Up to now practically all Windows Mobile devices are still positioned as High-End, they practically don't cross the boundaries of this narrow price segment according to the OS they use. As things go, devices of the latest generation on the smartphone platform cost about $400-450, on the communicator platform — about $600. Nevertheless, there exists a target audience for cheaper models. The appearance of affordable models, at first spontaneous, always greatly increased the interest to this segment. Users were ready to buy even controversial Siemens SX1 and Nokia 6260 for $250. Mass sell-out of Motorola MPx200 for $160-180 made this model as well as the MS Smartphone platform very popular for a short period of time.
Nokia was the first to feel that the smartphone market was ready for segmentation. This company started to manufacture models for young people, initially intended for the $300-$350 segment. It also prolonged the lifecycle of successful models in order to keep them in the $300 price segment. But the situation in the Windows Mobile segment was different. HTC was practically a monopolist on the market of devices on this platform, as neither Mitac (Mio Technologies) nor Chi Mei or other competitors could maintain the same engineering tempo, production volume, and product quality. Taking advantage of that, the company managed to set the heading for the entire market to high prices for smartphones and communicators for a long time. Models of the previous generations would create a quasi-budget segment from time to time. But HTC's production and logistics policy was quite optimal (unfortunately to "budget" clients) and the supplies of cheap models would quickly run out. As far as we remember, the last such model — HTC Typhoon/Feeler (Qtek 8020) — kept this status for just over six months and then quickly disappeared from the shelves. Other manufacturers periodically tried to design budget smartphones. The best attempt was made by RoverPC with its M1 (Chi Mei product, initially designed as Motorola MPx100), but the lower technological level did not allow this company to compete well with HTC. That M1, for example, demonstrated much lower operating stability than HTC products.
And now HTC decided to form a budget smartphone segment (nearly after two years after Nokia!), striving to increase its market share as well as to fight back new manufacturers and vendors of Windows smartphones, Samsung in the first place. It is sort of a pre-emptive attack, which looks very timely considering.
The company chose quite a simple and obvious way to design its own budget smartphone. It's based on a successful HTC Tornado platform (well known by Riemma/Qtek 8310) without the most expensive components — Wi-Fi and QVGA support, the latter is replaced with a traditional MS Smartphone 176x220 display. The resulting product was redesigned and voila, a new smartphone. This Qtek model was planned to have the 7200 index. But in the light of HTC rebranding, it will get a new name, not yet known at the time this article was written. Right before this article was published, we've received unofficial information that the model would be called HTC S310.
HTC Oxygen is a candybar smartphone of a traditional design and dimensions. Compared to HTC Riemma (Qtek 8310), its dimensions are slightly smaller. In fact, it's currently the smallest Windows smartphone these days. We might have spoken about its absolute leadership in the segment, as Windows devices have always been more compact than Symbian devices, if Nokia hadn't recently launched a smaller model - the 5500. Oxygen is a tad bigger than Nokia 5500, though the difference is not large. This model is small even for a classic handset anyway.
The new product got a utilitarian design and lacks the gloss of top models. As a result, it produces an interesting effect. The surface texture and colors made the model look like… Siemens ME45/ME75. Just one step is left to the new M-series model that we "invented" rather long ago — the case should be more rugged and protected from dust and water. But HTC didn't make this step. Despite the utilitarian and "rugged" exterior, Oxygen is not protected from environment conditions. Geometry of the device features a number of implicit, but still detectable borrowings from old successful handsets of the business class. The plastic is of good quality, it's comparable to that in top smartphones from HTC. As a result, the design of HTC Oxygen produces a nice impression — it's a good day-to-day solution.
The keypad is usual for devices on this platform. The keypad is rather peculiar - it's located at the rounded part of the device, so the entire module is bulging, half-round. Although the smartphone is rather small, the numeric keys are rather large and equally-sized, but at the cost of gaps between them. The buttons are convex to make them easy to distinguish. Moreover, they are slanted backwards (vertically) and the keypad forms peculiar stair-steps. All these measures actually yielded good results — it's convenient to use the keys, minimum mistypes, though it's still difficult to dial blind. What concerns the control buttons, the large Accept and End keys are very good (they are extended to the sides) as well as the 5-way joystick with a distinct profile. Soft keys, and Home and Back buttons are not that good because of their small size and weak profile. But they have no critical drawbacks.
The main problem of the HTC Riemma keypad is that its keys are too easy to press. So if you forget to lock the keypad, you will end with a lot of accidental presses. The same problem partially migrated to Oxygen, but it's not that pronounced here. But you still had better lock the keypad before you put this model into your pocket.
The left side of the device, closer to the top, houses a couple of volume control buttons. A couple of similar buttons are placed symmetrically on the right side, one of them is an On/Off/End button, it's also responsible for calling the system menu. The second button controls the camera. The bottom houses Mini USB. It's barely recognizable because of the asymmetric metallic stripping. But nevertheless, it's a standard thing. Note the lack of a micro-jack for a headset, which has become a standard for all HTC smartphones. We got a sample for reviewers, so we don't know whether it will come with a headset and of what format it will be.
The rear panel contains only the camera lens and a narrow slit next to it for a built-in speaker. The slit is evidently too narrow for high-quality audio. But nevertheless, we have no special gripes with ringtones.
HTC Oxygen is equipped with a TFT 176õ220 display supporting 65 536 colors. To all appearances, it's one of those displays that were used in HTC smartphones before QVGA. Compared to the Qtek 8310 display, this one is smaller (by 20% in height and by 10% in width) and much grainier. But it offers similar brightness, contrast, and saturation, which are on a sufficiently high level. But the viewing angles of the Oxygen display are much smaller. Contrast and color rendition are distorted much, when you look at the display at an angle.
Design of the removable rear panel is not standard for HTC — it covers the entire surface of the device, and is secured with latches at the bottom edge and a button-latch on top. This very design of the casing made the engineers to move the On/Off/End button from the front panel to the side. The lid can be easily removed and demonstrates no noticeable backlash. A battery takes up the standard-sized bay (the battery type is the same as in HTC Riemma). It covers a SIM slot with a swing metal plate and miniSD, which movable pressure bar is also made of metal.
HTC Oxygen is equipped with the TI OMAP 850 processor operating at 195 MHz, it's quite popular in smartphones and communicators. The device comes with 64 MB of system and 64 MB of flash memory. You can use a mini SD card (maximum capacity — 2 GB), the slot for such cards is situated under the battery, which is very inconvenient, if you change cards very often. The smartphone works in GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz standards and supports GPRS Class 10 and EDGE. Wireless interfaces (apart from GSM) include Bluetooth 1.2 and IrDA. Wireline interface — USB with a standard Mini USB jack and an unusual design. The smartphone can charge from USB.
So, this smartphone is based on the good old Tornado platform, which we have already seen in top HTC products of various form factors (Riemma, Star Trek). System electronics is expectedly the same. Unlike the top candybar Riemma (Qtek 8310), this smartphone offers low display resolution and no Wi-Fi. But what concerns the slim clamshell Star Trek (Qtek 8500), the similarity is nearly complete, except for different formats of supported expansion cards.
Configuration differences between top devices and this model look insignificant. Wi-Fi is a rare guest in smartphones so far. Engineers haven't yet accumulated enough experience to judge whether this interface is useful in devices of this class. Theoretically, WLAN certainly gives a smartphone irrefutable advantages — IP telephony and Internet communication (Instant Messaging , e-mail). But these features are not always available in our parts. So, removing this interface is a reasonable sacrifice, which drops the price by $100-150.
HTC Oxygen works under Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphones, like Riemma and Star Trek. Consequently, its user interface and software features are exactly the same as in related candybars.
The basic set of utilities and applets, preinstalled by the manufacturer in this model, is also the same. Like most Qtek smartphones, the new model comes with a "clean" operating system without installed applications, even without ClearVue Suite for working with Microsoft Office and PDF documents — another justified saving point. So if you want to read about the software for HTC Oxygen, you'd better start with the reviews of Qtek 8300/8310.
Software changes in Oxygen are possible as part of the Inlux branding campaign, started by general distributors of Qtek/HTC products in CIS countries. This campaign promotes a new brand - Inlux, which will be given to officially shipped smartphones and communicators from HTC. Buying the Inlux product, a customer gets a hardware (a smartphone or a communicator) and software (additional Inlux programs) bundle, as well as technical support (hotline, service "roaming" in a number of CIS and Baltic countries, etc).
The most noticeable Inlux component for consumers is a software bundle, developed under the Inlux trademark, mostly for using data exchange features and additional services of local operators. The bundle will differ for different device classes and models. Besides, there will be several software levels for each model (sort of Standard Edition and Premium Edition) at different prices.
Software bundle for the Oxygen is not yet defined, but it will most likely include Inlux Weather, which displays weather forecasts on the desktop, updated via GPRS/EDGE. Perhaps, there will be some other programs.
Impressions and Conclusions
HTC Oxygen is little different from other HTC smartphones in usability, Riemma (Qtek 8310) in particular. It demonstrates all advantages of the products from this manufacturer — good average reception quality, stable OS and hardware, good weight/dimensions and ergonomics, acceptable loudness and ringtone quality (MP3, MIDI, WMA), as well as appreciable vibra alert. The most noticeable drawback of Riemma — lots of accidental key presses, so locking the keypad is an absolute must — is graded down a little in the new model, but it's still a nuisance.
We can only welcome Oxygen — it's the first Middle-End Windows-smartphone at a moderate price. It's not determined yet — the manufacturer is interested in the retail price of about $350. Analysts loyal to consumers recommend the price of $270-290. To all appearances, a month after the launch of this model, it will settle down to $320-330. Thus, this model is a direct replacement for the nearly extinct Qtek 8020 (in its current price segment). It will offer three advantages to its users versus its predecessor — a newer OS, better ergonomics, and more casual exterior, as well as … the fact itself of its mass presence on the market, while Qtek 8020 is already extremely rare nowadays. It will soon run out of stock.
Ivan Melnichuk (firstname.lastname@example.org)
August 24, 2006
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