I love my Nokia N810, but after 10 months of hoping in vain for ubiquitous wifi in the places I frequent, I finally put convenience ahead of cost and upgraded to a smartphone with a data plan: the HTC Tilt 2 from AT&T. I’ve only had it for a couple of days, and I’m still getting used to it, but here are a few of my first impressions.
The Tilt 2 is also available from T-Mobile and Verizon as the Touch Pro 2.
Things I liked
The keyboard: This is one of the main reasons I didn’t get an iPhone. Even the best onscreen keyboards fail to measure up to hardware buttons and tactile feedback. The Tilt 2 has a fantastic keyboard. The buttons are just the right size for my thumbs, and are nicely spaced. Frequently used characters like “/”, “@”, and “:” are intuitively placed, and there are shortcut keys for things like email, calendar, texting, and wifi. I thought I liked the keyboard on my N810, but this one is even better.
The touch screen and included screen protector: The touch screen is oh-so-sensitive and finger friendly, and the included screen protector is slick and scratch resistant. ‘Nuff said.
The user interface: The Tilt 2 runs Windows Mobile 6.5, but HTC has added an interface on top of that called Touch Flo 3D. It’s slick, intuitive, and customizable, allowing you to have your email, stocks, weather, music, and programs just a flick of your finger away. Or not, if you prefer.
Open application development: Unlike the iPhone, for which every app must be approved by Apple before being made available in the app store, Windows Mobile allows you to install whatever the heck you want from wherever you want. This means that I can have functionality that isn’t available to iPhone users, like a Google Voice client.
GPS: I have Google Maps for Mobile on my Tilt 2, and I think it’s fantastic. It uses the cell network to assist the GPS, so it finds my location extraordinarily fast, and I can download driving directions and view traffic reports or satellite images.
Web Browsing: When I bought my Nokia N810, I thought I was sticking it to the man by getting mobile internet access without a data plan. I quickly learned that open wifi networks are hard to find and often overloaded and slow. After just two days with my Tilt 2, I’ve concluded that an all-you-can-eat data plan is a quantum leap in convenience and worth the cost if you can afford it.
The Tilt 2 comes with two web browsers installed: Internet Explorer and Opera. Both have features like kinetic scrolling and tap-to-zoom. Opera is noticeably faster on most sites, when it works. Sometimes it fails to load a page and displays an error message saying that it can’t find the proxy server. I haven’t figured out why yet, but at least I have a second browser to fall back on when it happens. (Update: This problem occurs because of Opera Mobile’s default proxy settings. Click here for a quick and easy fix.)
Fit and finish: The Tilt 2 feels solidly built. There is enough resistance in the slide and tilt mechanism that it doesn’t feel flimsy. Everything fits together the way it should, and there are no wobbles or squeaks.
Charging cable doubles as USB cable: To charge the phone, you just plug the USB cable into a small wall adapter. This reduces the number of cables I have to deal with, and it means the phone can charge while plugged into my computer.
Things I hated
Opera’s tendency to not work: As mentioned above, the Opera browser sometimes fails to work and displays an error message about failing to find a proxy server. This is frustrating, because it is probably the best mobile browser I have ever used, and I’d really like it to work all the time. Internet Explorer is fine, but not as quick or polished. This is one of those areas where the iPhone has the advantage- everything “just works,” and frankly I’m a little jealous. (Update: This problem occurs because of Opera Mobile’s default proxy settings. Click here for a quick and easy fix.)
Proprietary charging/USB plug, and no standard headphone jack: The Tilt has one plug. It looks like a mini-USB port, but it’s shaped a little differently. If you want to use headphones, you have to plug in a dongle and plug the headphones into that. If I had planned to use this phone as a media player, that might have been a deal killer. Also, in the 21st Century, I really think it’s not too much to ask that I only have to take one charging cable when I go on vacation. Europe has figured this out- why can’t we? (Update: As posted below in the comments, the Tilt’s USB plug works with a standard mini-USB cable for charging and synchronization. Still no standard headphone jack though.)
No dedicated camera shutter button: With my Sony Ericsson w580i, I had one of the hardware buttons set to bring up the camera. I used to pull it out while driving and take pictures without taking my eyes off the road. I won’t be doing that with the Tilt. It doesn’t even have a dedicated shutter button- you tap a spot on the screen to take pictures. Forget about opening the camera without looking at the screen.
Heat: The Tilt 2 gets quite warm while in use- enough to be uncomfortable when held against the side of your head during a long conversation. I’ll be relying heavily on my Bluetooth headset.
The low battery alarm: I thought I had disabled noisy notifications for things that aren’t calls, but apparently I missed this one. It’s loud and obnoxious, and it woke up my wife last night. And again tonight.
Removing the SIM card: A lot of manufacturers make it really difficult to remove SIM cards, and HTC is no exception. The Tilt’s SIM card slides under a little sleeve, and getting it out involved a knife blade, a finger, and more bending than I am comfortable with. There are plenty of good reasons why someone might want to switch to their “beater” phone for a day or two, and it bugs me that manufacturers make this more difficult than it has to be.
Placement of the Reset button: To perform a soft reset on the Tilt, you have to take off the battery cover. This means that the battery cover’s latching mechanism will be subjected to unnecessary wear.
Things I’m still not sure about
Battery life: It’s probably too early to comment on this, because the novelty hasn’t worn off yet and I’m using my phone nearly every spare minute. That said, I’ve managed to run the battery down to almost nothing during each of the two days I’ve had it. I’ll be using a lot of internet and GPS, and I could see having to carry the charger around with me during long days.
Carrying around a phone that’s worth more than my car: It just feels weird.
Why not an iPhone?
My wife got an iPhone when I got my Tilt, so I’ve had the chance to compare the two devices a bit.
If the Tilt 2 hadn’t been available from my carrier, I probably would have chosen the iPhone. I love the iPhone’s size, shape and user interface, and I’m impressed with the way it just works seamlessly. Windows Mobile by contrast is a bit finicky at times, requiring occasional tinkering or resetting, and applications don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.
That said, there are four major reasons I chose the Tilt: the slide-out keyboard, the user-replaceable battery, expandable storage, and the iPhone’s App Store approval process.
- Keyboard: As I mentioned, I gotta have my hardware keyboard. I’ve written blog posts and taken notes on my N810′s thumb keyboard. I’m faster on that keyboard than the average person touch-typing on a full-size keyboard. I’ve used the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard enough to know that I hate it. Until manufacturers figure out a way for a touchscreen to reshape itself into individual “bumps” for each key I’ll stick with my hardware buttons and tactile feedback.
- User-replaceable battery: The Tilt’s battery is user-replaceable- you just pop off the back cover to access it. The iPhone battery is not. I don’t like equipment that isn’t user-serviceable, especially when even a no-brainer like changing the battery isn’t allowed. I change my own oil- I think I can handle changing a battery in my phone.
- Expandable storage: The iPhone comes with a fixed amount of storage. The Tilt comes with a micro SD slot. You can’t expand the amount of storage an iPhone has, but my Tilt is limited only by the size of available memory cards. Admittedly this is less significant with the advent of 16 and 32 gigabyte iPhones, but it’s the principle of the thing. I like devices that are flexible and expandable.
- The App Store: Unless you’ve jailbroken your iPhone, the App Store is the only place to get applications for it. Every app must be approved by a committee before being made available, which means that sometimes a quality app that provides a valuable service gets rejected for no good reason. The recent rejection of the Google Voice app for iPhone is a case in point. Windows Mobile has no such approval process. If I find an application I want, I download it and install it. Neither Microsoft, AT&T, or HTC have any say in the matter, nor should they. It’s my phone, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone else tell me what I can and can’t do with it.
I don’t think the perfect smartphone exists yet. Every device available involves some tradeoffs. That said, I like this phone and I think I’ll keep it. For my use case (phone, email, GPS and heavy web surfing) it’s a good fit.
One of my top priorities with this phone is getting it to work with Google Voice and Gizmo the way I did with my N810. (Update: Click here to read about setting up free Google Voice calls on your Windows Mobile phone.) I’m also going to see what I can do with the wife’s iPhone, although I don’t think she’ll let me jailbreak it. ;-) (Update: Click here to read about setting up free Google Voice calls on your iPhone.) Whatever happens, you’ll read about it here, so why not save yourself some time and subscribe to my RSS feed.