Posted by: hagengreen | January 30, 2010

A small but fading sparkle for Windows Mobile; looking to go Supersonic

I started with a Palm Treo, moved to a Windows Mobile (non-touch), then had to try the iPhone (3G), but finally settled on a Windows Mobile touch device: the Touch Diamond. With 9 out of 10 people I know with an iPhone, it can be hard to be the cool one in the crowd. But there’s a moment that recently surprised me.

The Palm Treo was a wonderfully designed smart phone for its time. It was ahead of the mainstream ideas of combining a phone+computer into a compelling, seamless, and attractive package. The Palm was no-nonsense. It did what you wanted and when you wanted it, nothing more or less. It was a predictable device with no bells or whistles. Contacts, email, and notes were its forte. The browser was fine for static web pages, anything more probably wouldn’t appear as you wanted. But since the web didn’t go through the social and Web 2.0 evolution yet, it worked just fine for what I needed.

I moved to the Windows Mobile device after the Palm. While the Palm was a good phone, it literally aged to the point where it was clearly obsolete. The HTC S620 was the new cool kid on the block. The keyboard is a dream to type on. Well, almost. The screen was many times sharper than the Palm, and the form factor was about the same size in face-up dimensions, but on the thickness front the HTC was about 1/3 the thickness! Battery life was about the same as the Palm. Email support was much better. Since it ran Windows Mobile 5.0, Exchange support was a key selling point. This phone never ceased to entertain. I found a Nintendo emulator and a set of games I used to play when I was a kid. That provided for hours of non-stop entertainment. I was amazed that it could play NES smoothly along with audio. The catch was trying to use the keyboard and directional pad as the controller. But who could complain?


Then the iPhone craze built up. The original iPhone wasn’t worth a glance. I knew some people that jumped, but it wasn’t compelling enough at the time. It just didn’t have the capability and features that I was looking for. Most of all, I didn’t want to get into the Apple bubble and close off the extensibility (and hacking) options I had on my Windows Mobile. Well, then the iPhone 3G came out. It was faster, app support was nicely built up, and Exchange support finally came on board (albeit a weak and half-ass implementation in my experience). So I jumped over to AT&T. I was excited to get my iPhone in the sense that I was holding a piece of art. It was a beautiful phone with a beautiful screen to go with it. Everything on the screen flowed like water and with grace. The user experience is top notch. Not only was it pleasing, but consistent. Something that Windows Mobile never got right. The phone was pretty cool and a joy to use. However I felt like I was in this box with absolutely-defined borders. I paid Apple to give me a sandbox to play in. Put another way, the phone was too easy. Is that possible? you ask. For someone like me, left-brain techno-geek who has to peel away the layers, understand its inner workings, and have total control – yes, the iPhone was underwhelming. The nice user experience was a superficial show-off to please my eye for the first week. After that, I struggled to get what I wanted out of the phone. It was a dead end for me. So I took the phone back to my friendly AT&T store. My timing was almost perfect…

iPhone 3G

Sprint had announced the Touch Diamond, and it was the most anticipated WinMo phone at the time. It was the first to promote touch as the primary interface to the phone. Other Win phones required the use of a stylus. But thanks to HTC who put their wonderful TouchFLO 3D interface on top of Windows Mobile, you’d almost know the ugly OS wasn’t there. Well, almost. It would rear its head more often than not. But that was OK for me. I had my pretty phone, and I could dig. And hack. And flash. And I sure did have my fun. In fact, I’m still going a year-and-a-half later.

Just last week, while in Santa Barbara, I had to print out 8.5×10 posters and handouts for a student talk happening a couple hours later. So I visited the local FedEx Office (aka Kinko’s) in the University Center. The guy behind the counter asked me for a thumb drive. I told him my phone is a thumb drive, and that he just needs to plug in the USB cable I handed to him. He looked at me in disbelief, almost like I was crazy. I told him to trust me, it’ll work. So he plugged it in and I told him which PDF files to print. Looking relieved, he proceeded to tell me how so many students come in with iPhones and want to print something 10 minutes before class. Apparently these students email their homework to themselves and then expect to be able to pick up the attachment at the FedEx Office location. But iPhone isn’t a disk drive. Unless you’re running a Mac and hold down the Option key, the iPhone will not share its plentiful drive. My phone, on the other hand, is very friendly and flexible in this regard. When I plug it into any computer, it asks what to do with a very large and finger-friendly menu on the screen: ActiveSync, Disk Drive, Internet Sharing. This is one of the best-designed pieces of my phone. It’s so easy, useful, and always relevant. There’s a jab to you, iPhone. I may have won the battle, but overall I confess I lost the war. Windows Mobile doesn’t make the cut. The most painful part of my phone, besides the finger-unfriendly UI is the resistive touch screen. It’s not always spot-on accurate and requires more than a slight touch to register.

I’m already anticipating my next phone. The Snapdragon and Tegra pique my interest. They’re overall more efficient than older MSM7201A processors (i.e., my phone) but offer faster performance. They have lower voltage requirements when idle, yet at full throttle use more juice. I’m also looking forward to a capacitive screen. Resistive are so 1990s and unpolished. They’re great for ATMs or Burger Kings, but not for a device I interact with multiple times on a daily basis. I’m also looking for a mobile operating system that cares about usability and user experience. However I don’t want to feel boxed in or limited. I want that developer/hacker relief valve. One option that fits the bill today from an OS standpoint is Android. I’m not a Google fan by any means (have you used lately?), but I appreciate what they’ve brought to the mobile phone arena. Another option, and I say this blindly, is Windows Mobile 7. I swear, after the iPad this is the most anticipated but LATE tech entry… ever. Microsoft knows it screwed up with mobile – they were not only ahead for years, but defined the smart phone category for heaven’s sake! Now they must deliver with WinMo7. I guess we’ll see. The leaks on the visual side have been far and few, but the hardware requirements for Project Pink (whatever that is) sound juicy.

I’ve had my eye on a specific phone that’s been buzzing around tech/mobile news lately, and that’s the HTC Supersonic. What a beast of a phone. From what I’ve read, it’s very much like the HTC HD2 that’s already available across the pond, but with Android and WiMAX 4G. There’s even talk the screen has been swapped from LCD to OLED. Even better. The WiMAX piece is so compelling on its own. And even better, I’m already with Sprint – assuming Sprint gets this phone, which everything appears to point to right now. Did I mention the Supersonic will sport a Snapdragon CPU? There’s also news the battery will be beefier than the HD2. Along with a 5 MP camera and mini-kickstand to boot, this phone might just be the hottest phone of the year.

Here are unofficially leaked photos of the soon-to-be HTC Supersonic. That’s its codename; it’ll likely will go by a Sprint-branded name once it arrives.

HTC SupersonicHTC Supersonic

In the meantime, I’m happy hanging on to my Touch Diamond. Despite the occasional hangs and quickly-drained battery, I will patiently wait in anticipation of the Supersonic. Just don’t blame me if I don’t answer the phone until then.


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