Review: Verizon XV6900 - Small, Svelte & Sweet

We wanted to hate it. Come on, you see the white chassis, the wide touch screen, the slim profile on the Verizon XV6900 and you think: wannabe iPhone. After all, this smartphone is Verizon's version of the HTC Touch. For some, that's a turn off. But turn on the device, and you'll find your cynicism fading.

The ample display (2.8" TFT-LCD touch screen) offers a new Home format featuring a giant clock display and two rows of quick access icons. One of those icons is a launcher that lets you choose an application (smells a little Apple-ish again, but bear with us).

We particularly like the weather icon, which brings up current info for the locale you specify and has an arrow that allows you to bring in the multi-day forecast. The touch screen is satisfyingly responsive to a finger, but a stylus, conveniently stored on the top right edge of the phone, makes tapping faster.

As with the iPhone, the chief means of interaction between the XV6900 and a user is through the smartphone's touch screen and the user's fingers through HTC's proprietary TouchFLO technology, which essentially grafts an advanced touch interface onto the Windows Mobile user interface.

TouchFLO is capable of recognizing and responding to the sweep of a finger across a screen, for instance. Sweep your fingers across the display to launch an animated, three-dimensional interface comprising three screens: Contacts, Media and Applications. It is even supposed to be intelligent enough to distinguish between finger and stylus input, responding accordingly.

We held out the most skepticism for the touch-keyboard since it was the slide-out QWERTY keyboard that made us such fans of the XV6800. The fact remains that typing with a couple of fingers or both thumbs on keys that only represent one letter each is more efficient than tapping squares on the screen that feature two letters. But, that said, the auto-write function on the unit is pretty impressive.

As you start typing, a bar between the keypad and the text screen shows you options. When the word you want pops up, you can either continue typing til you've put in all the letters yourself, or simply tap the full word you want from the options. It will appear, with a space after it. If the word you want is the first one, which is highlighted as you type, press the space key and it will appear.

We found the method of switching keypad view from letters to numbers and symbols a bit awkward and non-intuitive. Using capitals is obvious, just press the shift key and the letters transform to their uppercase versions. But to access the symbols stored on the same keys as letters (including numbers), you have to toggle between the "abc" keypad, the "123" and "XT9."

Certain aspects of the auto-write feature are customizable. Take a look at Settings-->input-->word completion for those details.

In phone mode, though, the keypad resembles a standard phone pad. Dialing is simple and there are keys for call history and contacts, so it's standard Windows Mobile procedure to call people from your address book or your past calls.

To pick up the phone when it's ringing, you have the choice of using the green phone button (the tactile option), or touching the Answer button on the screen. When dialing a new number, you touch it in on the keypad, then press the green button to place the call. Calls from Contacts or Call History can be placed from the screen alone.

At 4.0 inches long by 2.4 inches wide, the XV6900 is about the same size as the XV6800 (which is 4.1" long by 2.3" wide). But the newer device weighs in significantly lighter at 3.8 ounces compared with 5.7 ounces. And the loss of that slide out keyboard also means a svelte profile, just .6 inches deep where the XV6800 is .7 inches-a difference far more noticeable in your hand than when written out.

The power button is on the top of the unit, on the left. The left edge houses a volume slider and the lower-right edge has the camera button. Between the stylus slot and the camera button, unmarked and easy to miss, is the flip-down cover of the microSD card slot. The bottom has your USB port and the reset button.

The XV6900 comes with a carrying sleeve, a charger, a USB splitter for using a headset (not included), a USB cable and a spare stylus. The device can sync with a computer using Bluetooth or USB. It's retailing for $350 after a $50 rebate.

In the just-for-fun category, we would be remiss not to mention the self-portrait mirror. Point your camera phone at yourself and you can see in the tiny round mirror the image it's about to frame. It's not perfect but it's surely superior to guess work.

After you snap an image, click the magnifying glass to see it full screen. A really handy feature is that you can rotate photos by simply tracing your finger over the screen in the direction in which you want the image to turn. Finger swipes also let you scroll through your photos manually. The Smartphone also shoots video.

The XV6900 goes for $350 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.

Through the test, we had to concede the device shines. It takes some adjusting-we often turned it off when we didn't mean to, for example-and we're not wholly sold on abandoning the slide-out keyboard. But overall this smartphone seems poised to challenge many other Windows Mobile-platform options, particularly where size and weight are prime considerations.

See here for more on HTC Touch.

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