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Summary:

Sprint’s HTC Arrive is the first, and currently only, Windows Phone 7 smartphone on the network. Even though that leaves consumers little choice if they want a Microsoft-powered handset, there’s much to like in the Arrive, provided you don’t mind using a still maturing mobile platform.

htc-arrive-featured

Sprint customers wanting to try Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 smartphone platform couldn’t do so when the handsets debuted last November. But now, thanks to a software update from Microsoft, Sprint’s network is supported and the Sprint HTC Arrive is available for $199 with new 2-year contract.

The handset’s main differentiating factor is also one of its best: The device combines a capacitive touchscreen with a five-row sliding keyboard that’s effective for tapping out text. But the landscape nature of the keypad also exhibits a key challenge for Microsoft’s new platform.

I’ve spent the last few weeks using an Arrive review unit in my smartphone rotation and in some ways find the device better than the HTC HD7, a Windows Phone 7 handset I bought on eBay and use with a GSM network.

Hardware Is Solid But Bulky

HTC is known for making high quality handsets, and the Arrive is no exception. The touchscreen works well and is bright enough for most, although I personally prefer screens that are larger than the 3.6-inch size (measured diagonally), used on the Arrive. That’s only 0.1-inches larger than the Apple iPhone, for example, but there’s a benefit to this as well. The pixel density of the HTC Arrive is a relatively high 259 pixels per inch, making for vivid screen images.

The three capacitive buttons below the screen — a Windows Phone 7 standard — work well, as do the dual speakers above and below the display. Watching a Netflix movie without headphones, for example, was a nice experience. The volume buttons and power button are fairly flush with the device, likely because the phone is a bit chunky to begin with. Put another way: There are few phones you could place next to the Arrive that are thicker in appearance or weigh more than the 6.5 ounces at which Arrive tips the scales. That’s not a problem, but something to keep in mind in this age of “thinner is better” handsets. See the image gallery for a thickness comparison between the HTC Arrive and two other HTC handsets: the HD7 and Nexus One. Of course, the main reason for the bulk is the hardware keyboard, and it’s a good one.

The Arrive hides its keyboard under the screen until needed, and of course, you can always use the on-screen keyboard native to Windows Phone 7, which is an outstanding software utility. You get the best of both worlds, because the Arrive’s five-row QWERTY is also excellent for text entry. It’s backlit as needed, well-sized and spaced for most hands and comes with a dedicated emoticon button. (It’s the little things in life that make me happy!)

Also appealing is the dedicated camera button which fires up the camera application and is used as a shutter release. Unlike the other buttons, this one extends out from the camera just enough; it’s a shame HTC didn’t opt for the same with the flush power button, which I think is difficult to find by touch alone. Back to the camera for a second: It takes reasonably good pictures, but I found that when recording video, the auto-focus often takes a second to adjust.

Another questionable design choice is the battery cover. The screen sliding mechanism sits atop the cover release, so you can’t get at the battery without sliding the screen up. It took me a minute or two to find the little notch for the cover since the screen hides it (as you can see in the image gallery). Luckily, most people won’t have need of a spare battery, as the Arrive uses a meaty 1500 mAh power pack. That battery capacity, in conjunction with a smaller display, got me through full days most of the time, something I can’t say about my HD7 with its smaller battery and larger screen.

Software Is Better, but Still Needs Work

I got my first look at the Windows Phone 7 platform when I reviewed the HD7 last November. At the time, I said the software showed potential. Between then and now, very little has changed. To be fair, the Arrive does have the first update from Microsoft, codenamed “NoDo,” already installed. However, it adds very little in the way of new functionality. The most visible change is the addition of cut-and-paste support, which does work very well.

Tapping text brings up a pair of adjustable brackets for highlighting text. Once the proper words are chosen, another tap saves the text into memory where it waits until you hit a text field and can be inserted. The Marketplace, Microsoft’s app store for Windows Phone 7, gains a slightly improved filtering mechanism, and Microsoft says apps open faster due to the NoDo update as well, although I don’t see much difference. Essentially, the update is very incremental and many challenges still remain in the platform.

The most notable issue I had with Windows Phone 7 on the Arrive is the software design, which is best suited for devices in portrait orientation. The best example is the home screen (as well as the application menu) as viewed on the Arrive when sliding the screen up and using the device in landscape mode: The software stays in portrait mode, so you’re reading it sideways.
 

To be fair, once you’re in an application on the Arrive, the problem sorts itself out; at least until you hit the home button, that is. It’s just an example of the missing “fit and finish” of Microsoft’s platform. Aside from the new NoDo features, there’s little new on the software side of the house, although there are many more applications available now. Microsoft says it recently passed 11,500 software titles for its smartphone platform. And the features that Windows Phone 7 does offer generally work well. Email is excellent; Xbox Live integration is fun; and shooting camera images into the cloud via Windows Live SkyDrive is effective.

Conclusion

Those looking for a fresh new interface for their smartphone who don’t mind a still maturing platform would do well with a Windows Phone 7 device like the HTC Arrive. And since Sprint only offers this one handset for Microsoft’s platform at the moment, Sprint customers have little choice. But that’s OK, because the phone offers a solid experience, good battery life and a stellar keyboard for those that prefer it. Voice quality is great too — did I mention this is a phone? — and I had no dropped calls or slow web browsing speeds on Sprint’s network in my area. While there isn’t another Windows Phone 7 choice for Sprint yet, this first option is compelling for anyone looking to use Microsoft’s smartphone platform.

  1. So many releases from HTC, now its really confusing, which mobile to buy?
    This one looks like a laptop (mini!)
    closely looks like Motorola Cliq 2 as shown in this site : http://t.co/9mcftTm

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    1. Agreed: HTC creates so many phones, although many are similar. One key difference here though is that the device runs Windows Phone 7, not Android like the Cliq 2. Choice of OS / app ecosystem is a big differentiator, even when the phones look similar. ;)

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