HTC's New Touchy-Feely Cell Phone

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Taiwanese handset maker HTC today announced the HTC Touch, a new GSM Windows Mobile smart phone that--like Apple's soon-to-be-released iPhone--depends heavily on the fingertip as an input device.

But U.S. shoppers will have to wait to buy the HTC Touch: In announcing the handset's United Kingdom availability today, company officials said it would be available later this month in Asia and the rest of Europe, but won't appear in the U.S. until "later this year"--which could mean a release as far off as the holiday season.

Cool Looks, Technology

The HTC Touch.
Coated with the same nice-feeling soft-touch paint (in either black or "wasabi green") used on the T-Mobile Wing (another HTC-designed handset), the HTC Touch is small: a shade under 4 inches in height, 2.3 inches in width, a scant half-inch thick, and not quite 4 ounces in weight. Its 2.4-inch touch screen stretches across most of its width--but unlike the iPhone, the Touch isn't button-free: A single navigational pad and button sits below the display.

However, HTC's new TouchFlo technology builds on Windows Mobile 6 Professional (the version of Windows Mobile 6 for touch-screen devices) to let you perform many common tasks using the tip of your finger. Swipe upwards from the navigation button to center screen, for example, and a scrollable list of contacts appear. Swipe left and they're replaced by buttons for multimedia applications; swipe left again, and you get a collection of preset application launchers.

A customized home screen is also more finger-friendly, with software buttons that bring up the application launcher, a weather report, or the traditional home screen. Finger swipes can also be used to lock and unlock the device (so that it won't accidentally turn on and waste power while being jostled in your purse or briefcase).

There's no iPod-esque software keyboard, unless you count the standard Windows Mobile software keyboard. There is also a slide-out stylus for text input and navigation that you can't perform using your finger or the single button.

Not iPhone-Inspired

Asked about the iPhone similarities, HTC's Jason Gordon (formerly of Microsoft and Motorola) stated emphatically that the Touch had been in the works for quite some time when Steve Jobs announced Apple's stylish, touch-based handset at MacWorld in January. "It takes years to develop this kind of technology," Gordon said of HTC's TouchFlo. Gordon couldn't comment on how the Touch will stack up against the iPhone in price, but typically even expensive HTC-designed handsets have topped out at $300 to $400 (the iPhone will go for $500--and only with a new AT&T contract--at launch).

Also, HTC throws in an unusually generous 1GB Micro-SD card (on top of the device's 64MB of RAM and 128MB of ROM)--useful if you intend to load lots of music for the media player or make heavy use of the built-in 2-megapixel CMOS camera.

The U.S. version of the Touch will support GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks on three GSM bands (900, 1800, and 1900 MHz), but that means you can't use it as a phone in Europe or the rest of the world, or on high-speed HSDPA networks (HSDPA is the much-faster successor to EDGE on GSM-based networks).

The Touch isn't without broadband support, however: Its built-in 802.11b/g adapter will enable plenty of speed at any Wi-Fi hotspot. However, expect heavy Wi-Fi use to shorten life between charges of its 1100-micro-ampere-hour lithium ion battery. HTC rates the battery as supporting up to 5 hours of talk time and 200 hours of standby time.

More in the Pipeline

HTC, which for years created Windows Mobile handsets sold under other brand names in North America--including HP's IPaqs and, more recently, the T-Mobile Wing and Dash and the Cingular 8525--has only recently started to promote devices under its own brand.

The company earlier announced the HTC Advantage, a Windows Mobile 5-based HSDPA data device that looks a little like an ultra-mobile PC and is expected to show up in the U.S. by midsummer. Due later this summer or in early fall is the HTC Shift, a true UMPC that runs Windows Vista and supports quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks.

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