My name is Canary: The Orange Smartphone
What Mobile gets paws on prototype
Preview This preview, taken from the October issue of What Mobile is of an early version of the HTC Canary prototype. The device which was looked at was sneaked around the world to get into What Mobile's hands. What Mobile is primarily a buyers guide for mobile phones and this is probably the first time the device has been looked at from a phone, rather than PDA perspective. It is certainly the first public preview.
Canary is the code name for a smartphone using Microsoft software and manufactured by HTC, the company that made the iPaq for Compaq. This remarkable phone is set to appear on Orange in the UK very shortly, according to a source. If this does happen, it would be a great coup for all concerned, as Orange is often criticised for not getting handsets early enough.
The Microsoft operating system in this mobile is called Smart Phone 2002. It means that a lot of the functions look like familiar Windows software. For instance, text messages and emails are shown in folders named Deleted Items, Drafts, Inbox, Outbox and Sent Items, laid out in a vertical arrangement and accompanied by the same icons you'd see on a PC running Outlook email.
The same applies in products such as the Compaq iPaq, the O2 XDA and the Hewlett Packard Jornada, which use another Microsoft operating system called Pocket PC.
The 'Canary' phone uses an ARM 720 processor. According to some stats I found in the menu, mine had total storage of 7.41Mb (available, 6.86Mb); total memory of 7.44Mb (available 2.82Mb); and Microsoft 3.0.12063.0, whatever that means. Switching the phone on brought up the figures 0.7.00 and 0.607+132, presumably relating to the version of the operating system.
The phone is reassuringly solid, with a built-in battery that comes out all in one piece with the back, in a style that is growing less common as Nokia and the rest strive to make their phones modular and batteries interchangeable between phones. It's much less fiddly, but it does mean it's impossible to replace a knackered battery.
The battery in the version that goes on sale may be lighter than the one I looked at, as our Canary weighed about 120g, but a figure of 94g has been given out on various web sites.
Keys are sturdy and responsive, and can be set to give a loud beep or click. The numerals become rather difficult to read when the backlight behind the keypad comes on, as they are patchily lit. A joystick button can scroll in four directions or click in to select menu items. There are no less than six other control keys, two being multi functional buttons immediately beneath the display, two more send and end, and the final two, home and back. The earpiece is loud, with control volume keys on the left hand side of the phone. On the same side there's also a voice memo button (top silver elongated key), an on-off switch (top) and a tray for a memory card, tucked behind the main keypad.
The display is great-very large, as you can see, with a bright backlight and vivid colour. In standby mode, there is a good deal of information on view. At the top of the display the battery and signal meters are visible, rather oddly both crammed against one another on the right rather than taking a corner each.
Immediately beneath those, along the top of the screen, run five icons representing commonly used functions. These change depending on what you last used. The most recently used function is shown on the far left, the next most recent is next to it, and so on. The icons are not accompanied by any sort of caption, nor do they have a pop-up legend as they might on a device using a stylus. This means you've got to remember what each graphic means.
Below the icon bar is the name of your network and the time. The date is not shown, nor could I see a way of opting to display it. The next row shows your next appointment. If no appointments are saved, it says 'no appointments saved'. If several are entered for the day, it shows the next chronologically. This is handy. It would be nice to be able to customise it more, though. Under that is shown the number of your current unread emails and text messages, and below that, the profile that is currently activated.
The bottom line of the display is taken up by the legends relating to the multi function buttons immediately below the display, which change their role depending on your current position in the menu system. In standby, the left reads Programs, and the right, Contacts. Pressing Contacts brings up the usual list of names as you saved them to the SIM. Because the screen is so large, nine entries are seen at a time. Opposite each on the right is an icon indicating whether it is saved in the SIM or the built-in phone memory. On our sample, the built-in memory wasn't finalised so I couldn't try it out.
When you type numbers into the phone ready to dial from the standby screen, they appear in huge characters at least half a centimetre high, white on a blue background in a panel at the top of the screen. Below, the phone brings up a matching number if it recognises the first few digits from the phonebook entries or call history, so that you can save the effort of typing in the last ones. A missed call is flagged up in a field of its own on the standby screen, which appears between the network name and the upcoming appointments. Several missed calls from the same number are flagged up individually. If you press the joystick button in while a number is highlighted, you get further details-the duration, date, and time of the call.
If a number is already in the phonebook, it will be listed by name in call history. The number is seen only when the joystick button is pressed. If it's not in the phonebook, you're offered the option 'save', which takes you to an empty contact sheet. You fill in the name then scroll down to the relevant field for the phone number and hit the same function key which is now reading 'Insert'. This pastes the number into the field. If you insert the number in the wrong field and have to delete it, you won't be able to paste it again, as it has been discarded from the memory after the first paste.
Bits and pieces
Open the Inbox/SMS program and the legends above the softkeys become New and Menu. Pressing Menu brought up the email options: New message, Reply, Forward, Delete, Mark for download, Mark as read, Options, Send/Receive email, Show Folders.
One point I noticed was that when you enter date or time, you have to move the cursor from one section to another yourself, instead of finding it done automatically-that it to say, if the date is 21/8/2002, when you've typed the 21 you have to scroll manually into the next category to overwrite it.
Another was that the ring tone is not selected via the Profile menu. This means that you can't save a particular ring tone to go with a particular profile, as it might be a discreet tick-tick for a quiet environment, or a constantly repeated shrill tone for a loud one.
To hear a ring tone, you need to select it, then press Menu, then Play, or else select it and go back out of the melody list again. That is to say, you can't simply scroll down the list and hear a brief snatch of each tune as you skim past. The designers of this phone have clearly not spent enough time on London buses to recognise the importance of this exercise.
Ring tones on the sample version weren't much to write home about in terms of tunefulness, originality or zeitgeist, but were loud, with plenty of variations on trills as well as tunes. The alert options were excellent: ring, ring once, increasing ring, vibrate, vibrate then ring, vibrate and ring, silent. The Profile menu is separate from the Sounds menu, so that once you select a particular melody, it is used in all profiles, albeit with variations on loudness. You can however allocate individual ring tones to individual callers as you save them in the phonebook, or Contacts as Microsoft would have it. This working sample was far too early in gestation to judge its audio qualities, so although these were poor, they were not indicative.
To dial a number directly from the Contacts list, you could either scroll by hand from the beginning of the list to the relevant section-a time consuming process if your phonebook is full-or you could type the first letters of the name, such as WA for my friend listed as Walky. Doing this then brings up both 'Walky' and 'Rupert Ward', and any other entries whose first or second name begins WA, with the relevant letters highlighted, and no other entries listed. You can scroll between these entries, but you can't scroll on to other sections of the phonebook should you choose to call someone else instead.
The phonebook uses something akin to predictive text for this exercise. I saved another entry with the unlikely beginning WC, and fund it duly listed along with the WA entries, as it's another combination of letters that involves the same keys. Where the keys are more commonly used ones, such as the PQRS key and the ABC key, it's not quite so easy. If I pressed PQRS then ABC hoping to locate SAlly, for instance, I got a choice of eight entries, 'Radio, Ray, SA Cars, Sal H, Sally Mob, Sarah, Scooby, Samsung'.
I wasn't ready for the predictive element, and kept pressing PQRS four times to bring up the S section for Simon, which didn't work and brought up the message 'No entries found'. Instead I had to press PQRS, GHI, MNO.
Menu navigation is easy and intuitive. The Programs option lists items by number so they're easy to get to. When you choose a setting, or set something such as an alarm, you exit by pressing the multi function key under a legend 'Done', which is good, unlike interfaces that expect you to press something that looks worryingly like 'cancel', 'clear' or 'quit'. The only exception was the Band Switching menu for changing to American frequency band, where you did just have to quit out of it.
There's no doubt that this phone has enormous potential. We looked at a very early model which will already have been superseded by more recent versions. We did encounter glitches but these have probably ironed out. For instance, saved appointments were lost on switching the phone on and off, as were saved phonebook entries. It would be easy for prospective purchasers to check this bug before buying. I'm certain it will have been ironed out in the shipping model.
This is a model that we're taking very seriously indeed, as the police say. Nokia and its Symbian pals had better watch out.