The HTC TyTN smartphone reviewed

For some time now I’ve been on the lookout to replace my aging Sony Ericsson P900 with something just as powerful but better equipped. With a keyboard high on my wish-list too the choice kept coming down to Danger’s Sidekick II, the Blackberry or the iMate K-Jam.

Reviews of the K-Jam suggested it was a little slow and the Sidekick II has been an age in coming. The Blackberry is a closed platform and looks like a cheap 90’s PDA.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that that the people who manufacture the K-Jam, or Qtek9100 as they prefer to call it, were shipping a replacement called the HTC TyTN – pronounced Titan apparently.

Luckily for me the official UK retainer Expansys had a handful of the new wonder-phone in stock a couple of weeks before the official August 30 launch date and so I nabbed one as quickly as I could.

Features

The feature set is a logical progression on from the 9100 – both of which include;

  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0
  • Mobile versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, IE, MSN
  • GSM Quad-Band GPRS/EDGE
  • ROM 128MB, SDRAM 64MB
  • LCD touch screen 240x320x64K 2.8″ TFT
  • 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 1.2, Infra-red
  • USB connectivity
  • MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV/AMR audio support

But then the TyTN addresses the 9100’s shortcomings and up’s the ante:

  • Processor up from the TI OMAP 250MHz to Samsung’s 400MHz ARM
  • miniSD slot switches to the even smaller Micro SD
  • Camera jumps up from 1.3 mega pixels to 2.0 mega pixels and gains an adjustable lens and digital zoom
  • Secondary camera for video calls appears
  • UMTS Tri-Band support added so you can use it in Canada/USA
  • Keys made larger by removing the space between them
  • Weight shifts up from the 9100’s mere 160g to 176g (with battery)
  • Keyboard now back-lit in low-light (Apple style ;-)

Unpacking

It seems you can’t review a product these days without describing the packaging and box. I’m pretty sure Apple are to blame for this.

The box is a smartly designed black affair that seems to indicate HTC are prepared to spend the money to get their own brand up on shelves and being successful. I don’t think this means they’re abandoning their ORM role and I’m sure you’ll see Orange/iMate branded versions soon enough.

Inside the box are the phone, a spare stylus, a leather carry case with belt-clip and strong magnets to keep it closed. These magnets are so strong I’ve found my car keys getting stuck to them unexpectedly once or twice. You don’t want to be putting your credit cards in a pocket near it.

Size

It is very similar in size to the Sony P900 – slightly smaller width and height wise but a little deeper and heavier. For comparison:

Various hand-held devices

Shown (from left to right): Sony PSP, Nintendo DS Lite, Gameboy Advance SP (above) / Sony P900 (below), HTC TyTN, iPod Photo, LG Chocolate.

Software

In addition to the Windows Mobile software and the pocket/mobile Office applications there are a few additional useful apps. These include:

  • ClearVue PDF takes care of viewing Adobe’s popular document format
  • Terminal Services client lets you take remote control of Windows desktops
  • Mobile version of Windows Media for playing those MPEG4 videos
  • Zip for creating and extracting files to/from ZIP archives
  • ActiveSync client for sync’ing with PC’s
  • MIDlet manager for managing any installed Java MIDP applications
  • Messaging application handling SMTP/POP3, MMS, SMS and Hotmail messaging
  • MSN application providing access to MSN Messenger instant messaging

This is in additional to the usual phone type applications and management software including an awful calculator application that has a terrible UI and only the most basic of features.

When left on it’s own the phone likes to revert to the “Today” application which shows you the current date, owner, unread message counts, active task count and the next upcoming appointment.<

A shortcoming of this is that the upcoming appointment often displays just the day of the week “Monday, Tuesday” etc. whilst the current date is shown simply as “26 August 2006”.

If, like me, you often forget which day of the week it is then this screen can send you into shock wondering if the shown appointment is this week or next. Adding either the day of the month to the appointment or current day of the week to this screen would help.

Input

The device certainly isn’t short of ways to tell it what to do…

  • Stylus – selecting UI elements as well as entering text via the on-screen keyboard, sentence transcriber or individual character recognition
  • Keyboard – slides out and lets you type what you like as well as providing cursor keys/tab to navigate the UI and two option selection buttons
  • Keys – Some 14 function keys as well as a jog and cursor control each with their own select button too
  • Voice – Recognition for making calls

Handwriting recognition was pretty good, certainly up from the P900 and when using the actual keyboard a T9 style prompting system means even slow typists can throw together proper messages without having to resort to text-speak.

Phone

Many reviews seem to completely overlook the fact that they are reviewing a phone and that making calls is a big part of that.

Calls were to be as expected however the primary interface for placing them was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Presented with a touch-screen numeric pad as you start to type the number a list of people who match the name (using the ABC on 1 etc – a bit like T9) pops up.

So to make a call to Tony for example you’ll just press 8669 and select the correct Tony from the display as opposed to most phones where you have to hold 8 down until it switches from numeric to contacts list then start scrolling down a long list. Whilst you’re pressing the numbers it emits the usual DMTF tone which lets you use the device as a keypad for other phones…

Camera

Pictures from the camera are sharp and well defined under good outdoor conditions. Once inside things deteriorate as is the usual case with mobile despite the on-board light/flash.

Messaging

The messaging applications picked up my POP3/SSL mail just fine and quite happily sent replies via SMTP/SSL with authentication. The SMS/MMS shares the same application and interface so once you’re through the tricky setup process things are rather easy going.

Syncing

I must confess that all my contacts, music and appointments all live in Mac OS X so I was very upset to find that iSync doesn’t support Windows Mobile devices.

The aptly named The Missing Sync came to the rescue and let me sync up my contacts via the USB port although there seemed to be some issues syncing via Bluetooth that I think are more TyTN related than a fault of OS X or The Missing Sync.

Connectivity

The device supports connectivity and charging through it’s own mini-USB connector which worked just flawlessly under OS X.

Bluetooth is also supported and here things didn’t work too well. When trying to pair under Windows the OS would quickly give up waiting for the phone before you’d had chance to type the second number. Pairing under OS X was more successful but the information provided suggested it doesn’t support the Obex file transfer system which made it rather tricky to send files to the device.

Wireless connectivity over 802.11b/g showed quite good reception, reaching not quite as far as my MacBook Pro but only a few meters off being able to get a usable connection. It can take a few moments longer to get the connection established than the status shows so give it a second before hitting send/receive.

Thankfully there is also an option to automatically turn off WiFi when not being used. Apart from saving a bit of battery life you’d go man with the constant chimes it emits as you drive past various WiFi networks…

Overall

If you like to have your email, web, Skype and a few useful tools with you at all times and lugging a laptop round all day isn’t an option (when is it?) then this could be the phone for you.

Based on the Windows Mobile OS you can be sure of a wealth of third party applications for it or failing that write your own using Visual Studio 2005. It’s got the features and potential the Blackberry and P9xx series can only dream of.

[)amien

One response

  1. Gravatar for steve

    Nice gadget spread you have there (show off) :) I’d love one of these, although not at the price they’re currently asking for them. Still, it shows the direction things are going and in a couple of years this kind of feature set should be much more commoditised.

    steve September 4th, 2006

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