Wednesday, November 19, 2008

AT&T HTC Fuze Review (Software, Part I)

Author's note: If you find this article useful, show me some love and leave a comment at the bottom.

I was going to put everything in one big post but when I got to the point where I had five typed pages in MS Word, I decided to split it up. The must-have apps and tweaks review is here.

Previously, I looked at the hardware of the HTC Fuze (a.k.a. HTC Touch Pro). Now, it’s time to start looking at the software.

The base operating system of the AT&T HTC Fuze is Windows Mobile 6.1. I’m not going to cover WinMo here. It is what it is. What I am going to cover is TouchFLO 3D, pre-installed applications, must-have applications, and various tweaks and tricks (and the tools needed to do them).

If you remember the days of Windows 3.1, you will recall that at that time Windows was a shell that made it easier to navigate DOS (the Disk Operating System). In other words, DOS loaded first and continued to actually run the show. Windows loaded on top of DOS and made DOS a kinder, gentler operating system with pretty graphics. TouchFLO 3D is kinda like that. It gives you a slick interface to navigate through Windows Mobile but Windows Mobile is still running the show. And it’s not so much a shell as it is a Halloween mask. WinMo is not very far under the surface of TF3D. In fact, you could think of TF3D as a wicked cool Today screen plugin on steroids. TF3D allows the user to utilize various gestures, called slides and swipes, to move quickly through various interfaces.

On the home screen of TF3D, the user is presented with a large, friendly clock, the current date, a call history and current appointments. At present, tasks are not listed on the home screen. To see more appointments, you can swipe your finger upward, which will shrink the clock. The very top and very bottom are the standard WinMo menu and shortcut bars.

Just above the shortcuts (i.e. Calendar and Contacts) are the TF3D tabs. You can either tap on the tab you want or slide to the tab you want. To slide, press your finger on one of the icons, hold it for a second until the screen switches to show the selected tab on the main part of the screen, then slide left or right. Release when you are at the tab you want.

The rest of the tabs and what gestures you can use on them are as follows:(they are presented in the order they have been changed to on my phone – more on that later)

  • People
    • Store up to 15 favorite contacts
    • You can swipe vertically through the pictures or slide up and down through the icons on the right side
    • To open the contact information, tap on the picture
    • To call the contact, tap the phone icon next to the number displayed
  • Email
    • Shows an envelope with the top part of your first message sticking out
    • Swipe vertically through the messages to skim
    • Press envelope to open message
  • Programs
    • Create shortcuts to up to 18 favorite programs
    • 9 show on the screen at any given time – swipe vertically to see more
  • SMS/Text Messages
    • The most recent text message shows on the screen, including sender and date/time information
    • Swipe vertically to see cool animation and show next most recent text message
    • Tap the message to go to a threaded view of all messages between you and that person with a quick reply input box at the bottom of the screen
  • Music
    • TF3D music player showing album art
    • Swipe vertically to change song
    • Tap play button to play track
    • Use “zoom touch” around center hardware button to scroll forward and backward through song
    • Tap library shortcut to View (in order):
      • Now playing
      • Artists
      • Albums
      • Playlists (playlists are NOT shared with Win Media Player)
      • All songs
      • Genres
      • Composers
      • Purchased
  • Photos and video
    • Swipe vertically to flip through photo album
    • Tap photo to show full screen
    • Tap camera icon to bring up camera
    • Tap projector icon to start camera in movie mode
    • Tap album shortcut to switch which pictures you’re looking at
  • Weather
    • Includes current weather, daily forecast, and 5-day forecast for every city except the one you are currently in (lists major cities only) [Note, there’s a fix for this that I will get into later]
  • Internet
    • Includes pre-defined shortcuts/favorites that open in Opera
    • I haven’t used this screen yet and haven’t really explored it
  • AT&T
    • The dreaded Death Star tab
    • Includes shortcuts to AT&T software and services
      • Cellular video
      • Telenav
      • Messaging
      • AT&T Mall
      • Etc.
  • Settings
    • Allows access to several common settings
    • Most useful is communications settings to turn on/off different features (Bluetooth, wifi, etc.)
Like I said, it’s more like a powerful Today Screen plugin. Later, I’ll get into how some of this can be customized.

One of the neat features that has been added to the WinMo interface is the Quick Menu. When you are on the home screen, it appears in the upper-right corner where the OK and X appear when you are in a program. The Quick Menu shows the currently running programs. You can quickly switch between running programs, stop programs, and see how much program memory is being used. Think of it as a task manager shortcut.

The other built-in adjustment is the menu font sizes. They are adjustable but, by default, they are enlarged for finger poking.

Now let’s talk about some of the pre-installed applications of note.

Teeter is a highly addictive game that utilizes the accelerometer. The object is to guide the ball, by tilting the phone, into the green hole without letting it drop into one of the dark holes.

WorldCard Mobile is a handy application, especially if you get handed a lot of business cards. All you have to do is take a picture of a business card, tell WCM to recognize it and it will convert the image into contact information that you can edit if necessary then save as a new contact. I’ve tried it and it works pretty well.

AT&T would love for you to use their online paid backup service and there are built-in shortcuts to get you there. There is, however, an included option that will not cost you anything extra to use. Sprite Backup allows you to save your backup information to your memory card or other location. Do you really need an online option?

JetCet Print allows you to print selected types of information (email, contacts, etc.) directly from your mobile device to a network printer via WiFi. It only includes drivers for 3 brands of printers but one of the drivers is a generic HP Monochrome Laserjet that should cover quite a large installed base.

Microsoft Voice Command I think was designed more to talk to you than to receive commands but, amazingly enough, it works. I know people that use this software and it drives me nuts to hear the annoying electronic voice talking over their ringtones so I have the “reading” part turned off. What’s cool about it is the control part. For the first time across about 5 different phones, I can actually voice dial my phone, plus a whole lot more, from my Motorola H500 Bluetooth headset. I tap the call button, wait for the beep telling me the phone is listening and give it the command, “Call [contact name].” If it understood me, it will ask for confirmation in its electronic voice and I say yes or no. I don’t even have to train the contacts, the software compares what I say to the text in my contacts list.

Voice command has several other uses. I can give it commands like, “What is my schedule [today/tomorrow]?” or “What is my next appointment?” or even “What time is it?” For a full explanation of what this software will do, visit the Voice Command site.

I think that's enough for now. In our next installment, we'll go over must-have software and, if we have enough time, we'll go over the tweaks.

The Bottom Line:
Pros -

  • TouchFLO 3D (in general)
  • Tweaked out of the box to allow easy finger poking
  • Included software is very useful
    • WorldCard
    • Voice Command (first phone I've actually been able to use voice dialing)
    • Opera mobile (it's the default instead of IE)
    • JetCet Print
  • Threaded SMS view
  • Expanded favorite contacts/programs capacity
  • Better alert sounds
  • Task manager menu on Today/Home screen
  • A2DP support

Cons -

  • TF3D is sluggish out of the box (tweakable)
  • Touch sensitivity is too low (tweakable)
  • TF3D not easily customizable without hacks
  • Today Screen plugins don't work with TF3D and there's nothing comparable
  • Can't add custom tabs to TF3D (see above)
  • Can't rearrange or disable tabs in TF3D (tweakable)
  • Screen shuts off during calls (tweakable?)
  • Weather widget only includes major cities (tweakable)
  • Shouldn't need all the hacks/tweakers to customize some of these items
  • No software that makes good/fun use of the accelerometer (yet)

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