HTC had us quite eager to drop by their booth at the MWC in Barcelona and get some touchscreen action with WinMo and Android flavor. Two curious sequels in the face of the HTC Touch Pro2 and Touch Diamond2, along with the Android-based Magic sounded intriguing enough for a quick sneak peek.
Sadly, it was only the HTC Touch Diamond2 that was on display at HTC booth. The Touch Pro2 and the HTC Magic are still early prototypes and were guarded pretty closely. Still, we had a good enough look on them as well, and we lived to tell the story.
Holding the Diamond2 in hand, the most striking novelty is the missing D-pad/scroll wheel. By the way that's the TouchPro2 approach too. Perhaps as of Touch HD, HTC are ditching D-pads. Most users won't mind its absence in Number 2, though some situations required its use - picking an item off the relatively small high-res display of the Diamond using the touch screen with your finger is a real challenge while on a moving vehicle for example. So a more precise way of making your selections was welcomed. Nevertheless, the D-pad is nowhere to be found on these products.
So, that leads us to the brand new feature in the Diamond2 - the Zoom bar, which is placed at the bottom of the screen. Basically, it does the job of the old Diamond's touch-sensitive scroll wheel. You can use it to zoom in and out on images, web pages and messages, and even in the camera. We think the bar does better than the wheel and is easier to handle.
The four hardware keys are also affected by the gone D-pad, they're now set in line right under the Zoom bar. The Back key is there of course - and quite welcome - along with two call keys and the Home key.
The display has grown both in both size and resolution, but this also happened to the device's size. The Diamond2 has 2 extra mm around the waist and we don't think there's anything much to justify that.
The really nice visual upgrade however is the all-metal frame that surround the display and covers the upper part of the Diamond2 body. That's one excellent design.
We know what would have but no, a 3.5mm jack is not there again. The Diamond is not a music centric device, no doubt about that, but we see 3.5mm jacks in almost every high-end phone lately. Hell, even on Sony Ericsson handsets.
And speaking quite seriously, what's up with HTC and camera keys? The new Diamond2 still doesn't have one on board. We don't really like software shutter keys and there's hardly anything that can change our mind.
By the way, there's another feature that the Diamond2 lacks - it's the magnetic stylus. The stylus is active as before, it's just that it doesn't relay on magnets any more to help plugging it back in. Shame, we really liked that feature.
To complete the hardware changes, the Diamond2 is cut quite differently at the rear - none of the faceted splendor of the original. The only thing that reminds of the first Diamond is the brushed metal plate around the camera lens. The latter by the way is up a notch to 5 megapixels but didn't really worked nicely on the displayed units, so we won't be posting camera samples.
As it seems however it's the software that makes the Diamond sequel so interesting. The proprietary TouchFLO 3D for finger sweep navigation is upgraded in both features and response. The difference is most notable when browsing images - the onscreen image will virtually stick to your thumb and react fluidly and almost physically. The zoom gesture of the old Diamond is not available of course now that you have the zoom bar.
The TouchFLO 3D of course is keeping the underlying WinMo interface pretty much under wraps. Its Home tab for example integrates the Call log, Time, Alarm application, windows calendar and weather the same way it did with the HTC Touch Pro, of which we have an in-depth preview. Opening a particular day in the calendar reveals not only the pending events but also the weather conditions.
The People tab has been tweaked up. It features four shortcut icons under the contact photo - mobile, work, message and email.
The contact details are the other important upgrade here. The contacts' fields have grown in number. Selecting a contact will reveal its details and the layout is more thumbable, with bigger tabs and fields. Another convenient addition is the tabs at the bottom, which contain threaded messaging history with an option for direct reply, as well as emails and call history.
Displaying a contact is quite OK. But what we were very pleasantly surprised is that editing a contact is also available in the new contacts interface so you wouldn't have to resort to underlying WinMo for that. The most commonly used fields (as with the iPhone 3G contacts) are notably larger and quite thumbable, while the rest is accessible via the original Windows Mobile interface.
Continuing with the software upgrades we come to the slightly modified in-call screen as well as the redesigned software keyboard for better user friendliness.
A great asset is the upgraded Start menu, which instead of a drop-down list, now appears as a fullscreen scrollable list of large icons.
Generally, HTC are doing a great job with their UI plug-ins.
While the phone is officially announced to run on the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional OS, later this year there will be an official upgrade to the more advanced and thumb-optimized Windows Mobile 6.5, which officially debuted here at the WMC.