Saturday, November 15, 2008

AT&T HTC Fuze Review (hardware)

Author's note: If you find this article useful, show me some love and leave a comment at the bottom.
Well there it is, ladies and gentlemen. The box for my new phone. I had originally thought I would do an unboxing but just didn't have the opportunity. Besides, the way they set it up, it was out of the box and operational before it ever left the store.

Now, after obsessing over it for two full days plus, it's finally just about dialed in, I think I'm familiar with it enough to say I know how to use it (but not to say I know how to use it well), and I'm ready to give my impressions.

Straight off let me say I L O V E this phone! It is everything I wanted and more. There are a few drawbacks that I will get into later but I'm hooked. TouchFlo3D is cool but some sacrifices have to be made to use it. We'll see how long it lasts. I may decide to turn it off for 24 hours some day and see how much I miss it. It is, however, much more than window dressing - it does add some convenience to operation... but I'm already getting ahead of myself.

Let's start off with the Physical Aspects of the phone:

The AT&T HTC Fuze, based on the HTC Touch Pro, is slightly shorter and slightly narrower than its cousins the 8125, the 8525 and the Tilt but, for all simplification of measurement, is just as thick. The screen is flush rather than slightly recessed. This style was first introduced by HTC in the Touch Diamond from which the Fuze/Touch Pro also takes its faceted back cover.

The Fuze has a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard that sports five rows of keys rather than the four rows on the 8x25/Tilt. The OEM model uses numbers on the extra row, like a standard keyboard, but AT&T opted to modify the keyboard and replaced the numbers with symbols, relegating the numbers to a cluster of Fn keys like its cousins and almost every other QWERTY phone pad I've seen.

Adding the fifth row of keys and shrinking the dimensions a bit necessitated making the keys smaller and causing the loss of the "margins" on the sides of the keyboards on the 8x25/Tilt. The compactness does not hinder operation but it did slow me down a bit compared to the other phones. Use of the new keyboard requires a slightly different angle of attack (more thumb tip, less thumb flat) as well as a shift of holding position to access the outer keys. I've only mis-hit a few keys and I suspect I will become quite proficient with it over time.

As for the keyboard itself, the slide-out is solid and snaps into place very well. The keys are responsive and well-formed.

On the front panel are four buttons and a D-pad. The buttons are home, back, call and hang up. Pressing the call button launches the phone application and brings up the on-screen dialing pad.

You will notice the lack of a call/connect button on the screen. That is going to take some getting used to. I'm bothered by it a bit because I have to move my thumb off the screen and to the lower-left corner of the unit to complete the call. It's a trade-off for big, easy to push virtual buttons.

Side note: Holding down the call button activates voice command and holding down the hang up button toggles silent mode.

Update 11/26: By far, the hardest thing to get used to is using the hardware buttons to make & end calls. Being on the bottom of the phone, I just don't even think about them being there. I think of the call button as just a shortcut to the phone app. Since the screen turns off during a call, the most convenient way to disconnect is with the end button. I have to shift my thinking or find the right tweaks.

The D-pad is a 4-way directional button with a center push... but there's more to it. First, the outer edge is a capacitive touch (I think I have that right) mechanism ala the iPod. In certain applications (Opera, Google Maps, Photo browser, etc.) running your finger around the edge causes the image to zoom in and out. Second, they've programmed the light that rings the center button to do some really cool things (i.e. fading from bottom to top while charging). Not at all functional but some fun eye candy. Finally, it acts as the focus and shutter button for the camera. Touch the center to focus and adjust exposure, push to take the picture.

On The Back is the camera and "flash" (it's a single LED). Underneath the back cover is an easily accessed MicroSD slot that accomodates high capacity cards. I think I read somewhere that it can handle up to a 16GB card.

So, what's in the box?

  • Phone, battery and back cover
  • Mini USB cable for charging and PC connection
  • Wall charger
  • Headphone dongle
  • Quick Start and Getting Started guides
  • Getting Started CD
  • Screen protector (BIG plus to AT&T for including this)
The phone, battery and back cover are self-explanatory. Thankfully, HTC has stayed with their Extended USB connector and a standard mini USB plug is all you need to charge or connect to a PC. You don't even have to take the twist-tie off this one if you've already got one. The wall charger is just a 5v transformer with a mini USB connector. I have a Motorolla charger that came with my H500 Bluetooth headset and it works just fine.

What, you may ask, is a headphone dongle? Take a look at this (click to make it bigger):
On the bottom of the phone is the Extended USB connector. It functions as a data connector as well as a headphone connector. You will notice that the port is not shaped like a mini USB and you will also notice there is no headphone jack. Don't let the picture fool you, that hole under the headphone icon is the reset button. The headphone icon refers to the dual nature of the other connector. Frankly, I think HTC made an error in not placing that icon underneath the USB icon. In one forum I have been following, we see the placement of the headphone icon and the reset button as a tech support call generator - "Every time I try to plug in my headphones, the phone reboots."

That brings us back to the dongle. On the bottom of the dongle is a mini USB port for data connection and charging. Along the side are three, count them THREE, different headphone connectors. One looks like the ExtUSB port and is presumably for mini USB headphones and there are mini and sub-mini plugs as well. Nothing like giving the end-user flexibility. I'm not terribly keen on the dongle but at least HTC made it give us something a little extra.

As a side note, the short piece of cable between the connector and the box on the dongle is somewhat stiff. This keeps the dongle from flailing around when connected, thus reducing the possibility of disconnection or, perish the thought, damage. (in case you're interested, the small hole at the top center is the microphone)

Now let's take a look at the sides. The right side of the phone has no buttons. None whatsoever. Some have lamented the choice not to include a dedicated camera button and I don't blame them. On the bottom of the right side is the magnetic stylus. Not only does its magneticness keep it from falling out, it also provides functionality. Removing the stylus while the screen is off, wakes up the screen. Removing the stylus while on a call automatically launches the note application.

The left side has three buttons:

What you see there are the volume up/down buttons and the Push To Talk (PTT) button (think Nextel). Lots of peolpe are trying to figure out how to remap the PTT button but never had success with the 8525 or the Tilt so I don't see how the Fuze will be any different. Some have reported some success in at least disabling the blasted thing. (I am told that the PTT hass been successfully remapped on the tilt but every post I read about it notes that there has been limited success, esp. on the Fuze. Color me corrected. See the comments for a link)

We've already looked at the bottom, now let's check out the top. The top has the most important button of all. You cannot do anything with this phone until you have pushed that button. It's the power button. Sorry about the buildup but I just didn't want a sentence that read, "The power button is on the top." dangling out there in space.

One more note. The Fuze has a glossy black finish. It is a fingerprint magnet. To take these pictures, I had to get out my lens cloth and scrub the thing down. And look what happened just in opening the keyboard and turning it around for placement:

  • More compact than previous HTC units
  • Lots of RAM compared to other HTC units (it sports 256MB)
  • MicroSDHC slot
  • Memory card slot is covered but easily accessible without removing the battery
  • Slide-out QWERTY keyboard
  • Built-in GPS receiver
  • 3G capability
  • Flush screen
  • Solid feel
  • Standard USB data/charging
  • Accelerometer
  • Small keys on keyboard
  • Keys too close to the edge
  • Glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet
  • No dedicated camera button
  • Lack of hardware shortcut buttons
  • No headphone plug
  • The angular edges look cool but it isn't terribly comfortable to hold to your ear

Next time, we'll take a look at the operating system, including TouchFlo3D.
Part 1 of the software review is here
Part 2 of the software review is here

Update: I just figured out what bothers me and slows me down the most about the keyboard. The space key is too small. It needs to be 3-keys wide instead of 2.

Update 2: After having it just over a week, an additional con would be battery life. I have to charge the battery daily. It's a sophisticated piece of hardware doing a lot of things that drain the battery so I understand but it's still a negative. Hopefully battery technology will take another leap ahead soon.

Also, in yet another complaint about the keyboard, there is no tab key. There is, inexplicably, a caps key. Why the caps key? Tapping shift twice locks the caps. I didn't even realize the caps key was there. Why couldn't it be a tab key?

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