Gadget Post Mortem: The HTC Touch Pro


For all we talk about exciting new gadgets, reviewing the latest and greatest, any piece of tech can seem incredible when it’s fresh out of the wrapper.  The true test of a gadget is how it treats you months or years after it loses that new gadget sheen.

While I like to stay cutting edge, I refuse to buy into the recent trend of yearly obsolescence. In looking for companies that I choose to do business with, it’s important for me to take a look back at how their products have treated me in the past, especially products I’ve lived with for quite a while.

So pour a beverage, sit back, and let’s take a look back at the HTC Touch Pro.

Released the summer of 2008, the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro were HTC’s attempts at creating a new stylish breed of Windows Mobile handset. Clean lines, artistic accents, these were among the first (and last) WinMo phones to feature completely flush screens. Previous handsets often had thick screen bezels which made devices look chunky.

Down to the hardware, the Touch Pro returned to high resolution screens and faster processors. Previous Windows Mobile PDA’s sported VGA displays and 500Mhz+ XScale processors; but the  beginning years of WinMo phones were a wasteland of QVGA screens, under-clocked CPUs, and too little RAM. Often the excuse was battery life, but personally I believe it had more to do with too little competition. If you only had to outperform a Palm Treo, there was little reason to push the performance envelope. I think this more than anything else contributed to the reputation WinMo had for being “sluggish” and “laggy”. When run on appropriate hardware, WinMo was actually quite snappy.

However, with the iPhone in the picture, HTC tried to make Windows Mobile a more pleasant experience. The screen was a joy. The 2.8” size was a touch small, but the 640×480 resolution was fantastic. Text was crisp, images were detailed, and not only was it twice the resolution of the original iPhone, it’s still competitive with the iPhone 4 in terms of DPI. The resolution per square inch is still formidable today. We’ve of course improved color rendering and contrast though, and putting the Touch Pro next to a Samsung SAMOLED just isn’t a fair comparison at all…

The Pro was also the first (and only) horizontal slider to feature a 57 key, five row keyboard with a dedicated number row and the correct symbols on the numbers. If you don’t put the exclamation point on the number 1, then you’ve failed basic design.

To date, it’s my favorite mobile keyboard. It offers the closest experience to a regular keyboard even including dual shift keys, a dedicated CAPS lock, and a CTRL key. It took our “modern” Android and iOS phones a LONG time to get features like cut & paste (which I still think is poorly implemented on both systems). The Touch Pro allowed me to use standard keyboard shortcuts like CRTL-X/CRTL-V for cut and paste. I miss that a great deal.

To complement the pretty hardware, HTC also tried to make the software nicer on the eyes as well. This was the first series of phones to introduce a custom HTC skin. Originally called TouchFLO, it allowed users to interact with commonly used phone features by touching the screen, as opposed to the classic WinMo “get out your stylus to use this menu” design ethic. Windows Mobile now had basic gesture support, but moving just one menu option outside of TouchFLO meant having to interact with the ugly frame of Windows Mobile. Considering the fact that we were still using resistive screens (as opposed to the capacitive screen found on the iPhone, and later used on Android) it was a capable experience even if it lacked the fluidity of iOS. TouchFLO would later become Sense, which we now recognize as the custom layer HTC puts on Android and Windows Phone 7 handsets. It would seem TouchFLO was a successful experiment.

My device held up remarkably well. I don’t often have faith in spring assisted slider keyboards–they always feel flimsy to me; but my Pro still retains the snappy action. Unfortunately, my keyboard’s back light did fail on the left hand side. Uneven backlighting was common on the Pro, and many complained about it on forums.

I would often get disparaging comments about how “fat” the phone was, but truthfully it was almost exactly the same size as my old Nokia candybar phone. A great form factor for the front pocket on a pair of jeans.

The battery life towards the end was pretty abysmal–it lasted about half a day with regular email pulling. Windows Mobile was really never designed for constant 3G use, so even using the web browser could cause your battery to plummet. Judicious use of WiFi, a car charger, and a spare battery would help me make it through the day.

That said, ignoring the battery issues, Sprint 3G has always been pretty peppy for me, and the Pro still manages pretty competitive download speeds for a phone three years old. To think it’s taken this long for iOS and Android to catch up on web services like Skype. Making audio calls over 3G was never an issue for WM6.

The Touch Pro was never very well supported. It was released with WinMo6.1, and never officially received 6.5, the last official release of Windows Mobile (before becoming Windows Phone 7) which included a number of improvements to menus and program access. Thankfully the ROM developers at XDA got a version of 6.5 working, but that’s not really support, and it was frustrating never seeing an official release.

In all, the phone has held up remarkably well, and I still keep it in reserve as a backup, should anything happen to my current phone. It was a refreshing take on a tired old dog of an operating system, and showed that even in its dying days WinMo still had a few new tricks to learn and still stands as a pretty impressive achievement. For all its warts, Windows Mobile had some phenomenal features for power users that more modern competitors still haven’t caught up to.

It also shows that, even with carrier “influence”, HTC can make a pretty damn good handset…