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By Thomas McKinnon 3 November 2009

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Windows Mobile (WM) 6.1 was tiring to navigate and often left you with the urge to project your handset towards a large, solid object. WM 6.5 was recently released however, with the promise of a better user experience. Our first taste of WM 6.5 came with HTC’s Touch2, and we can’t say we are excited by what we found.

Hardware

While we don’t consider ourselves phone snobs, often enjoying simpler devices like the Nokia 5630 XpressMusic, the Touch2 left us a little under whelmed. We expected the first HTC to carry WM 6.5 to really fly the flag for the platform, instead we found the Touch2 to be a fairly average smartphone featuring a 528 MHz Qualcomm processor, 512 MB of internal memory, a 3.2 megapixel fixed focus camera and a 2.8" resistive touch-screen.

The small screen is what really under whelms though. The display resolution is also just 320 x 240 pixels. In our opinion this is just, by the skin of its teeth, sufficient for a full touch device. The lack of an accelerometer also means that you can’t switch over to a landscape view. This is particularly frustrating if you use the onscreen QWERTY keyboard frequently.

What the Touch2 does offer is solid build quality. While its casing is plastic it’s sturdy. The inclusion of the touch zoom-bar at the base of the screen is also very handy and convenient, especially when browsing. The device’s micsoSD card slot can also be accessed without having to remove the back case, which is as thoughtful as the addition of a 3.5 mm jack.

You also have access to a host of connectivity options including Wi-Fi and HSDPA. Browsing the web or Windows Marketplace (for apps) and downloading mail is consequently rather snappy and convenient. Lastly the phone features a 1100 mAh capacity battery, which performs admirably, often providing a couple of days of battery life.

Windows Mobile 6.5

We were surprised by how little has actually changed on the WM platform despite the fact that first impressions of the interface tells you that it has been thoroughly overhauled.

Don’t get us wrong, the Start menu with its honeycomb design is substantially easier to use, with far less need for you to pull out the old stylus,. The Lock screen allows you to check on alerts without having to unlock the device and even provides shortcuts to predefined apps.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that the interface can be frustrating to use. Closing apps is still a bother requiring you to use the stylus for a single button press. The Start menu is also only friendlier in comparison to WM 6.1’s. The theory is that it’s laid out to make swiping through apps easier and to decrease the likelihood of accidentally clicking an app. In reality however we found we often clicked on apps accidentally and found the layout to be frustrating.

We can’t write the OS off altogether though, as there are a number of improvements to WM not evident on the Touch2, as HTC have skinned the interface with TouchFLO. The skin is HTC’s customisation of the WM interface, originally designed to make its WM 6.1 handsets more finger friendly. HTC’s home screen therefore replaces the WM 6.5 home screen which was enhanced for touch and easy navigation. We still believe that TouchFLO is a better option though.

WM 6.5 also brings with it two great features in the form of the Windows Marketplace and the My Phone online data backup service. The Windows Marketplace features a couple hundred apps at current, both free and paid. While it pales in comparison to other apps markets it’s rather straightforward to use – perhaps it has something to do with its bland presentation. My Phone is a Microsoft service which allows you to wirelessly backup your contacts, calendar, photos, messages and music.

Other important points

While Microsoft has also revamped Internet Explorer, HTC have opted for Opera as the default browser. We quite enjoy using the Opera browser, finding it far more pleasing an experience than IE.

The phone also offers all the standard productivity tools we have come to expect from a smartphone including Notes, Tasks and Calendar; the Office Mobile suite with Word, Excel and PowerPoint; Adobe Reader; and a Voice Recorder. You also get GPS functionality with Google Maps preinstalled.

Conclusion

The HTC Touch2 is a rather standard bit of smartphone hardware, offering most of the feature you would expect from such a device. It’s however still a WM smartphone, which unfortunately places it on a lower rung than the Android and iPhone OSs of the world. WM 6.5 is an improvement on 6.1 but it is only a stop gap solution. Windows Mobile 7 can’t come soon enough as far as we’re concerned. The fact that the Touh2 costs just R4999, does change the equation a little however, as it is rather reasonable for the features on offer.

PROS
WM 6.5 is better than 6.1. Sleek design. TouchFLO is fairly intuitive.
CONS
Resistive touchscreen. WM 6.5 is just a stop gap OS until WM 7 is released.
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