HTC Dream: hands-on with the Google Android-based phone

We begin our testing of the HTC Dream smartphone.

The HTC Dream

The HTC Dream

Following the Australian launch of the Android-based HTC Dream mobile phone, we were lucky enough to get our hands on a review unit of this long-awaited device this morning.

You are probably already waiting for the question: is this better than the iPhone? Well, having only had a few hours to play with it, we can't provide that answer yet. We can, however, give you our initial impressions of the Dream — and the good news is, they are largely positive.

The Dream looks and feels much better when it is in your hands than it does on any of HTC's promotional images. Although it is not as stylish or sleek as the iPhone, the Dream is not as chunky or bland-looking as we initially thought it would be. The soft, matte black finish gives a look of sophistication and although it is quite large, you have to consider that it packs in a full slide-open QWERTY keyboard.

One thing we definitely do not like is the angled bottom of the handset, which houses the controls and trackball. Although it brings the microphone closer to your mouth when you hold the handset to your ear, it interferes with your right hand while typing. The keyboard is excellent; however, its design means makes it almost impossible to type one-handed. There is also no on-screen keyboard, so you have to flip open the screen each time you need enter text. Pleasingly, this will be corrected in the near future by way of Android's "Cupcake" software update.

The touch-screen interface is responsive and the home screen is eye-catching and well designed. The graphics are rather cartoon-like — this may not be everyone's cup of tea. Strangely, the home screen is limited to three panels and you can't customise your own widgets — yet. You can however move any icon from the main menu onto the home screen, simply by pressing and dragging it.

Perhaps the best part of the interface is the notification and status bar. On the right you get a clock, and the regular icons like battery meter, reception indicator and connectivity status such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. On the left, you get notification icons for most applications including new e-mails and SMS alerts, voicemails and calendar reminders. But the best part is tapping the status bar and dragging it downwards to reveal a full screen of your latest notifications. These remain here with full details until you clear them. This drop down screen is available wherever you see the status bar. We've only played with the handset for a few hours, but already that’s enough to declare it by far the best notification system we've seen on a mobile phone.

Of course, there are many things we don’t like. The Dream does not include a 3.5mm headphone jack, does not offer A2DP Bluetooth and, from our limited use, the regular e-mail client (not Gmail) is lacking some very basic features, such as the ability to mark and delete multiple e-mails. The Dream doesn’t support Microsoft Exchange, either. There is no video recording function (although an app can be downloaded from the Android Market), the accelerometer only works when you open the screen, and the phone lacks multi-touch, meaning you cant pinch the screen to zoom in and out as you can do on the iPhone 3G. Keep in mind, though, that some of these issues will be corrected in the Cupcake software update, which HTC yesterday confirmed will be pushed to the Dream as soon as it is made available.

Be sure to check back next week when we publish a comprehensive review of the HTC Dream.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

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