Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on September 14, 2008
What were they thinking?
The HTC Touch Diamond from Sprint ($250 after mail-in rebate, with two-year contract) is a richly featured smartphone, thin and light, with a big and gorgeous display. And one feature so bad that it renders the Touch Diamond all but unusable.
I think I have tried every data-entry technique ever offered on a handset, from 12-key dial pads to full qwerty keyboards of all styles and sizes. But I have never encountered any as bad as the Touch’s.
Putting an on-screen keyboard on a narrow display is a huge challenge. The Touch's solution is to adapt Research In Motion's Sure Type, the design used on the BlackBerry Pearl, which puts two letters on most keys and uses clever software to figure out what you meant to type. But the Touch, like the HTC Shadow sold in the U.S. by T-Mobile, uses software from Tegic that isn't nearly as good as RIM's.
Still, the physical keyboard on the Shadow sort of works. The on-screen version on the Touch doesn't. The keys are much smaller than those on an iPhone or Samsung Instinct (also Sprint). It is almost impossible to type accurately enough for the software to divine your intentions, making typing an agony.
But wait, there's more. In critical situations, the keyboard often covers the text box in which you are trying to enter data. In setting up a Gmail account, for example, did not have too much trouble entering my username. But the password box was covered by the keyboard. My password isn't a real word, of course, so Tegic didn't have a chance of getting it right. On about the sixth attempt at laboriously entering the password, I finally got it right, but I think if I had bought the phone, I would have returned it to the store before then.
Setting up Wi-Fi was awful in a slightly different way. This time I got a full qwerty keyboard with tiny keys, each about 2 mm square. And again, the entry box was hidden. I resorted to the stylus and was able, carefully, to enter the passphrase needed to connect.
The data entry problems were so severe that I will admit I didn't spend all that much time exploring it. HTC has layered its own user interface on top of windows Mobile 6.1, but I found the result more confusing than helpful. In effect, the Touch has two different ways of doing most things. And it's not helped by the fact that the touch screen is not terribly responsive. In particular, the effect of a horizontal swipe of the finger, which should produce horizontal scrolling,was wildly unpredictable. Sometime a big swipe produced big movement, something hardly any motion.
All in all, I just found the Touch Diamond too much trouble. For anyone who finds the phone's features appealing, I'd suggest waiting a few weeks, and coming up with an extra $50, for its big brother, the Touch Pro, which comes with a full slide-out physical keyboard.