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Usually we wait for This Week in Smartphone Schadenfreude to
mock review the competition (such as it is), but if they bring the hype, we'll bring the satire, special-edition style.
Samsung, Nokia (yeah, I'd forgotten about them as well...), and RIM (and RIM) have already sent in their iClones, and now it's HTCs turn to make mid-2008 look like early 2007 all over again... Ludites and gentlemen, the HTC Touch Diamond.
(At least I think it's the Diamond, they've pre-announced like 100 different Touch trademarks lately, so it could be the Pro or the Cruise or even the Cubic Zirconium for all I can tell...)
Speaking of 2007, as we all know when Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld and pulled the iPhone from his pocket, it's form factor was exactly like every other Palm, RIM, and WinMob device out there, with a tiny screen, application independent tic-tactile keyboard, always unstylish stylus, and and OS and interface straight out of 2001.
Wait, no it wasn't. El Jobso unveiled a revolutionary new device with a giant, hi-res screen, multi-touch input, and an interface the likes of which the industry had never seen before. But they (and we) have certainly seen it since -- reflected funhouse mirror-like in almost every signature device from every company released post-iPhone.
Now HTC does deserve some orientation-sensing, hardware-accelerated props (assuming they cough up non-crippled drivers this time). According to WMExperts.com and HTC CMO John Wang, they've replaced Pocket IE with Opera (imagine Dell doing that with Firefox on the Windows desktop...), improved on the default virtual keyboard to the point of earning an official Engadget "messy", and very wisely done everything they can to hide Windows Mobile, even though the device sports the latest, greatest (all things being relative) version 6.1. (And boy must that have the furniture flying around Ballmer's tiny office...)
Instead, they've layered on custom interfaces to "Multi-Touch Cover Flow"... er... single "TouchFLO 3D" their way through photos, put little green numbered dots to count down emails on their envelop icons, and in a myriad other ways joined the "inspired by Apple in Cupertino" crowd. Still, it's actually, you know, a decent interface, and the animation is borderline gorgeous (or it would be if the demo unit didn't sport the responsiveness of a 386 running Vista).
Want to do anything more than the slicken-ing veneer allows, however, want to tweak a setting to access the fabled power of the platform, and its straight back to Windows Mobile 6.1.
Surprise, surprise, if you pile whip cream atop a turd sunday, all that shiny sweetness is meaningless the first time you dig in and really take a bite.
The eponymous touch screen is the old school, resistance type (oh, stylus, where art thou?) but the paltry (and already Apple abandoned) 4GB internal storage capacity is probably sufficient, what with Microsoft creating and abandoning user-unfriendly content services like MSN faster than you can say PlaysNoMore. And it's a good thing since there isn't much to watch on that beautiful, if cramped, 2.8" VGA screen, given the positively tiny 900mAh battery guaranteed to last through a full day of absolutely no use anyway. (
For the truly masochistic, of course, a micro-SD expansion will allow an extra moveable part to break and the comforting knowledge that all pressure data is safely stored on something the size of a pinky nail -- no chance of losing that! UPDATE: turns I miss-spec'd myself -- HTC to consumers: no SD expansion for you! 4GB is all you get!)
On the plus side, however, at least HTC didn't copy the iPhone's hardware design. Nope, this baby draws straight from the Zune! Want to zoom a photo, just swirl(?!) your finger around the squirle!
I get the feeling that when Steve Jobs said it would take the competition 5 years to catch up to the iPhone, he was being uncharacteristically generous. While spec-for-spec the HTC Touch Diamond offers a few huge leap ahead in pure smartphone power, it's horribly out-dated OS, lack of interface innovation, and design straight out of Microsoft's failed X-Mas 2007 music player book is still too little, too late.
Like Nokia, RIM, Palm, and pretty much every other device maker on the planet, HTC really needs to get in the game, and that doesn't mean just trying to throw as many specs as possible at a device and hoping some cohesiveness sticks (it never, ever does), or out-innovating each other in iCloning the iPhone. It means having a unique, cohesive visual from the get go, and it means out-innovating Apple. Sadly, the only one proven capable of either these days is Apple. (Soon to be witnessed yet again when they drop the all-but-announced iPhone 3G later this year.)
Will the Diamond pull folks away from the iPhone?