When it comes to eagerly anticipated handset releasses, they don't come much bigger than this. For me personally, the HTC Kaiser is the culmination of many years of Pocket PC development by HTC. Over the past few years HTC has been pushing the envelope of Pocket PC designs and features. The introduction of 2.8" screens, integrated GPS, QWERTY sliding keyboards, 3G, HSDPA, Dual Cameras... all innovations by HTC over the years, many of which we've come to take to granted.
Up until now, compromise has been the order of the day. Want GPS? Then you can't have QWERTY. Want a compact form factor? Then you can't have a QWERTY either, unless you give up 3G. There have been some great devices (HTC Trinity, HTC Herald)... but the device we all really want hasn't quite existed.
Enter the HTC Kaiser.
You can imagine the design brief for the HTC engineers. "Let's take the HTC Herald / Atlas slim QWERTY form factor, and stuff in as much as we can. Let's not leave anything out. Let's include a fast (new generation) processor, tons of ROM and RAM, 3G, HSDPA, HSUPA, GPS, thumbwheel, lots of hardware buttons, a 3 Megapixel camera to set new benchmarks in the Windows Mobile world, a sprung QWERTY keyboard and - what the heck - let's dream up a cool new party piece too."
So well have they executed their brief? I'm lucky enough to have a HTC Kaiser handset sitting with me right now, and i'm going to take you through it and give you my verdict. Enjoy
One final point before we get started - HTC have NOT finalised the ROM for this device. Anything software related in this review is subject to change, and it's not inconceivable there could be very minor hardware variations in operator versions (as we say with the Hermes HERM100 / 200 / 300). Primarily though, this is what you'll be buying in the shops around August time!
In the box
My Kaiser arrived in the typical 'HTC pre-production unit' white box. The box contained the standard fare...
- HTC Kaiser handset
- Mains charger
- USB sync cable
- ExtUSB headset
I understand that for the HTC unit at least, this (with the addition of a soft case) is what is expected to be in the retail package, together with the normal documentation and software bundle of course.
Hardware - overview
Holding the Kaiser in your hand, you'll notice that it feels weighty, and yet is compact in size. Indeed, my unit tips the scales at around 190g - no lightweight, but for me at least - acceptable.
The claimed specs...
- Windows Mobile 6 Professional
- Qualcomm MSM7200 Chipset @ 400MHz
- 256MB ROM
- 128MB RAM
- 2.8" QVGA screen
- GPRS + EDGE + UMTS + HSDPA + HSUPA
- Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
- USB 2.0
- 3 Megapixel primary camera
- VGA secondary camera
- 1350mAh battery
- microSD expansion
- Spring assisted QWERTY keyboard with tilt
As you can see, you're not left wanting for much. The only real omissions are a VGA screen, which is starting to appear on some of it's competitors and a radio (for both FM stations and TMC traffic information). IR is of course missing, but this is in line with recent HTC devices and their stated plans to discontinue IR support.
Hardware - around the device
Let me walk you around the device, starting with the front face.
Most of the front is dominated by the dark grey 'brushed aluminium' effect, which is framed by shiny black plastic previously seen on 'Trinity' devices such as the HTC P3600 and the SPV M700. At the top left sits the forward facing video camera (VGA resolution), next to the speaker which itself has a notification LED on each side. The top right of the device will be home to the branding, at least on the HTC units. Below the speaker sits the 2.8" screen, which is bevelled into the device slightly in order to provide it with a degree of protection. This also denotes that the Kaiser will not be a 'Touch' equipped device, as such devices have a flush screen covered with reinforced plastic. Next we come to the front hardware buttons and directional pad which, as regular readers will know, are SO important to me! Thankfully, everything is top drawer here. An excellent directional pad is flanked by soft keys, dedicated PIE and mail keys, red and green call keys and the all important Start / OK buttons. So far, top marks.
Flipping the device over to view the back, the shiny black coating remains and simplicity is the order of the day. At the top left is a plastic cover behind which lie connections for attaching external GPS or GSM antennas. Below right of this is the camera (3 Megapixels autofocus with no flash) and the speaker. The back of the device is something of a fingerprint magnet, but looks smart when clean and shiny!
The bottom of the device has a lanyard loop, the extUSB connector, a reset pin, the microphone hole, and on the top sliding section - the microSD slot with a rubber cover.
The left of the device has a voice dial / memo key, the thumbwheel and the accompanying 'OK' button.
The right of the device has the power button, a two stage camera button (focus / take shot) and the stylus silo. The stylus is of the full length (non telescopic) type. Hurrah!
The top of the device has no buttons
The whole device has a magician-esque (althought to a lesser extent) 'ribbed' plastic effect around the side, which aids holding the device with a firm grip.
When the device is opened (with the satisfying spring assisted mechanism previously seen on the HTC P4350 / T-Mobile Wing and also the HTC Vox based Smartphones), the excellent rubberised keyboard is revealed. As is standard fare now, Cap and FN indicator lights are present, which are a very useful addition, Due to the tilt mechanism, the screen slides slightly further upwards compared to other devices with spring assisted keyboards, which actually makes tapping the 'soft key' mapped hardware buttons easier. When the device is open, flipping it over reveals the SIM slot, built into the back of the screen.
We mentioned previously the Kaiser's party piece, and it is the tilting screen. After sliding the screen open, it can be tilted upwards - perfect for when you have the device sitting next to you on a desk, or if you're using the device on a table.
I mentioned in the introduction to this review that the ROM has not been finalised as yet for the Kaiser, and for that reason I am not going to go into detail on the software side - I will update this section later. I will however give you an overview of significant developments on the device.
Firstly it's worth noting that even though this is a preproduction ROM which will still receive a number of revisions before launch, it is extremely fast and stable. I switch to the Kaiser from a T-Mobile Wing (200MHz OMAP) and of course it is way, way faster. Even compared to the Trinity, which has a 400MHz processor, it feels snappy.
The Kaiser runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional of course, which is fantastically well suited to the device. The QWERTY keyboard means you can make the most of the new smart filtering in Outlook Mobile, and Windows Mobile 6 is easier than ever to use without needing to touch the screen thanks to the plethora of hardware buttons on the device and sharpened up UI.
Each operator will of course be customising the software to varying degrees. The HTC branded device will be a fairly base build, featuring all the standard Windows Mobile 6 offerings plus the usual HTC customisations (additional homescreen plugins, task manager, camera application etc). The camera application is slightly improved and updated for the Kaiser. HTC have also partnered with 'Hubdog', and their content application will be included on the Kaiser out of the box. I have also had brief sight of the AT&T Kaiser prototype, which had the usual suite of additional applications such as MusicID, Video, Music etc. The only other firmly rumoured Kaiser-launching operator is T-Mobile, who will likely make only slight tweaks to the interface for their 'Web n Walk' branding.
I'll be adding a few screenshots from the software in my device below, to keep you going until such time as I have a final ROM!
So far so good, but now the acid test... what's it like to use?
You hold the attractive yet functionally designed device in your hand, and marvel at the solid build, and the weight! After tapping the power button on the right hand side of the device, it sparks into life... and boots up quickly! It's not feature-phone quick, but you can tell there's considerable horsepower under the bonnet of this baby. It bodes well
Up comes the usual Windows Mobile 6 setup wizard, which you step through. Again, snappy. The ExtROM customisations are applied, and finally you're ready to play. So... what first?
"Well, i'm an Exchange user, so the first thing I need to do is to get my GPRS connections setup etc. If you have a HTC branded device, a wizard pops up to do it for you. If you have an operator branded device, then no problem, it's all done for you already. That's easy enough, so I click the Start Menu and run Activesync. Wow, it is responsive!
I now need to enter my credentials, so it's time to get the keyboard out. Rotate the device clockwise, slide the screen upwards with that oh-so-satisfying click and the OS rotates to landscape quickly and smoothly (this action also turns the device on if it's off). A rather annoying 'keyboard open sound' is played at this point - mental note, 'must turn that off'. I quickly enter my details using the rubberised keypad that I loved so much on the HTC P4350 and T-Mobile Wing, and kick off the sync. This is the first time I notice that i'm in a 3G area, with the '3G' icon on the top bar. As the sync gets going, this switches to 'H' and the magical HSDPA kicks in. Sweet.
Time for a cup of tea while that syncs up, so I sit the device on the desk and tilt the screen up at an angle - that new Kaiser feature. Oh, this is sweet. The tilt mechanism doesn't click into place and feels 'soft' compared to the positive action of opening the keyboard, but this in turn allows you to choose any screen angle that suits you. Excellent.
The sync is now done, and it's time to have a play. I install my favourite apps - some to the internal memory, some to the storage card. With 256MB ROM and 128MB RAM, you don't need to be anywhere near as prudent with on device installs as with previous devices. Now for some fun.... I open PIE, CamerAware, my massive Exchange mailbox, my blogging client and then, just for fun, TomTom - waiting for it to fall over with a lack of memory. It doesn't! I close that, launch iGo... same deal. It starts. Now this is the way Pocket PC was always SUPPOSED to work. Ah ha - I know what'll kill it! Opening the Camera! But nope, you guessed it, it just loads right up."
Honestly, that's a fairly accurate representation of my first 20 minutes with the Kaiser. For the record, I was seriously impressed.
Since then, I've obviously used the device a lot more, and still my experiences are good. Let's look at the things people always seem to care most about. The camera is surprisingly good for a HTC device! I've posted some pics below that i've taken with the phone, a few general shots and a few closeups. For a phone camera, this will do be just fine. The battery life, although i'm reluctant to comment too much as the device is preproduction and i've been hammering the hell out of it, seems to be on par if not better than on my Trinity - i'd expect this to improve before release too. The build quality is solid, with no great amount of flex or movement in any direction. The thumbwheel IS a real thumbwheel (i.e. it goes round and round and round) The call quality and volume is excellent, probably the best call clarity i've ever heard on a Windows Mobile device! The USB connection seems to be extremely fast. I'm told it's USB 2, and I can believe it.
I know a lot of people will be very interested in the GPS functionality, but at this time, the Radio ROM that provides GPS functionality isn't complete, so operation is flakey. For that reason, i'll cover this too at a later date.
So there you have it. I've been waiting a long time for my dream machine to come along, and I thought the Kaiser was it. And it seems I was right. As ever, i'll reserve final judgement until I have the final device... i'm pretty comfortable saying that the Kaiser is going to blow everyone away when it hits the shelves. I wonder how the competition and even HTC themselves are going to better it (although of course they will), and take my hat of to HTC for their achievement.
It's quite simply awesome. Don't use your upgrade yet, start saving the pennies, forget the iPhone (and the Touch) and put your preorder in for THIS device. You won't be disappointed.
Paul's HTC P4550 Kaiser Pros and Cons
- Massive specification
- Great keyboard
- Great camera
- Attractive yet functional and innovative design
- Buckets of RAM and ROM show Pocket PC in it's best ever implementation
- Quite heavy
- Not VGA
- No FM radio or TMC
Sample camera pictures
All pictures are taken with default settings, the first 4 pictures are regular pictures, the last 2 are very close up macro shots.
kaisersample3.jpg 678.09KB 2416 downloads
kaisersample4.jpg 688.96KB 2007 downloads
kaisersample1.jpg 488.37KB 1622 downloads
kaisersample2.jpg 842.59KB 1654 downloads
kaisersample6.jpg 614.13KB 1690 downloads
kaisersample5.jpg 347.82KB 1764 downloads
Kaiser with Trinity