Hacking Bangkok Blog

Tech and Living in Thailand's City of Angels

The Hacking Bangkok blog covers I.T. and technology in general, and my experiences working and living in the Kingdom of Thailand. Bangkok has a very long Thai name, which starts with Krung thep - City of Angels.
Bangkok sunset from my bedroom balcony

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Five Weeks with the HTC Touch Diamond

I've always loved gadgets, and PDAs and smartphones in particular. My first PDA was a Casio Z-7000 "Zoomer", followed by my first WinMo device, the Cassiopia E-11, then the Ipaq 3650.

I was always a fan of the idea of "convergence" - having a single gadget to do both phone, and PDA functions. As the years went by, my original Ipaq was replaced by a series of PDAs; my last dedicated non-phone PDA was the iPaq 1910. Then, I bought the ill-fated Axia A108, and finally an HTC Star Trek (aka Dopod S300 or Qtek 8500) smartphone.

When the iPhone came out, I was sorely tempted to get one, but wanted to test-drive it a bit first. So I did the next best thing - I bought one for my wife! It's a great phone, and a great PDA (with some real limitations), but it's just a little too big to carry around in my pants pocket. So after I went swimming with my "Star Trek" (by accident, I swear) in June, I bought the new HTC Touch Diamond.

The Diamond has been reviewed in a lot of places, ranging from CNet, to Engadget, to Gizmodo. But one thing most of the reviews don't mention is what version of the ROM they're using, and that has a huge impact on the Diamond's usability. Huge!

First things first - you can find the detailed specs on HTC's latest marvel on their site, but in brief, It sports:
  • An ARM-based CPU running @ 528 MHz
  • 192 MB of RAM (112 MB for running apps, and 82MB for program storage)
  • 4 GB of on-board flash storage mounted as a sort of "non-removable card"
  • A gorgeous 640x480 (VGA) touch-screen which is 2.8" diagonally. The screen is so sharp, it's like looking at a glossy color magazine page.
  • A-GPS (assisted GPS, meaning the phone can take advantge of downloaded data to improve precision and speed, supposedly)
  • Bluetooth 2.0, supporting A2D2, Personal Area Networks (PANs), etc.
  • WiFi (802.11b), useful for fast connections in places that don't have 3G yet. You know, countries where the bureaucracy is a morass of slow, corrupt and inept officials... *cough*
  • Tri-band 3G inclusing HSDPA and UMTS. The bands you can use depend on which version you get (USA vs. rest of the planet).
About the ROM....
When I got my new HTC in June, it shippped with ROM version 1.34. Being a fan of the xda-developers forum, I already knew this rom was allegedly a sluggish lemon, and it lived up to this fame pretty well. Luckily, somebody had posted the 1.37 version of the rom to rapidshare, so I rapidly upgraded my phone. Two weeks ago I upgraded to the 1.93 rom, which enables the 850 MHz band (useless to me in Bangkok) and some other tweaks which were nice.

Things I like:
  • The screen is beautiful, and makes reading RSS feeds and everything else really easy on the eyes.
  • 4 GB of storage is plenty for me. Some people fill up their 16 GB iPhones with video, and music, etc. I doubt I own more than 1.5 GB of music in total, and I can't really see myself watching a lot of video on a 2.8" screen.
  • With the latest rom, HTC's custom interface (called TouchFLO 3D) that sits atop the aging and honestly fugly Windows Mobile 6.1 UI, is smooth and fast. No more occasional lags, and the home-screen shows instantly without any delay.
  • The camera is really nice. It's 3.2 MP, auto-focus, takes the best photos of any phone I've owned (including my wife's iPhone), as well as video.
  • TouchFLO 3D - I already mentioned it, but once you finish training your brain to use it instinctively, it's nice. Not iPhone amazing nice, but nice.
Things that kinda suck:
  • TouchFLO 3D doesn't go far enough in hiding Windows Mobile. I like WinMo, from a developer's point of view. When you're using the Touch Diamond, and go to edit a contact - which drops you into the standard face-only-Microsoft-could-love mode, you realize how nice TouchFLO 3D is. Please, please HTC, come out with an update hides ever more of the beast beneath the covers.
  • The GPS on my Diamond is slow to lock onto satellites, even outside. Some people's units are apparently faster, but mine isn't. It's okay, since for a quick view of where I am, Google Map's "My Location" is fast and accurate enough, but it's sort of annoying when I do want to use it.
  • The capacitive-touch scroll/spin-while works for some apps, and not for others. Why? I don't know.
  • Some of the default settings are annoying and need to be tweaked. The height of the "compose" window when tapping out an SMS is too short, for instance. Also, the phone doesn't turn on receiving an SMS, it just slowly pulses a circular light, like some sort of white-light cylon. You can address these tweaks by looking thru the xda forums for the Diamond.
Messaging
I have both an IMAP email account and a Zimbra server set up on my phone. The Zimbra server support ActiveSync (which thinks the Zimbra is Exchange), and using the on-screen keyboard isn't bad once you're used to it. You can also use the graffiti-esque block-recognizer, or transcriber, if you're into that.

Web-browsing
Now, when I bought the phone, the Thai government and newspapers were all still claiming that AIS, one of the biggest carriers here, would have 3G coverage in Bangkok by July. Having lived in Thailand a few years, I figured that meant "end of the year, maybe" and so far, still no 3G in the city. Supposedly there's a small 3G experimental network up in Chiang Mai, but I'm not flying up there just to see what I can't get in Bangkok yet. To be honest, with EDGE speeds around 200 Kbps, and with TRUE blanketing downtown with Wi-fi hotspots, not having any 3G for my 3G phone stings less (but still - c'mon you guys, frack'en get on with it and settle the stupid licensing issue!!)

Summing it up
So if you're looking to buy a small, well-built - i've dropped it TWICE, once on the BTS platform, and no damage! - touch-screen phone, and you want something smaller, lighter and (dare I say it, less conformist) than the iPhone, the HTC Touch Diamond is a nice device. Not perfect - but nice.

I finally have real convergence - the Diamond even has a stylus, which you almost never need since TouchFLO is finger-usable. Just make sure you upgrade to the newest rom - anything below 1.37 is a stinker.

2 comments:

Indunil said...

Hi Kirk, am considering buying one this weekend. Could you tell me how I'd go about checking what the ROM version is and how I could update it?

Kirk Davis said...

Hi Indunil,

My Touch Diamond is currently on ROM version 2.03.456.2 WWE (World Wide English), and the radio ROM is 1.09.25.23. There might be later versions of the ROM from HTC on their website, but since the "Touch Diamond 2" has been for awhile, I doubt they're updating the original Diamond ROM much. You can also load a customized ROM that the rom-chefs at XDA Developer's forum cook up (use at your own risk).

And completely unrelated - my friend's little sister in college was named Indunil also (we all called her, "Indy" for short!)