Developing a Short Fuse for the Fuze?!
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2008 is coming to an end as is my time with the AT&T Fuze. Of all my reviews in the Smartphone Round Robin, this one is going to be the shortest (not necessarily the sweetest though). There are a bunch of good reasons for the brevity.
One, Christmas and the holidays happened, which has made getting more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time basically impossible these past few days. Two, my iPhone 3G final review was wayyyy too long, so I need to take it easy here and bring my words per review average down a bit. Three, Rene over at The iPhone blog knew how bad I've been jonesing to get my Bold back in possession so he got his final Bold review done in speedy fashion and shipped back my device ahead of schedule (I'm itching to hit publish on this post so I can yank the SIM out of the Fuze and officially be allowed to get back on the crack!). Four, I'm fresh out of smartphone philosophy lectures to embed within this post, and last but not least, this review is going to be short because I never fully got up to speed on the Fuze. You might say I developed a bit of a short fuse for the Fuze.
In my initial impressions video I gave the Fuze a hard time on the usability of its touchscreen, which was echoed in many of the comments left by readers to that post. Despite some tips from the gang at WMExperts, the resistive touchscreen on my particular device simply hated my fingers. Maybe it was my technique, maybe it's the fact I've been spoiled by good capacitive touchscreens (iPhone 3G, G1, Storm) or maybe something with the hardware itself is actually messed up (listen to our second Smartphone Round Robin Roundtable podcast and you'll hear that this may partially be the case). I even went so far as installing a FuzeBerry TouchFlo 3D skin onto the Fuze to make it more Berry-like which I was sure would help out with my usage issues but unfortunately did not. Regardless of my difficulties, you can Read on for my HTC AT&T Fuze Final Impressions >>
HTC AT&T Fuze - Overview
To give the Fuze a fair overview, I'm going to borrow from AT&T's website:
Go the next level with the HTC FUZE now featuring a sleek new touch screen design. The multi-faceted HTC FUZE is a 3G tri-band HSDPA Windows Mobile smartphone brought to you by AT&T, allowing you access to the world and a host of world class features. This powerful smartphone fuses technology with style. The large VGA touch screen includes HTC's one touch TouchFlo 3D user interface for quick access to your favorite features. Keep connected with email, text and instant messaging, Internet access, a personal organizer, video, satellite radio, and more - all at broadband speeds. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS navigation, add to the rich feature set making the HTC FUZE the ultimate mobile smartphone.
In the 2007 Smartphone Round Robin, our Windows Mobile powered smartphone of the choice was the AT&T Tilt. I hated that device. Too bricky, too slow, too much of a battery killer and for me at that time I was overwhelmed by the Tilt having too many methods of input (I never knew how to use the dang thing at any give time). Compared to the Tilt, the Fuze is much improved. The Fuze is still bricky, but it's a nice, compact brick (albeit a little on the thick side) that feels good in the hand. The hardware is improved all around (much nicer keyboard), as is the operating system which made the jump over the course of the year from Windows Mobile 6.0 to 6.1. To be honest, I don't know enough about the WinMob OS to relay where all those improvements come into effect, but I assume they're something that Dieter would be excited about! If you want to take a stroll down memory lane to see how far HTC has taken this form factor over the course of the year (I think of the Fuze as the next generation Tilt - whether or not that's the right assumption to make or not I don't know) you can check out my AT&T Tilt First Impressions and Final Impressions reviews.
HTC Fuze Hardware Impressions
Of the five smartphones participating in this year's Round Robin, three of them are actually manufactured by HTC - the Treo Pro, T-Mobile G1 and the AT&T Fuze. BIG representation from HTC, and it's fairly easy to see why, as all in all the devices they put out from my experiences/observations appear to be quite solid. If you missed my initial impressions video, you can get a good look at the Fuze in action below.
Like the Treo Pro and G1, the Fuze packs some decent performance into its hardware. Here are the Fuze's key specs:
As has been mentioned several times now in the Round Robin by other editors, it sucks that HTC has decided to ignore putting a standard headset jack onto their smartphones in favor of just using MiniUSB as the single connection port, which for wired audio requires the use of an adapter.
Overall, my experiences with the HTC's Fuze's hardware were positive, minus the usage of the resistive touchscreen. At 480 by 640 pixels (in portrait), the display itself is impressive, but I don't get why HTC couldn't have put in a capacitive touchscreen here. HTC built the G1, which had a very smooth touchscreen, so it's not like they don't have the ability to do it. Maybe it's the cost or maybe capacitive touchscreens and Windows Mobile don't play well together, or maybe it's another factor - I don't know but it's too bad.
Resistive touchscreen aside, the rest of the Fuze gets the job done well. I'm not a fan of slider keyboards - to think bigger is better when it comes to keyboards is a false assumption. The bigger the keyboard the more you have to move your fingers, which makes it slower and more exhausting to use (ideally you want it to be as small as possible, but not so small that it becomes unusable with lots of errors being made). That said, the Fuze's keyboard is probably the nicest I have used on a slider. It contains lots of additional functions too. With the function key pressed, you can launch popular apps and settings (calendar, contacts, email, WiFi, etc.) and there's even a Windows key for launching the Start menu. This played a big role into my usage with the Fuze, as due to my frustrations with TouchFlo 3D I found myself immediately sliding the keyboard open every time I went to use the device (like I did with the G1).
Component hardware got the job done also - the camera worked well for me, the GPS was decently quick, WiFi worked though I had some issues with it never wanting to save my settings (software gripe). Another hardware/software gripe was in terms of the speed. The Fuze is a lot faster than the Tilt, but overall the device still seems very slow, especially compared to the ultra fast BlackBerry Bold. Either it needs a bigger processor or work has yet to be done in speeding up Windows Mobile.
In terms of fit and finish and feeling, the Fuze was good. It's a shiny device, but looks pretty cool and the diamond-cut back puts some fashion into the mix along with the function. If they could only make it a quarter inch thinner the form factor would be impressive.
Be sure to zoom in on the images above for bigger photos and some extra details that I slid into the picture captions.
TouchFlo 3D & Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro
The Fuze is running the same Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition operating system that the Treo Pro ran, with one exception. To give the Fuze more of an iPhone-like front end experience, the boys and girls at HTC have tried to sex up WinMob with what they call TouchFlo 3D.
TouchFlo 3D in action. Lipstick on a pig or ??
What's TouchFlo 3D? I have two ways of thinking about it. One, it's kind of like another operating system layered on top of the Windows Mobile operating system. Or you can think of it as a theme, but a theme that's hopped up on steroids. Regardless of your thinking, with the slider closed and the phone in portrait mode, TouchFlo 3D delivers a good looking homescreen experience that delivers your basic smartphone functions in a non-standard Windows Mobile way. You can preview emails, browse your media, listen to music, launch apps, adjust basic settings, check the weather, etc. all within the TouchFlo 3d interface. Then when it comes time to "do more" (such as view your whole email inbox), with a tap you're back into the familiar Windows Mobile OS.
Left - The TouchFlo 3D homescreen in landscape is just an app launcher.
Right - Opera Mini is native to the Fuze and does a good job of rendering pages.
Do I like the concept? Yes AND No. Let's start with the No's. Rewind to my Treo Pro review, and I had this to say about Windows Mobile:
The thing I like about Windows Mobile 6.1 is the familiarity factor. With Windows Mobile, it's not that the operating system mirrors Windows XP or Vista in terms of appearance or navigation, but that the names and basic premise are the same: Start Menu, File Explorer, Media Player, Internet Explorer... these are all things that anybody who has ever used a PC for more than ten minutes will be familiar with. This makes feature discovery on the Windows Mobile OS quite easy - with no reading of the instruction manual or jumping onto forums you can pretty much accomplish your basic smartphone tasks.
Left - Fuze settings in TouchFlo 3D skin
Right - Or you can click into standard WinMob Pro settings
When it comes to using the Fuze with TouchFlo 3D active, you now lose a bit of that familiarity factor. You're no longer "looking" for Windows Media player, but you're looking for "Music". This isn't a big deal really, but it does strike off the list one of the good things I normally have to say about WinMob. The other negative with TouchFlo 3D is the redundancy. For a person who knows Windows Mobile, this isn't a big deal. You "get" what TouchFlo 3D is all about and understand that it's a layer added onto the OS. But I can only imagine that first time smartphone owners who purchase this phone would be confused as heck as there's now duplicate ways to do things. Do I scroll through TouchFlo 3D and listen to music there? Or do I go to Programs on the Start Menu and launch Media Player? This is basically the case with everything. Take settings for example. You can do it the Windows Mobile way by going Start Menu > Settings, or you can do it the TouchFlo 3D way. It's a bit messy and seems inefficient. I'd rather just see a well-designed OS that does this right from the start.
TouchFlo's email preview is pretty, but is really a waste of time.
Show me the message!
As for what I like? The look!! Gotta love that animated weather app! And as you can tell from the pictures, just like in the BlackBerry space where we have a thriving theme developer community, it looks like the same is the case for Windows Mobile themes. WMExperts.com pointed me to the FuzeBerry theme you see pictured in this review, which helped provide some of the comforts of home. Though I gotta say, this developer has never actually used a BlackBerry before as his icon selection is completely out of whack in some cases. Example - he used the Word Mole icon to represent Contacts, the BBM icon to represent Messages, and the Application Center icon to represent settings. WTF?!
More TouchFlo 3D action - Weather app is pretty cool as is the Fuze media player skin.
By the end, I was using getting things done with the Fuze, though not in the way I think HTC intended me to use it. Regardless of my efforts, I just couldn't come to terms with the touchscreen. It just HATED my finger. As a result, I found myself always using the Fuze in landscape mode (except when talking). And in landscape mode, TouchFlo 3D takes on an even more BlackBerry-like appearance. In this mode (as shown in the image at the very top of this review), the homescreen simply lists eight icons that you can jump into. Using the phone this way I was really bypassing TouchFlo 3D altogether and was back to the familiar Windows Mobile OS.
TouchFlo redundancy - launch apps via TouchFlo or from the standard WinMob Start menu
HTC AT&T Fuze - Some Final Thoughts
When it comes to the Smartphone Round Robin check list, the Fuze easily nailed off all the tasks. Windows Mobile does not have an issue when it comes to functionality. Of all the platforms/devices in the Round Robin, the Fuze is probably the one that can get the most "stuff" done without compromising any other features.
Where the Fuze and Windows Mobile suffer is on usability. A device like the iPhone delivers a Wow Factor out of the box and is easy to use right away. The BlackBerry OS takes a bit more to learning effort up front compared to the iPhone (you need to discover the joys of the BlackBerry menu key), but once you get it are effective with the device and get hooked. Windows Mobile lacks this out of the box consumer experience. Part of it could be that Microsoft is putting out the platform while the device manufacturer/reseller is delivering the product, so the integration isn't as tight as say Apple or BlackBerry who put out both the hardware and OS. On the other hand, it could be that Windows Mobile just needs a big overhaul - not in terms of functionality, but in terms of usability. TouchFlo 3D tries to solve this problem, but it's a band aid fix to a wound where more than stitches and a little cosmetic surgery are required.
Up Next in the Round Robin - Back on the Crack, I got my Bold Back! Stay Tuned...