A little while ago, during CTIA 2009, the much anticipated successor of the very succesful HTC Excalibur was announced as the HTC Snap. With much of the OEM’s focus -not only of HTC- is on developments for touch based devices, the launch of a rock solid Windows Mobile standard device is really welcome. In this review some of the product details will be highlighted, both in terms of hardware as well as software.
Since the HTC S620 is my all-time favourite Windows Mobile Standard smartphone, I was looking forward to see this device hit the market. Luckily the Netherlands was one of the first countries where the HTC Snap went on sale, and therefore I had to give in to the gadget addiction of a technology enthusiast, resulting in an order of the HTC Snap @ Smartphoneshop.nl. Pretty cool to review your own device, right ?
However before we have a more detailed look at the HTC Snap let’s fresh up the memory a little with an overview of the specifications:
- Processor: Qualcomm MSM 7225, 528 MHz
- OS: Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard
- Memory: 256MB ROM, 192 MB RAM
- Memory Expansion: SDHC capable MicroSD slot
- Dimensions: 116,5 mm. x 61,5 mm. x 11,9 mm. (L x W x T)
- Weight: 119,9 grams (including battery)
- Display: 2,4″ QVGA (320×240)
- Battery: 1500mAh Li-Ion
- Network: HSDPA – WCDMA 900/1200 MHz, GSM - GPRS - EDGE 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, GPS / AGPS
- Camera: 2.0 megapixel, with video capture
- User interface: full exposed QWERTY keyboard (with offset keys), and Jog ball
- Operating times: Talk time up to 8.5 hours GSM / up to 5 hours WCDMA, Standby time up to 15.8 days GSM / up to 20 days WCDMA
If you have a look at the specification list above, I highlighted some items in italic to emphasize the importance. During the hardware tour these items will be discussed. To fresh-up the memory a little more I would like to recommend some very nice unboxing video’s of the HTC Snap by Leigh Geary of Coolsmartphone.com and Brandon Miniman of Pocketnow.com
1. HTC Snap hardware
When you first pick up the HTC Snap there are two things that you immediately notice: (1) The HTC Snap has an incredibly thin and sleek design, (2) the rounded edges and a soft rubber finish make it a very comfortable to hold device.
The second discovery I made was about the color of the HTC Snap, which I assumed to be black. However twisting and turning in the sunlight shows that there is a kind of brown metallic finish to the product, which also justifies the kahki color of the FN-combinations on the hardware keyboard. However te color tends to black, and you probably don’t see the difference.
1.1 Jog Ball vs D-pad
One of the main eye-catching hardware parts is the Jog Ball in the centre of the device. While I found the Jog Ball to small on the Android powered T-Mobile G1, the size of the Jog Ball on the HTC Snap is perfectly chosen. It gives me the same look and feel as the trackball of the BlackBerry Pearl devices. Very cool is the fact that the Jog Ball is also backlight, which gives it a really nice effect to the HTC Snap.
In combination with the Sliding Panels of Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard the Jog Ball provides an extremely fast way of device-navigation. Honestly you really get used to it really quickly, even if you are used to a very good D-pad as for instance on the Motorola Q9h. Let me give an additional example. In the Twikini twitterclient for Windows Mobile the functions of @reply and RT are tight to the left and right clicks of the D-pad. Also with the Jog Ball it is no problem to use this functionality, simply by “rolling” left or right.
Furthermore the Jog Ball can also be used to confirm a “choice” or open up program. It is also possible to set the sensitivity, and the sensitivity in the browser via the settings-menu on the HTC Snap. With the Jog Ball being designed really well, I don’t see any disadvantages if you would hesitate to switch from a D-pad to the Jog Ball on the HTC Snap.
The HTC Snap is more or less positioned as a messenger style device, so the keyboard is the second very important eye-catching piece of hardware. The keys of the full QWERTY keyboard have the same comfortable soft rubber finish, which provides a kind of additional grip on the keys. The rows with keys are offset compared to each other, minimizing the chance for a typing-error.
In addition the keys are larger (compared to the HTC S620, but smaller as the Motorola Q9h), and have no spaces in between like on the Samsung BlackJack II. The shape and relief of the keys is a little rounded, to provide a good feel of difference between the keys. It gave me a little the feeling of the hardware keyboard on the Nokia E71 devices.
Let’s focus a little more on the functionality off the hardware keyboard. Mike Temporale of MobileJaw, has done a thorough analysis of the press pictures and put forward some questions about the “hardware design”:
“ [...] there’s a messenger key on the keyboard – I’m not sure if this means it will be pre-loaded with MSN Messenger, or if it’s meant to launch a different application. It seems to indicate that HTC is serious about making this a killer messenger device.” [ref02]
In deed, is the latest version of MSN Messenger (for Mobile) loaded onto the HTC Snap.
“The camera button is a Function key away. So to launch the camera, you need to press the function key, then the messenger button. I’m guessing that HTC has determined that people using this device are not heavy into using the camera. That’s not what I expected, but it’s not a really big deal to me either way.” [ref02]
The design of the HTC Snap is minimalistic, resulting in clean sides without buttons. Therefor I can understand that the HTC Engineers moved the camera button to the hardware keyboard. And honestly it is not a big deal to launch the camera(application) with the additional FN-key press.
But there are some other interesting details with regard to this keyboard:
A Tab-key, to easily switch between the text input fields in Internet Explorer 6 (for Mobile);
A press-and-hold- on the tab-key executes the command to switch to profile from Normal to Vibrate or vica versa ! Very helpfull when you enter the meeting room, and have your HTC Snap silent with one button press;
The lock / unlock-function has been moved to the Q-key, and is executed with a press-and-hold action;
There’s a e-mail and sms-key (the latter used in combination with the FN-key), in order to open up Pocket Outlook very fast;
A dedicated Inner Circle-key to open the Inner Circle feature, which I will discuss later in this review.
1.3 Overall hardware design
Let me start by saying that I really like the overall hardware design of the HTC Snap. The device looks very clean, and has elegant design lines like the HTC Magic. Furthermore the soft rubber finish and rounded edges contribute also to the great looks, while the aluminium accents (Jog Ball-area & camera) give the HTC snap a kind of business touch !
Let’s have a look at the emphasized items in the specification list. The Qualcomm MSM 7225 processor, running at a clockrate 528 MHz makes the HTC Snap a blazing fast device. In other words: “The HTC Snap is very snappy !” In my HTC Touch Dual review, a while back I wrote down a little background information about the MSM architecture, which aims at balancing the speed and power consumption.
What I furthermore like is the 1500 mAh battery, which keeps the HTC Snap running for about 2 days (with average use). With the mobile device becoming more and more powerful, it was hard to get them through a workingday on one battery charge. I tended to search for an extended battery, but with the HTC Snap there is already a lot of power packed into the battery ! My compliments HTC !!
And finally on the connectivity-level there is everything onboard you need. Remarkable is the fact that HTC kept a Wi-Fi module in the design (which is also part of the HTC S620 design). In addition to the fast mobile data modems, and the latest bluetooth stack, HTC has added a GPS module as well. With the recent announcement of TomTom Navigator 7 for Windows Mobile Smartphones as well as TomTom Navigator for the iPhone, I truly hope that TomTom will pick up the development of a non-touchscreen-version.
Overall very pleased with the design and the used hardware. However let also have a look at some minor critical notes, of which I would like to know your experiences and thoughts:
Mike Temporale had an additional comment about the (lack off) a power-button, which has 2 implications.
“The power button has been moved to the End key. Typically HTC likes to have their own power button and they use the End key for locking the keypad. Locking has been moved to the Q key.” [ref02]
First on almost every other Windows Mobile Standard device, you can lock the device with a press-and-hold of the red end-key. On the HTC Snap the lock- and unlock is moved to the Q-key of the keyboard. Sometimes you just stick with old habits, but this is a matter of getting used to.
The second implication is the fact that to the dedicated power-button of previous Windows Mobile Standard devices, a quick list / quick menu was opened by a short-press of this power-button. In this quick list you could easily switch your profiles of access the task manager or the comm-manager. I really liked this feature, I miss it a little, and of course a lot of the functionality can be used from the Sliding Panels on the homescreen.
The quicklist can be accessed by press-and-hold the home-button when the HTC Snap is on its today screen.
A final remark is about the position of the miniUSB-connector on the right side of the device, which is covered with a plastic flap. I don’t know the reasoning of the HTC Engineers, which probalby have good reasons to put the miniUSB port in the right upper corner, but I don’t like this set-up for two reasons:
- There probably wont be a deskstand for the HTC Snap (you can’t dock the device into a charging port), as well I see some problems for device holders for in your car. ProclipUSA managed to find a solution for the HTC S630 as well., so let’s hope for the best.
- The miniUSB is also used to attach the in-ear headphones, which makes it almost impossible to put the device in the front pocket of your jeans. On the HTC S630 the engineers put the miniUSB-connector on the top-side of the device, while I noticed the same problem also in the earlier mentioned HTC Touch Dual review. Why isn’t the 3.5 mm headphone jack a standard on Mobile devices ?
2. HTC Snap software
The operating system the HTC Snap runs on is Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard. Significant main changes which impact the usability and end-user experience are:
- Getting started, which helps end-users to set-up and change the most important setting on your Windows Phone;
- A taskmanager, so you don’t need to install an external taskmanager and lets you easily close programs;
- Threaded SMS, which provides a threaded IM layout to your SMS messages.
If you need additional information about changes in Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard, or you want to compare Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard to previous versions or want to search through the Frequently Asked Question, please visit the Windows Mobile 6.1 page.
Personally the best improvement in Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard in terms of usability and easy navigation are the so called Sliding Panels. These sliding panels are under Windows Mobile 6.1 only available for Windows Mobile Standard, and with the upcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 release it looks like this userinterface improvement -although changed in implementation- will hit the Windows Mobile Professional devices as well.
2.1 Customizations & branding: the HTC experience
With a clear view at the core Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard OS, it isn’t a surprice that HTC has developed its own user interface / user experience on top of it. When HTC was re-branded, they also took a clear approach of creating one OVERALL user experience, which is clearly expressed in the black-white-color scheme. Furthermore there are “overlaps” between the experience on Windows Mobile Standard and Windows Mobile Professional. Let’s have a look at some screenshots of the HTC “branding” on the HTC Snap:
- Black sliding panels called HTC Home, with additional weather-panel, internet explorer panel in comparison with the standard windows mobile sliding panels;
- Setting the volume of the HTC Snap or look at the callerscreen, when you call someone;
- Launching the camera application, launching the comm manager or the quickGPS on the HTC Snap;
I hope that these screenshots provide some proof of a uniform branding and product development which results in one overall HTC user-experience. I really like this strategy, giving users a feeling which even might not be platform related (if you keep the Android platform in mind). Remark: the weather forecast, which is also part of TouchFLO 3D pops-up here as well in the form of a sliding panel, and will we see a stock panel in the next itteration as well ?
However I just wanted to congratulate HTC with this strategy, and like the fact that they provide a HTC experience with adding a “personal” flavor to each device and each platform.
2.2 HTC Inner Circle, a smart e-mail filter ?
On the recent launched HTC Touch Pro2 and the HTC touch Diamond2 new versions of TouchFLO 3D are loaded onto the device, which take a people centric communication approach. In this approach, at least in the Touch Pro2, all types of communication are connected with people / contacts in your smartphone !!
In line with this people-centric thinking and the positioning of the HTC Snap as a messaging device the HTC Inner Circle feature is launched to “filter” the incoming e-mail streams. The short video below shows a tutorial of the Inner Circle feature on the device.
By using the right softkey and opening the menu you can search and select your Inner Circle members. After that the e-mail items of the contact (with a specific e-mail address) is filtered, and the application even searches in different accounts. Currently the Hosted Exchange account is added as well as an IMAP4 account. The screenshots below show the filtered e-mail messages. The left softkey with the command “all Email” redirects to the ”normal” Pockt Outlook inbox.
Does the HTC Inner Circle feature work ? — YES — Is the HTC Inner Circle helpfull ?? — I’m not sure yet !– It can be really helpful to filter your e-mail streams, but honestly I think the filtering options, as well as a proper search function within Pokcet Outlook should be a core functionality of Windows Mobile. Overall it worked smoothly, but more or less ontop of Pocket Outlook (not integrated). People who have tried it, what are your experiences ?
2.3 Additional out-of-the-box software
In this final paragraph of the HTC Snap software chapter I would like to focus a little on the application, which are added in addition to the standard embedded Windows Mobile applications. Or applications that are worth while mentioning, like Internet Explorer 6 for mobile, which was announced back at Mobile World Congress 2009.
- Internet Explorer 6 for Mobile
The device shots above show a great implementation of the JogBall in combination with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 for Mobile. To my knowledge this is the first Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard device, which has this version of the mobile explorer pre-loaded in the ROM. In concept Microsoft has taken Internet Explorer 6 (the desktop version) and transformed it into a mobile version called Internet Explorer 6 for Mobile. The choice for IE 6 is simple, because most websites are developed for IE6, and therefore:
“This will make sure the browsing experience more robust for users.” [ref03]
- Windows Live Search
This version of Windows Live Search is pretty cool, since it alsouses your location. Searches can be started with voice commands. Of course Windows Live Search is part of the Windows Live bundle (including MSN Messenger for Mobile), and if you want to know more about Windows Live Search for Mobile and its customer driven features, please read over here.
- Google Maps
Always helpful to have on your device is Google Maps, just in case you need to check your location or a location close near you. During my visit of momo #11 in Amsterdam I used this to find my way from the parkinglot, to the conference center. Very good that it’s preloaded on the HTC Snap.
- Camera Application
Furthermore the whole camera software is worth wile to have a look at, very nice an clean design within the HTC branding of the HTC Snap. In short nice implementation.
4. Conclusions and first thoughts
Let me start this conclusion with saying that this extensive review of the HTC Snap has covered a lot of details, but there are certainly also features and aspects of the device which aren’t covered now. This review provides a detailed overview of the functionality I noticed during the use of the HTC Snap as my primary device. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments !!
The specificationlist of the HTC Snap was already impressive with a super fast Qualcomm MSM 7225 processor, running at 528 MHz. With sufficient memory, and all possible types of connectivity onboard the HTC snap suits various purposes. Foremost the easy and fast device navigation with the Jog Ball and an excellent full QWERTY keyboard (with offset keys) make it simply fun to work with this device on the go. The hardware keyboard design and the offset keys reduce the risk of a typing error, fore my compliments HTC.
A big hooray also for the 1500 mAh battery, which results in charging the device not every night. On average use I can work about 2 days or a little more on one charge. The 1500 mAh battery is also helpfull on the road, when using different types of radios (GPS, HSDPA, Voice) or when you use Wi-Fi to download a larger file.
With the introduction of the Inner Circle feature on the HTC Snap, I’m really curious if this is the startingpoint of more people-centric-communication improvements on the Windows Mobile Standard platform. Remember the official press release of the HTC Snap announcement back @ CTIA 2009, which stated:
“The HTC Snap is powerful enough for experienced business users looking for an affordable, straightforward choice for remotely synchronizing email, calendar and contacts with their Microsoft Exchange server. However, the flexible Microsoft Windows Mobile® 6.1 Standard platform allows the HTC Snap to also be simple enough for first-time smartphone users wanting to keep their family life organized.” [ref01]
I would describe the HTC Snap as a fast, stable & powerfull no-nonsence device, which suits various needs. Therefore it is a worthy HTC S620 successor, and I truly hope that this great device will get an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5 in order to make full use of the Windows Marketplace (for Mobile) and other announced services for the Windows Phones.