HTC Dream – a powerful iPhone contender

Google wants you to use its services on your phone so much that it is giving away the Android operating system (OS).

Any hardware manufacturer who wants to can adopt the Google OS by joining up with the Open Handset Alliance.

Acer is the latest hardware vendor to do that, and other members of the Alliance include LG Electronics Inc, Sony Ericsson, Samsung Electronics and Motorola, Inc.

HTC is the member with the first entry into the Canadian market. They’ve taken the Android platform and even layered other features on top of it, adding Microsoft’s ActiveSync Exchange functionality to the device.

Google’s approach is intriguing , enticing many hardware vendors to adopt the OS and in theory, lowering the cost of the handset for consumers.

ITBusiness.ca had the opportunity to review the HTC Dream phone from Rogers Wireless. The Dream features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard (while the HTC Magic phone is touch screen only).

First, the specs, then we’ll tell you what it’s like to use the HTC Dream, which is a serious contender to the iPhone.

Specs

The Dream runs on the Rogers GSM network with 3G connectivity. It has a 528 MHz processor and 192MB of RAM. The device supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, has a GPS locator and digital compass. The touch screen is 3.2 inches, with a 320×480 resolution.

Keyboard

The keyboard is one of the winning features of the HTC Dream. It is one of the largest QWERTY keyboards I’ve seen on a smartphone, thanks to its slide-out design.

They keys have plenty of space between them, so it’s harder to strike an incorrect key. Though they are flat, due to the sliding mechanism, the keys are raised enough to enable your thumbs easily find each key.

A couple of nice perks are a dedicated period button, and @ button. It makes typing e-mails that much easier. The “menu” key brings up an options menu.

The slider mechanism feels solid, and is easy to move back and forth.

The Dream makes typing a pleasure. I wouldn’t think twice about whipping out my device to fire off an e-mail, text message, or tweet.

User Interface

The touch screen on the Dream is very responsive and fun to use.

One of the most useful OS features s the taskbar that runs along the top of the device. For those multi-tasking, this taskbar can be used to switch back and forth between different programs with ease. It can be viewed by dragging your finger down slightly from the top of the screen.

Google’s Android OS is designed to drive more traffic to the Web, and more specifically to Google’s services. That is apparent with the large Google Search bar that sits atop the home screen.

Users can customize the home screen with widgets that display the weather, the date, or a picture among other things. You can also drag an application short cut out to your home screen for quick access.

To access the applications, you use your finger to drag a tab at the bottom of the home screen upwards.

Hiding the keys under the slider can be a bit of a hindrance at times. There’s no soft keyboard for when you just want to quickly type in a few characters to bring up a contact’s name or do a search.

But the Contacts feature syncs perfectly with your Google contacts. If you use Microsoft Outlook to organize your contacts, you can export a text-based CSV file and then import those contacts into Google. A “favourites” tab is handy to quickly access the people you call most often.

BlackBerry users may find themselves relying on the hard keys at the bottom of the phone. The trackball can be used to adequately navigate and select applications. There is even an escape key, and a Call button, and an end button. A Home button takes you out of any app and back to the start screen.

Web browsing

Google Android is an excellent smartphone browser that’s both fast and easy to use. It properly rendered both full and mobile sites for my surfing needs.

One of the best features is a magnifying glass tool available when viewing a site in full page mode. A small rectangle magnifies the text so you can see what part of the page you want to zoom in and take a closer look at. It is controlled by moving your finger around the screen.

Pressing the Menu button brings up options to view bookmarks, type in a URL, share what you’re viewing, open up a new window and more. It is a surprisingly full-featured browser.

You can zoom in and out of a Web site with the magnifying glass icons at the bottom of the screen. Or another button pulls you back for a full-page view.

The browser looks good in both landscape and portrait mode on the phone. But you’ll probably keep it in landscape mode with the slider out, ready to type in URLs and search queries.

Like Google’s Chrome browser, search and specific addresses are entered into the same text bar.

Communications

Call quality is great on Rogers Wireless 3G network. Although sometimes with 3G phones, I notice they actually get worse reception in certain areas. For example, my 2G phone works well in my basement, but the HTC Dream couldn’t pick up any signal. I’ve seen this happen with other 3G phones too.

E-mail is easy to use, especially if you have a Gmail account. HTC has also added ActiveSync Exchange support to this phone, so IT admins will be able to support the device when used for office e-mail.

A messaging application on the phone offers an easy way to send, receive and read text messages. Conversations are displayed as threads that give context to each to new message you receive.

One feature missing is a unified Inbox. Users will find themselves going through several different applications to read up on all their messages – text messages, Gmail, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It makes communicating a tad more tedious than it should be.

Applications

The Dream comes loaded up with all the Android apps you’ll need to be entertained, communicate and get some work done.

Quickoffice allows you to read and edit Microsoft Office documents. Adobe Reader enables you to review and collaborate with PDF files.

There’s a decent app for listening to music, and the YouTube integration on the phone is quite good, supported by a built-in app.

But Android’s real app strength comes from the open source Android Market, opening up a window to thousands of applications for free download. It may not have the vast amount of apps available for iPhone, but quantity isn’t necessarily a huge boon.

You’ll find apps for using your social networks here, a bevy of fun games, and a wide array of productivity tools. There are some great utilities that tie into the phone’s GPS and digital compass capabilities – such as Google Sky Map for example, which allows you to point your phone at a particular part of the night sky and then see what constellations you’re viewing.

Conclusion

The HTC Dream is a great all-around device that offers both fun and productivity. It is speedy and easy to use, while being small and light enough to carry around in your pocket.

The Android Market offers the most promise for the future of this device and the Android platform in general. It may never catch up to the iPhone in the quantity of apps it offers to users, but the open source nature of the developer eco-system could mean that it offers similar productivity at a lesser price.

HTC made the right move to include Exchange functionality, making this phone a viable option for business users.

I couldn’t imagine using this phone without the slide-out QWERTY keyboard now that I’ve experienced it.. But some consumers may prefer the sleeker, soft-touch keyboard Magic phone.

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