAM issue or a processor speed thing, all I know is that the Tilt is kind of pokey. Windows Mobile ships with its own special version of the spinny beach ball that indicates that something is going on. You can't do anything while the ball spins, the mobile is pretty much locked.

Those are the bad things about the Tilt, off the bat. I'm still not a fan of Windows Mobile, I still find myself lamenting that the UI is bad. The start menu is too small to be thumbable accurately, for example.

Redemptions

But there are good things about Windows Mobile, there always have been. One thing that I do like about Windows Mobile is the power of it all. Real multi-tasking is a boon. Of all of the smartphones that everyone has been using over the Smartphone Round Robin, the Tilt is the only one that really has it. If you want to have GPS mapping going while you browse the web whilst music plays in the background, have at it. The Tilt may not be especially responsive during that time, but it will work.

Wm5 Filebrowser

Windows Mobile also has "a real file system." With that real filesystem come a lot of benefits. For most things, it means "real apps." If you want to download something to your phone, have at it. If you want Outlook on your phone, it's there. If you want to make powerpoint documents or spreadsheets or word documents, it's all there, ready for you to use. It's a very powerful system.

For Every Gripe, an Equal and Opposite 3rd Party App

And though there are a lot of things that I don't like about the way Windows Mobile looks and behaves, there's a slew of programs out there that attempt to fix it.

I don't like the Today screen, for example. I miss having a useful background image, and I don't like the way that the standard information is presented to me. There are programs out there that fix that -- the most notable one is probably SPB Mobile Shell, which I use to replace the default 'Today' screen.

Ie

The browser is really bad, too. Pocket IE is pretty much a joke -- it's incredibly slow and absolutely offsets any speed gains you get from using the Tilt with a 3G network. Opera Mobile to the rescue! It's not as good as MobileSafari on the iPhone, but it's a sight better than Pocket IE. You can use it to replace pretty much everything that PIE does -- download files, the whole shebang. Opera Mobile is one of the reasons that I've been looking forward to using the Tilt.

<

p>I also think that the software keyboard on the Tilt is very bad -- it's tiny and requires frequent use of the stylus. I'm pretty certain that there's an iPhone-like keyboard available. One of the times that I tapped the keyboard with the stylus, though, I got a menu where I could pick and choose from several less-bad software keyboards. The keys are still infintesimal on most of them, but there's a choice. And some of the helpful forum users have pointed me to other software keyboards that might be better, and I'm pretty sure that there's an iPhone software keyboard clone floating around on the itnernet somewhere.

Nothing to Reference

One of the things that sets Windows Mobile apart from the other smartphones we're all testing is that Microsoft doesn't actually make the device -- they just make the software. The rest is all up to HTC, or Palm, or Motorola, or anyone who decides to ship a Windows Mobile smartphone.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's a good thing because it's a platform -- it means that anyone that wants to build a smartphone and has the hardware know-how can build one, because they don't need nearly as many people to get the software side of things working. Since all of these hardware companies are using the same software platform, it means that it's a lot easier to get better apps to use and games to play with -- it gives Windows Mobile a lot of legs, in terms of what you can do with it.

The downside to all of this is that you don't necessarily get a strong design edge out of this method of doing things. It's a lot like Microsoft in the computer world -- maybe your average beige computer box is kind of ugly, but that's not Microsoft's fault, they just did the software.

And HTC's Tilt, though not by any means a bad-looking device, shows all the symptoms of this problem. There are huge buttons all over the place, but the hardest one to find and activate is the sleep button. The red phone button, which we've all been taught with countless featurephone designs, should turn the device on, or at least wake it up from sleep. Looks like someone missed that, as the red phone button does nothing. It may be that there's a way to swap those buttons in software -- if there is, please post.

Endless Customizability

One of the other things about Windows Mobile that struck me is that there's endless customizability. I'm willing to bet that many if not all of the things that I can find that I don't like, there's an app or tweak or registry edit that fixes it. All that matters is that you have the time, knowledge, and/or money to throw at the things you don't like about Windows Mobile. And that you have a parachute for the learning cliff.

0
loading...
0
loading...
0
loading...
0
loading...

← Previously

Apple Making a Tablet PC?

Next up →

PwnageTool jalbreak software

There are 27 comments. Add yours.

Dieter Bohn says:

Let's make it an Official Round Robin Contest Thread.
Excellent article, IMO, well worth the read. There are indeed plenty of decent soft-keyboards out there. I'll let others chime in with their favorites to see if anybody can pick the right one. ;)

nitido357 says:

now, by soft keyboard, do you mean something similar to the Iphone's? or something smaller?

CrackBerry Kevin says:

Great Article Mike!
Touched on a lot of things I didn't talk about...like YES..the multitasking capability is awesome. One of those things that makes it more like a mini-computer when using it vs. a smartphone.
And just realized something...I'm pretty sure I kept WiFi on the entire time I had the phone in my possession. Wouldn't everyone?! I'm guessing that will be the reason the battery needed a mid-afternoon recharge. I haven't had the pleasure of using a WiFi BlackBerry yet (8820 or 8320)...not sure how badly the battery gets sapped when WiFi is turned on those.
Looking forward to your next article!

surur says:

The two software keyboards of the moment are Touchpal and PCMKeyboard.http://www.cootek.com/http://www.pocketcm.com/keyboard2.php
Surur

surur says:

It seems to me all these round robins are more about the Out of Box experience than the eventual user experience. I get most newbies never customize their devices, but WM users are much more pro-active in general. Didn't Palm say recently 80+% of their users use 3rd party apps.
I know iPhone users are superficial, so maybe the first thing to change is the theme? I was shocked to see kevinBerry was still using the very plain default one.
There are some nice ones here, and a cab to make it all glossy blackhttp://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=1403151&postcount=828
You would also want to install HTC Album, which is their own image viewer.http://rapidshare.com/files/65505054/HTC__Album_mui_0409.cab
BTW, if you hold down the phone end key it locks the phone.
Surur

pdaluver says:

Great article Mike! I look forward to reading your final thoughts! ;-)

meyerweb says:

I look forward to seeing more comments on usability. I'm still unconvinced the WinMob 6 is any easier to use than previous versions. MS seems to be applying the same business model to WinMob as it does to Windows itself: each release gets more and more features, requires more and more memory and processor, but does nothing to solve the usability problems that have existed for year after year, version after version.
And the Tilt itself seems to add even more complexity, with its plethora of buttons and switches.
I guess that's why I'm still a Palm Treo user: In spite of its age, lack of pre-emptive multi-tasking, and less than glamorous interface, the Palm OS just plain works. It's simple, straightforward, and gets the most performance from the fewest inputs of any device to date.
The iPhone has potential, but even now there are oddities in the interface which makes some activities harder than they need to bem, especially when switching between apps. I wonder how well the interface will hold up with 50 or more 3rd party apps loaded, each with it's own interpretation of the "standard."

surur says:

And the Tilt itself seems to add even more complexity, with its plethora of buttons and switches.
This is such nonsense, I am starting to doubt the sanity of the people who spew it.
So its more complex to open my e-mail app with a clearly labeled e-mail button? Or by browser with the same? Or my phone app?
And arnt most phone users trained in the use of soft keys and menus associated with them for ages? Isn't that how every Razr works?
If you use nothing but the browser, e-mail and phone you would never need to open up the start menu at all.
Maybe some-one need to explain to me whats so complicated, because I dont get it.
Surur

Bla1ze says:

I think the complication comes from having so many diff ways to axxs one simple item, WinMob is cluttered and a user of WinMob has to find the "right way" to make the device function for them, once those options are set I think the OS will become easier to maintain and use, but until that happens the devices do feel complicated and awkward, the good thing about WinMob is it's customization options to remove some of the complication AKA Clutter,Bloat..how ever you wanna refer to it..is a simple process as long as your willing/able to dabble into long lists of .CAB files and such, but my personal perception still prevails here and no matter how many articles/reviews I read about WinMob usage will change that, it's just not a user friendly OS for the average user, you have to be interested and know what WinMob is and know the potential it actually has to want to purchase these devices, without that knowledge..chances are you'll be coming to the sad realization that the device you just purchased is way more then what you actually need/understand...in terms of other devices, the iPhone is slick and easy to navigate, the BB devices the same, these devices can be picked up and quickly understood by the average user in a matter of days, where with WinMob, a user could have the device and never end up fully understanding all the functions of it..like I said this is great for those "explorers" and gadget nuts, but average user...naww

netsyd says:

So ... quick question.
Did you happen to have any issues with switching back and forth between Wifi and 3G? Its a frickin nightmare for me. I have to turn on wifi, then go into my mail account options and set it back to "the internet" from "medianet" before it will download email over wifi. If I try to use wifi to browse the web and then leave the house (and disconnect wifi) then I have to close PIE and reopen it before it will start to use the 3G network. Its ridiculous. My iPhone I switch between wifi and edge without any notice or issues...
Am I missing something?

gadgetluva says:

Great article mike. I must say that as a veteran user of WM devices, the whole platform is sluggish a lot of the time. However, I believe that the sluggishness is offset by the power, customizability, and hardware that ships with many of these devices. My current device is also the Tilt, and I haven't thought much about the Treo 750 at all.

Cascade says:

Nice article! Can't wait to see what you think of it after going back to the 680 for a bit. I'm on the 680 and curious if I should go WM. Your +/- on it in a short window like this will surely be helpful!

JGold says:

Bla1ze,
You truly "get it". :)
This coming from a 7 year veteran of Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) devices.

nerdstrap says:

Too bad AT&T is the devil!

justdigphones says:

I'm curious if you ever get "stuck" going back to edge speeds and how the handoff between 2G and 3G is. Thanks for the great articles!

dreadpiratedoug says:

Do you like how the phone actually tilts, or have you messed with the old style sliders and prefer them?

Bla1ze says:

Too bad AT&T is the devil!
How does that fit in, lol?
Long live unlocked devices.

Stig says:

I must say this pretty much mirrors my experiences with an HTC TyTN. Big, not that easy to use, and a bit slow. My biggest gripe is not really covered above - it's not very easy to use as a phone! Dialling a number that isn't a speed dial or on voice command is a pain - even with two hands!

Overthrow says:

Do you like how the phone actually tilts, or have you messed with the old style sliders and prefer them?
I think sliders are kind of a gimmicky form factor. I tended to use it vertically without sliding, just did the sideways for the emails. I'm convinced that brick / candybar is the way.
With the tilt and slide stuff, I can't help but think that maybe the device would have better battery life or thinner profile if they didn't have to do the extra engineering. ditto with styluses. ditto with the duplication of keys all over on the tilt.
I viewed this review more as a review of windows mobile than I did of the tilt specifically, though. I think that's really the point of the smartphone round robin -- to check out the other platforms and report on that; we're just doing it through the lens of what's hopefully that platform's latest and greatest. With the possible exception of the Treo 680. :rolleyes:
So any gripes I have about the Tilt's form factor should be taken with a grain of salt -- there are other windows mobile phones out there with better form factors. It's not WM's fault that I think that sliders are a gimmick doomed to the rubbish bin of time. :D

surur says:

The tilt of my Tilt actually makes it useful when I am not actively using it - when I am at my desk.
When plugged in to my laptop to tether, the HTC Home screen makes a good desktop clock, and you can see your push e-mail arrive as it arrives.
Secondly, when you sync photos (same way you sync music) you can use it as a nice digital photo frame.
Also, text entry is slightly easier with the screen tilted (but not too far, as it encroaches on the keyboard them).
Finally, it works well as a built-in stand when watching video for example.
Anyway, I find the Tilt feature desirable and useful.
Surur

Overthrow says:

I agree that some manner of tilting often desirable. there are cases (if memory serves, the belkin acrylic clear case?) that provide a tilt function for the iPhone. For desktop use, there's always the cradle that ships with the iPhone.
I think that the Tilt makes a lot of sacrifices to engineer that tilting functionality -- slow processor, mediocre battery life, and thick form factor. It's almost too big. Still usable, of course, but it looks awkward in a pocket. When you double the surface area and hinges, you add bulk, you have to engineer a safe connecting mechanism, the little ribbon thingy, etc. They still pack a lot of stuff in -- wifi, gps, etc, but they still made some big sacrifices.
At any rate, that's why I think candybar / brick is the way. I'll probably see if I can finagle an LG KS20 out of Septimus for a fairer iPhone / WM comparison in the future.

surur says:

I think that the Tilt makes a lot of sacrifices to engineer that tilting functionality -- slow processor, mediocre battery life, and thick form factor. It's almost too big. Still usable, of course, but it looks awkward in a pocket. When you double the surface area and hinges, you add bulk, you have to engineer a safe connecting mechanism, the little ribbon thingy, etc. They still pack a lot of stuff in -- wifi, gps, etc, but they still made some big sacrifices.
Most of that is for the sliding mechanism, not the tilt. The new Touch Cruise for example has no sliding keyboard, but is a similar dimension, but only 3.5 mm thinner. The penalty for the sliding keyboard and Tilt is therefore only 3.5 mm and 60 grams weight.
The Tilt is actually 3 mm thinner than the Tytn, its predecessor, which has a sliding keyboard but no Tilt mechanism. The Cruise, Tilt and Tytn have the same size 1350 battery BTW. And the Cruise has the exact same processor speed, and other features like WIFI and GPS.
I think the main sacrifice associated with the tilt feature is weight, as I assume there is plenty of metal in there to keep the structure sturdy. I dont think the dimensions suffered appreciably.
Surur

Overthrow says:

Most of that is for the sliding mechanism, not the tilt. The new Touch Cruise for example has no sliding keyboard, but is a similar dimension, but only 3.5 mm thinner. The penalty for the sliding keyboard and Tilt is therefore only 3.5 mm and 60 grams weight.
The Tilt is actually 3 mm thinner than the Tytn, its predecessor, which has a sliding keyboard but no Tilt mechanism. The Cruise, Tilt and Tytn have the same size 1350 battery BTW. And the Cruise has the exact same processor speed, and other features like WIFI and GPS.
I think the main sacrifice associated with the tilt feature is weight, as I assume there is plenty of metal in there to keep the structure sturdy. I dont think the dimensions suffered appreciably.
Surur
3.5 mm doesn't sound like much until you math it -- it's around 20% less. The extra weight didn't bother me at all, actually. I expect 3G phones laden up with features like 3G, 3MP camera, GPS, wifi, etc to be thicker, but there is a limit to what I'll gladly put in my pocket. Driving while trying to get the tilt out as it rings = bad.

rob@NextInWireless says:

Well I've been living with the Tilt for a month, and it's going back tomorrow.
Things I didn't like about WM6:
1. You must upgrade at least to Outlook 2002 to be able to sync with your PC
2. Fewer button mapping is available, only 5 verses 12 for WM5 with the Samsung i-730. This makes it less one-handed friendly
3. They didn't bother fixing the forced reset when you swap the battery, over WM5.
What is the advantage here?
Hardware drawbacks:
1. Power plug gets in the way if you use the keyboard
2. Hands-free is a non-standard connector
3. No included hands free, holster, extra battery
Application drawbacks:
1. Camera takes about 5 seconds to take a photo, after you press the button
2. GPS didn't work when I needed it; isn't ready out of the box
3. Can no longer "recognize" handwriting in Notes (convert to text)
I am appreciating my old i-730 much more now. And I don't see anything that is really worth buying right now...all have their shortcomings...

Elizabeth says:

I wanted to comment and thank the author, good stuff