HTC Advantage Review

by Reads (3,572)

The HTC Advantage blurs the lines between a UMPC, handheld, and smartphone, as it combines features from all three.

Before I start the review, a word of explanation. This was originally supposed to be a review of the new version of the Advantage, the X7510, which has 16GB of flash memory in place of the original model’s 8GB hard drive. However, the review unit HTC sent us was last year’s X7501. I say this mostly to shame HTC’s PR department, and explain why we’re reviewing a year old device that’s about to be replaced. That said, most of this review also applies to the X7510.

HTC Advantage X7501
(view large image)

The Advantage X7501 is sometimes referred to as the X7500, or as the HTC Athena. It’s also sold by T-Mobile Europe as the T-Mobile Ameo, and under the Dopod brand as the U1000.

Not What You Would Think

Let’s make this clear right now: while the Advantage has phone hardware, it is emphatically not a phone. Don’t even think about holding this up to your ear. In fact, you can’t — the only way to take a call on the Advantage is through the speakerphone, or through a headset. Now, while some people may be able to get away with using the Advantage this way, my advice is this… forget it. No matter what you do to it, it’s not a very good phone, and it never will be.

The Advantage is a laptop replacement and media tablet, not a phone. Get yourself two lines on a shared plan, use a nice simple phone for voice, and use the second line for the Advantage and unlimited Internet. It’s not really much more expensive than what you’re going to be paying for it anyway. Buying the Advantage already says that neither cost nor size and weight is an issue.

And it is rather large and heavy. Looking at the Advantage, it makes even the iPAQ 210 — not exactly a slim and light device — look small.

HTC Advantage X7510
(view large image)

Of course, there’s good reasons for that. For instance, the Advantage has the largest screen you’ll find on any current device below the size of a UMPC. A whopping 5 inches diagonal, with VGA resolution.

Also contributing to the weight of the device is its metal casing, 2200 mAh battery, and internal hard drive.

Yes, you heard that right. The Advantage, or at least the older X7501 version, includes one of those matchbook-sized 8GB Microdrives still used by some devices for multi-gig storage. I was very leery about this going in, particularly given the fact that the keyboard has a magnetic snap system. Magnets and hard drives don’t mix. However, during the course of the review I haven’t experienced any major trouble with this setup, or noticeable data loss.

A word of warning: though they may not be a huge threat to the drive, the Advantage, even just the main body of the device, does still contain magnets. That means that casual contact with the device can degauss things like the magnetic strips on credit cards, rendering them unreadable. Handle with care. 

If you look at the sides of the device, you’ll see not just the regular HTC ExtUSB jack for headset, power, and sync, but also a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and another proprietary connector. This latter is for hooking up the expansion cable that gives you VGA output and a USB Host port. Between these and a good Bluetooth or USB keyboard, the Advantage becomes a portable desktop terminal.

HTC Advantage X7501
(view large image)

One thing you can look for though, but you won’t find: antenna jacks. That’s not because they’re not there, though — they’re just very well hidden. On the back of the device are two tiny rubber plugs, which appear at first glance to be screw covers, not intended to be removed. Nor are they easy to remove — you’ll definitely need a prying tool to get them out. A small flathead screwdriver worked for me. Beneath them, you’ll find one antenna connector per cover. The one beneath the camera lens is for the internal GPS receiver; the one on the opposite side feeds the cellular radio.

A Different Design

Something the Advantage is notable for besides its high specs is the odd keyboard it features. Rather than having one that slides out from under the screen, as most HTC devices do, or a fixed keyboard, it has one which is detachable. This has been done before, but not quite like this. Instead of snapping into a docking port, the keyboard is magnetic. Get it near the bottom of the Advantage and it automatically snaps into place, pressing the flat contact patches up against each other. Removing it is just as easy: yank, pry, or otherwise pull, and it comes loose. No delicate connections to worry about, no software drivers needed.

I suppose it’s silly, but I find the keyboard’s magnetic snap arrangement satisfyingly cool.

I rather wish HTC would consider something like putting a power connector on the keyboard, so that it could be used as an impromptu cradle. Besides having the appeal of convenience, it would also reduce the number of USB and headset connectors that get broken due to the wiggling of the plug.

Unfortunately, the "cool" factor is about as far as it goes. I found the keyboard itself to be very unsatisfactory. The keys are so low profile, and offer so little tactile response, that it’s not really practical to comfortably type more than a couple short sentences on it. Considering the fact that the device is sold in many cases as a laptop replacement, this seems contradictory. The X7510 is supposed to feature a new and different keyboard — hopefully it’ll be better than its older sibling.

The keyboard also has another set of magnets in it, which allow you to place it flat over the screen, to act as a protective cover. Theoretically, when you do this the system is supposed to sense this and display a status bar at the bottom part of the screen where the cover is transparent giving time, signal strength, network status, etcetera. However, in my experience this is so touchy as to be nearly useless. If the cover is even marginally bumped or out of place, the bar disappears, leaving you fiddling with the cover trying to get it back. This is something I file under "a neat idea, but not really well implemented."

Beyond the standard suite of Microsoft Office and email/messaging applications, there’s not much in the way of extra software loaded on the Advantage. The notable bits are HTC’s own QuickGPS, a program which downloads satellite data from the Internet to improve GPS lock-on speed, and a pre-loaded copy of the Opera Mobile 8.5 web browser. This latter is a wise decision for HTC, since Opera is much superior to the standard version of Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile, particularly on high-resolution screens.

While the Advantage is marketed in part as a laptop replacement, I’m not sure I really see it in this role. The standard keyboard certainly doesn’t serve, making it necessary to carry another. Add to that, you need extra cabling to access the USB and video out functions, and the Advantage begins to require a gear bag. While it would be functional as a laptop replacement for many things, particularly for those people who just need a portable way to do a presentation, I think that most people will find the Asus Eee PC offers more power and more convenience for only a little bit more bulk.

Let’s Talk About Specs

As usual, we’ve saved the full breakdown of the specs for the end, but a quick rundown is needed to gain appreciation for exactly how powerful a device the Advantage is. Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, 8 or 16GB of internal memory, 128MB RAM, 624 MHz processor, GPS, VGA out… I could go on like that for awhile.

The Advantage is a wonderously powerful device; you’d need to put some effort into it to think of a feature that was left out. All of this takes its toll on the battery of course, but with 2200 mAh available, it can take it.

The design of the battery precludes the use of larger replacements, though; unless someone can pack more capacity into the same size, 2200 mAh is all you’re going to get. Battery life isn’t spectacular, but it’s respectable when you consider all the features available to the user.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a device which includes everything shy of making cookies, the HTC Advantage does not disappoint.

And for it, you can expect a price tag that transcends "obscene" and enters the realm of "pornographic." The Advantage is mind-blowingly expensive, even when you compare it to other unlocked Pocket PC phones. If price is a consideration, don’t even bother thinking about it.

This is a device made for gadget mongers: the people who want to have everything, all at once. And at that it succeeds marvelously. The Advantage is the definitive uber-handheld, with every form of connectivity,

But if you are going to drop the cash for the Advantage, take this advice: wait a little while, and grab the X7510. Ditching the risks of the 8GB Microdrive for 16GB of flash is worth it.

Pros:

  • Expansive memory
  • Large VGA screen
  • Video output
  • Internal GPS
  • Extensive connectivity

Cons:

  • Astronomical price tag
  • Poor keyboard
  • Calls only though headset or speaker

Bottom Line:

A phenomenally expensive and phenomenally capable option for those who want pretty much everything out of their mobile device.

Specifications:

Processor: 624 MHz PXA270 XScale CPU
Operating System: Windows Mobile 6 Professional (Pocket PC)
Display: 5.0 inch, 640 x 480 LCD
Memory: 128 MB RAM; 256 MB flash (129 MB available); 8 GB Seagate hard drive
Size and Weight: 5.2 inches long x 3.8 inches wide x 0.64 inches thick; 12.7 ounces
Expansion: Single miniSDHC slot
Docking: HTC mini-USB/audio jack; proprietary USB Host and VGA/TV-out port
Communication: Quad-band GSM/EDGE; tri-band UMTS/HSDPA; Bluetooth 2.0; 802.11g Wi-Fi
Audio: Speaker; microphone; combination USB/audio jack; 3.5mm headphone jack
Battery: 2200 mAh Lithium Ion cell
Input: 48-key mini-keyboard; 5-way directional controller; application buttons
Other: SiRFstar III 20-channel GPS receiver

 

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