After months of sweaty-palmed anticipation, the iPhone has finally landed. However, unless you live in the US and subscribe to AT&T you are sadly out of luck - you can't buy one. But are there any alternatives if you can't wait?
Taipei-based HTC believes there is. The organization, until recently branded Dopod in Taiwan's domestic market, is now rolling out globally under the corporation's original moniker, and the Touch is its first product. As such, a lot is riding on the cell phone's successful reception.
The spec sheet is comparable to the iPhone - a big touch screen, camera, mobile e-mail, and a keyboard that is notable only by its absence. It runs the very latest variant of Windows Mobile, so the guys at Microsoft will also be watching this product launch with particular interest.
It's difficult not to be impressed by the Touch's diminutive size, rounded form, rubbery paint and neat design details, such as the way the status LEDs are placed behind the speaker grille. Ignoring the cheap-looking chrome trim from around the camera, it's clear that this is the company's most concerted attempt yet to break out of the business device field - it is very good looking, and is already a hit with the girls in the office.
HTC's Industrial Designer, Francois Bellet-Odent, said the collection of rocks and pebbles scattered around his Taipei office were referenced when designing the phone's form. Considerable design and engineering effort was focused on removing the step between the case of the phone and the screen, which would ruin the otherwise very soft form - something that plagues most touch screen devices.
The big news, however, is the update to the user interface, dubbed TouchFlo. The first element is a remodeled home screen that is a replacement for the regular Windows display. It's a big improvement, and presents the user with large, nicely drawn buttons for composing new messages, checking the weather or checking for missed calls - and it even tells the time. Apple's influence is plain to see, but it is no less attractive for that.
The second is the TouchCube UI, which forms the basis of HTC's advertising effort. Essentially, it's a flashy program launcher that allows the user to access the most important applications using one hand alone. It's activated by swiping your thumb or finger up the screen, and then you spin the "cube" sideways to see one of three views - your most important contacts, media and photos, and applications.
More astute readers will be wondering why the cube only has three sides, and unfortunately this is not the product's only slipup. The touch screen is not very responsive and requires a surprising degree of pressure to encourage it to work properly, and if the screen is anything close to being free of grease the user's finger stutters across. None too smooth.
When it works, flipping between the three panels is quite fun, right up until the point when you need to do anything useful like write an SMS, when you are ejected, naked and shivering, back into the world of Windows Mobile. There is then no choice but to slide out the stylus and begin poking away at the on-screen keyboard, squinting at the tiny characters. The Internet experience is even worse: pages load in entirely unexpected ways, and scrolling side-to-side trying to read an article quickly becomes frustrating.
Despite its flaws the Touch still impresses. If you are a committed Windows Mobile user looking for something more pocket-sized, unimpressed by the LG Prada phone's cynical branding, or cannot bear to wait until Apple's baby reaches these shores, this may be the phone for you. But an iPhone it is not.
NT$15,900; Stores nationwide; Available now
Taiwan's other contenders:
PHOTO: COURTESY OF ASUS
Cell phones are packing more and more equipment into ever-smaller packages. The Glofiish X800 is a case in point, and loads GPS (unlike the iPhone) and WiFi into its flashy looking exterior. The name is strange, but the design and engineering seem solid - it won the Best of Computex award this year.
NT$27,000; Available fall 2007
The Asus P525 employs a combination of a standard keypad with a touch screen, and looks rather similar to the Sony Ericsson P990i. It is aimed at the serious business user, and as a result looks pretty dull and grey. If you are going to have a keyboard at the base of the screen, you may as well have a bigger one, in the style of a Treo or Blackberry.
NT$16,900; PDA King; Available now
Many people remain unconvinced that a touch screen for keyboard-intensive tasks, such as sending e-mail on the move, will work well. HTC have a number of models that slide open to reveal a generously big thumb keyboard but that are still small enough to slide into the pocket. The Dopod line is likely to get sidelined as the company shifts its focus to the Touch, so good deals may be available for this already established product in the future.
NT$19,999; Sogi.com; Available now
-- Jonathan Biddle is head of industrial design at DEM Inc, Taipei
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