Product Review – HTC Touch Cruise with “Footprints”

The HTC Touch Cruise is a quadband GSM mobile phone with 3G. Packed inside the sleek interior is where you’ll find GPS, WiFi, a 3.2 megapixel camera and a MicroSD memory card slot.

The Touch Cruise runs on Windows Mobile 6.1, the most up to date version of the Microsoft smartphone operating system available at the moment.

The outside of the phone is quite a treat – the phone marks a real departure from boring Windows powered phones, and it is obvious that quite a bit of effort went into making the phone look this good.

On the front is where you’ll find the dual-function D-Pad/scroll wheel, call pickup/hangup buttons and 2 dedicated buttons for GPS navigation and the Footprints application.
The phone is a little over 4″ x 2″ and a tad over half an inch thick. At 3.6 ounces it is one of the lightest smartphones on the market at the moment.

In the photo above, you can see the Touch cruise next to the HTC Touch Pro (the Touch Pro has a sliding keyboard, making it thicker).

Included with the Touch Cruise is a very complete set of accessories – a home charger, stereo headset, a 2GB microSD memory card (containing the maps required for the navigation package), a car charger cord and car windshield mounting cradle.

These accessories make it clear that HTC is serious when it comes to selling this device as a navigation system as well as a smartphone.

Now on to the software – all the basics you’d expect from Windows Mobile are there. You get a media player, Office Mobile and various other Windows applications. In addition to this, HTC has included some of their own apps, including their fantastic TouchFlo interface.

TouchFlo places itself on top of the often clunky Windows interface, and provides a very nice touch enabled tab based home screen for all the various portions of the device. HTC also added Footprints (which I’ll describe in a moment), as well as full navigation package (Copilot), several games and a couple of additional control panel options.

Footprints is designed to capture your trips. It combines the GPS and camera portions of the phone, into a nice and easy to use interface. Essentially, it allows you to make GPS enabled “breadcrumbs” of where you have been.

Once you snap a photo, it is automatically tagged with your location, and you are free to store it in the correct category and add written or voice notes. The concept is great – you travel, and your footprints can be traced back with photos and notes.

There is however one fatal flaw with Footprints – despite the very easy to use interface, and the great amount of thought that went into designing the application, nobody at HTC realized you’d probably want to do a little more with your memories than just leave them on your phone. That’s right – there is no export feature, or any way to move your “Footprints” to your computer, upload them to Google Maps or anything else.

You can save your file and import it on a different HTC device with Footprints, but that is the limit of its usability.

This is, in my opinion, something that makes Footprints about as useful as a fart in a spacesuit. What good are all these memories and photos, if you can’t do anything decent with them? At the very least I’d like to be able to import them into Google maps or Earth, and share them with the world.

It gets worse – the Footprints application saves the geotagging information in a separate file, so even when you copy the photos off the device, your GPS information is not embedded in the photo. To make matters even worse – Footprint photos are only saved as small thumbnails, so despite having a 3.2 megapixel camera, the only photos linked to your “Footprints” are tiny thumbnail images.

Despite this monumental flaw, the phone itself is a real pleasure to use – I would have personally preferred to see a VGA resolution screen, but its small size makes it a very worthwhile smartphone.

The CoPilot navigation software is quite good – not perfect, but not bad either. It has some quirks when it tries to navigate you through town, and its routing skills are not always perfect.

CoPilot is normally a $100 purchase, so receiving it for free with the Touch Cruise is a very nice bonus.

One navigation feature I’d like to point out is the smart car cradle – when you insert the Touch Cruise in its car mount, it automatically switches to a menu called “Navpanel”, allowing you to instantly start the navigation software.

GPS reception is fantastic, and I had no problems getting a very quick fix on the satellites, even indoors.

There are one or two other issues I need to point out. The 3G support in the Touch Cruise does not include the oddball frequency used by T-Mobile in the US. This means that only customers with AT&T will be able to get 3G speeds, T-Mobile users will be stuck on the slower EDGE system.

The Touch Cruise is currently not available from any US mobile operator, which means you will have to purchase it from an HTC dealer, and pay the full unsubsidized price.

True mobile phone fans won’t find this too hard to do, but anyone who is used to paying no more than $10 for their phone will be slightly disappointed to learn that the Touch Cruise will cost them about $515, which is still cheaper than many other contract free smartphones.

One final word of warning – there are 2 different versions of the Touch Cruise out there at the moment; one version released last year, and the newest version I reviewed here today, I’m not entirely sure why HTC decided to release an upgraded version without changing the name.

All in all an impressive little device, not completely without its quirks, but since those are mainly software related, I’m going to go easy on it and wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for a compact 3G enabled Windows smartphone with GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi, especially if you like your smartphone unlocked and without any contractual obligations.