HTC Dream smartphone
Can Australia's first Google Android-powered mobile phone trump the iPhone 3G?
- Full QWERTY keyboard, responsive touch screen, Google Android provides ease of use, potential for future upgrades and new applications, notifications and status bar, excellent integration with Google services, Android Market app store, polished Web browser
- No auto-rotate, no on-screen keyboard, design flaws, no 3.5mm headphone jack, mediocre non-Gmail e-mail support, no document editor
The HTC Dream is a strong smartphone effort overall and the Google Android OS has a lot of potential. As it stands this phone is missing some critical hardware and software features that prevent it from being a standout product. Early adopters and gadget freaks will be excited by the new device, but business users and multimedia buffs will not find enough reasons to justify upgrading their current devices.
Price$ 899.00 (AUD)
E-mail integration and mobile Web browsing
Integration with Google services is excellent. Android automatically synchronises your Google calendar, mail and contacts databases over-the-air. When you add a new contact or calendar event on your PC, it will automatically appear on your phone and vice versa. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one on the HTC Dream itself and you can then easily import a contact list from Microsoft Outlook, or even Apple's address book. Unfortunately, if you don't use Gmail as your primary e-mail account, the regular mail client (a completely separate application from Gmail) is mediocre. There is no way to delete multiple e-mails, no way to mark all e-mails as read and you can't download any attachments, including Word or Excel files. There is also no support for Microsoft Exchange out of the box, although like other omissions, this can be solved by downloading an application from the Android Market.
A real interface strength is Android's mobile Web browser. Despite the HTC Dream's screen being slightly smaller than the iPhone and lacking multi-touch functionality, the user experience is intuitive. As seen on the iPhone, you can double tap to zoom into a specific area, though you need to bring up on screen controls to zoom in. We found the trackball responded well when moving around Web pages, and more efficient than using the touch screen. However, having to slide open the keyboard every time you need to enter text is an annoyance we could do without — thankfully, an on-screen keyboard will be available in Google's next Android software update.
Maps, multimedia and the Android Market
Google Maps is also present on the HTC Dream. It operates in a similar style to the iPhone version, but it adds a nice touch thanks to the included compass mode when using Street View. The HTC Dream uses both the built-in accelerometer and its GPS to form the compass, which allows you to see the street in 360 degrees as you rotate and move the phone. For example, pointing the phone upwards will show you the sky, while pointing it downwards will display the road.
As a multimedia device, the Dream doesn't stack up to the iPhone. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and A2DP Bluetooth are major omissions, while there is no Cover Flow or equaliser options and there is no dedicated video player application, other than YouTube. We loved the fact that you can convert any song into a ring tone, and YouTube worked well on the Optus' 3G network. Despite the HTC Dream's 3.2-megapixel camera trumping the iPhone's low specification 2-megapixel variant, there is no flash, no video recording, and no camera settings.
Another big trump card for Android is the Android Market, Google's answer to the Apple iPhone App Store. You can download a wide range of free applications from the Android Market, many of them adding more functionality to the HTC Dream. The Android Market is still in beta, as such it is hard to compare it to the iPhone's App Store, but we were reasonably impressed with it and had no problems downloading a number of applications over Optus' 3G network. Unlike the iPhone App Store, all applications on the Android Market are currently free — this means premium applications from established companies are yet to appear.
As a phone, the HTC Dream provides reasonable voice quality, but the speakerphone lacks punch at its highest volume level. The volume of the standard speaker could have been increased, but overall test audio and conversations were clear and our callers didn't complain of any audio issues. Battery life, despite being quoted by HTC as higher than the Apple iPhone in both talk-time and standby time, is actually very similar — as in the iPhone tests, we were forced to charge the HTC Dream every night.
The Dream will be sold on four Optus plans, but it will not be network locked, nor is it available to purchase outright. A $59 Internet Cap plan includes $350 worth of calls and text and 500MB of data, while a $79 Internet Cap plan includes $550 worth of calls, unlimited text and 700MB of data. Two timeless plans offer 1.5GB ($113.95 per month) and 3GB ($129) data allowances respectively.
Optus offers all plans on either 12 or 24 month contracts, with monthly handset repayments differing depending on the length of the plan.
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