There's no denying that HTC's candybar Mobile Phone offerings of late have been few and far between. Since the very well respected Tornado platform release (which includes the i-mate SP5, QTek 8310, T-Mobile MDA, SPV C600 etc), the only candybar Smartphones release has been the HTC Breeze design - which spawned the HTC MTeoR, i-mate JASJAM and the ne'er to be released SPV C700 - and the low volume selling HTC Monet - aka the Virgin Mobile Lobster 700TV. The Breeze platform was almost universally slated for poor design, poor specs, awful battery life and unstable software build. The Monet on the other hand felt my wrath due to an awful keyboard design. Bearing in mind that the SPV C600 was launched back in October 2005 and the HTC MTeoR was launched in June 2006, the wait for a new candybar Smartphone has been considerable.
Enter the HTC Vox reference platform, aka the HTC S710 (and soon to be the Orange SPV E650).
Buying the S710
At Expansys, the S710 is currently showing a SIM FREE price of £289.95, which is not expected to change significantly before launch in April. Compared to it's peers (all prices from Expansys)...
Samsung i600: £389.95
Toshiba G500: £349.95
HTC S710: £289.95
HTC MTeoR: £289.95
HTC S620: £264.95
i-mate SPL: £223.59
As you can see, the device sits at the middle to top price range for Smartphones (particularly 2G Smartphones), but still remains cheaper than most Pocket PCs. It is comparable to it's predecessor in price, the i-mate SP5.
Hardware - Overview
It's easy for the uninformed to dismiss the S710 at first glance as 'just another Smartphone'. Let's look at the specs...
- Windows Mobile 6 Standard (formerly known as Smartphone)
- TI OMAP 850 Processor @ 201MHz
- 128MB ROM
- 64MB RAM
- 2.4" QVGA TFT display
- Quad band GPRS + EDGE
- 802.11b/g WiFi
- Bluetooth 2.0
- 2 Megapixel Camera
- 1050mAh battery
- 50mm x 101.5mm x 17.7mm
- Slide out QWERTY keyboard
When the device hits the market, it will likely be the first to feature Windows Mobile 6 Standard, the latest iteration of our favourite Operating System The S710 boosts the 2.2" screen found on previous HTC Smartphones to 2.4", which actually makes a considerable difference in use. Finally, of course, there's the keyboard!
The S710 inherits the spring assisted slide out keyboard found on the HTC P4350 (Herald), which has received much acclaim from reviewers, myself included. On the flipside, the keyboard mechanism does add to the weight, hence why the S710 is tipping the scales at 140g.
Let me give you a tour of the device.
Hardware - Around the device
Let's start with the front.
At the top, we find the speaker, which is flanked by notification LEDs on either side for WiFi, Bluetooth and GSM activity. The speaker has a polished centre in contrast to the matte finished surround to the screen. This preproduction unit has no branding, but expect to see HTC branding to the left of the speaker in production, and Orange / E650 branding alongside the speaker for the Orange variant. Below the speaker sits the screen itself, which as previously mentioned is a 2.4" QVGA item. There's no two ways about it, the screen is gorgeous. It's bright, sharp and noticeably more pleasant in use than it's Tornado based 2.2" counterparts. Expect the S710 screen to become the new Smartphone benchmark. The screen is not recessed for protection.
Immediately below the screen you'll find the directional pad. Made of black rubber with a polished centre action button to match the speaker, the directional pad feels good in use, at least in the left, up and right axis. On this particular unit, the down action is less decisive than the others and is hampered a little by the pads closeness to the '2' key. I am hopeful that this will be improved in production units. On a more positive note, the S710 FINALLY marks the return of 8 way support to Smartphone keypads... yes, it supports diagonals! To the left and right of the pad are soft keys, and the keypad sits below this group. I'm pleased to report that the keypad feels nothing short of excellent, and i've been bashing out messages using the new xT9 implementation at great speed, with no complaints. The keypad is light years ahead of HTC last Smartphone effort, the Virgin Mobile 'Monet'... thank goodness! On the bottom left hand side of the front sit the 'Home' and 'Green' keys, complemented on the right by the 'Back' and 'Red' keys. Again, all of these are well placed and feel great in use. On this unit they are in polished silver to match the action key and the speaker, however I anticipate that prior to mass production these may gain a matte finish. A light sensor sits below the '0' key, to allow the keypad to be illuminated only when required, for power saving reasons.
To the back of the device. On the black rubberised back you'll find the 2 MegaPixel camera with portrait mirror (no flash here), the speaker, an external antenna socket, and 2 small raised feet. The battery cover (with HTC branding on this unit) takes up the majority of the back.
The left of the device features volume up / down buttons, a voice dial button and a lanyard loop. You'll also notice the SIM holder is visible... the SIM can be changed without removing the battery when the keyboard is slid open. Opening the SIM holder will power off the device.
The right of the device features a camera button and a microSD slot, protected by a rubber cover. It is no longer necessary to remove the battery to change the microSD!
The top of the device is home to the power button, which has a good press action, unlike some previous HTC Smartphones.
The bottom of the device is home to the microphone, and the extUSB port. The port is protected by an (annoying) rubber flap, and is used for conventional miniUSB charging, as well as for a headset connection, as seen on previous HTC devices. There is no conventional 2.5mm / 3.5mm headphone connector on this device.
Finally, we come to the S710's party piece, it's slide out keyboard! Holding the device with the keypad at the left, the front of the device slides upwards with a convincing spring-assisted 'snap'. The operating system automatically wakes up the device, and switches the orientation to landscape (a feature made possible in Windows Mobile 6). At the top of the keyboard sit Caps and FN indicator LEDs, and 2 soft keys. The QWERTY keyboard itself features the letter keys as you'd expect, Shift and FN keys (which can be locked), a smaller than normal space bar, a dedicated full stop key, arrow keys, a backspace key and an enter key. Symbols / Numbers are entered by pressing FN and then the appropriate key. The keys are plastic with a good firm clicking action, commendable tactile feedback given the form factor. The keyboard slides closed with the same satisfying sound, and the device immediately switches back to Portrait.
Due to the fact this is a preproduction device, I don't plan to do a full overview of the software, as this is the one aspect that is certain to change prior to launch.
With Windows Mobile 6, the incremental improvements in the Smartphone Operating System continue. Changes and improvements include a better looking UI, the previously mentioned landscape switching support, Windows Live services, HTML mail support, Office Mobile and many many other minor changes. One of my favourites is the ability to smart-filter message sender / subject in inbox in the same way you do contacts. It's slick and works great (see my S710 preview video linked at the bottom of this article for more details). The S710 also features the latest Smartphone incarnation of T9 from Tegic, named xT9, as seen on the T-Mobile Dash. It's a little bit quicker and slicker in use than previous versions, although it STILL doesn't let you go back and edit already entered words
In summary, even on this test device, i've found the software build to be slick, stable and exciting with noticeable improvements over previous Windows Mobile 5 devices.
At barely bigger than a C600, for me the dimensions of the S710 are spot on. It's easily pocketable, looks good and feels well built. At 140g it's no lightweight, but it's still infinitely more pocketable than many 'Pocket PC's, and I can easily slip it in any pocket without noticing it's there. All of the design details work well, save for my slight gripe with the keypad 'down' action. The large screen is a joy, the keypad is excellent, the keyboard is genuinely useful, and it's great to have external access to the microSD again... well done HTC. The software build (even on this preproduction unit) is stable and the resolution switching when opening out the QWERTY keyboard is infallible. I've found the vast majority of applications I have tried work with the portrait / landscape form factor. Battery life is comparable to previous Smartphones, despite the bigger screen. The 1050mAh unit is the staple Smartphone battery we have seen many times before. Most of all, the S710 has the 'wow factor' that has been missing from Smartphones for so long... it's the envy of everyone you show it too (right Monolithix (MVP)? ).
What's not so good?
I'll ignore those who claim 140g is too heavy (it's not in my experience), and concentrate on what I found to be genuine issues. To be honest, there aren't many! The 2 MegaPixel camera is predictably poor, and it's about time HTC moved to better quality autofocus shooters like that found in the HTC Athena. The extUSB connector continues to be a pain, and it's compounded by the annoying rubber flap as found on the Excalibur devices (I actually just pulled it off on my HTC S620). In truth though, that's about as fast as I can go with the 'Not so Good' category. Specs wise the lack of 3G connectivity may be an issue for some people... for that we will have to wait for the 'HTC Wings', the successor to this device coming later in 2007. In truth however, that doesn't affect usability on this device as much as it might a device running the Pocket PC operating system, where more intensive browsing etc. would be more likely.
I can't remember the last time I was as excited about a device as I have been about the S710. It's fair to say that of late I have 'strayed from the Smartphone path', and become more of a Pocket PC users, primarily due to the fact that Pocket PCs have raced ahead with innovation while Smartphones have been caught in something of a rut. Well, that's just changed.
In a nutshell, the S710 is a brilliant device that is going to sell by the truckload, particularly through the operator channels. Lack of 3G aside, all the vital ingredients are right. The S710 combines an anticipated competitive price point with good looks, the ' factor' and the latest and greatest Operating System. I think Smartphone fans finally have something to be smiling about.
Pros and Cons Overview
- Windows Mobile 6
- 2.4" screen
- 8 way directional pad
- Keypad is nice to use
- QWERTY keyboard
- Down action on directional pad (preproduction issue?)
- No 3G
- Naff Camera
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HTC S710 / Toshiba G500 Camera Faceoff
MoDaCo.TV HTC S710 / Toshiba G500 Preview