It's 3 years now since Orange proudly launched Microsoft Smartphone to the world, with their ‘SPV Classic', based on the HTC Canary reference design. The SPV E100 and E200 - HTC Tanager and Voyager respectively – followed, updates that slowly addressed the many issues raised against the first offering.
Then, without warning, Orange launched the SPV C500, based on the HTC Typhoon platform, developed closely between HTC and Microsoft. Prior to the launch of the device, a member of Orange staff (who shall remain nameless) told me that Orange wanted the C500 to become ‘the new Nokia 6310', that is the new ubiquitous business phone. A bold statement, and one I probably dismissed at the time… but then the C500 arrived, and promptly blew everyone away.
The Typhoon design moved the Smartphone on in leaps and bounds. A much improved form factor, stunning improvement in battery life, a clean and well-liked design… at last Smartphone was a serious contender in the phone market.
A while has passed now since the C500 hit the streets, and aside from the launch of the consumer-focused SPV C550, which added media buttons, a 1.3 mega-pixel camera and a QVGA screen to the C500s repertoire, all has been quiet.
Until, that is, the HTC Tornado platform broke cover.
The Tornado takes all the good things about Typhoon, and adds some more. The radio steps up from Tri to Quad Band, the processor, while retaining the same clock speed, is boosted to the new generation TI OMAP 850. Rounding off the hardware improvements, the Tornado reference design accommodates an optional WiFi component.
From a software point of view, the Tornado brings the much anticipated Windows Mobile 5 into market, the next step on Microsofts refinement and improvement of the Operating System.
So, enough of the history lesson, let's talk about the C600…
As I mentioned above, the C600 is an obvious relation to the C500. The form factor remains virtually unchanged. The unit still feels light and comfortable to hold, and maintains a feeling that it is solidly built. The finish is a mixure of a grey powdered coating and silver details, there's no denying it looks great!
Undoubtedly the most controversial feature on the C500 was the ‘bar'. In lieu of the more common joystick, the novel navigation method employed on the C500 seemed to be loved and hated in equal measure (I must confess I quite liked it personally, although it was no use for games for the most part, it was quite reliable). The C600 dispenses with this, and returns to a more conventional joystick. The joystick is still 5 way and so limiting for gaming, but for those who disliked the ‘bar', the switch back will prove popular. Let's hope the reliability of the joystick proves better than some recent HTC Smartphones of late!
The front of the device is dominated by the 2.2” QVGA screen. The screen is quite simply stunning – big, bright and sharp, if you're coming to the device from a C500, you won't believe it. I'm pleased to say the screen itself is set nice and close to the cover (unlike on the C550).
The keypad itself is well designed and comfortable to use. Since this is a business focused device, the media buttons as seen on the C550 are not present, allowing Orange to space and balance the keypad more evenly, resulting in a far more pleasant experience than on devices where the media buttons are included. The home and back keys retain their traditional positions, and are a good size.
2 LEDs are incorporated into the speaker surround on the front, and the microphone is now moved to the front, alongside the light sensor first seen on the C500, which allows the phone to not illuminate the keypad in light environments (a great battery saving technique).
Flipping over to the back of the device, and minimalism is the word here. A small C600 logo, the 1.3 Mega Pixel camera (no flash) with the usual mirror for self portraits, a connector for an external antenna and an embossed ‘Designed for Windows Mobile' logo all sit towards the top of the device, while the expanse of the battery cover remains blank.
The bottom of the device holds the customary 2.5mm headphone jack, a loop for connecting a lanyard (I'm surprised actually that lanyard-mounting phones around the neck hasn't become fashionable here… yet…) and of course our friend the miniUSB port. Applause all round for miniUSB
On the left hand side we have the volume buttons and a key that takes you into Pocket IE, while the right hand side houses the camera button. A typically-awkard-to-press power button and the infrared eye adorn the top of the device.
Removing the snugly fitting battery cover reveals the 1150mAh battery (the same unit as found in the C500/C550, although I believe the capacity was boosted between the C500/C550 from 1050mAh to 1150mAh), and removing the battery reveals a standard issue SIM holder and the miniSD slot. Yes, the miniSD slot remains under the battery. Less of a sin on this kind of device than on a music phone for sure!
HTC devices and their codenames are mighty confusing nowadays. Tornado is the platform as a whole, but under that there are a number of derivatives that vary only slightly. For example, iMate sell the SP5 (WiFi enabled) and SP5m (WiFi + media buttons) variants, which are themselves different from the C600. So… to the first negative on the C600. Contrary to the iMate devices, the C600 – based on the HTC Faraday variant – dispenses with WiFi.
Having owned both an SP5 and a C600, there are some tradeoffs that make the C600 – sans WiFi – attractive. To begin with, the C600 feels more svelte than the SP5. Whether this is due to not needing to include the WiFi hardware is unknown (and yes, there really isn't any WiFi hardware in there), but if you hold one in each hand, you can feel the difference. Secondly, perhaps as hinted at with the ‘Faraday' name, the C600 has excellent battery life. WiFi in a phone undoubtedly impacts battery life when used, so this could have been a consideration by Orange. Finally, there is the question of cost. Once again, Orange are pitching the C600 at a bargain price, and there is no doubt that inclusion of WiFi hardware would have impacted the cost in some way, and probably wouldn't have been used by the majority of purchasers.
It's a difficult one, I know, but my personal opinion is that perhaps the time is a little too soon for WiFi on Smartphone to really be ready for the mainstream, and in the future when more applications can take advantage of it, and WiFi networks are more commonly established, Orange will bring a device to market featuring it. I'm interested to hear what YOU think though!
An unconvincing press of the traditionally poor power button sparks the device into life. Despite the new OS, bootup time remains poor (although in the ‘smart phone' market including Series 60, this seems par for the course), which isn't an issue for me personally (I never turn it off!), but I know it concerns some users.
When the phone has finished booting, the user is presented with the now familiar Orange homescreen, which offers all of the phones core functions from the homescreen, but at the expense of at-a-glance display of upcoming appointments etc.
After pressing ‘Start', the first significant UI change of Windows Mobile 5 is evident… the list format of the start menu is replaced with a grid view – prettier to look at, and I assume more accessible for first time Smartphone users. The left hand soft key now serves to move to the next page.
Before we talk about the software that IS on the device, let's talk about what's not there. The first omission is the never-used Orange Update application. To be honest, although a nice idea in principle, the potential of the application was never exploited, and I find it hard to imagine anyone mourning it's passing. However, it's not the only thing missing. Further inspection reveals that all of the components previously licenced from Action Engine are not installed. That means that Orange Update, Orange Backup and the Action Lock features are missing.
Orange Backup will be the most missed application, as users migrating from a C500 / C550 will not be able to easily and instantly migrate their data, however Orange do tell me that a bigger-and-better solution is under development (which is nice), it's just a shame that it wasn't ready for launch.
Action Lock was an application that you probably never saw. Do you remember Action Register? That formed part of it. The purpose of Action Lock and it's associated components was to allow you to application unlock your phone over the air. Now you're with me right! Yes, that is missing, which means, at time of writing, there is no official way to application unlock your C600 via Orange. In the finest tradition of ‘nature finds a way', more shady solutions have emerged in the community to accomplish the same end.
I'm not going to attempt to cover every change in Windows Mobile 5 in detail, rather talk about the differences on the C600 that you might find significant. Indeed, a great deal of what is changed in Windows Mobile 5 is ‘under the skin' – migration to the newer version of the Windows CE core, vastly improved developer libraries, standard camera API etc.
If you are a corporate user, or indeed a consumer using a hosted Exchange solution such as 1and1http://www.lduhtrp.net/image-1896943-10375282, you can experience immediate benefits. Provided your Exchange server is up to date with Service Pack 2, Windows Mobile 5 adds the ability to server sync Tasks – a function of huge benefit if you use them! Over the Air Outlook Notes sync is still missing, but the inclusion of Tasks is definitely a step in the right direction. Syncing of Contact Pictures is also included thanks to Exchange SP2. The messaging application in general, as with many of the built in applications, has had some general tweaking and polishing to make it more efficient.
Sadly, the task editing on Smartphone is still sorely lacking, thank goodness Papyrus is updated and compatible (and indeed still free for MoDaCo Plus members!)
Pocket IE is one of the few applications that has had a revamp under Windows Mobile 5. While still poor at displaying sites that aren't optimised for Mobile Devices, it does perform better, has a progress bar (see above), and is more pleasant to use (except for the fact the cache fills up the phone's internal memory... see here for details!)
Working our way through the Start Menu, it's clear that the majority of applications haven't undergone a significant revamp in Windows Mobile 5. Minor tweaks appear in the 'Settings Menu', including the function to enable a clock that is displayed while unlocking the phone (bizarre, and the unlock combination has now changed too - annoying).
The Camera application is standard HTC fare, basic but adequate. This is no longer supplemented by the HTC acquired 'IA Album', rather the phone uses the Windows Mobile 5 core 'Pictures and Videos'. Basic Crop / Rotate functionality is provided, and you probably don't want to be doing serious picture editing on your phone! Pictures can of course be sent by Email, MMS, IR or Bluetooth.
For MMS, the C600 retains the adequate rather than outstanding ArcSoft MMS composer. The T9 engine for text input across the phone remains largely unchanged, with the much-requested ability to go back and edit already entered words in T9 mode still absent.
Java is included on the SPV C600, virtually identical as on previous SPVs. Not being a Java user, I can't confess to know enough to review this application
Windows Media Player on the phone is version 10, and performs quite well.
It's a phone
One of the criticisms that has been raised with previous iterations of Smartphone, and one that has been quite valid, is that it has some times felt that the core phone functionality of the phone has been compromised with the inclusion of the 'Smartness'.
By this, I don't mean that the experience of dialling a number and placing a call isn't a good experience, in fact I think that on Smartphone (not Pocket PC however!) it is second to none. What I mean is that on previous versions, when you have hit the green button, or the red button, there has been a delay that you would not expect to experience.
I'm glad to say that this is much, much improved on the C600. I think there have been some improvements on Windows Mobile 5 in this area, and the new CPU probably helps too, but thumbs up to Orange, HTC, MS et al!
So you've read all that (or you've more likely skipped straight to here, hehe), and you want to know my conclusion.
The C600 is a fantastic phone. There, I said it. It's as close to perfect as any device has got for me to date.
It looks great, it performs well in general use, and Windows Mobile 5 for Smartphone – more so than Pocket PC – is a well sorted OS. One handed use is a dream, and the keypad feels great.
It doesn't have WiFi, it doesn't have 3G, the camera has no flash and is distinctly average, but to me, these things don't matter. What matters to me is that the things the phone DOES, it does well. Of course, if those things DO matter to you, you may think differently
The Messaging and Security Feature Pack (also known as AKU2) is on the way, and although there is no word from Orange as to whether it will be released for the C600, should it arrive, it will add push email, A2DP Bluetooth Headset support and a number of other fixes.
In conclusion, I heartily recommend this phone, and am excited to call it the first, truly MoDaCo Approved! device
Do you agree? Disasgree? Share your opinions with me and the rest of the community!
Do you have a question about the C600 that hasn't been answered here? Ask away!
Comments on the review? Feedback appreciated