There are few devices that impress me enough to consider buying one for myself, but when I first looked at the HTC’s follow up to its original keyboard sliding smart phone – the TyTN II – in the late summer I was well and truly bowled over. Here was a phone that did absolutely everything you could ever want of a smart phone, included a usable keyboard, and still remained pocketable in a way few other phones can manage.
To abuse a popular saying the TyTN II is a phone that allows you to have your cake and eat it and I was certainly sad to see that review sample go back from whence it came. In the intervening months I tried a BlackBerry 8800 for a while after finally moving on from my K800i, and have reviewed a number of other smart phones, but having come back to the HTC TyTN II courtesy of its launch on Orange’s network, I have a hankering for it all over again.
Normally when a network launches a phone this good, it likes to stamp its own brand all over it. In the case of T-Mobile the TyTN II was put through the rebranding mangle, coming out at the other end transformed into the MDA Vario III, complete with silver-grey front and rear panels, pink Web ‘n’ Walk shortcut button on the front and T-Mobile branding on the front fascia.
Orange would usually do the same. It did with the original TyTN, renaming it the SPV M3100, but this time around it has chosen to take more of a back seat, leaving the name and HTC branding intact. In fact the only nod towards the fact that this is an Orange phone on the exterior of the device is the small, square Orange logo on the rear, and that’s no bad thing.
For my money, the Orange version of the TyTN II looks slightly the smarter device. Instead of the Vario’s Mercedes silver grey, the edges of the device are clad in polished, ebony-black plastic, while the rear panel is covered in a tactile black rubber coating. The portion surrounding the screen is brushed aluminium effect, and the buttons below the screen look swisher than the Vario III’s too. An outer ring of chromed pick-up, hang-up, Windows Start and OK buttons are wrapped around a smaller silver-grey panel with the two soft keys, plus shortcuts to Internet Explorer and the Messaging application, and the d-pad for navigation nestles at the centre of it all.
Switch it on however, and it quickly becomes apparent that Orange simply could not resist dabbling. The most obvious of the changes made is that it has removed the HTC TouchFlo home screen from the first HTC TyTN II I looked at, with its handy shortcut panel displaying a weather forecast, favourites, contacts and so on, and replaced it with its own menu. This makes a welcome visual change to the usual Windows Mobile fare, with its minimalist menus that pop out from the left hand side of the screen, but it’s not as configurable as the standard Windows Mobile Today screen and doesn’t really add anything in terms of functionality.
Orange has, fortunately, preserved the most useful aspect of HTC’s TouchFlo interface enhancement – finger panning and scrolling. This gives you the option of sweeping your finger up and down lists of email and contacts in order to navigate through them rather than having to reach around to the scroll wheel on the left of the device or use the d-pad that sits in the centre of the control panel beneath the screen. And it’s a fairly simple matter to remove the customised home screen if you wish.
Delving deeper into the bundled software reveals a whole range of further Orange additions, but this time ones that are actually worth having. In addition to the usual stuff you get with Windows Mobile 6 Professional, you get Audio Manager – an improvement over the mobile version of Windows Media Player – and a separate Video Player application. More usefully there’s a zip file application for creating compressed files on the go or simply decompressing zip files sent as attachments, plus World Card Mobile which, coupled with the 3.0 megapixel camera on the rear enables you to snap business cards and read them directly into your contacts database. Very handy if you’re the sort of person who isn’t very organised about keeping your business cards on file.
There’s a free one month trial of TrafficTV on the device, an intriguing application that allows you to tap into CCTV images of traffic cameras across the country. It’s a bit weird sitting on the sofa at home in London, and being able to look at webcams of traffic jams on my phone. Alas, the ongoing appeal of this will be limited as the subscription costs £4 per month once the free trial period has expired.
And last but by no means least, on the software front at least, you’ll also find BlackBerry Connect and BlackBerry Connect Desktop setup files on a disc in the box, perfect for those whose want push email on their TyTN II, but whose IT departments prefer BlackBerry Enterprise Server to Microsoft Exchange Server.
The slide-out keyboard and tilting screen make the TyTN II an exremely easy to use and productive email tool. For someone like myself who’s out and about and needs to respond to emails about work and new products, it’s an invaluable tool. My first impressions of the keyboard were that it was good, but not as good as the Toshiba G900’s. I’m still of that opinion, but as time goes by I’m getting more and more comfortable with it, and tapping out emails is now even more of a quick and hassle-free process.
The build quality is still a revelation. With such a complex mechanism behind the sliding keyboard, you might expect the hinge to give a little, but not a bit of it. Both the TyTN II’s I’ve seen have been rock solid, and make a pleasing thunk whenever you slide the keyboard out. It’s also quite remarkable that HTC has been able to squeeze this into a chassis that, while it could not be described as slim or light at 19mm thick and 190g in weight, is certainly more pocketable than many less well-featured smart phones on the market today.
Now that I’ve had a second look at it I can confirm that the positioning of the clickable scroll wheel on the left of the device is truly a work of genius. Not only does it fall under the thumb neatly when you’ve got it in phone mode, but once you slide the keyboard out and hold the TyTN II in two hands, it falls directly under your right index finger, which makes navigating through my huge contacts list an absolute doddle.
The fact that it’ll connect to just about anything you can think of is a massive bonus. My working arrangements involve working at home and in an office at the moment, and the Wi-Fi connection really comes into its own here, allowing me to sync over the air without it costing the earth in data costs. I’ve also got Skype installed on it, which enables me to take advantage of cheap/free calls when I’m at home without eating into my valuable mobile tariff.
But that’s not all, of course. The TyTN II is also a quad-band GSM device, and one that supports GPRS with EDGE, 3G and HSDPA on top of all that. It has also has a GPS receiver built in. I downloaded the free Google Maps application onto it for testing and had cause to use it when I got lost going to a press conference in central London. It worked perfectly, locking onto a satellite signal quickly and holding it well. If you want to use it for driving instructions, Google Maps won’t do the job, but you do have the option of subscribing to Orange’s own satnav solution for a monthly fee, or investing in the excellent CoPilot Live! 7 that Sandra reviewed this week.
The only thing I’m really disappointed in is that, like, Riyad did with the Vario III, I’ve found that the camera is not particularly good, which is a bit of a let-down coming from the excellent K800i. The screen still isn’t particularly high res either, but I haven’t noticed it limiting the usefulness of the TyTN II, and other than these two small reservations, it’s pretty much the perfect device.
Alas, the Orange version of the TyTN II isn’t the cheapest smart phone in the world – if you want it on a tariff costing less than an eye-watering £55 per month you’ll have to shell out at least £90. That’s a lot for a slightly different paintjob – on T-Mobile you can have it for £10 cheaper.
That shouldn’t prevent you from shelling out if you just have to have an Orange call and data package – it’s still a bargain – but it does mean that at the time of writing, the phone is slightly less of an incredible deal than the MDA Vario III.
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