It’s been awhile since I last tested an Android phone so it was with anticipation that I unwrapped the HTC Desire Z that was delivered to my desk. My anticipation quickly dissipated when I unwrapped a dirty, smudged-ridden grey-silver bodied smartphone.

I knew this unit to have a physical keyboard because of the two thin slabs of plastic that seemingly looked stuck to each other. But for a few minutes I could not separate the two slabs to expose the keyboard. Then something happened – my two thumbs working instinctively flipped the one side of the upper slab and voila, the keyboard laid bare before me. For a moment, it was like magic.

The HTC Desire Z is one of more attractive phones I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. HTC’s designers are starting to get good at industrial design. An odd design I found wanting in most HTC phones is the way to access the battery and SIM slot at the back of the phone. It usually involves prying lose a plastic cover. In the Desire Z, HTC introduced a back cover lock that unlatches the brushed aluminum cover to expose the battery, SIM and micro SD card slots.

At 164g this is not a light phone but you’d expect that given it has a full qwerty keyboard (with a solid feel to it – more on this later). I was expecting this to be using a 1GHz snapdragon given the speed with which it handled my fingered commands (that didn’t sound right) but the spec says its uses an 800MHz Qualcomm processor. I am sure the 1.5GB User memory ROM has something to do with the speed.

The round edges of the phone means you can slip it in and out of the pocket without worrying it will punch holes or poke your leg unduly. I found it interesting that the optical trackpad is clickable, offering a tactile response to specific commands.

A distinguishing feature of the Desire Z is the slideout keyboard. I had some initial concerns with the slide-out keyboard but these were soon dispelled. The gray rubber coating around the aluminum battery door offered a secure and comfortable grip when typing on the keyboard.

Like most mid- to high-end smartphones, the Desire Z is equipped with a 5-megapixel digital camera that can also shoot 720p HD video. For dimly situations, there is a LED flash. The camera is actually not that bad. Zooming, focusing and shooting is very smooth and the quality of the shots are surprisingly ok for a camera phone.

As with the best of present-day smartphones, the Desire Z is built for connectivity – HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS.

I’m going to refer back to what Apple claims is a key selling point of the iPhone 4 – a high resolution display that can show the details of freckles. But as I wrote in my report on the HTC HD7 – who would want to do that? As long as you can comfortably watch a video or see photos clearly on such a small screen, that should be enough.

WHAT I LIKE

The HTC Sense is the software that makes for easier navigation and access to some of the features of this smartphone. Of the many Android phones out in the market, HTC Sense is one of my favorites. I’d argue that its probably one of the most tweaked since it’s one of the earliest user interface created for the Android operating system. I do confess, however, that I was never a fan of the HTC TouchFLO, the predecessor of the Sense.

The 3.7″ screen is not AMOLED but don’t let that distract you from the quality of the display. You can watch any movie or surf a website with reasonable quality and comfort.

I like the fact that this phone is priced much lower than the HTC HD series but still performs almost on par with its much more powerful siblings. While I also like to have a physical keyboard as I still make too many mistakes typing on a touchscreen, I think you will see from my comment below that my experience with the keyboard isn’t exactly what I’d call a running success.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The qwerty keyboard looks solid and impressive. HTC raised the keys slightly to make typing more efficient. But my experience typing on it is less than satisfactory. I actually found it easier to type on the screen even though I prefer a physical keyboard when typing messages. I also found the the position of the tab key on the left very annoying as I often pressed it mistakenly for the “a”. I also found myself pressing harder than expected to enter a key. This action becomes annoying if you consider that typing a short SMS message should’t take too long. One thing to note is that using the keyboard the Desire Z, you can’t type on the keyboard with one hand. On the BlackBerry Torch 9800 (and most other BBs) I can still type with one hand albeit a little slower than I’d like.

I wrote praises for the Desire Z’s camera but I have to tell you that despite the quality of the shots, I still find it difficult to take those candid shots with ease and speed. This, like most smart phones with cameras, is not your standard point and shoot camera. A steady hand is definitely a must as is more time to set the scene for the shot.

One thing that annoys me consistently with all touch devices (with the exception of the BlackBerry 9800) is the lack of way to lock the screen. For instance, when watching a video I almost always accidentally touch the screen resulting in the video pausing. On the Torch 9800 the buttons that appear to be sensitive to the touch are the mute and power buttons. On most touch other touch phones, this is anything on the screen. In all the tests I’ve conducted, this is a consistent experience. Very annoying if you like to have a quiet time between you, your player, and the video you are trying to watch. (more…)

Advertisements

Mention ‘Smartphone’ and the products that come to mind are hand-sized devices about the size of your hand. Most weigh in excess of 180 grams. Most will show a bulge when placed inside your front jeans pocket, and I’d be very concerned about putting them on the back pocket.

The Sony Ericsson (SE) breaks this Smartphone tradition by coming in at a miniscule 83 x 50 x 16 mm. In fact the closest Smartphone rival of comparable capability is the larger and HTC Wildfire (106.8 x 60.4 x 12 mm).

Using the X10 mini can take getting used to. The UXP interface is an acquired taste (but don’t let my hesitation fool you, it doesn’t really take that much time to learn how to use the phone and most of its features).

Sony Ericsson X10 mini home page

Sony Ericsson X10 mini home page

Sony Ericsson X10 mini timescape

Sony Ericsson X10 mini timescape

Sony Ericsson X10 mini size relative to palm

Sony Ericsson X10 mini size relative to palm

 

WHAT I LIKE
In my view, four things combined to make this worth buying: (1) Android + UXP; (2) battery life in a small package; (3) reasonably good camera; and (4) size.

If you are a little overwhelmed by HTC Sense, you will likely appreciate the simplicity and capability of the UXP (UX platform). On the HTC Sense you can add widgets on each of seven home screens. But this is only possible because the phone’s display (say HTC Wildfire) is large enough to hold more than one widget. On the SE x10 mini, this is impossible given the 2.5″ (diagonal) display. But SE conceded this limitation by allowing you to post one widget on any of the 20 home pages. The one app per page actually minimizes the clutter I often find distressing as you start using the phone more frequently.

A phone of this size that supports 3G, GSM and Wi-Fi would surely conk out the battery even before eight hours is gone. SE continues its traditional of good battery life per charge with the X10 mini. I get about two days worth of calls, SMSes, emails via Wi-Fi, a few hours of music and one episode of a favorite TV series. The screen may look ridiculously small at 2.5″ but mind you I managed to comfortably watch a movie on the phone whilst I traverse the MTR stations in Hong Kong. No, I didn’t stay in the MTR station for the entire length of the movie. Instead I continue what I was watching each time I ride the train. All the HTC Android phones I tested don’t remember where I stopped the movie before stepping out of the train. As I result, I avoided using the phone. Yey, SE!

The SE X10 mini comes with a 5MP camera. I’ve tested the cameras on the HTC Desire, HTC Wildfire, and BlackBerry 8900, and I can tell you the X10 mini’s 5MP is a great little camera for taking shots outdoors. The photos are nice and crisp. You can’t this kind of quality from the other phones equipped with similar camera configs. SE also added a video light feature when you want to take videos with the phone.

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of building

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of building

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of park

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of park

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of space-museum

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of space-museum

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of garden at  night

Sony Ericsson x10 mini - outdoor shot of garden at night

While I carry a backpack everyday to work, I usually keep my phone in the front pocket of my jeans (left or right). With my trusty old BlackBerry 8900, its almost impossible to get the phone in, much less out of my jeans (I usually hold my breath and tuck my tummy in as I attempt to pull out the phone out of my pocket). The HTC Desire was just as tight. The HTC Wildfire was a little kinder to my pocket. The X10 mini fits in there and I can still cram a headset or a pack of tissue.
 

WHAT I DON’T LIKE
If there is anything to be learned from the Apple iPhone series is that simplicity of use is very important. Owners of Windows-based PCs, digital video cameras, digital cameras and DVD recorders don’t read the user manual that comes with their device. So it was for me that when I got the X10 mini to try out, I discovered that this is a complicated product to use. In fact I had to download the user manual from the Sony Ericsson website in order to learn enough about the phone to make practical use of it, like navigating using the UXP. Of course, once you get past the nuisances of the interface, everything else becomes simple.

Google Nexus One owners have likely upgraded to Android 2.1 or 2.2 by now. Some HTC phones are shipping with Android 2.1 with a few already earmarked for a 2.2 upgrade. Unfortunately for the X10 and X10 mini series, upgrade to 2.1 won’t come until the last quarter of 2010 (and likely it will be in the December timeframe). http://blogs.sonyericsson.com/products/2010/05/05/sony-ericsson-xperia%E2%84%A2-x10-to-get-uxp-upgrade-in-q4-2010/

I am not altogether sure why but after a week’s use I started to notice a lag when using the X10 mini. Whether its trying to switch on the phone to make a call, or send an SMS, or read my email, I notice a lag of a couple of seconds before the phone switches to the app I want to use. This is particularly annoying because Sony Ericsson has added a sensor that detects if the phone is next to your face, indicating that you making a call. What happens is the phone screen blanks out. I understand this is to make sure that you don’t accidentally press a button while on the phone. But if you need to quickly press a button (say if you are on an IVR call), the time it takes for the screen to come back up is very annoying).

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m a long time SE handset customer for many years from my favorite T91 to my P810 and P900. I loved those phones. They worked as advertised and almost all cases I only have to take out the charger twice a week. This is a big difference compared to my wife’s experience with her Nokia phone. She’s a die hard Nokia customer despite the fact that (1) the Symbian interface lacks intelligence; and (2) the phones simply leak battery power big time.

Would I trade my BlackBerry 8900 for an X10 mini? Probably not! Why? I text a lot. I also read and respond to my emails on my BB. Nothing beats a physical keyboard for this kind of job.

I will be testing the X10 mini pro after this. Who knows? I just might change my mind.

Other reviews:
TechRadar
Pocket-Lint.com

Engadget
ITPro
Metro

Technical Spec
Sony Ericsson
Network: quad band GSM, 3G
Data: GPRS, EDGE, 3G, WLAN, Bluetooth, USB
Dimension: 83 x 50 x 16 mm
Weight: 88 g
Display: 240 x 320 pixel, 2.55 inch capacitative screen
Internal storage: 128MB
Camera: 5MP with VGA video @30 fps, video light and geo-tagging
OS: Android 1.6
CPU: Qualcomm MSM7227 600 MHz
External storage: microSD up to 16GB
Completer spec here: http://www.gsmarena.com/sony_ericsson_xperia_x10_mini-3125.php

My earlier brief experience with the HTC Desire and HTC Legend tell me that HTC is maturing as a manufacturer of high end smartphones. The days when HTC rolls out cheesy, toy-looking, cheap phones are coming to an end. I think HTC is discovering what Apple has learned, you can make good margins with quality phones. Market researcher iSuppli estimates that the bill of materials for the latest Apple iPhone comes comes to US$187.51. At US$699 for a 32GB no contract phone, that is a whopping 274% market. Of course this percentage profit is wrong as it doesn’t include the software cost of the device as well as whatever Apple estimates is the cost of keeping iTunes up and running to make the iPhone the much sought after platform by developers and customers alike (ok I exaggerate on that last part).

Stay focus on the review

HTC Wildfire

HTC Wildfire

The HTC Wildfire (Wildfire) looks like a slightly smaller version of the HTC Desire. It is  12.2mm shorter (by length). The form factor is pocket friend for both sexes. The devices feels as solid as the Desire.

HTC Desire

HTC Desire

Where you start to see the difference is when you turn on the screen. The Desire uses an AMOLED display compared to a standard TFT screen for the Desire. AMOLED gives you better colors and sharper contrasts. Ove the two weeks I used the HTC Wildfire though I can’t really complain much about the reduced contrast or less vibrant color compared to my earlier experience on the Desire (even when I was watching Star Trek on Wildfire). But for those who like to compare spec, the Wildfire has a resolution of 320×240 pixels versus the Desire’s 480×800 pixels.

HTC Sense is the only reason why you’d ever keep using an HTC phone powered by Windows mobile operating system. Can HTC smartphones running Android OS run without Sense? I understand this is possible and hackers are using this to bypass the official approach to upgrading the HTC phone. But for the average user, HTC Sense just makes it easier to use the phone – irrespective of whether you got Android or Windows Mobile as the operating environment.
WHAT I LIKE
Android 2.1 is a saving grace for this phone. Despite a less powerful proecssor compared to its bigger sibling – the HTC Desire, the Qualcomm MSM7225 528 MHz gives the Wildfire just enough uummph to run your favorite apps like video, music, browsing the Internet or any one of those free games available on Andrioid market (Google’s answer to Apple‘s priorietary appstore). But set your expectations, the slower processor will mean that launching apps will take a few milliseconds slower than on the Desire. If you want to bitch about it, you can always say that the WIldfire comes with only 384MB RAM compared to 512MB on the Desire (but does it really matter? I can’t be certain).

A common occurance in my line of business is people waving their iPhones in my face swearing by the ease of use, the thousands of apps available online, and the great experience they have browsing the Internet. Most of them get stump though when I ask them to go to Wall Street Journal website, and play one of the video interviews for me. Fortunately this is not a problem on phones running Android or Windows Mobile – just devices made by Apple (everything from computers to mobile devices). (more…)

I’ve observed that people’s choice of mobile phones is largely associated with what they intend to use it for. My wife, for example, prefers the simple Nokia phones – she has four of them over the years. For her, its the ability to make calls and send SMS or text messages. My daughter is into SMS herself but wants the option to have a camera nearby. So she tends to favor her BlackBerry Curve.

However, the nature of consumer electronics is such that we don’t necessarily know what we are getting until we’ve made the purchase. Take my brother who bought a Samsung Omnia i800 last year. Today he uses it mostly to play Solitaire (an expensive toy if you ask me). As for me, I want a device that can (1) make reasonably good calls; (2) keep all my 2,300+ contacts on Outlook; (3) send SMS; (4) I don’t have to charge every day; (5) easily syncs with my Google calendar; and (6) browse the web (for those occasions when I want to check something quickly.

Arguably, Taiwan’s greatest contribution to the world is its engineering prowess. One company that exemplifies this is HTC. In my opinion, HTC has managed to successfully corner the OEM market for windows-based smartphones. In this review I will give my impression of the HTC Hero – one of HTC’s first ventures into the Android operating system. The Hero is not a new phone. It was first reviewed way back in October 2009. I’ve posted the comments of other reviewers at the end of this blog should you desire to read other people’s thoughts.

The Hero is not my first HTC phone. I bought a HTC Touch years ago and have tried my hand on the HTC Diamond as well. The Touch is my first failure in identifying a good phone for my personal use. Its best attribute was being slim. Its worst attributes were everything else.

Likewise I wasn’t too happy with the HTC Diamond. In fact I was pleased that when Diamond 2 came out, HTC did away with the uneven back plate of the previous model. It was just way too uncomfortable to hold and also annoying when stored in your pant pocket. While both phones were endowed with TouchFlo as a way of introducing us to an iPhone like experience, I found TouchFlo to be a pain in the neck to use. Together with the Windows mobile operating system TouchFlo simply made navigating the phone cumbersome. I attributed this to the choice of underpowered processors used in both models.

To say that the Hero comes from the same family as the Touch and Diamond is a sign that HTC is maturing as a manufacturer. Despite what I think is its mistake of using a less then powerful processor, the combination of  Android 1.5 and HTC Sense gives consumers a near iPhone-like experience without the proprietary technology and design that is the hallmark of most Apple produced devices. (more…)