Ordinarily we begin to review the design of a handset once we've removed it from its box, however, the packaging for HTC's Touch Diamond rates a mention. Keeping in line with the angled theme of "diamond", the stiff, black plastic box sits like an inverted pyramid on a flat bottom, like a diamond standing up out of a wedding ring.
Our initial impression of the handset is that it's smaller than we'd originally suspected. Compared to the iPhone 3G, the Diamond seems positively petite. Necessarily, the Diamond's screen is also smaller than its competitor from Apple — 2.8 inches compared to the iPhone's 3.5 inches — but features VGA resolution which is outstanding.
Very few buttons or ports adorn the edge of the Diamond; there is a power key, a volume rocker, and the combined USB charging/headphones port at the bottom. The warning sign here is no microSD card slot as is commonly found on smartphones, but more on this later.
With the power on, the magic of the Touch Diamond and HTC's new TouchFlo 3D interface comes to life. While the use of 3D is a misnomer — it's really faux 3D in a 2D space — the illusion is fittingly futuristic and stunning to look at. Instead of a point-and-stab grid layout for the main menu screens, as we find on almost all touchscreen phones, the TouchFlo interface operates horizontally. Almost all phone functions, particularly the ones you will use daily, are accessible from this menu system, meaning that for the most part the Windows Mobile operating system lives in the background.
For such a small handset, the HTC Touch Diamond leaves almost no common feature by the wayside. HSDPA (7.2Mbps) data speeds, Wi-Fi, A-GPS, A2DP Bluetooth, an accelerometer and a 3.2-megapixel camera plus a VGA quality front-facing camera for video calling.
When it's released the HTC Touch Diamond will be available exclusively through Telstra and will include access to Telstra's range of online content services. We've had a chance to test Foxtel mobile TV on the Diamond, but strangely have only been able to watch the stream in a tiny postage stamp size, not even entering fullscreen mode has helped.
Disappointingly there is no dedicated mapping software to accompany the Diamond's built-in GPS chipset. Similar to the iPhone 3G, Diamond owners can access Web-based mapping services, but without a dedicated navigation solution there seems to be little point in having A-GPS at all.
Also similar to the iPhone, the Touch Diamond is quite a handy portable media player. Making use of Windows Media Player, the Diamond is capable of playing MP4 and WMV video files, and plays a range of unprotected audio formats. The Diamond features 4GB of internal memory for storing media and applications, but as we mentioned above, it doesn't include an SD card reader for expanding this memory.
With a 528MHz Qualcomm processor and 192MB RAM the HTC Touch Diamond is very nearly powerful enough to operate efficiently. Navigating the TouchFlo 3D menu is, for the most part, a pleasing experience, if you're prepared to move your finger patiently over the icons. That said, we did experience frequent lag spikes executing and closing applications, and the review unit we've been using reset itself more than once during testing.
Web browsing using a combination of Telstra's Next G network speeds and the modified Opera Mobile Web browser is fantastic, and on par with browsing using the iPhone's Safari browser. Combining touchscreen finger gestures and the Diamond's jogwheel makes for accurate and fast page scanning, and the Opera browser renders pages excellently at any magnification.
Watching video files or listening to music is great, though the bundled speaker set could stand to be louder. It's also a shame that the bundle headset connects with a non-standard mini-USB connection so you can't use your favourite headphones.
Far worse than any of the issues in our previous criticisms is our concerns over the Touch Diamond's below average battery performance. Unlike recent release smartphones with 1500mAh batteries — BlackBerry Bold and Nokia's E71 — the Diamond only uses a 900mAh unit and the difference is noticeable as by the end of each day of testing the Diamond ran out of juice. Even with light to moderate use of Web browsing and media, the Diamond would struggle to get us to the end of the day.
It's very hard to hate the Diamond, though the frequent lag spikes did test our patience and the touch interface still has a few areas which are difficult to navigate with fingers. In a world obsessed with Apple's iPhone, the Touch Diamond gives us a valiant competitor to consider. The TouchFlo 3D interface is fantastic and with a bit more power under the hood, and a bigger battery, this smartphone would be a winner. It certainly has us looking forward to HTC's next handset.