If you sat this year's touchscreen smartphones side-by-side we think the HTC Diamond2 would be one of the stand-outs. Unlike the majority of those handsets in this segment, the Diamond2 uses glossy piano-black plastic sparingly, replacing black plastic around the screen with sexy stainless steel. Its all-important touchscreen measures 3.2 inches diagonally and features an impressive WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels).
The positioning of the external components is strongly reminiscent of its predecessor from last year; the camera is in a high central position on the back, the stylus on the lower right corner. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a shame, with the bundled headphones plugging into the charging port on the base of the handset.
As a company, HTC regularly remind us about its focus on innovation, and there's one new feature on the Touch Diamond2 that is new, not only to HTC phones, but to smartphones in general. Between the bottom of the screen and a strip of mechanical keys, HTC has designed a magnification touch panel. In nearly all other touchscreen smartphones, zooming on web pages or captured images is performed by tapping once or repeatedly on the screen, or by recognition of finger gestures. HTC removes the awkwardness of these alternatives with this excellent idea. Swipe your finger left to right and the image zooms in, reverse the direction and the image zooms out — no more accidentally clicking on hyperlinks when trying to enlarge the text on a website.
If only HTC focused some of this innovation to a few key basics; namely the on-screen keyboard. Unlike the very usable keyboard in the Android-based HTC Magic, the tiny, tiny keys found in the Diamond2 have us longing for the slide-out keyboard in the HTC Touch Pro2. There's a stylus sheathed on the side of the handset, which may help, but it's called a touchscreen for a reason and we'd prefer to use our fingers where possible.
2 . Features
For a business user, the Touch Diamond2 includes the most important connectivity hardware and a raft of decent software as well. HSDPA data transfers up to 7.2Mbps, Wi-Fi and GPS are included, with an Opera web browser and Google Maps pre-installed. There is, of course, Microsoft ActivSync with support for MS Exchange email servers plus the basics like quad-band GSM support and Bluetooth. Different from the original, the Diamond2 now supports HSUPA data transfers for fast uploads over the 3G network.
For consumer users, as in people who use their phone as a camera or to play music, the Touch Diamond2 is average. The camera shoots 5-megapixel images and has auto-focus, but no flash. The software features a decent range of settings to fiddle with, including some really amusing image themes or funny cartoon borders. There is no mechanical camera key on the edge of the handset, instead you fire the shutter using an on-screen button like with the iPhone.
Media playback is OK, but those interested in using the Diamond2 as their portable media player will need to fork out for a few extras, namely a microSD card to expand the paltry 512MB of memory shared with the system and a 3.5mm headphone adapter. The Windows Media app is fine for playing streaming and stored media, and the YouTube app we saw in the HTC Touch HD is one of the best ways to watch YouTube on a phone.
3 . TouchFLO 3D
Each new HTC release in the last year has brought with it advancements to HTC's excellent TouchFLO 3D user interface (UI). HTC has designed this UI not only to disguise the sad-looking Windows Mobile interface, but also to add much needed usability for its customers. Certain simple tasks, like switching on Wi-Fi scanning, can take several dips into the phone's menu to activate, while TouchFLO 3D puts this setting only two steps from the home screen.
You might notice some small design enhancements when compared with the version of TouchFLO 3D we saw on the Touch Diamond last year. But more importantly we're seeing better integration of common applications. Combined contact details and recent calls and messaging information is a great example — HTC calls this People Centric Communication. When you select a contact from your address book you see the person's name and details as per usual, but you also have three additional tabs available in this window; SMS messages, emails and recent call history. During a call you can easily scan back through old messages, instead of hanging up and calling them back after you've re-read this contact's previous messages.
We found another example of this integration in the HTC Calendar. The Touch Diamond2 includes a calendar skin for the WinMo one, which in itself is great, but if you update the weather using the TouchFLO 3D weather pane, then the forecasted weather for that day is included with your appointments. So if your weekend reads "Picnic with grandma" but the forecast is 15 degrees and raining you can re-plan your outing in advance. This is one of those fantastic "why didn't someone think of this before" evolutions of the sorts of apps we see on every new phone.
4 . Performance
Processing performance is what we watch most closely when reviewing a Windows Mobile smartphone, but thankfully the Touch Diamond2 passes muster with a mostly excellent user experience. The real trick when using the Diamond2, as it is with all Windows Mobile handsets, is you have to keep an eye on the phone's memory and how it is being used. From the home screen you can access a list of currently running apps by selecting the icon on the top right of the screen that looks like three bars and an arrow pointing down. If there are apps running in the background then you really should close them if you're not using them to maintain speedy navigation around the phone's menus and features. If you ignore this list and too many apps are running you can expect to hit some tedious lag spikes.
Road warriors will be happy to hear that battery life in the Diamond2 is better than we saw in last year's model. This time a year ago we described the Diamond's battery life as "appalling", not so in 2009. We've easily made it through a full day and well into the second day before the Diamond2 needed recharging. Our usage included standard calling and messaging plus a nearly constant Wi-Fi connect, web browsing and push email.
5 . Overall
HTC has once again delivered a phone incrementally better than what we've seen from this Taiwanese company before. HTC isn't making any giant leaps forward with its Windows Mobile offerings, but never fails to tweak and improve its range in some key areas. The Diamond2 is faster than the Diamond from a year ago, its battery lasts longer, and HTC's TouchFLO 3D enhancements make this phone much easier to use than its predecessors. Any reservations we have left about the Diamond2 refer to usability rather than functionality. The tiny keyboard significantly slows down input, and the user interface can lag to a stand-still if you don't keep an eye on the phone's performance — a job you really shouldn't be responsible for. Both issues could be overcome with practice, and if you're willing to put the work in then we recommend this phone — there are few WiMo smartphones sexier than the Touch Diamond2.