Its upgrade season apparently. And hence I have decided to post about my new HTC Touch Pro 2 with Sprint service that I recently got. Well, it so happened that my Palm Treo Pro was pretty beat up and had stopped working very well –and therefore, I decided to bite the bullet for the second time in my life and get an HTC phone. My first experience wasn’t all that hot – the sliding keyboard was loose and wobbly and the HTC overlay on the awful Windows Mobile OS was full of bugs and apt to crashing.

So it was with some trepidation that I decided to order the Touch Pro 2. The very nice Sprint customer service rep informed me that this was the best business phone they had – so I decided to give in.

So impressions? First the hardware.First, the thing has a wonderful screen. However the screen is very susceptible to getting scratched unlike the iPhone screen (I believe that the iPhone has a glass screen; The TP2’s screen is definitely not glass). Also, the TP2 has a slide out keyboard. If you don’t mind changing the orientation of the phone to type long email on the keyboard – you’ll love it. The keyboard is probably the best on any phone I have used – other than my Blackberry Tour. Its keyboard is expansive, well laid out and the buttons (while they are not as “clickable” as a Blackberry do a nice play built in).

The phone itself is a dual mode CDMA / GSM World Phone – one of the key reasons why I got it. It comes unlocked – so if you are traveling abroad, you should just be able to buy a pre-paid SIM card (which is very big in Europe and Asia) and be able to use low local rates. If you want to maintain your US number, the TP2 comes pre-installed with a Sprint SIM card – you do need to call and get it activated before you travel. But remember, Sprint’s overseas charges will be significantly higher than a local SIM card.

Now the software – the nice thing about HTC Windows Mobile smartphones is that they have a custom UI built on top of Windows Mobile – and it has been getting better with every iteration. The UI (called TouchFlo 3D) is much more responsive, user friendly and stable compared to my prior experience with an earlier version of the software. For the most part, it hides the innate ugliness of Windows Mobile – it is only when you get into a native program like Microsoft Outlook Mobile – do you see Windows Mobile in all its glorious user interface ugliness. The TP2 also comes with something called Straight Talk –which is some intelligent integration of conference calling features into the phone. An example would be when I dial a conference bridge from my calendar, it actually shows the message and the pin (from the meeting invite) for me to type it in. Very useful for business people.

The speaker phone is unbelievable. It is, by far, the best speaker phone I have had on a mobile phone. It actually has dual speakers for noise cancellation. Beyond that it is loud, distortion free and very clear. Additionally, you can place the phone on a table face down, an existing call automatically switches to speaker phone mode. Very interesting and useful for me. The phone is excellent – I have 2 Sprint phones (the other being a Blackberry) but my TP2 reception is always consistently better.

One important thing to note is that the TP2 has a resistive screen (and not capacitive, like the iPhone and the new Android phones from HTC). Not sure why HTC chose this screen – but my assumption is that its because of an Windows 6.1 limitation.

And finally the battery – It definitely could be better. I have gotten about 4 hours on a conference call – but then it was on the verge of dying. I certainly keep it plugged into my laptop all the time when I am on my desk.

Overall, I love the phone. Its no iPhone. But its a solid performer. And yes, it is fairly hefty. Would I recommend it? Yes, if work rules dictate getting a Windows Mobile phone. Else, there are definitely better options available now. Coupled with excellent Sprint network coverage and prices, I think it is a very good buy if you are in the market for a WinMo phone.

Update (1/26): Having used the device now for a few days, thought it would be appropriate to post a few thoughts around my experience of general usability of the HTC Touch Pro 2; in my opinion, this is especially important because most professional reviews are based on first impressions – on hardware received expressly for that purpose.

In using my Touch Pro 2, a number of items came up – ranging from mild to severe irritants. Perhaps the most important of the issues is the following – If your corporate policies dictate setting up an auto-lock ( the phone locks itself after a certain period of inactivity, requiring the inputing of your code), then the HTC TP 2 exhibits this peculiar behavior that if you are on a call with the phone placed against your ear, the moment you take the phone off your ear (for e.g. to type a code to join a conference call or for any other reason), the phone goes back to the home screen. Then to type anything, you have to go back to the phone application and then to the keyboard before you can type anything. (If you put the phone against your ear again to hear a response to your input, you are back to the home screen again). To me that is a DEAL BREAKER! I do a lot of conference calls from the phone and it is a monumental pain going through hoops just to enter a number. I am hoping this is fixed in the new Windows 6.5 update that is expected by the end of February – else, I will give up the phone.

Secondly, I sadly did not realize this till it was too late – but the screen is extremely susceptible to scratching. For a phone whose entire front is essentially nothing but a gigantic screen – this is unacceptable as well. Realize, I take care of my gadgets. To the extent possible, I don’t bang them around. As a user, I would say confidently that I am more careful about my gadgets than most people. So if I can get a screen full of scratches in a month – it isn’t me – its the phone (especially since I also have a BlackBerry Tour for 6 months and there is not a mark on the screen).

That being said, I continue to be impressed by the quality of the radio – the TP2 is a far better phone than my BlackBerry Tour picking up signals in places where the BlackBerry tends to go on roaming.

Update 3/31: So now, I have had the Sprint Windows 6.5 update for about 2 weeks now. I wanted to update this post to provide readers with the real experience that you will be getting with Windows 6.5 on the Sprint Touch Pro 2. (For those still stuck with Windows 6.1, the update can be found here. And as you will see, I very highly recommend it.

First the superficial changes – the firmware upgrade completely transforms the UI experience with Sense 2.5. Now, pretty much all user activities are finger friendly. Windows 6.5 has for e.g. updated the little “X” to close the program – now they are much bigger and don’t necessarily require pointed fingernail pecks. Also, Sense 2.5 looks and performs much better – the lag is almost non-existent and the flow much smoother, has much better social networking integration (think Facebook and Twitter), the home screen now includes weather and a number of quick links. Small changes also make the overall experience better. E.g. The email tab now does not have that random envelope – you can read much more of the email on the preview pane; the clock on the home-screen is much snazzier; the Favorite People is now a grid layout making access easier. Overall, the experience and stability is much, much better. It almost feels like a new phone after the upgrade and I highly recommend it. Also, I would be remiss if I don’t mention the improvements in Windows 6.5 itself. The program icons are not distributed in a honeycomb pattern making access easier in my mind. Also, the Program Close “X” as mentioned before are bigger, social networking is better integrated and makes the OS have a much more polished look compared to its old aging cousin 6.1.

And the firmware upgrade is free. It installs flawlessly; I don’t see any reason not to upgrade at all.