HTC S743 (unlocked) review:
While everyone might be waiting for HTC to release its next Google Android phone, the smartphone manufacturer is plugging on with its commitment to Windows Mobile devices, and the latest model to come to market is the HTC S743. First announced at CES 2009, the S743 is a variant of the HTC S740, which has been available in Europe and Asia for some time now, and it stands out for its design. The S743 boasts a compact size while managing to pack in a full QWERTY keyboard, all the wireless options, and productivity tools to help mobile professionals manage their information on the go. It’s a nice compromise between the more consumer-based HTC Touch Diamond and the corporate-centric HTC Touch Pro.
You do lose the touch screen though, and we weren’t thrilled with the call quality of the phone. Plus, without a U.S. carrier, you’re looking at a $500 price tag for the unlocked phone. However, if you don’t want to be locked down to a carrier or contracts and can afford it, the HTC S743 packs a lot into its compact frame and delivers snappy performance. It nicely fills the spot when a regular cell phone isn’t enough and the Pocket PC smartphones are too much. The HTC S743 is scheduled to be available from online retailers, including Expansys USA where we got our review unit, around April 5.
HTC is all about offering different styles of handsets to meet individual needs, and as we mentioned earlier the HTC S743 falls somewhere between the Touch Diamond and the Touch Pro. The handset is smaller than the Touch Pro, measuring 4.5 inches tall by 1.7 inches wide and 0.6 inch deep and weighing 4.9 ounces, yet still manages to pack in a full QWERTY keyboard using a slider design, so it’s a good device for the mobile professional who needs to keep on top of e-mail, appointments, and such.
The HTC S743 (pictured next to the T-Mobile G1) keeps a slim design while packing in a full QWERTY keyboard.
The thinner profile makes it feel more like a regular candy-bar style cell phone in the hand and when on calls, but the S743 is still on the thicker, longer side so it might make for a tight fit in a pants pocket. It’s a solidly constructed handset, however, and has a pretty sleek look with its classic black chassis and mirrored face. The smartphone also has a similar geometric design on the back like the unlocked GSM version of the HTC Touch Diamond, but it now features a soft-touch finish so it’s not as slippery or smudge-prone as the Touch Diamond.
On front, you’ll find the 2.4-inch QVGA nontouch display with a 65,000-color output and 240×320-pixel resolution. The S743 isn’t part of the Touch series, so you don’t get a touch screen or HTC’s TouchFlo interface. Instead, you get the more traditional Windows Mobile UI. It’s not as flashy as TouchFlo, but at least with Windows Mobile 6.1 the Home screen offers more of your information right at a glance. For example, you can preview new e-mail, scroll through bookmarked Web sites, launch your media player, and more. You can also choose from other Home Screen options under the Settings menu.
Below the display, you get a standard navigation array of two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Home shortcut, a back button, and a four-way toggle with a center select button. Overall, the controls are pretty easy to use, though we’re not huge fans of the tiny Talk and End keys. Fortunately, the alphanumeric keypad features large buttons, so we didn’t have many misdials or errors when composing simple text messages.
Overall, the S743’s full QWERTY keyboard is easy to use, but we wish the spacebar were bigger.
For longer e-mails, you’ll probably want to use the four-row QWERTY keyboard, which you can access by pushing the face of the phone to the right. The sliding mechanism is smooth and securely locks into place, and the screen orientation also automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode. For such a compact phone, the keyboard features good-size buttons so we think most users won’t have too many problems. The one thing we do wish for is a bigger spacebar. Though we appreciate the inclusion of extra SMS/MMS shortcut key on the bottom row, we’d much prefer that was taken out to make the spacebar larger since we had to stretch to reach it as is. That said, the smaller size and lighter weight of the S743 over the Touch Pro also makes it more comfortable to hold while typing messages, since it doesn’t feel quite as top heavy from the slide-up screen.
We found the location of the microSD expansion slot to be inconvenient, since you have to remove the SIM card to get access to it.
On the left side, there’s a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button on the right. The power button is located on top, and on the bottom of the unit you’ll find a Mini-USB port/headset jack. We’re once again disappointed by the lack of a 3.5mm standard headphone jack, though you can get an audio adapter so you can use your own headphones. Another annoyance is the location of the microSD expansion slot. It, along with the SIM card slot, are located behind the front cover, so the phone needs to be in an open state to access it. Our gripe isn’t its location but rather the fact that the microSD slot is located under the SIM card so you have to remove the SIM card every time you want swap a memory card. Granted, you probably won’t do this often, but it’s still an annoyance. Last but not least, the camera is located on the back.
The included accessories may vary depending on where you purchase the HTC S743. We didn’t receive an official sales package, so our review unit only came with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and a wired headset. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The HTC S743 aims for balance–a balance of communication (voice and messaging) and a balance of lifestyle (work and play)–and tries to achieve that with its feature set, though it’s really no different than most Windows Mobile devices.
As a phone, the S743 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) and you can store multiple numbers for a single entry, as well as home and work addresses, e-mail, IM screen name, birthday, spouse’s name, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or a customized ring tone.
The smartphone also has Bluetooth 2.0 that supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, file transfer, object push, file sharing, personal area network, and more. GPS is integrated so there’s no need for extra peripherals. If you want real-time navigation with voice-guided directions, however, you’ll need to add a location-based service like TeleNav GPS Navigator, but you can also use Google Maps for Mobile for positioning and text-based navigation, traffic data, and more.
The S743 supports the U.S. 850/1900MHz 3.5G bands so you’ll get HSDPA support with an AT&T SIM but not T-Mobile since the carrier’s 3G network operates on the 1700/2100 bands. The smartphone also offers integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), however, so you won’t always have to rely on a cellular connection to surf the Web.
As a Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition phone, the S743’s default browser is Internet Explorer Mobile and along with it you get the rest of the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite, Microsoft’s Direct Push for real-time e-mail delivery, and automatic synchronization with Outlook (POP3 and IMAP accounts and HTML-formatted e-mails are also supported), and Windows Media Player. The HTC S743 only ships with the most basic PIM applications, but you can always download more utilities and other third-party applications. For some suggestions, you can check out Download.com.
The HTC S743 is equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera.
Finally, the HTC S743 features a 3.2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities. As usual, you can select from a variety of picture qualities and resolutions and adjust the white balance and brightness to get the best image. The camcorder doesn’t offer quite as many settings, but you do get a choice of four resolutions and other tools like effects, flicker adjustment, and recording length.
The S743 took sharp pictures but colors were washed out.
Picture quality was a little disappointing. As we’ve seen on a number of occasions, the image was clear but colors were off the mark, looking gray and washed out. We tried various settings, but we weren’t able to capture the rich and bright colors of the scene. Recorded video clips were OK; there was some slight blurriness, but will do the job if there’s something that you must absolutely record on the spot. Once done, you can share them with others via multimedia message or e-mail, save them as your background image, or simply enjoy them in a slideshow. The HTC S743 has 256MB RAM/256MB ROM with about 123MB of user-accessible storage, though the microSD expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards.
We tested the quad-band in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was OK. There was a bit of a background hiss on our end and though we could still carry on with our conversation and use an airline’s voice-automated response system, it was slightly distracting. Our friends reported similar results, noting that they could hear some static and crackling. Its speakerphone quality wasn’t any better. There was plenty of volume, but the call was again plagued by some hissing, and our friends added that there was a bit of an echo and our voice sounded tinny. On a brighter note, we successfully paired the S743 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Armed with a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7225 processor, the S743 proved to be a snappy little device. It was able to handle most of our tasks (e-mail, document viewing, and so forth) without slowing down too much and didn’t quite have the lag we’ve experienced on other Windows Mobile smartphones. Applications launched quickly and there weren’t any hiccups in switching screen orientations when opening and closing the phone.
Using AT&T’s HSDPA network, it took about a minute for CNET’s site to fully load on the smartphone while CNN’s mobile Web site came up in about 20 seconds. Unfortunately, the S743’s GPS radio wasn’t the strongest. While it was able to immediately find our location on Google Maps using cellular triangulation, it took about 10 minutes to get a fix on our location using GPS satellites and it was about a half block when following our movements.
The HTC S743’s 1000mAh lithium ion battery has a rated talk time of 5.8 hours (GSM)/5 hours (3G) and up to 10 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests the S743 beat the rated talk time by lasting 8 hours and 15 minutes on a single charge.