HTC's iPhone 3G Rival, the Touch Diamond

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There's no getting away from comparisons to Apple's upcoming iPhone 3G these days, so here it is: The HTC Touch Diamond was built as a follow up to the HTC Touch, launched last year as a Windows Mobile-based competitor for the original iPhone.

The Touch Diamond is also a 3G handset, made with a touchscreen, 4G bytes of storage for music and photos and more. It's an elegant follow-up to the HTC Touch and should give the 3G iPhone a run for its money, so long as HTC is able to work with service providers to lower the price of the handsets.

And in Taiwan, HTC has done just that. The company announced Thursday a plan to sell the Touch Diamond for NT$2,999 (US$99) with certain 3G contracts from Chunghwa Telecom, the island's largest mobile phone service provider. That's a dramatic price decrease from the original NT$23,900 (US$786) price HTC talked about earlier.

The price also beats the US$199 price tag on the iPhone 3G with 8G bytes of flash memory storage, which won't be available in Taiwan when it's launched Friday. As long as HTC is able to work out more such deals with mobile phone service providers around the world, it should do well against the new iPhone.

The best part of the Touch Diamond by far is its beautiful craftsmanship, but the touchscreen and functionality come in a close second and third. The handset is sleeker and smaller than the iPhone at 102 millimeters in height by 51mm wide by 11.33 mm thick. The iPhone 3G, which sports a 3.5-inch screen with 480-by-320 pixel resolution, is 115.5mm by 62.1mm by 12.3mm.

The back of the Touch Diamond has diamond contours that drew "oohs" and "aahhs" of praise whenever I showed it to friends. Even for people who don't want to buy one, you should have a look at the design.

One problem with the handset's black exterior, as with many gadgets that have a glossy finish, is that it holds fingerprints. Handle the phone for a few minutes and you have to wipe it off before you show it again. And with a handset built for touch navigation, that's an issue.

The 2.8-inch touchscreen dominates the front of the Touch Diamond and the 640-by-480 pixel display resolution is beautiful. I've never seen nicer screen quality on a phone. You can even see it well in direct sunlight because the screen auto-adjusts for different lighting conditions.

The company's TouchFLO 3D software makes it relatively simple to use but I had to read the instruction manual to get the hang of it. A lot of the movements start with your finger in the middle of the screen. So if you want to scroll up, for example, you put your finger in the middle of the screen and flip upwards. At first I had tried swiping my finger up the entire screen, but that didn't work well. Once I got it, though, it was easy.

The 3D view of the handset software is excellent. You can look through your contact list by picture with the sweep of a finger if you add pictures to people in your contact list, or take their picture with the phone's 3.2-megapixel auto-focus camera. For music listeners, the album covers show up so you can flip through them in the same way you look through the contact list. Of course, you can type in names as well by hand or stylus.

The Touch Diamond uses Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 as its OS and its a nice program, easy to use, and familiar to people who use Microsoft on their PCs.

The device comes loaded with applications, including Microsoft Mobile Office and two browsers, Internet Explorer and Opera. Both worked well, as did connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi or 3G, including HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access). The Opera browser was customized for HTC for one-handed Internet navigation. You can zoom in by tapping the screen twice, or pan a Web site with one touch. The view automatically rotates if you turn the handset sideways to take advantage of the wider viewing angle.

Although surfing the Internet sucked power out of the battery, that's generally the case with smartphones. The battery on the Touch Diamond is rated for 4 hours of talk time and I used it for four days before having to recharge. That was before I tried accessing the Internet, however.

There are a lot of nice extras on the Touch Diamond. There's a second camera for video calling, a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, and Bluetooth for wireless data transfer. The primary camera also takes video, and the handset comes with a direct connection to YouTube.

One area I thought about praising was the Touch Diamond's user manual, because it's easy to understand. But I note that at 268-pages, it's more than twice as long as the original iPhone manual, which is a 130-page marvel of economy.

The Touch Diamond is a nice phone with a better camera than the 3G iPhone and other extras that will help make it a good rival, as long as HTC is able to spread its new Taiwan price of US$99 to other parts of the world.

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