When HTC introduced the Magician (marketed as the iMate JAM, SPV M500, MDA Compact etc), it was something of a revelation. The first device from HTC to ship with a 2.8" screen, it was extremely well received and set a precedent for future devices. It's close relative, the HTC Wizard (i-mate KJAM, T-Mobile MDA Vario, O2 XDA Mini S) was also popular, as the first HTC device with a QWERTY keyboard, and arguably the first device to really make the most of the landscape support built into the Windows Mobile OS.
A while has passed now since the Wizard hit the streets (over a year), and HTC has now released the HTC Herald, to be sold under their consumer brand as the P4350.
Now, the waters have been muddied a little by the release of the HTC Hermes, particularly the fact that it has been released by T-Mobile as the MDA Vario II. You could argue that the Hermes is in fact the successor to the Wizard, offering a very similar form factor and a hugely improved specification... and you'd probably be right. So is there room for the Herald? What is it exactly?
Think of the Herald in one of two ways. It's either a slimmed down and slightly tweaked Wizard, or it's a Prophet (i-mate JAMin, SPV M600) with a slide out keyboard without gaining any additional size.
The question is, is there room in the market now for another keyboarded device with a relatively slow processor and no 3G / HSDPA connectivity? Does the reduced size compared to it's Hermes brethren make up for such limitations? This is the question I aim to answer in this review... so read on
Buying the P4350
The P4350 is shipping NOW, priced at £379.95 inc from Expansys. Let's look at how it compares with it's likely competitors...
HTC TyTN - £494.95
Fujitsu Siemens Loox T830 - £494.95
HTC P3600 - £449.95
HTC P3300 (Base Pack) - £439.95
HP iPaq 6915 - £379.95
HTC P4350 - £379.95
UBiQUiO 501 - £299.95
As you can see, it's at the low end of (admittedly pretty hefty) scale. Only the UBiQUiO pips it on SIM free price... so you could effectively think of the P4350 as HTC's 'budget Pocket PC now' (if you could call 380 quid 'budget'!)
Let's talk about what you get for your money
Unboxing the P4350
For this review I am covering the full retail P4350, that I purchased from Expansys. I have been using a Marketing Sample for a few weeks, but have now replaced it with the real deal
The HTC P4350 arrives in a new box design for HTC devices... more square than before, and generally a nicer unboxing experience
The box contains the following items:
- a HTC P4350 device
- a leather case
- a spare stylus
- a USB sync cable
- a stereo headset with a USB connection to the device
- a mains charger
- an ActiveSync / Outlook CD
- a CD containing Sprite Backup / SPB GPRS Monitor
- a user manual and quick start guide
Hardware - overview
I'll be honest, there's not much 'new and exciting' technology wise when it comes to the P4350. Let's run through the specifications...
- Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC AKU 3
- Quad Band GPRS / EDGE
- 802.11b/g WiFi
- TI OMAP 850 @ 200MHz
- 128MB ROM
- 64MB RAM
- 2.8" QVGA 65K colour screen
- externally accessible microSD expansion
- 2.0MP camera
- Bluetooth 2.0
- miniUSB connector for sync / charge / headphones
- 1130mAh battery
- 59mm x 109mm x 17 mm
- 160g (actually tips our scales at 174g - 32g battery)
- Unique 'sprung' sliding keyboard
Let's talk about the positives first!
The size. It can't be denied that size is the biggest selling point of this device. At 59mm x 109mm x 17 mm compared to the HTC Prophet's 58mm x 102mm x 18.2mm, you'll see that it's small. Compared it to the HTC Hermes' 58mm x 112.5mm x 21.95mm bulk, and the difference is remarkable.
The device has a full size stylus, a welcome inclusion in the current trend of telescopic stylii!
As you'll note, the device packs the 'old faithful' TI OMAP 850 200MHz processor. Oft criticised for it's lacklustre performance on intensive applications such as Skype, the processor does however bring a bonus of impressive battery life... and the P4350 is no exception on that front. Of course, you can also overclock the processor should you desire (a 240MHz OMAPclock setting seems to work well... should you really feel the need to).
The microSD port is externally accessible, behind a rubber flap.
The keyboard. The keyboard slide out action is fantastic. Sliding out from the right hand side of the device as opposed to left on the Wizard / Hermes etc., the keyboard 'springs' out with a satisfying snap... a vast improvement on the previous mechanisms on other devices. As an added bonus, opening the keyboard also powers the device on. Lovely! The keyboard itself is very similar to that on the Hermes with square keys, however they have a rubberised feel on this device. A bit strange at first, but fine once you get used to it The hardware buttons that correspond to the on screen soft keys have moved on the P4350 so that they are now below the appropriate buttons on the screen. Suprisingly I don't find this a preferable arrangement compared to the Hermes, but i'll come to that later.
The reason for moving the left soft key is to make way for the Caps / FN lock lights, another first. The blue LEDs illuminate as appropriate when Caps or FN lock is engaged, a nice addition!
Well it's not all good news is it... would you expect anything less?
The first point worthy of note is the weight! At a hefty 174g on our scales (14g more than the quoted weight), it's substantial. Small it may be, but light it ain't By comparison, the Prophet tips the scales at 148g, the Wizard a closer 169g. It's the heavy weight compared with the diminuitive size that is so strange... one can only assume the solid keyboard mechanism is to blame.
The aforementioned OMAP 850 processor may be seen as a handicap to some power-hungry users, and the inclusion of only 2G radio may be a deal-breaker if you're a heavy data user and (unlike me) live in an area of good 3G coverage.
There's no scroll wheel on the P4350, which was a bit strange at first having switched to this device from my Hermes.
The P4350 features the now ubiquitous HTC 'extUSB' connector that combines miniUSB and headphones into one port. Boo... Hiss... (it is nearly Panto season after all right? ) Bluetooth is of the 2.0 variety, and IR is not included on this device... and won't feature on any HTC devices going forward.
My final criticism is around the look of the device. It feels a little too plain, almost budget. It's hard to draw the line between simple good looks and the impression of well built ruggedness and a design that just lacks that certain something. A device such as the MDA Vario II for example has style in buckets (IMHO), and the P4350 does not. On first looks alone, this is not a 'wow' device. It will be interesting to see what customisations carriers make to the design when (if) they take the Herald.
Hardware - around the device
The front of the device is primarily consumed by the gloriously bright 2.8" screen. The screen has a glossy finish, as opposed to the 'anti glare' finish that I commented on in my P3300 review... which is a thumbs up from me! The screen (well, the software really) has the same odd feature that I noticed on the P3300... 'Backlight Off' isn't ACTUALLY off. The screen is still very dimly illuminated in this mode... strange, but useful for some applications (e.g. CamerAware at night!). The screen is recessed for protection.
Above the screen sites the speaker, with a very thin silver surround, and the 2 notification LEDs.
Below the screen sits the HTC logo, and below that is the keypad.
The keypad features all the important buttons - Green, Red, Start, OK, the directional pad and the hardware buttons for the soft keys. All of the buttons are silver with a white backlight and an absolute joy to use! Using the keypad on the P4350 reminds me why I personally dislike the P3300 (Artemis) so much. Even better, this is an 8 way pad - diagonal support FINALLY returns!
The device has a matt black finish that feels very durable, but as mentioned before, feels very 'plain'.
The back of the device is REALLY plain. It's a one piece back that removes in it's entirety for access to the innards. At the top right is the speaker, at the top left is the external antenna socket. Below this sits the '2.0 MEGA PIXELS' branding, and the camera with a portrait mirror. The rest of the back is bare with the exception of the HTC logo at the base.
The top of the device holds the power button, the left of the device the camera button, volume slider, reset pin and microSD slot. The right of the device has comm manager, voice dial buttons and the stylus silo, while the base plays host to the mic, the extUSB port, a switch for releasing the back cover and the lanyard loop.
Sliding open the keyboard reveals the QWERTY keyboard, which as mentioned previously has slightly rubberised keys. As also mentioned above, Caps / FN lock indicator lights are present, as are buttons that correspond to the on screen soft keys. The keyboard layout is good, with a good selection of symbols as keyboard alternates, and a numeric keypad area. Start and OK buttons as present, as is a tab key and cursor keys. The space bar is a double width key, and interestingly seems to have a microswitch for each half... which makes for some odd tactile feedback in use... but more on this later! All in all, the keyboard is quite good in use... although it lags slightly behind the Hermes for me, primarily due to the changed placement of the left soft key.
When you first spark up the P4350, you're greeted by the HTC logo, before the device launches into the AKU3 setup wizard. Traditionally the bane of Pocket PC owner's lives, the wizard has been improved slightly for AKU3. Most importantly, the annoying 'tap and hold' tutorial can now be skipped! Hurrah! In addition, email accounts can be configured during this first setup phase.
After the initial setup has been completed, and the device has performed it's Extended ROM customisations (followed by a reboot), the user is greeted by the Today screen. Presented in the now-familiar HTC ultra-green, the layout is very simple. The HTC 'Shortcut Bar' is displayed below a very simple standard layout.. You'll notice the default configuration has shortcuts for power status, screen rotation, comm manager and backlight settings.
Application wise, all of the standard applications you'd expect from a Pocket PC are there. I won't go through them in detail, rather i'll talk about what's new and different on the P4350
- The P4350, courtesy of AKU3, includes an updated Bluetooth stack with some new features. More protocols are now support, and a Bluetooth Explorer / Bluetooth FTP application is now also in ROM.
- A new application is included called 'Audio Manager'. This functions in a very similar way to the Windows Media Player library, but adds functionality for building custom playlists.
- The Camera application on the device is the usual excellent HTC Camera client.
- Abode Reader LE is installed in ROM, now adopted across HTC devices instead of the previously licenced ClearVue PDF.
- Internet Sharing is a new application for AKU3. It makes the process of using your device as a modem for your computer a lot easier. You choose the connection method, choose the connection on your device to use, and off you go. Piece of cake... and with Windows Vista in particular (that i'm using), the process is amazing.
As mentioned above, Sprite Backup and SPB GPRS Monitor are included free of charge on the CD, which is a nice bonus.
I've been using the P4350 as my main device for a couple of weeks now, and am now using a proper retail device, so i'm comfortable giving a good assessment of it in use. I'll confess that I was very excited about getting the P4350. Living in a non-3G coverage area, I figured it could be the perfect device for me! So let's see how it fared!
The device form factor is great, there is no doubt about that. It's pocketably small if a little heavy... when I used to carry my Vario II around, I would always be aware of a bulge in my pocket (ooh matron!), however after starting to use the P4350, I found myself periodically checking it was still there. That's definitely a good thing!
The screen is excellent. It's bright, clear, usable in direct sunlight, and at night you can switch the backlight 'off' for an ultra low brightness mode. It makes my Vario II screen look positively dull by comparison.
I mentioned previously how impressed I was with the keypad on the P4350, and i'd just like to reiterate that. Aside from the 8 way support that is useful for gamers, the buttons are so well placed and feel so perfect in use, I don't want a device with any other layout ever again. Forget your RollRs and JoggRs HTC... this is what people want. Add to this the full size stylus (although it comes out from the bottom rather than the top), and you have a great usage experience when the device is closed.
Open the device and the experience continues to be very good, but not quite perfect. The device opens with a very satisfying 'snap', the keyboard is great, and the Caps / FN indicators are useful. My criticism would be that they keys have very very slightly less feel than on the Hermes, but most annoyingly for me, the fact that the left soft key button has moved to make room for the indicator lights means it is uncomfortable / unnatural to press with your left thumb. It should have stayed in it's rightful place, and the indicator lights should have gone in the middle. The space bar is also a little odd, with a microswitch serving each side of the bar, if you hit it square in the middle it can feel like you've accidentally hit two keys, which is a little disconcerting.
I guess the fact that I am griping about the position of 1 key and the microswitches under another are testament to the excellent usability of the device from a hardware perspective. There is very little to fault it, and in this respect the device has definitely lived up to my expectations.
Let's talk about other aspects of the device in use.
I'll touch on the Camera. It's typical HTC fare (once again) in that it's decidedly average, and isn't going to scare the Sony-Ericssons of this world with it's picture quality. Once again the HTC Camera Application is excellent... and somewhat wasted
AKU3 is, in my opinion, and excellent operating system. Once again on the P4350 it shows itself as a great companion to the TI OMAP 850 processor, and never feels slow or underpowered in general use. The subtle tweaks by Microsoft (such as WPA2 support, improved Bluetooth etc.) are great, as are the HTC additions. Once again, the removal of the 'Phone Pad' T9 application is a shame... but I think I'm going to have to give up on beating that drum now!
WiFi performs well, and the phone performance from a signal perspective has lived up to my expectations.
Finally, let me talk about battery life. While I don't do any 'scientific' assessments of battery life in my reviews, I can provide you with a comparison compared to my other devices. For example, on my HTC Hermes (MDA Vario II), the battery will last a day of my normal use - Push Mail, some SMS, a call or two, lots of internet access. By comparison, the P4350 lasts at least two days, often more... testament to the less power hungry processor and 2G radio.
As mentioned above, I had high hopes for this handset... and on the whole i've not been disappointed. It's blend of compact size, great keypad, great keyboard, great screen and WiFi make it the perfect device for me, taking into account the fact I spend 99% of my life out of 3G coverage. This device is so perfect for me, i've bought one to use as my main device
Of course, if you are a 3G / HSDPA user who is willing to have a larger device with poorer battery life in return for faster data, then the HTC Hermes may be a better bet.
I will be very interested to see if operators pick up the device and improve the look at all, it does look rather bland, and I would be interested to see what the likes of T-Mobile could do with the exterior... but we'll have to wait and see on that one (note that Dopod, the only company to have confirmed they are offering the device, are shipping with the same exterior, just branded 'dopod' of course).
There's no denying that £380 is a lot of money, but amongst it's peers, the P4350 offers decent value, and I think prospective purchasers who have read this review are unlikely to be disappointed.
Thanks for reading... and have your say at http://Herald.MoDaCo.com