My First Impressions of the Windows Mobile Powered AT&T Tilt
It was two weeks and four days ago when Dieter had the idea for Smartphone Experts to hold its First Annual Smartphone Round Robin. I heard about the concept only minutes after it was originally conceived, and since that moment began mentally readying myself for the challenge of putting my CrackBerry Addiction on hold for the better part of a month in favor of sampling three other types of smartphone ‘candy’ in the form of Windows Mobile, Palm Treo, and Apple iPhone devices. It was decided that Week #1 of the Round Robin would see me using the Windows Mobile powered AT&T Tilt (made by HTC). Think I'll get through it? Click Here to Find out!
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Initial Experience with the AT&T Tilt
I was out for lunch on Friday when the Fedex man tried to drop off the Tilt. I called Fedex to find out when I could pick it up from their depot and just managed to get there before they closed for the night. Sitting in the dark (still in the Fedex parking lot), I ripped open the package to get my first look at it. When I finally got through the tape and bubble wrap, out came a dark, dense... BRICK. That was my first impression of the Tilt in one word – brick – which for me isn’t a bad thing. By BlackBerry standards the old 7200 and 8700s are bricks as well, and that sturdy/heavy feeling is one of the things I actually miss in the Curve. But damn, the small size/heavy weight ratio present in the Tilt honestly gives it the immediate impression that you’re holding something more akin to a dumbbell than an electronic gadget. If you had two of them (one for each hand) you could exercise your way into a half decent physique.
When I finally rolled out of bed on Saturday (Friday was Halloween Party night) I was ready to take the plunge and try and embrace Windows Mobile. I said my tearful goodbye to my beloved BlackBerry, pulled the battery cover off, and was JUST about to pull the battery and my SIM card out when I was struck for the first time by a nasty realization… that the second I pulled the SIM card out of my BlackBerry I would be without BlackBerry Messenger for three weeks. If you’re not familiar with BlackBerry Messenger (you can learn about it here) it’s essentially a BlackBerry to BlackBerry instant messaging program that runs on RIM’s network. Think threaded SMS, except free, faster, and just plain old better. The only problem is that your BlackBerry Messenger identification is tied to your BlackBerry device’s unique PIN number. To experience the send/receive of BlackBerry Messenger you need to have a BlackBerry. I sent a quick email to all of my BlackBerry Messenger contacts letting them know I would be without BlackBerry Messenger for the month, and with a nervous twitch proceeded to yank the battery and SIM card out of my Curve.
From previous reading on the Tilt, I knew the device I was now going to use for a week was feature rich. GPS, WiFi and a Camera w/ video recording in one device is still a dream in the BlackBerry world. Though I knew the Tilt’s feature list was impressive, what I didn’t realize until holding it in my hand was just how many input options the Tilt offered: full qwerty slide out keyboard, a BlackBerry-style trackwheel on the left side (with ‘ok’ button underneath), multi-direction navigation and control buttons on the front and a touch screen. Thinking back to my BlackBerry which really offers only one means of control (trackball/trackwheel to navigate and keyboard to enter data) but is just so darn easy and efficient to use, I wasn’t really convinced that the smörgåsbord of input options offered by the Tilt would make the device any easier to use. More isn’t always better.
Holding the device in my hand I was impressed by the Tilt’s build quality. I can now see why HTC enjoys the reputation that it does. I do think maybe the heaviness of the phone bolsters this feeling of quality (I’m pretty sure the gadget world associates lightweight electronics with being ‘cheap’ and heavy electronics with being ‘well-built’) but either way the device seems well constructed and put together.
Battery, SIM and Media Card Installation
Seems like it should be easy, right? For me that wasn’t quite the case. Of the three, Media Card installation was the most intuitive (I could see it at the bottom of the phone as it was externally accessible – nice!) so I did that first. I tossed in a 4GB MicroSDHC card. Flipping the phone around in my hands looking for a way to pull the phone’s back cover off (I assumed both the battery and SIM card holder would be located under here) I stumbled upon a very little ‘ridge’ on the bottom right hand corner of the phone. I pulled at it and out came a stylus! I was actually shocked. As mentioned, my experience with smartphones other than the BlackBerry is limited, and I had no idea this thing would use a stylus. I actually laughed – in my mind a stylus seems beyond ‘old school’. At least HTC’s integration of the stylus into the phone is amazingly seemless. Honestly, if you didn’t know the phone had a stylus you could probably use it for a month before stumbling upon it.
The folks at HTC are clever! It turns out the SIM card holder is not located under the battery but is underside the portion of the display that ‘slides’ out. At this point I actually felt a bit of envy towards the Tilt. On my BlackBerry Curve I have to remove the battery to access the SIM and MicroSD card, but the Tilt offers individual access to each. So there it was, I finally had the battery, SIM and media card installed and was now ready to power the device on.
First Time Full Power Up
Powering up the device, I enjoyed the initial flashed-up AT&T, 3G, Windows Mobile intro screens (very snazzy and with sound effects). And I experienced another flash of sorts, this time a flashback, when the OS loaded up ‘Tap to Align Screen’. Until that moment I had totally forgot that back in 2002 I had purchased a Toshiba e740 Pocket PC. It ran on Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002 OS and it too used a stylus for input. I thought having a Pocket PC would help me better organize my life back then (was attending University), but after actually using it for three weeks I ultimately abandoned it as I felt I spent more time trying to organize my life on the device than I spent actually living it (it’s still sitting in my basement looking brand new if anyone wants to buy it!).
Suffice to say, I remembered how to use the stylus and got through the little tutorial in a few seconds and continued on with the initial device setup. Setup progressed easily (enter date/time/password) until the phone decided to reboot without warning (it happened just after the “Installing Menu_Operation.xml” message went away). I immediately thought, “oh yeah…Windows”, but the reboot didn’t take long and I quickly came to the Windows Mobile 6 Today Screen.
First Device Use
Every new mobile device has a learning curve. It even took me a day to get used to the BlackBerry’s trackball navigation when I made the switch over from the trackwheel-equipped 8700. But with the Tilt I honestly did not even know how to begin using the device. Should I pull out the slider keyboard? Should I pull out the stylus? Should I try tapping the screen with my thumb? Or index finger? Should I keep the keyboard slid ‘in’ and use the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen? I am coming over from a BlackBerry… maybe I should use the trackwheel? As I contemplated all of these options the display turned off. I tapped the main ‘enter’ button on the front of the phone without thinking, expecting the device would come out of standby but to my surprise it did not. I hit the talk button, pushed in the trackwheel, tapped all of the keys on the keyboard (it was slid out)… still nothing. Only when I hit the tiny little power button on the right hand side of the phone did the display power back up.
At this point I quit taking notes and decided to just use the thing. That’s what most mobile users do and I figured that was the only way I would really be able to learn what this device had to offer.
First Impressions of the AT&T Tilt
Three days and many hours of one-on-one time later, I am now getting to know the Tilt pretty well…
Hands On Usage
I am still confused as to what’s the most efficient way to ‘use’ the device at any given time (as in which input method gets the job done fastest/easiest on any given screen). I’d really like to watch how an experienced Tilt/Windows Mobile user would go about completing a variety of tasks on the phone. At this point it seems to me that executing tasks (i.e. making a call, replying to an email, changing wireless settings, adding a contact, taking a picture and emailing it to another address, etc.) take a lot longer to accomplish on the Tilt than on the BlackBerry. I’m not talking necessarily about the number of keystrokes or clicks it takes to do things, as I’m sure there are instances on each phone where one has a shorter path than the other, but the actual amount of time involved in getting the job done.
With the Tilt it seems like you’re constantly moving your hands around – either sliding the keyboard out or pushing the keyboard in, or moving your hands up to the touchscreen or down to the keyboard, or pulling the stylus out or putting the stylus back in. The Tilt has a really big keyboard, which felt nice to type on at first but which I quickly came to realize is just plain old inefficient – compared to typing on a BlackBerry keyboard you have to physically move your thumbs much further left and right to hit all the keys. The additional physical distance you have to overcome on a big keyboard is definitely detrimental to average words per minute (WPM). I found the position of the ! @ ? keys to be awkward as well, considering that to access them you need to use the Function Key located very close below. It makes for some awkward movements.
I’m finding the Tilt to very much be a two-handed device. With a BlackBerry you only need two hands when typing on the full qwerty, but other than that everything is done with one hand. With the Tilt, other than when you are on the phone talking, you pretty much need to use both hands to hold and navigate the device.
I still figure that I am doing something wrong and there must be an ‘optimal’ way to use the Tilt. I really hope in the next day or two a Windows Mobile expert shows me that way otherwise I’m going to conclude that more input options is definitely not better.
Windows Mobile 6.0 OS
The Windows Mobile operating system didn’t pull any big surprises on me. Don’t get me wrong, I am finding LOTS of little things that irk me the wrong way, which I will get into later as well as in the forums, but in general the OS is pretty easy to use, especially if you are at all familiar with the Windows operating system found on most computers these days. I actually found the OS to be quite similar in terms of looks and layout to the OS that my old Pocket PC had. I’m sure there’s been a million behind the scenes improvements to the OS since 2002, but it seems visually that Microsoft has taken an evolutionary process with their mobile OS, slapping in more options and icons as they need to in order to address the added device functions and control options offered by the modern generation of Windows Mobile smartphones.
I think you have to approach the Windows Mobile operating system with the right mindset to appreciate it and have patience for it. When I think of it as a ‘mini-laptop’ rather than a ‘communications tool’ I have much more patience with its inefficiencies and annoyances in executing simple tasks. With Microsoft Office Mobile and Windows Media Player native to the device, it very much does resemble a mini-computer running Windows. I’m also finding the OS to be quite slow – I’m often waiting for it to catch up to actions I have performed, and it gets hung up at weird times, which is also something you might expect of a computer running Windows (to be fair, I have both a Dell and a Mac these days and manage to find issues with both!).
When I think about the Tilt as a 'communications tool' and compare it head-to-head with the BlackBerry I pretty much want to throw the Tilt and Windows Mobile out the window (pun most definitely intended). The Windows Mobile OS is not very mobile user friendly compared to the BlackBerry OS. Its user experience is more akin to a computer that’s been downsized into a phone instead of starting with the demands of a mobile user and building an OS around the way a mobile user actually works (yes, that is what RIM has done with the BlackBerry).
There are a lot of old schoolers out there who have zero ability with computers (never used them and never will) who are BlackBerry users. The OS is very quick to learn and become productive with – no previous computer knowledge required. Based on my experiences with the Tilt so far, I guarantee if you gave any of these users a smartphone equipped with Windows Mobile they too would chuck it out the window.
Between the Tilt’s form factor and the Windows Mobile OS the user response actions required from receiving and replying to any sort of message are just too confusing and too slow. Having to manually power up the device out of standby, navigate into your messages, slide out the keyboard and wait for the screen to rotate, or slide out the stylus… it’s all a brutal experience compared to checking email messages on a BlackBerry which requires… wait for this… pulling the BlackBerry out of the holster and reading the email that will already be present on the screen.
Everybody warned me to get ready for some device lock-ups, but I’m happy to report that I’m now 72 hours into it and the OS hasn’t crashed yet (though I’m pretty sure it’s come close more than few times). Just to compare, I once went eight months on my BlackBerry 8700r without having to turn it off or reboot.
Ending on a positive note, I love all the Windows Mobile Xylophone tones. They do put me in a happy mood and make me more willing to put up with the device. Good Job Microsoft.
Synching to the PC
Easy. I downloaded ActiveSync, installed it, had to reboot my Dell (boooo!), but from there it worked flawlessly to sync my Outlook Calendar, Contacts and Tasks. It was really no different than synching to my BlackBerry via Desktop Manager. Both seem to get the job done well, though as of now I’d have to say ActiveSync is a little bit prettier, but word has it RIM will soon release a prettier Desktop Manager.
Setting up WiFi
This was a little bit strange at first because I initially tried to setup a new WiFi connection while I actually had WiFi turned off in the Wireless Manager screen. Once I found the error in my ways, setting up the WiFi was easy and I connected to my wireless connection and proceeded to download a 3 meg file in seconds. Of course, the first file I downloaded was for BlackBerry Connect.
Setting up Email
When browsing through the Programs and Settings on the Tilt, my heart made a quick jump for joy when I saw the BlackBerry logo. I was wondering how I would fair with getting email setup on the Tilt and thanks to BlackBerry Connect the process was simple. Of course I’m a regular BlackBerry user with an exisiting BlackBerry data plan, so I was able to get Push email on the Tilt with no call required to my carrier. My main email address is Kevin @ CrackBerry.com, which I have forwarded to my Gmail account. I put my Gmail email address and password into the BlackBerry Connect Email Settings page, changed my Reply From address to be Kevin @ CrackBerry.com and that was it. Done. It only took a couple of minutes to experience the joys of push email on a device other than a BlackBerry. I did temporarily experience the problem of having messages sent from the Tilt and/or Gmail appearing in my phone’s inbox again, but was able to get that resolved with some quick help from the CrackBerry.com Forums.
As a Windows Mobile phone the Tilt features Windows Media Player. I’m not sure if I would call it good or bad – I guess really I’m indifferent as I’m not a huge listen-to-music-everywhere-I-go kind of guy. The Media Player works and is familiar to use (and does movies!), but it’s based on the PC version and is not exactly user-friendly if for example you wanted to go for a jog and have this be your source of music.
I found it interesting that the Tilt doesn’t have a headset port. I personally don’t mind this as it has A2DP and I’m a Bluetooth guy (typically rock’n the Motorola S9s with my Curve) but I’m sure there are many who would be disappointed with this fact.
It took a few more clicks compared to a BlackBerry to pair my Blueant Z9 Bluetooth headset to the Tilt but the process was smooth and stress free.
One of my favorite BlackBerry features is Voice Dialing (I use it with either a Bluetooth headset or Bluetooth speakerphone in the car while driving), and the Windows Mobile platform does offer it though the system is different compared to BlackBerry. With BlackBerry Voice Dialing, all of the contacts from the Address Book are available at the Voice Dialing prompt. With the BlackBerry Voice Dialing software you do have to pronounce some names a little bit funny for them to be recognized properly (i.e. speak phonetically) and the system isn’t overly kind to people with thick accents, but on the bright side it requires no set-up.
Windows Mobile takes a different approach by allowing the user to create Voice Tags for contacts. You choose which contact and number you want to create a Voice Tag for, and from there you record the name into the phone by saying it with your own voice. When it comes time to use the Voice Dialing feature the accuracy should be quite high as it’s using your own pronunciation.
I put the Windows Mobile Voice Dialing to the test and was really impressed with the accuracy it returned… 100% It takes a lot more time to setup than the BlackBerry Voice Dialer, but if you use the feature a lot (which I do) it would be worth the upfront investment of time.
I’d love to see RIM add this feature to the BlackBerry so you could experience the best of both worlds. By default (if no Voice Tag is recorded) the standard Voice Dialing software would be used, and if you want to put in the effort you could record personalized Voice Tags to improve the system’s speed and accuracy.
The Tilt’s GPS package seems incredibly powerful. I downloaded and installed Google Maps and the GPS found me right away with pin point accuracy. I was impressed with how fast the device picked up my location, and I’ve been told there are some tweaks you can do to further improve that speed. I have more testing to see how it stacks up directly to the BlackBerry’s GPS (I’ll have CrackBerry James come for a visit with his 8800 since I’m forbidden to use mine) but from previous BlackBerry GPS experience am thinking the internals HTC is using put the Tilt a step ahead in this department.
It has video recording. It doesn’t have a flash. And it’s driving me nuts. This will be topic I tackle over the next couple of days in the WMExperts Round Robin forum, but slow, glitchy, not user-friendly, glitchy and slow are all words that describe my experience with the Tilt’s Camera so far.
I wanted to give the Tilt’s battery the benefit of the doubt, but despite its relatively large size the phone hasn’t lasted a full 24 hours for me yet. I expected poor battery life on days 1 and 2 when I was playing with it non-stop, but yesterday I used it as I normally would my BlackBerry, and I had to plug it in by 7:45pm. Even my Curve, which I consider to have poor battery life, will go a couple of days under normal use.
Speaking of batteries, each time the battery level gets low on the Tilt I get several warnings about having to save data or risk it being lost. That never, ever, ever ever happens on a BlackBerry.
Initial Likes/Gripes/Things I Need To Figure Out
After three days of use, here’s how the Windows Mobile Tilt is stacking up with my BlackBerry Curve:
- A lot of features and functions crammed into one device: 3G, WiFi, GPS, Camera
- It can do some things that off the shelf BlackBerry’s don’t do: Video Recording, Voice Tagging, Create/Edit Word Docs
- Though I’m not yet a fan of the Tilt’s multitude of input options, having the touchscreen is actually kind of nice. I don’t think I’d ever want a touchscreen to replace the BlackBerry’s keyboard, but being able to tap application shortcuts on the Home Screen and have them open might be kind of fun
- Having to turn on the display from standby using the power button. No power on from any button or automatic power on (pulled from holster)
- Too many control/input options. I can’t figure out the best way to physically hold/use the device
- Slow/Glitchy OS. Here's just a few occurences:
- I view emails, read all of them, and close the email window and the Today Screen still shows I have 6 unread messages. 10 seconds later it goes back to saying zero
- The transition between portrait/landscape is extremely slow
- Twice the phone has been sitting on my desk in standby, received an email, started vibrating, and not stopped vibrating on its own (several minutes later I pulled out the sliding keyboard and it stopped)
- The Trackwheel functioning is glitchy – especially in the email app. You can’t easily scroll to where you want the cursor to be. It just jumps around everywhere
- Touchscreen input becomes unresponsive at random moments (several touches required before input gets recognized)
- With so much going on with the control options, it’s easy to miss hit keys/buttons/icons and end up some place where you don’t want to be
- Extremely Poor Battery life (compared to BlackBerry)
- Two-handed operation pretty much always required - No Thanks!
- Data Loss a likely possibility with Windows Mobile
Things I Need To Figure Out ASAP:
- How do I make a button other than the Power button turn the device on out of standby?
- How do I turn off the blinking LED lights? They are driving me INSANE. The green one is always blinking (yes, I know I’m connected to the network). I searched the device settings inside and out and cannot find the option to turn it off! On the BlackBerry you can get their in three clicks: Options > Screen/Keyboard > LED Coverage Indicator
So that’s where I’m at with Windows Mobile and the AT&T Tilt! I’ve been told there is lot of performance and usability to be had out of the Tilt if you “hack” it. I don’t know what the process is, so if any of the Tilt fans reading this want my final taste of Windows Mobile candy to be sweet I’m going to need some help.
Be sure to come back later this week for my next Smartphone Round Robin post which will cover my final thoughts on Windows Mobile and the AT&T Tilt.