- Review Price: £399.95
HTC has ploughed its own furrow in the world of smartphones over the past year or so. While most other manufacturers have managed to produce one, two or possibly three new models, the Taiwanese manufacturer has hit us with a succession of new devices, one hot on the heels of the last.
Compatriot E-TEN looks as if it wants to follow in HTC’s footsteps, and the new M800 is a direct attempt to steal some of its rival’s thunder. It is, essentially, E-TEN’s take on the hugely successful – at least in terms of press reaction – HTC TyTN II, aka Orange HTC TyTN II, HTC P4550/Kaiser, and T-Mobile MDA Vario III. It’s roughly the same size, give or take a few millimetres, has a sliding QWERTY keyboard under the screen, and it’s based on Windows Mobile 6 Professional. But is the M800 a quality cover version, full of novel interpretation, or a rotten tomato, sprinkled liberally with karaoke-night bum notes?
In many respects the former is the case. Though there’s no tilting screen as there is with the TyTN II, the Glofiish M800’s display is actually much nicer than the TyTN II’s. Not only is it brighter and more vibrant, but it also has a higher resolution at 640 x 480 (versus 320 x 240). This not only lets you squeeze more emails and contacts on screen at once, but also gives you better resolution for handwriting recognition and scribbling notes, plus it makes browsing the web much easier, especially if you switch from Pocket Internet Explorer to Mozilla’s Minimo. For the ultimate in mobile web browsing, though, nothing touches the iPhone’s Safari browser.
It also has a better camera. Though this boasts the same 2.0-megapixel resolution, it doesn’t overexpose images in the way that the TyTN II’s camera does, and it has a light and portrait mirror as well, where the HTC has none. The front-facing VGA video camera is pretty good on video calls, picking up facial detail even in tricky lighting situations. And the design is pretty sleek, too. That large 2.8in screen is surrounded by a dark grey, brushed aluminium finish while the rest of the front fascia is clad in smart grey plastic. Wrapped around the edge of the device, however, is the piece de resistance – a subtle and attractive, yet eye-catching band of bronze trim.
The rest of the specification is also enough to get HTC worried. You get quad-band GSM, so you’ll be able to make phone calls pretty much anywhere in the world you can get a mobile signal. It has HSDPA up to 3.6Mbits/sec for fast mobile broadband connectivity, plus 3G and GPRS with EDGE for when that ‘H’ doesn’t pop up at the top of your screen. There’s a SiRF Star III GPS receiver, so you can add sat-nav to the phone if you wish. The memory complement is up there with the TyTN at a generous 256MB ROM and 64MB RAM, while the processor is a slightly nippier 500MHz Samsung, though in use it didn’t feel any more responsive. And you even get an FM tuner, just in case you run out of MP3s to listen to, though the device’s 2.5mm headphone socket means you’ll have to buy an adapter if you want to connect your own headphones.
I’d also like to point out that the call quality on this device is better than the TyTN’s. This is not to say the call quality on the TyTN II is poor, far from it, just that the M800’s is louder and clearer. This means you’ll be able to take calls in noisy environments – the pub or the train, for instance – without having to go outside or stick your finger in your other ear.
Add a raft of useful software extras that puts most other smartphones to shame, including business card recognition software, a facility that lets you use the camera light as a torch, and E-TEN’s own Today screen customisation – via the excellent Spb Mobile Shell plugin – which neatly places recent applications, alarms, weather reports and favourite contacts at your fingertips, and you have a phone, on paper at least, that looks to give the TyTN II a serious run for its money.
Use the M800 for a while, however, and you’ll soon discover that it’s less a talented reworking of the TyTN II and more a pale imitation. The main problem lies in its usability – specifically the design of the controls. There’s no scroll wheel, for instance – a couple of flat buttons for volume and a record button sit on the left edge instead. The telescopic stylus isn’t as nice to hold as the TyTN’s either. The keyboard is competent but though the keys look easier to press than the TyTN’s, I found myself hitting wrong letters more frequently while bashing out emails and notes. I couldn’t fathom E-TEN’s caps lock system either, which seemed to switch to all caps occasionally for no apparent reason.
But these are small gripes compared to the pair of screeching howlers that sit below the screen. The first of these is the buttons may look nice as they glow softly into life, but the fact that they’re touch-sensitive means they’re a real fiddle to use. Frequently I found myself hitting the pick-up key instead of Start, or hang-up instead of OK, and though the phone locks the buttons after a few seconds so you don’t activate them by accident in your pocket, it’s far too easy to brush a key with your finger while they’re not locked.
The second disaster is nestled in the centre of the touch-sensitive button cluster. The four-way clickable joystick you have to use to navigate through Windows Mobile’s menus is, frankly, awful. It’s small, fiddly, and after a while of using it I had a sore thumb. Worse, its size also meant that all too often I hit one of the touch-sensitive buttons either side of it, and if you have large hands or chunky thumbs it will prove even more of a pain to use.
Finally, battery life is none too impressive. Despite the fact that it has a larger 1,530mAh capacity, the lithium polymer unit in the M800 rarely yielded more than a day and a half of normal use. That’s with push email in use, the odd bit of web browsing and a few phone calls – nothing particularly intensive.
So although things start out well for the M800, the more practical aspects of the phone’s design brings it down to earth with a solid, uncomfortable bump. It may have the better screen, excellent call quality, a faster processor and nice design, but the controls are awful and the keyboard isn’t good enough to make up for these faults.
Even if all this doesn’t swing your opinion away from the M800 to the TyTN II, the news that E-TEN has yet to secure a network deal to subsidise the handset in the UK probably will. This means that, for the time being at least, this inferior phone will cost you a great deal more to own – £400 – than the equivalent TyTN II on Orange or a Vario III on T-Mobile.
Score in detail
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