HTC used to be the unsung hero of the mobile world, producing iconic phones for various networks and brands, without ever releasing its own products. But, of late, its started pumping out some seriously cool Windows smartphones under its own name, which you can buy SIM-free online.
Two recent announcements have caused a potentially hazardous case of drooling here at the Stuff offices - the HTC Advantage Ultra-Mobile PC and the S710 smartphone, which combines a standard candybar form factor with a slideout QWERTY keypad.
Well, now I have the S710, and can confirm that it definitely has Oooh-factor (It used to be called Wow-factor, then Microsoft went and spoiled everything with their Vista campaign. Drat.). It's quite thick (think Nokia N80) but hides its keyboard well. The new version of Windows Mobile makes setting up push email relatively easy - if you have a decent relationship with your IT department. There's no 3G, but you do get GPRS and Wi-Fi.
But the problem comes when you actually use the phone. For a start, I constantly find myself sliding the keyboard out just to turn the phone on - it's a habit that comes from using too many sliders, and results in a horrible beep and a rather slow screen shift between portrait and landscape mode.
Then you start navigating the menus using the keyboard. Except you can't, you have to use the inconveniently placed direction pad, which usually means holding the phone landscape again and then twisting your head sideways to read the screen. Which isn't particularly comfortable.
Windows Mobile 6 looks nice, and i'm sure the tight Windows Live integration is nice if you use Windows Live (I prefer Skype, Google and Gmail). But it's not a great deal easier to navigate than the old versions, and when combined with the slightly clumsy form factor of the S710, it becomes infuriating. Try entering an IP address with the QWERTY keypad, for example, and you can only type commas instead of full stops.
I need to spend some more time with this phone. It's functional and powerful, and has some neat features. But my first impressions are that the form factor is too severely compromised to make it worthwhile - particularly when the keyboard isn't a match for a Blackberry's. In fact, I can type faster using T9 on the numeric keypad than I can using the full QWERTY keyboard. Oh dear.