iPhone vs. TyTN II Kaiser, which came out on top?

  • October 22nd, 2007

Roughly 20 days ago, I took delivery of a shiny new HTC TyTN II Kaiser (recently re-badged and offered stateside as the at&t Tilt). Similar to the feature packed Nokia N95, HTC’s TyTN II Kaiser pulled out all the stops offering everything you could possibly want in a mobile handset that still managed to fit in your pant pocket(s).

HTC packaging

Although the Kaiser leant more towards the side of big and bulky, the added weight and footprint housed the conveniences of dual cameras, HSDPA, GPS, and a slide-out QWERTY + tilting screen. An admitted skeptic turned believer regarding the Apple iPhone, the recent firmware update (1.1.1) which made loading 3rd party applications a little more cumbersome persuaded me to consider my options. Return to the Symbian powered Nokia N95, or experiment with something completely new [for myself] – a Windows Mobile device? Because I had already experienced the feature-packed Nokia N95, the TyTN II Kaiser seemed like the natural answer.

So with open mind and arms, I cheerfully welcomed the Windows Mobile 6 powered HTC TyTN II Kaiser. The iPhone was powered down, SIM card removed, and placed within the drawer of "archived" goods.

HTC ups the ante for full feature loaded Smartphones

At some point in all of our lives, the desktop version of Windows has or will cause(d) either a) frustration, b) anger, c) irritation, or d) any combination thereof. Having grown up using Windows ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP I have felt the pain. BSOD anyone? I convinced myself that Windows Mobile would be different. Despite the negative experiences of co-workers, friends, and family, I had to believe Microsoft had managed to optimize its popular Windows operating system in such a way suitable for use on an everyday device like HTC TyTN II Kaiser.

Kaiser (up)

  • The HTC TyTN II Kaiser is a solid piece of hardware – movable pieces or joints reinforced with metal or thick plastic.
  • Tilting screen turns the device into a mini computer sitting beside you atop a table.
  • Full QWERTY sliding keyboard – keys are firm with adequate space between for larger hands.
  • Front-facing VGA camera suitable for 3G video calls on supporting networks, rear-facing 3MP camera + auto-focus for still shots or video recording.
  • Touch-screen "TouchFLO" interface – use your fingertip (not fingernail) to select items, scroll through emails / contacts / web pages, or dial numbers.
  • Stylus for more intricate control of touch screen functions.
  • Integrated GPS which includes TomTom 6 + one free map of your choosing (additional maps available for download). Also compatible with Google Maps GPS. GPS satellite lock within 10 seconds.
  • SDHC compatible – provide our own high capactiy microSD card for external storage of applications, photos, files, videos, or maps.
  • HSDPA, UMTS (850/1900/2100 MHz), GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900), WiFi b/g, and Bluetooth.
  • Jog-dial similar to those found on BlackBerry devices – activates Start menu, scroll through programs, your email inbox, or down long web pages.
  • Decently sized 320 x 240 QVGA screen with portrait or landscape mode for viewing wide images or video files.

After roughly one month of use, I was reminded that despite all of the bells and whistles, even the most feature laden devices are made or broken by the operating system in which they are powered by. A well designed operating system will embrace and enhance hardware features, while the opposite muddles the user experience negating all of the bells and whistles that sold the device in the first place.

You know you are dealing with Windows when…

Manual comparison

You know you are dealing with a Windows device when the manual / documentation is as thick as the device itself. The thickness hints at just how exhaustive the feature set is for the HTC TyTN II Kaiser. At the same time, you can only imagine how much more time consuming it would be to familiarize yourself with every facet of the handset compared to the Apple iPhone.

From a new users perspective, a manual that requires 5+ pages for the table of contents and even more for the index is daunting. From the Start menu to Program Files, File Explorer to Pocket Internet Explorer. Every basic detail of the handset features integration with Windows Mobile is documented. Don’t get me wrong, the information presented in the manual is all very useful for the first time Windows Mobile user, but like all things Windows, most of the useful tips can only be found online through Windows Mobile power users.

I couldn’t help but reminisce back to the day I picked up my Apple iPhone. After spending 5-10 minutes admiring the svelte packaging style that is Apple, I immediately plugged the phone into my computer via USB and was up and running. I didn’t even know there was documentation to walk you through the setup.

The initial setup for the Kaiser was a little more involved. Power on, wait for the 30 second boot-up time (this is Windows), initial screen alignment with the stylus (thinking back to my Treo 700p days), basics of stylus actions, setting up handset security, and adding any email account. All of this was immediately followed by a network detection wizard [which worked like a champ] automatically configuring the device for use with Cingular / at&t – MMS, SMS, voicemail, HSDPA connectivity, etc. Once the configuration wizard was complete, the handset required a mandatory ‘Restart’ in order for the settings to save. Gah! This is Windows.

A pocketable Windows XP complete with the pain & frustration?

* As precursor, my main operating system is Mac OS. Due to the fact that Windows nor HTC offer Mac OS compatible software required to sync the handset with desktop applications. I relied on The Missing Sync by Mark/Space or virtualization tools for my syncing and application installation needs. In order to use the HTC TyTN II Kaiser to its fullest potential, access to Windows XP / Vista is required.

It has been a considerable amount of time since I have had to use any variant of Windows on a regular day-to-day basis. Prior to the Kaiser, it had been nearly 3 years [not including time spent debugging with Internet Explorer using Parallels or VMware]. With an open mind, I ignored any previous negative feeling regarding Windows and focused on investigating the possibilities and options offered by a Windows Mobile powered Smartphone.

Towards the end of the two week mark, the magic of the slide out QWERTY keyboard, tilting screen, high speed HSDPA network, and integrated GPS began to wear thin. The downsides of the Windows Mobile platform began to show.

  • What good is a 320 x 240 QVGA screen if you can’t read it whilst outside on an overcast or sunny day unless the brightness is turned all the way up?
  • What good is a 320 x 240 screen that can change from portrait to landscape when most of the OS window chrome eats up a noticeable chunk of the viewport?
  • So what if I can run Skype mobile on my device for VoIP phonecalls? The audio can only be outputted through the rear speakerphone [unless you install BTaudio and redirect sound to a Bluetooth headset].
  • So much for clean multi-tasking. Those same taskbar notification popups most people hate seeing in Windows on their desktop notify you of incoming SMSs, MMSs, and emails stealing your cursor focus unless you disable them completely [muddling with the Windows Registry].
  • Recently sent a text message have you? Well Windows will go ahead and interupt whatever you’re doing to let you know it was successfully sent [unless you tweak the Windows Registry].
  • Incoming phone call while you’re out on a busy street? No worries, go ahead and select ‘Answer’, it will take nearly a second for the call to actually initiate on your end giving you a head start to move towards a quieter area.
  • Installing, testing, and uninstalling applications? Remember, this is Windows. Simply electing to ‘Remove’ the application using the Add / Remove utility isn’t guaranteed to remove everything. You might find some remnants left on your memory card, in a subdirectory of Program Files, even a subdirectory of My Documents or Windows.
  • The slide-out keyboard is fantastic, but the resounding click heard by your co-workers sitting next to you will make you think twice about messaging someone discreetly during a meeting.

It’s not Windows Mobile without a stylus, even with TouchFLO

UMTS / HSDPATouch screen devices will become more and more the norm, especially for smaller devices like cellphones, Smartphones, and personal audio / video players. The HTC TyTN II Kaiser includes a stripped down version of HTC’s TouchFLO interface which allows users to control certain aspects of the interface with their fingertips.

TouchFLO provides users with very basic functions like scrolling through an address book, emails, call logs, and web pages. Additionally, users can dial directly from the call screen or make use of 3rd party developer software like PocketCM’s Keyboard. Unfortunately, the usefulness of TouchFLO on the Kaiser is hampered greatly by the quality and sensitivity of the screen. Despite increasing TouchFLO’s sensitivity further with additional registry editing, selecting buttons, dialing numbers, or closing programs without using the d-pad keys was cumbersome – requiring a fingernail or stylus.

The root of the cumbersome touch phone experience on the HTC TyTN II Kaiser is the operating system itself – Windows Mobile 6. HTC made every effort to create a positive touch screen experience with their own custom dial pad and Today plugin, but beyond those two facets of the device, everything else is inherited from Windows Mobile. For example, many of the functional elements that you would want to control with your fingertip are 16 x 16 pixels. A comfortable footprint for the included stylus, but hardly enough room even the smallest fingers.

HTC’s TouchFLO is a great supplemental feature for Windows Mobile handsets, just don’t start thinking that you can toss that tiny stylus away just yet.

Is it even fair to compare the iPhone & Kaiser? Not really

Kaiser vs. iPhone

Others have pointed out that neither phones can be compared in a head-to-head battle due to the fact that one is geared towards and offered at a considerable discount for business users, while the other is not. Can you take a guess which handset fits the business profile? Hint: one device offers support for Push, Exchange, BlackBerry Connect, and multiple VPN networks; the other, "push" email thanks to Yahoo, two-way iChat like text messaging, and heavy focus on mobile music.

Rumor has it that at&t offers the re-branded Tilt aka TyTN II Kaiser for under $200 (even free for some) for at&t Premier accounts (reg. non-Premier price $299 with new activation). Check out Amazon for even more savings on the at&t Tilt. If you’re lucky, you can snag the iPhone off of eBay for that price, otherwise you’re stuck paying $399.

In all fairness, the HTC TyTN II Kaiser would win hands down in any power business user setting thanks to an array of connectivity options, integration with Outlook, and Mobile Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). Additionally, being a Windows Mobile device, users have access to thousands of useful productivity applications to enhance their experience further.

In contrast, iPhone users are limited to the handset applications designated by Apple or rich web applications. However, Apple has announced the availability of a SDK in February 2008 which may turn the tables in favor of the iPhone with 3rd party developers creating applications for business users. Both device address the needs of different types of users.

The option of applications is great, but usability is far more valuable

Over the course of 20 days of use, I collected a few thoughts concerning my experiences with the HTC TyTN II Kaiser.

  • Startup is slow. Painful almost – especially for a mobile device. I almost half expected to see the BIOS screen display with the option to boot into ‘Safe Mode’. Windows *shudder*. Hopefully your phone won’t lock up too many times requiring a full reboot.
  • Ooh how sweet it is to have ‘Reply to all’ or ‘Send to all’ options for SMS Text Messaging.
  • Just setup a new POP account on your iPhone? Yeah, have fun marking each message as read individually. At least Mobile Outlook can be enhanced with feature like ‘Mark all as read’ or ‘Delete all’.
  • The familiar concept of the Recycle Bin is missing from Windows Mobile. When a file is deleted from the handset, it is gone for good with no option to recover.
  • I wish HTC had skinned / themed the entire Windows Mobile interface to make the device truly touch friendly.
  • The TyTN II Kaiser really is business / phone first with entertainments options added on.
  • Battery life is so-so. Removed from charge at 9AM, nearly completely depleted by 11PM. You can’t expect much from a device that keeps a data connection live whenever possible. I’m not complaining.
  • Without any 3rd party applications running, Windows Mobile eats up roughly 35% of the onboard memory.
  • Did I mention that I wished HTC had skinned the entire Windows Mobile interface. The non-irritating way to manipulate anything behind the HTC Today plugin is with a fingernail, stylus, or the d-pad.
  • Appreciate the option of upgrading external memory with SDHC compatible cards. Capacity will only continue to go up (hopefully the prices will continue to fall).
  • Auto-focus on the rear facing camera is great, it would be a little more convenient if it was a little quicker so as not to miss the intended shot. Where’s the flash?
  • Mobile Safari on Windows Mobile. I routinely found myself missing Mobile Safari even after installing Opera.
  • Get nice and cozy with a registry editor. You’ll need to know the basics if you want to tweak Windows Mobile to make it more useable.
  • When I press ‘Answer’ for an incoming call, I expect the phone to answer right now! Isn’t that what a basic phone is supposed to do?! There should be no "thinking" involved, no delays, nothing! Yes Tres, I was wrong, Windows Mobile even managed to crash when I tried to receive a call.
  • Appreciated the option of creating multiple network configuration profiles. I set one up to use at& / Cingular’s special port which both optimized images before loading and offered streaming videos, and a second for straight HSDPA browsing with image compression and optimization.
  • I actually worried about the idea of a Windows Mobile Virus.

Windows Mobile applications / utilities that helped

The number of applications available for use on Windows Mobile is incredible. I only hope that once the iPhone SDK is released will Apple’s mobile platform explode in a similar manner. Here are a few of my favorites for use with Windows Mobile:

  • The Missing Sync ($40) by Mark/Space – I don’t use Windows and wanted my Address Book contacts, iCal events, select audio / video files, and folders synced back and forth. The Missing Sync took care of all of that and more including local call log and SMS log archiving for backup and searching. In addition, The Missing Sync provided a drag ‘n drop interface for installing CAB files on the device.
  • Skype Mobile (free) – VoIP calls over HSDPA. Great quality. I only wish that audio could be outputted through the device headset speaker rather than the rear-facing speaker.
  • Fring (free) – Also offered VoIP calls but used mainly for instant messaging. Chat with MSN, ICQ, Google Talk, Skype, or update Twitter.
  • Resco Explorer ($30) – Replaced the default Windows File Explorer with a far more powerful alternative which included a real Recycle Bin, FTP, Registry Editor, and a slew of other features.
  • Google Maps GPS (free) – Although the HTC TyTN II Kaiser included TomTom + one free map download, Google Maps proved to be far more accurate. I loved TomTom’s adaptive routing but misguiding me and putting me 7 blocks away from my intended destination was unacceptable.
  • Opera Browser ($24) – Not free but very much an required upgrade over Pocket Internet Explorer also known as PIE. Tabbed browsing. Mmm.

In closing… Yes, I admit it. I went from iPhone to HTC TyTN II Kaiser to iPhone. A complete circle. I assumed that being able to install whatever applications I wanted on my mobile device was the flexibility I wanted. I was wrong. I could have loaded the TyTN II Kaiser with every imaginable Windows Mobile application I could find on Handango, but there would still be something missing. Simplicity. Real iPhone applications are just around the corner, 4 months to be exact. Whether or not the SDK will open the iPhone up as a true competitor against existing Smartphones is uncertain. However, I am 99% certain that the HTC TyTN II Kaiser (at&t Tilt) is my first and last Windows Mobile device. Not because of HTC, but because Window Mobile [in general] is too clunky and bloated.