HTC unveils update to Nexus One and HTC Legend

HTC will also launch its latest Windows Mobile phone, HTC HD Mini

One of the two new smartphones with Google's Android mobile operating system that High Tech Computer (HTC) plans to start selling in March isn't officially billed as an update to Nexus One, but its design is similar and it offers improvements over the Google phone.

The similarity is no big surprise considering HTC built Nexus One for Google.

The HTC Desire, as the handset is called, carries specifications nearly identical to the Nexus One with a few key changes.

The two handsets both sport 3.7-inch AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) touchscreens, use Android version 2.1 (Eclair), are almost identical in size and depth, carry 5-megapixel cameras with flash and use 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets.

One improvement in the HTC Desire is the use of an optical joystick as an alternative to using the touchscreen. Nexus One has a trackball for the same function, and trackballs tend to get dirty over time. The optical joystick is touch free.

The HTC Desire also adds FM radio, which the Nexus One lacks.

Another difference to the two handsets is an updated version of HTC's Sense user interface (UI) on Desire. The new UI makes improvements on a number of important areas, including social networking, Internet browsing, e-mail and contact management.

The UI adds Friend Stream, a view of messages coming from various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as a new way to use the touchscreen to see all seven main screens by pinching two fingers together on the screen.

The UI also puts a person's contacts into new groups so a single text message can be sent to a specific group of friends. It offers better e-mail management than the previous version, including an Unread E-mail Group for unread e-mail from all addresses, as well as the ability to Add Widgets such as Call Mom, which starts green and turns red over time if Mom's phone number is dialed, or a widget to split dinner bills or perform other tasks.

HTC worked hard to improve the Internet browser and the camera experience, both key functions for smartphone users, said Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, in a briefing prior to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

The other Android smartphone HTC is debuting at the Mobile World Congress is the HTC Legend, which carries some rather unique engineering due to its forged aluminum casing.

Similar to the HTC Desire, the HTC Legend smartphone has Android 2.1 installed and also sports an AMOLED touchscreen, though a bit smaller at 3.2-inches.

The two new HTC smartphones use AMOLED screens for their richer color saturation, thin design and low power usage. Chou said HTC will use AMOLED screens in more of its designs because it's a much nicer screen, but due to the "much higher" cost of the screens, the company will not use them in all new smartphones.

One special aspect of the handset is its forged aluminum, not plastic, casing. HTC Chief Innovation Officer Horace Luke said the use of metal in the phone was difficult because metal interferes with the antennae.

HTC put the antennae in the Legend's battery door, a panel on the bottom rear of the handset that opens to allow the battery to slide out in a manner very unlike other mobile phones. The antennae is in the panel, which is made of a type of plastic.

"What it comes down to is a very different way to build a phone," he said.

The two HTC smartphones will be available in Europe and Asia around March or April, HTC executives said. HTC Desire will be on offer from a number of network operators, while the HTC Legend will be offered exclusively from Vodafone for a time.

HTC also unveiled its latest Windows Mobile smartphone on Tuesday, the HD Mini, a smaller cousin to the company's popular HD2 handset. HTC doesn't plan to have phones with Microsoft's new mobile OS, Windows Phone 7 Series, until later this year.

The Mini boasts around a 3.2-inch passive touchscreen, far smaller than the 4.3-inch screen on the HD2. The company opted to make the HD Mini because of the desire to put out a product similar to its popular HD2 but for people who like smaller handsets.

Few smartphones have screens that are larger than the HD2's. Toshiba's TG101 sports a 4.1-inch screen, but most smartphone screens are smaller, more like the 3.5-inch screen on the iPhone 3GS.

The big screen has attracted attention for HTC because the HD2 is sold out in some markets and will remain in shortage for another few months, according to Chou. He said HD2 is probably the biggest HTC will make a screen.

"This is probably the farthest we can go," he said.

The HD Mini comes with Windows Mobile 6.5 installed and the latest update of the HTC Sense UI. The device is also bright yellow under the hood, where the battery and SIM card are placed. When a user opens the case, the bright color pops out.

"I believe the product should be just as beautiful on the inside as on the outside," said Luke, who is in charge of design at HTC.

The HD Mini will be offered in Europe and Asia by various operators starting in March.

The executives declined to discuss pricing of the three new handsets or when they might be sold in North America.

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