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HTC Smart – first look
The HTC Smart that debuted back at this years CES, was already previewed by us. Here, however, I'm intending to cover its design, materials, controls, UI speed and spend some time pondering over its future in the segment of affordable touchscreen-equipped phones.
It'd be reasonable to assume that while designing the Smart, HTC's engineers had to keep a couple of things in mind - first up, they had to make their latest creation recognizable, give it a unique face, but tat the same time it had to differ from other HTC-branded solutions. And while the first requirement was easy to meet, as HTC is used to lending their phones distinguishable touches. Sure, their latest and greatest models may have different curves and edges, but they always have something in common: if you've seen a couple of their handsets, you won't confuse the HTC Legend with the Hero, Touch Diamond or Diamond 2.
The Smart also feels like one of the pack, although this effect is achieved largely thanks to some of the most unsubtle methods, like a sizable HTC logo on the back. But here we touch upon the second task HTC's developers had at hand. The Smart is their first non-communicator and non-smartphone device, so they had to set it apart from the rest of their portfolio. And they have succeeded - the HTC Smart does look different, both in terms of size (being the most pocketable device they have churned out yet - the Smart is the size of a credit card) and controls.
Speaking of which, the Smart's controls are as simplified as it gets, all in an effort to focus the user's attention on its touch screen. There are seven hardware keys found on the Smart, and the good news is that there is a dedicated camera key among them. Also here is the volume rocker housed on the left-hand side, small functional button right beneath the display, "Back" key and bog-standard Call and End buttons, which are large enough to make sure you won't miss even when trying to press them with your thumbs.
The casing is made out of matte, soft-touch plastic, while the sides are finished in chrome plastic, plus there is a distinctive frame around the display. I doubt there is any reason to argue about the merits of such an unpretentious, yet practical design - it's very palm-friendly and almost doesn't get smudgy.
I'm not going to judge about the Smart's build quality based on the engineering sample I got my hands on, but honestly, there is not much to talk about here, considering its unsophisticated construction - there are nearly no parts that can loosen up with time, except for a couple of keys.
Being HTC's first "dumb phone", the Smart isn't a mobile powerhouse, like you'd expect from an HTC-branded phone.
It's built around Qualcomm MSM6290 with a CPU running at 300 Mhz, boasts 256 Mb of RAM and 256 of ROM. There is a 2.8 inch display featuring the resolution of 240x320 pixels, plus 65K colors. Among all other things there is a 3 MP fixed-focus camera, 1100 mAh battery, 2G/3G support and microSD memory cards. And close your eyes for a second and wind the clock back three years - a typical Windows Mobile communicator in 2007 had a 200-400 Mhz CPU, 128 Mb of RAM and a QVGA display. Ironically, the new "dumb" is the old "smart" and it's called "Smart" (pun intended).
But the more interesting question is this: when buying a phone for calls or as a presentyou're your relatives, how often you even stop to think about how much RAM it has, or what's the size of its display? I suppose not often, really, and for a good reason - these questions are secondary, when it comes to feature phones, rather than Symbian, Windows Mobile or Android based smartphones. The HTC Smart will be distributed as a feature phone (which it is), and its technical specifications were published on HTC's homepage just for the sake of it, rather than out of necessity.
The Smart isn't a technological marvel, no doubt about that, but what it packs under the hood will be well enough for a couple of calls, some SMS, and several hours of music (thankfully it's got a 3.5 mm audio jack).
The Smart runs on Brew Mobile Platform, even though its users probably won't find it all that exciting, as the OS itself doesn't matter much here, for it's merely a tool that HTC's trademark Sense interface is tacked on. Naturally it's nowhere near the UI found in Windows Mobile and Android-based phones - the HTC Smart comes with a less sophisticated shell, although it does sport multiple screens with various contents: shortcuts, clock, weather and time, contacts and several other. The main menu is displayed as an ordinary grid. Plus there are Phonebook, Messages, Mail, Browser.
All parts of the system are very intuitive and easy to deal with - you won't have to delve deep into menus to get what you need, which is one of the best things about the Smart, since its predecessors are more flexible, yet more challenging to get around.
The HTC smart is expected to retail for around 200 Euros, although there's still no word on when it'll go on sale. Also it's not clear how it'll fare against other "feature phones on steroids" - it's got its own draws, among which is its extraordinarily affordable price point (compared to HTC's communicators, that is) and pitfalls. Plus it'll have to go up against some of the strongest offerings in this segment, such as Samsung's Corby.
In my opinion, though, the bulk of the HTC Smart's user base will be composed of people who already own an HTC-branded device. For the most part they'll buy it as a present to their friends and relatives, though. As far as the other target audience goes, consumers who're looking for a straightforward phone with a touchscreen, that's where things will get tricky for the Smart. It'll have to join the fight that has already been going for a while in this niche.
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