The HTC Herald comes to us under HTC’s new global brand as the HTC P4350. This familiar form factor features a spring loaded qwerty-slider, WiFi, EDGE, 2 MegaPixel shooter, Bluetooth 2.0, microSD slot, HTC’s ext. USB, and that 2.8 inches of glorious 65K color LCD. But just how good is this Windows-based smartphone?
Taiwan-based HTC is the original device manufacturer (OEM), which has made a slew of smartphones that were destined for redesign and rebranding by more popular, global brands. The list of phones includes HP iPAQ hw6500, Audiovox SMT5600, Tmobile MDA, Cingular 2125/8125/8525, O2 XDA, Qtek 9100. Recently, HTC has launched their own global brand, fittingly named HTC. This allows the company to produce phones for plain consumers, not just for “re-branders”. What this means for consumers is that we no longer have to bite our nails in anticipation for a domestic wireless operator/carrier to pick up that hot new smartphone before we can buy it.
Case in point, the HTC P4350 (HTC Herald). The Herald, as of the time of this review, has not been picked up by any US carrier/operator.
The P4350 is built on the same platform that gave life to the HTC Wizard (Cingular 8125/Qtek 9100). This earlier qwerty-slider was HTC’s answer to a new qwerty keyboard trend in mobile technology, a quite successful answer at that. But HTC was not content to rest with the Wizard’s success, so they released a modified version sans keyboard – the HTC Prophet. Note the sizes of the Herald and the keyboard-less Prophet.
Then came the GPS-equipped HTC Artemis to round out their lineup. With that kind of a diverse lineup, what else could HTC do to keep this platform fresh? MAKE IT SMALLER!
And that is exactly what the HTC P4350 is, the smaller, firmer, tighter, smoother version of the Wizard. The dimensions are very similar to the HTC Prophet, yet HTC managed to stuff a sliding keyboard into this diminutive package.
- Operating system: Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC AKU 3.2;
- CPU: Texas Instruments OMAP850 200 MHz
- RAM: 64 Mb DDR SDRAM, 42.55 Mb available (not used for storing data);
- ROM: 44.01 Mb of user-available memory for data and applications;
- Connectivity: microSD, Bluetooth 2.0, miniUSB, WiFi (b/g);
- GSM 850/900/1800/1900, GPRS class B multi-slot class 10 / EDGE;
- Display: TFT 2.83″ (43×57 mm with a resolution of 240×320 pixels, capable of 65 K colors;
- Camera: CMOS flash-less 2 Mpix (1600×1200 pixels) with enabled video recording (maximum resolution – 176×144 pixels);
- Dimensions: 109 x 59 x 17 mm;
- Weight: 174 g.
There are plenty of QWERTY-slider fish out in that vast smartphone sea. But, the Herald is by far the slimmest and most compact of the bunch. Surprisingly, this smallish phone is actually heavier than its bigger cousins.
*We think the combination of mass and compactness of this device gives it a solid, quality feel.*** But even with a few grams of extra mass, the soft edges and reduced dimensions sit comfortably in your hand. The case is finished with a matte, rubberized coating that gives it a nice “grippy” surface for all those greasy fingers to feel. There are just two “HTC” logos, one each for the front and back, giving the Herald a clean, minimalist style.
The large 2.8″ LCD – the same screen in the HTC Magician, which started a trend for most Pocket PC’s in the industry – seems to gobble up the front face of the device. The slightly recessed screen sports a 240×320 pixel count (making it a QVGA screen boasting 65K colors). And the front buttons eat up little precious real estate under the screen, at the very bottom of the face.
The slider is of the left-sided variety (screen slides out to the left), which is the way HTC seems to be going in the future with their sliding-keyboards. One particularly interesting feature is the spring loaded slide mechanism. As you might expect from the name, the screen “springs” into the open position with just a slight nudge. It’s definitely subtle, but oh so nifty! Feel of the slide action is much improved over past HTC sliders – softer and smoother. Sliding the keyboard out conveniently turns the device on, lending to the device’s text messaging/mobile emailing strength.
The power button lives on the top edge of the case. On the left edge we find a dedicated button for the camera, a sliding button for volume/mute/vibrate control, and the microSD card slot (protected under a rubber flap). The battery cover release/latch adorns the bottom edge, alongside the extUSB port (which serves as a miniUSB charging, data, and headphone port… more minimalist love here), stylus holder, and microphone. Along the right edge are the Comm button and the voice recognition button. The latter is self explanatory and works as expected, the former button is dedicated to opening the HTC Comm(unication) Manager program. This Communication Manager program is a little HTC tweak that gives us quick access to activate or deactivate all communication features – Bluetooth 2.0, Wifi (b and g flavored), ActiveSync, Data Connection (GPRS/EDGE), Volume, and Flight Mode.
Giving the camera button a push will start the HTC Camera program, with subsequent button presses resulting in slight and acceptable shutter lag. The cramped placement of the Comm manager and voice recognition buttons is an outright nuisance, requiring conscious effort to avoid hitting the unintended button. In comparison, the d-pad and hard/soft keys on the front are very well spaced and laid out. The keyboard is quite possibly the best keyboard in HTC’s lineup. No squeaks, no unintentional movement, satisfying tactile feedback – a solidly crafted keyboard. A great new feature of this keyboard is the addition of two led indicators, next to the left soft button, that give visual feedback of Fn and Caps button presses. No more guessing how many times that Fn button was pressed.
The 2-megapixel shooter takes excellent 1600×1200 shots… so long as there is plenty of light. Once you take away good lighting or add shaky hands, the picture quality takes a nose dive into barely acceptable territory. Adjustable ISO and white balance settings and good video capture are the camera unit’s saving graces. Pictures are displayed on the aforementioned bright and sharp QVGA screen.
Data connectivity is seamless, with both wifi (b/g flavored) and GPRS/EDGE options you will almost always be able to grab data out of thin air. And Windows Mobile 5.0’s AKU 3.2 gives you an updated Bluetooth stack that opens up even more tethered connectivity options. Unfortunately, the phone’s potential is stifled due to lack of a 3G radio. That’s right, no HSPDA speeds for this little guy. But, some wireless operators don’t even offer 3G connectivity (cough… T-mobile US), and EDGE serves up that delicious data plenty fast.
Websites load in quick fashion over EDGE and only slightly faster over WiFi (which leads us to the assumption that the processor is the limiting factor in fast web surfing, NOT data transfer rates). However, file downloads are noticeably slower with EDGE compared to HSPDA, so streaming live video seems to be out of the question when using the EDGE connection (although 64Kbps audio streams played with no skipping).
The over-hyped push email feature is just that – over-hyped. You will likely only think about having push email if you have a corporate server handy. Microsoft Direct Push Email requires a dedicated server to push that email to you, and requires the device to send a “heartbeat” ping to the server every few seconds to verify that the connection is still alive. All things considered, if you really need push email, get a Blackberry. The rest of us will just setup the email program to automatically connect and check for email every 5-10 minutes.
And speaking of fast, the Texas Instrument OMAP 850 processor (clocked at 200Mhz), is surprisingly swift. Who knew an older and (relatively) slow processor could perform so well? No doubt, HTC has had lots of time to tweak this tried and true processor to get the most out of it. Video clips play from the microSD card effortlessly – no audio skipping or frame dropping. But don’t expect to run a video while sending an email and trying to edit a Word document, we ARE only working with 200Mhz afterall.
Why don’t they just put a speedier brain in this phone, you ask? Well, if HTC did that, the hearty battery life of the P4350 would be sacrificed for a marginal speed boost. Regardless, more speed is always welcomed and can be attained with some overclocking (we’ll leave it at that, if you are looking at overclocking, you probably don’t need any details on that front). The CPU is paired with 64 MB of DDR flavored SDRAM with about 42 MB available out of the box, and about 44 MB out of 64 MB of ROM available for storing programs and data. RAM is used up as you open programs, ROM is used to install programs or store data.
Native RAM and ROM space a bit to paltry for your needs? Never fear, microSD expansion slot is here! You can use those handy microSD card to quickly and easily supplement the onboard storage. The unit tested well with up to 2GB microSD cards (which does not cross into pioneering microSDHC territory).
Underneath the battery cover we find… the battery. This 1130 mAh battery stores enough juice to power the phone for about 2 days (15-30 minutes talk time per day and sparing use of other connectivity features). You can realize up to 4 days of uptime with incredibly frugal use, or non-use as the case may be (but then, why would you spend the $$$$$$ on a phone if you aren’t gonna use it?). You power-users out there can expect to charge this thing every night, a small price to pay for always connected Bluetooth, WiFi, EDGE, and some mp3 bliss. The SIM card lies just north of the battery, making hot-swapping SIM cards possible.
The Windows Mobile 5.0 OS is dressed in Pocket PC guise and sports the fresh AKU 3.2 update, along with some HTC specific tweaks. Tweaks like the Comm Manager, which is a handy tool for accessing often used communications features such as Bluetooth, WiFi, Activesync, EDGE data connection, voice connection, volume control, and flight mode toggle. The updated bluetooth stack allows for many different wireless tethering options (for that mobile road warrior in all of us). The today screen has a modified shortcut bar, courtesy of HTC. This shortcut bar gives quick access to screen okrientation, Comm manager (a bit redundant, what with a dedicated key for it and all), battery monitor, and screen brightness.
And there’s another, more significant, bonus! Microsoft Word Mobile, Microsoft Excel Mobile, Microsoft Powerpoint Mobile, as well as Adobe Reader are thoughfully included on this device! Windows Mobile Media Player works great with support for many different audio and video formats. However, Media Player does not play very nicely with some streaming audio formats. The simple solution to this problem comes in the form of a media player called TCPMP (The Core Pocket Media Player), a freeware flavored software package.
The Inbox (sometimes referred to as Messaging) is easy to use and well integrated with Contacts and Internet Explorer (basically unchanged from Windows Mobile 2003). Surfing the wide web of internets is easy and fast using Pocket Internet Explorer – it’s a straight forward, plain browswer without any frills, but it gets the job done. If you want more features in your mobile browser, Mozilla’s MiniMo and Opera’s Mobile Opera Browser are great alternatives (they are larger software packages and will take longer to load than PIE) and come with pretty interfaces and more features – like the “gotta-have” tabbed browsing options.
Out of the box, this device is fully featured and almost self contained. There is almost no need for third party software (depending on your particular demands). The wall charger is regretably missing from this picture, as are the setup CD and the instruction manual.
First the good stuff. The Herald is about as close to the perfect Windows smartphone as you can get today. And to be perfect, the phone has to have a full qwerty keyboard (slider preferred), large screen, high speed wireless data, wifi, decent camera, good RAM, speedy CPU, slim-ish form factor, decent battery life. This full-on mobile office and entertainment solution exceeds expectations on several fronts. The nicely tweaked CPU and RAM provide a good user experience. There is rarely a slowdown or lag during normal operation. The camera is much improved over the Wizard in quality as well as pixel count. Battery life meet expectations, if not exceeding them by a slight margin. And, of course, the rubberized casing, incredibly tactile keyboard, and slimmed down design are must-haves! It’s a nice surprise to find that this older platform can perform as well as it does (admittedly against expectations).
Why is this ALMOST a perfect smartphone? Well, that would be mostly due to the lack of a 3G radio. Having only EDGE data does keep this phone from playing with the big boys when it comes to downloading large files. Then there are the nitpicky things like the Comm Manager button and the Voice Recognition being to closely clumped, the lack of a normal headphone jack. The fact that trifling little details like these are all we have to speak harshly about is a testament to the brilliant design of this phone.
Sure there are other smartphones that are slimmer (barely) or faster or have 3G radios or have sliding keyboards, but not all in one nice Windows-based package. No 3G but a sexy, slim figure on the HTC P4350 sounds like a fair enough trade.