I wrote, some time ago, about the search for the perfect smartphone. Although I didn’t write about it at the time, the HTC Trinity seemed to fill that role perfectly. Sure, I had to get it from overseas, but it was a quad-band phone, right? GPS? Check. 3G? Check. Wi-Fi? Check. Unlocked? Check. True, no FM tuner, but that was no loss, and while it didn’t have anything that slid or flipped, the single-piece construction gave it a feeling of durability that its runner up missed. Perfect, right?
Turns out it doesn’t work with AT&T’s EDGE service. GPRS and 3G were great, but EDGE was zero, zip, nothing. Not a big deal in Detroit, but in LA it was like trying to get service on the Moon. I toughed it out until after CES and MacWorld, but with Android and OpenMoko still a gleam in some Linux geek’s eye and the iPhone stuck with out 3G, GPS access or third-party apps, I figured now was a good time.
Meet the AT&T Tilt, a.k.a. the HTC TyTN II or Kaiser. It’s essentially the Oxford-educated younger brother of the Trinity. The same feature-set I mentioned above, combined with a slide-out keyboard and shamelessly good reception by comparison. This phone, however, is more than just a texting-friendly version: HTC has refined the details a bit as well. For example, the unit ships with a screen protector that fills the full screen width, and music applications don’t stop playing when the screen is turned off.
The tilt isn’t without its issues though. At almost seven grams it’s a beast in your pocket, and the slide-out-and-tilt mechanism feels ready to snap at any minute. The Tilt also stores your SIM card on the back edge of screen–visible when open–which makes SIM theft a very real danger.
The holy grail. Finally. With a flurry of supporting apps, you can view, manage, and track geocaches.
In addition to the phone, I also have an earbud-style wired headset which is both louder and more clear than the on-ear bluetooth headsets I’ve tried. I also picked up a car charger, as TomTom Navigator is a major battery hog. These accessories were all targeted to the Trinity, but since HTC uses a USB-compatible plug, they work fine in the Tilt as well.
The real victor was the 8GB MicroSD card. iPhone hard drive, eat your heart out.
Software & Mods
Windows Mobile is probably the largest cash sink I’ve encountered in a while. There tons of applications for it, but the good ones are rarely free or open-source. It’s $10 - $30 a pop for every little bit of functionality. A few I’ve found worthwhile:
- GPS Tuner
- A haus of a GPS application, it’s excellent for foot navigation (trails and geocaching), and can download Google Maps data in order to help you set your bearings. It’s not great for driving, though, as the maps don’t adjust in real time.
- TomTom Navigator 6
- I couldn’t have apartment hunted in L.A. over a single weekend without this app, nor could I have made it across the country without getting lost.
- SPB Time
- WinMo’s clock interface is terrible. Alarms difficult to create, time zones are hard to change, and the display is simply ugly. SPB Time has a full-screen analog clock (although not this cool). It also lets me pre-set timers for green, black and herbal tea.
- Vidya ScreenCapture
- There’s actually a bunch of screen capturing utilities, one of them free. This one lets you specify the save location and map the functionality to a hardware button. Plus it’s captures are actual double the size of the screen, or easier cropping. Strangely, their Web site, vidyasmart.com, became one of those sleazy parked sites a week after I purchased it.
- Opera Mobile
- I’ve got a demo version right now, and I’m unsure if I’m going to buy it. It’s got more features than Internet Explorer, but IE is the only mobile phone browser it’s possible to play Travian on. Opera might be a nice back-up, as none of the browsers I’ve tried get every situation right.
- Pocket Music
- Also demoing. With that 8GB of memory, I really resent AudibleAir demanding I download only low-quality versions of their audiobooks. PocketMusic brags about being able to play Audible files, and if I can get it to work I’ll be able to sync the phone just like my iPods and not have to worry about Audible’s second-rate software.
There is some freeware available as well.
- Google Maps
- When you’re just looking up something quick, or need to grab an address or phone number, the Google maps application is great. Since it tracks your position with GPS as well, this can suffice as a poor-man’s TomTom, although it’s better as a compliment than a replacement.
- GPX Sonar
- This tiny app is a geocacher’s dream. It allows you to view a geocache’s information page from the downloaded GPX file, create field notes and manage travel bugs. It’s not perfect, but the price is right. The original site is no longer available, and the current download page is in German.
- The Tilt comes loaded with a ton of AT&T shovelware, and a hardware button that launches a screen saying simply, “Push To Talk charges will apply, do you wish to continue?” No, thanks. AT&T’s configuration does not let you re-route this button to another feature as you can the other hardware buttons. This script was developed buy the good folks at XDA-Developers, and let’s you reprogram the button without doing your own registry hacks.
- The Wi-Fi Positioning included in the maps feature doesn’t count. Although I haven’t played with it, it seems like it would be pretty clueless where you’d need GPS most–the middle of nowhere. ↩
- With the Tilt’s AD2P support, I’d love to get a bluetooth stereo headset for it, but the major flaw I’m seeing with bluetooth is the need to constantly re-pair whenever you want to switch devices. I wouldn’t chip for this without being able to switch devices on-the-fly.↩
- Only once did TomTom fail me. On the way to Zion National Park, TomTom suggested it take a scenic route along the back of a farm and down a two-track that ran up (quite literally, up) the side of a mountain. ↩
- XDA Developers is a true hacker community. Not one of those 1980’s hollywood depictions, either. These developers explore, disassemble and otherwise make full use of the hardware they have purchased. They take a very strong stance, however, against warez, and greatly respect software developers.