Verizon HTC Imagio Review

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The HTC Imagio is so far the best Windows phone released for the North American market. In fact, if the HTC Touch HD were to hop on a plane, fly across the Atlantic, and in the process transform itself to get a radio compliant with US 3G bands, it would arrive as the stunning HTC Imagio on Verizon Wireless’ large 3G network. The Imagio does include some nice features that its European counterpart doesn’t, including a Windows Mobile 6.5 experience out of the box, mobile television based on Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology, a nice kickstand for comfortable viewing, and a sleek design that is both understated and glamorous.

In fact, the only thing that the Imagio lacks is a capacitive touchscreen, which HTC will be bringing to a future model called the HTC HD2–that won’t arrive on US shores until early 2010 and probably only in GSM flavor as far as rumors go at this time. In the meantime, this is the handset to get if you’re not looking for a slide out keyboard like the Touch Pro2. As such, it is awarded the Chuong’s Pick Editor’s Choice award for 2009 in design and performance, bringing the best features of the tablet form factor that the slate HTC Pure offers and marrying it with the technological HTC innovation that comes with the larger Touch Pro2.

Read on for our full review of the HTC Imagio.

Chuong’s Picks is a series that features electronics, gadgets, and gears that I have used and selected due to the product’s balance between performance and value, form and function. Essentially, it is my personal “Editor’s Choice” and recommendation to you to hopefully help the beginning gadgetphile pick from among the best products in a category without having to spend too much money or time researching a group of products.

Hardware:

size


Device size comparisons

The HTC Imagio is a well-built design that takes its form as a tablet. Like the iPhone, the device feels really nice in the hands with its beveled back edges, giving it the illusion that its slimmer when held. Unlike the iPhone, however, the HTC Imagio comes with a removable 1500 mAh battery–the same variety that’s found in the HTC Touch Pro2 and HTC Hero–that will give you plenty of charge to last through a day of heavy use. However, despite the user-replaceable battery, there is no creak or flex when the battery door is pressed, which is quite the engineering feat for the Imagio–the comparable US Diamond2 variant, the Pure, on AT&T’s network has a bit of flex and creaking noise when the back is pressed.

img


HTC Imagio front

To remove the battery door, you actually have to dig your nails onto a notch found at the top edge and pry the battery door open. Don’t worry about feeling like you’re going to break the device in the process–the door is really that hard to remove–as you’ll probably end up breaking a nail before you’re actually able to remove the door.

notch


Pry on the notch at the top center of the device to remove the battery door

Once the door is removed, you’ll have access to the micro SD card on the side, which can hold cards up to 32 GB although the maximum capacity on the market at this time is 16 GB, a reset hole, and removing the battery will give users access to the SIM card, which means that the Imagio is a world phone for globe-trotters.

back1


Backside of the device with glossy and matte finishes

The back cover of the device is actually dual-tone. About a third of it is glossy black, attracting finger prints, and the bottom two third is a matte, soft finished black finish.

Also on the back side, there is a speaker grill, a kick stand, and a five-megapixel auto-focus camera.

stand


Imagio on its kickstand antenna; when on the kickstand,

the device’s tilt viewing angle is comparable to the HTC Touch Pro2.

The device is relatively clean and minimalist. On the front side, you get a textured, perforated mesh that’s like a honeycomb that surrounds the entire front face, giving it a cool look like a sports car. The front is engulfed by a massive 3.6-inch WVGA resistive touchscreen, which is of the same size and resolution as that on the Touch Pro2. Below the touchscreen, there is a zoom slider bar with hash marks, also like the Touch Pro2, Diamond2, and Pure.

Below that, you have a row of five buttons–Call Send, V-Cast TV, Windows Start Button, Back, and Call End.

buttons


Buttons on the HTC Imagio

The sides are clean. There are no buttons on the left side, save for a small opening for a non-collapsible stylus on the bottom left side. There are also no buttons on the top. The right side has discrete volume up and down buttons.

volume


Volume controls on the device’s slim profile

The bottom of the device, like the CDMA versions of the Touch Pro2, has a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a proprietary mini USB plug.

Although the device has an accelerometer for auto-rotation, many programs will only work in portrait mode. When in the browser–either Internet Explorer Mobile or Opera Mobile–and a number of third-party applications, auto-rotation is enabled. However, on the Windows Mobile 6.5 lock screen and the TouchFLO 3D today screen, the Imagio will operate solely in portrait mode, which is quite a shame as the kick stand can make this a great digital clock from the main TF3D home screen.

Another feature that the Imagio borrowed from the Touch Pro2 is the speakerphone function. Although the Imagio has 1 speaker and 1 microphone compared to the latter’s two speakers and stereo microphone, placing the device on its screen will automatically activate the speakerphone function. Your calls are clear and clean, though not as rich as the Touch Pro2’s Straight Talk speakerphone conference calling feature. It also has a proximity sensor so that the screen automatically turns off when you place the phone close to your face.

Pressing and holding the Call End button will also bring up a screen asking whether you want to completely power down the device, lock the screen, turn the screen off, or quickly set the device into vibrate mode before entering a class or meeting.



Another size comparison

Software:

The HTC Imagio comes with the “HTC experience” to simplify the process of using Windows Mobile. This Windows phone comes pre-loaded with a version of HTC that asks you customize and set up the device upon initial use. When you first power on the device, a welcome wizard will guide you through setting up your email, using visual voicemail (which is available with an added monthly subscription), establishing Bluetooth connections, configuring WiFi access points, setting your ringtones, establishing your home location for weather-based information, and customizing your TouchFLO 3D tabs.



A welcome wizard acquaints users with their device and simplifies the process of setting up this particular Windows phone; the wizard runs on initial start up and will continue to appear on subsequent resets unless you’ve finished configuring it or tell it not to appear again for power users. For novices, this is a great way to take the guess work out of setting up Bluetooth and WiFi connections and begin using email.

The HTC Imagio comes pre-loaded with a version of HTC’s TouchFLO 3D interface that is capable of detecting location for location-based services. As such, the main home screen of TouchFLO 3D with the clock can also show weather, which is based on location.



The weather was detected using the device’s GPS; here the

weather is shown for San Diego, CA at the CTIA show in the Fall

To use the GPS and location-based settings, you can enable that in the Settings menu of TouchFLO 3D.



You can enable location-based settings so that the weather

location will change automatically and update as you travel.

Once you enable location-based settings, you’ll notice a little GPS sign on the location-based weather panel in TouchFLO 3D.



Location-based services will use Google Location information;

you must accept the terms and conditions to Google’s services when

using location settings.



The weather was detected using the device’s GPS; here the

weather is shown for San Diego, CA at the CTIA show in the Fall

TouchFLO 3D–which we have reviewed in other walk-throughs previously, can also display favorites (contact information), stocks, bookmarks for Internet pages–which are linked by Opera Mobile 9.5, and email.



You can select frequently called contacts as favorites to

navigate through them quicker in the favorite contacts tab on TouchFLO 3D



The Internet tab on TouchFLO 3D will allow users to quickly

open Opera Mobile. Additionally, users can type in an Internet search

word or phrase directly from within TF3D without opening the browser

first, or launch a bookmarked site.



You can also flick through email by swiping down. More

than one email account can be defined in the ToufhFLO 3D email tab.



The weather tab can display weather for five days, giving

you weather forecast for the work week.



The stocks tab will give you information about the market for

that day; you can customize the tab by adding your own stocks to

manage and monitor



Tapping on a particular stock within the stocks tab will

give you additional information about the stock, including charts.



The weather was detected using the device’s GPS; here the

weather is shown for San Diego, CA at the CTIA show in the Fall

If users decide to go with TouchFLO 3D, hitting the on-screen Start menu (upper left corner of the screen) or the Windows Flag hardware key will give them a favorites grid with 30 favorite programs shortcuts. Some of the shortcuts are pre-configured and you can delete and add more applications and programs at your will as this menu is highly customizable. Hitting the left soft key on the screen will give you a TouchFLO 3D programs menu, which will display all of your programs and applications in a full list. Unfortunately, with TouchFLO 3D enabled, you won’t get the classic Windows Mobile 6.5 honeycomb Start Menu or Programs Menu.



The TouchFLO 3D Programs Menu lists all your programs in

a list view rather than the honeycomb look of the default Windows

Mobile 6.5 Start Menu

If TouchFLO 3D isn’t your thing, you can go to the Setting menu, then go to “All Settings” and tap on “Personal” and go into “Today” to uncheck TF3D and enable the default Windows Mobile 6.5 look, which will give you the Zune-like panels interface on your Today screen and the honeycomb look of your Programs menu.



The “classic” Windows Mobile 6.5 Today screen can be

re-enabled in the Settings menu; you’ll have to choose between

TouchFLO 3D or the Windows Mobile 6.5 look.



By choosing the Windows Mobile 6.5 look, you also get

back the honeycomb Start Menu or Programs Menu rather than the

TouchFLO 3D list view of your applications; it’s really a

matter of personal preference.

Verizon Wireless also includes a Visual Voicemail application in the HTC Imagio. Unfortunately, the service requires a nominal monthly subscription fee tacked on to your wireless bill. However, the cool part about Visual Voicemail is that you can check messages, compose new messages, and listen to only the messages you want to hear and in the order that you want to hear them all without having to actually waste your airtime minutes and call into your voicemail box.



There are many options inside Visual Voicemail; it’s not

just about listening to your messages.



In fact, you can even compose a voicemail message

inside Visual Voicemail and send it to a recipient without even

having to dial them! It works by using your Windows phone’s

audio recorder, recording the message, and having the system ping

your recipient’s number and deliver the message. No voice calls, no

dialing, and no outgoing messages need to be heard for

you to send a voicemail.



When you get a voicemail message, Visual Voicemail will

display an on-screen notification.



You do need network connectivity and a data connection to

have access to your visual voicemails. The Visual Voicemail application

will use your data connection to download the voicemail recordings.

And since the Imagio is a world phone, you can have set up the phone to auto-detect or use only the GSM bands when overseas. Be sure to check with Verizon Wireless to inquire about voice and data roaming charges or else your trip will end up costing you an arm, a leg, and maybe another limb in roaming charges.



You can access the world phone capabilities through the Phone Settings.

Speaking of phone, you also get a cool location-based application (subscription required, though a 15-day trial is included) on the device. The application is called City ID and will display the city and state of the caller so you can narrow down who is calling you. Unfortunately, it won’t display where the caller is at the time of the call. For instance, if I have a California number and am presently in New York and calling my friend’s Imagio number in Florida, his Florida Imagio will display my location as being from Los Angeles, California rather than from New York.



CityID will also allow you to manually look

up the location of a specific caller



When a call comes in, the notification will display the caller’s

name and/or number as well as the location based on City ID’s reporting

For multimedia features, you have a number of Verizon-based services, some are subscription and some are on-demand. We won’t cover them all in this review, but just to give you an idea, you can subscribe–for $15 per month–to Verizon Wireless V-Cast TV, which will play a select number of television shows over Qualcomm’s MediaFLO streaming technology so that it doesn’t eat up your data plan.



V-Cast TV will also give you a programming guide to

replicate your at-home cable or satellite television service.

And the YouTube video below compares how the V-Cast service is in relationship to the popular SlingMedia Sling Player with Slingbox. Unlike Slingbox, there is no up-front hardware cost other than your smartphone. Also, unlike Slingbox, you do have a monthly subscription cost.

You also have access to the Verizon Wireless V-Cast Rhapsody music store for on-demand music downloads. You can preview tunes and purchase them over the air on your HTC Imagio. Billing is done through your phone bill.



Each song costs $1.99 to download, which is a price

premium over competing services like iTunes on the AT&T Apple iPhone

or the Amazon Music Store on Sprint’s handsets.

There is also an FM radio built into the device; you do need to plug in headphones to use the FM service.



You need earphones to use the FM radio. You can plug in

standard 3.5 mm headphones and don’t need to use the

proprietary mini USB audio out.

Mobile IM applications are also included with the device.



You can log into services from AIM (AOL), MSN/Live Messenger,

and Yahoo! Messenger; if you prefer other applications for

instant messaging, you may try Marketplace for Mobile,

which is also pre-loaded on the device.

Since the Verizon Wireless Imagio has GPS, it also comes with Verizon Navigator. The VZ Navigator service isn’t as elegant and nice as the more widely used TeleNav service but it does provide directions pretty seamlessly. Maps are downloaded over the air and are always up to date; no local storage of maps are needed.



VZ Nagivator works fine and downloads routes and maps

over the air so nothing is stored locally.



You can also search points of interests



There is a major flaw with the user interface (UI) of VZ Navigator.

From the previous screenshot to this one above, you have to

minimize or hide the keyboard to hit the red “NAV” button at the

bottom center. The keyboard hides this button and hitting “Enter”

on the keyboard doesn’t give you the NAV option either. This is clunky.



VZ Navigator is not the most elegant of solutions, but it does work.

When using other navigation applications like TomTom, I did find that there is some GPS lag where TomTom shows me four blocks behind where I should be. This issue was also noticed on the CDMA versions of the Touch Pro2, but not on my GSM Touch Pro2 on T-Mobile.

The camera is a highlight of the device. It comes in at 5-megapixels, which is higher resolution than the 3-megapixels found on the Touch Pro2. In addition, on the Imagio, you can select the focus area on where you want the camera to focus. There is a cross-hair icon on the screen. Tapping on a different area on the screen moves that cross-hair focus indicator to that particular screen area, bringing the focus to that area in your shot.



You can change the focus area by tapping anywhere on the

screen before hitting the shutter button on the bottom center of the

screen to capture the image.

You also get a number of controls and options in camera. The downside is that the camera can be somewhat slow in focusing and taking a picture. However, you can also shoot videos.



There are a number of options available for the camera. You

can play around with the settings to tweak the options for the best shot.



Image quality is decent but not the best.

For productivity options, the device comes with the pre-requisite Office Mobile Suite. You also have some standard games to pass the time away in between Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Microsoft and HTC wants you to balance work and play with your Windows phone.



For work



For play

You also get an HTC-made YouTube player. As our friend on Twitter, Mr. Hi-Definition, pointed out, the HTC application for YouTube on Windows Mobile and HTC Android devices allows you to set the streaming quality so you can get high quality video streaming. Beware, as this does eat into your data plan.



You can set streaming video quality in HTC’s YouTube application.

When you need more applications to keep you busy, you can also head into Microsoft’s Marketplace for Mobile to download and try other applications.



Marketplace for Mobile allows you to shop

conveniently for more applications.

Other applications include Voice Command, which can be accessed by a long-press of the Call Send key.



Voice Command and a hearing aid compliant

setting option are included

For a look at Voice Command, check out our video comparing Microsoft Voice Command with Microsoft Tell Me, another voice control application designed by a Microsoft subsidiary.

HTC also skinned a number of applications to hide the Windows Mobile look. Although Microsoft updated the Today Screen, Lock Screen, and Start Menu on Windows Mobile 6.5, they didn’t update the look of core applications such as Calendar, Contacts, and others. HTC did a nice cover up of some of the major ones. You can see the Windows Mobile 6.5 Programs Menu on the HTC Pure on the video below to see which applications remain the same and which got updated with 6.5:

Performance:

The HTC Imagio feels like a zippy device and is nicely optimized for Windows Mobile 6.5. For additional specs on the HTC Imagio, you can head on over to PDAdb.net to get the scoop. In fact, there was little slow down with the 288 MB RAM and the 512 MB of ROM is capable of quite a number of Marketplace for Mobile applications download. You’ll want to equip the device with a storage card if you want to play tunes or watch videos on the device’s large display.

The only hiccup that I noticed is that in my unit, Opera Mobile seems to run out of memory–even after a fresh, hard reset–on complex sites like pocketnow.com. Internet Explorer Mobile didn’t fare much better either.



Out of memory error when Opera Mobile tries

to load complex sites like pocketnow.com

Other than that little annoying glitch, the device never really slowed down and reseting the device isn’t necessary.

Conclusion:

The HTC Imagio, for those who prefer the thin, tablet form factor of this Windows phone, offers exceptional value in both hardware and software. On the hardware front, you have a proximity sensor, light sensor, accelerometer, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, CDMA/EVDO radios, GSM/HSPA radios for global roaming, mobile TV antenna, and one of the best resistive touchscreens that I have used. On the software side, the improvements brought by Microsoft in Windows Mobile 6.5 combined with HTC’s TouchFLO 3D optimizations make this a truly customizable, finger-friendly, and useable devices. Power users will be able to enjoy Windows Mobile’s high degree of extensibility while novice users will appreciate the glamor that TouchFLO 3D offers. The only weakness is that add-ons such as visual voicemail, mobile TV, and VZ Navigator, all require additional subscription services. However, the winning, solidly built hardware coupled with the great software and UI customizations earn this device a Chuong’s Pick Editor’s Choice title.

Pros:

-Conference call feature when the phone is turned over

-Beautiful, sturdy design

-Kickstand for comfortable desk viewing

-Mobile TV for those who need on-the-go entertainment

-Large, responsive touchscreen

-Finger-friendly UI

-Location-based service

-WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS

-World phone: CDMA/EVDO and GSM/EDGE/HSPA

-Accelerometer, light sensor, proximity sensor

Cons:

-Subscription services can add up

-GPS lags with other third-party navigation software

-No hardware keyboard (for some people)

-Juggling the End key for its multi-function presses can be confusing at times.

-Not enough hardware/navigation buttons

Final Verict:

My rating of this device comes in at 4.5 out of 5 stars. The device also earns itself honors as a Chuong’s Pick Editor’s Choice device for a Windows Mobile 6.5 US release.

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen