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Posted on 17 October 2006, at 2:19 am, by Judie Lipsett
Many of you by now will recognize the name HTC as the abbreviation for the Taiwanese based company High Tech Computer. They are the world’s largest manufacturer of Pocket PC and Smartphone OS based PDAs, and as such they are responsible for many of the more recognizable devices which are rebranded by companies including Hewlett Packard, i-mate, Audiovox, and Dopod - to name a few.
The device we’ll be looking at today is known by several names including the O2 XDA Trion, the MDA Vario II, Orange SPV M3100, and the Dopod 838Pro. This review will specifically cover the HTC Hermes branded as the Dopod 838Pro; while some of its included software may differ from other branded versions, the general hardware specifications should be about the same.
Similar to the HTC Apache / Sprint PPC-6700 which I reviewed last year, the Hermes features a compact touch-screen PDA form factor with a left-sliding keyboard which only appears when needed. The Hermes is intended to function not only as the user’s mobile phone, but also as a fully functional PDA, an email and text messaging center, and a compact means to wirelessly surf the internet.
Unboxing the Hermes:
The Dopod 838Pro includes a manual that is almost 0.75″ thick! I wonder if anyone ever really reads it. Also in this section are the leather carrying pouch, user manual, quick-start guide, getting started CD, and an application CD.
Nestled in the bottom of the box are the Dopod 838Pro, its battery, a round prong (Asian) AC adapter, two styli, a USB sync cable and a USB hands free headset.
Before we talk about the hardware, let’s look at the device’s specs…
Battery Type: User removable / rechargeable 1350 mAh Li-Ion
Battery life: Up to 5 hours talk time, up to 220 hours standby
Measurements: (with a micrometer) 4.44″ tall x 2.29″ wide x 0.85″ thick
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Processor: Samsung 400MHz
Wireless: GSM Quadband (850/900/1800/1900)+WCDMA Triband (850/1900/2100), EDGE/GPRS/UMTS, Bluetooth (v2.0) and WiFi, IrDA FIR
Messaging Support: SMS, MMS (English; Chinese support via CE-Star)
Email support: Outlook, multiple POP3, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail
Platform: Windows Mobile 5.0
Expansion Card: MicroSD (hot-swappable)
Memory: 128MB ROM, 64MB RAM (persistent storage)
Screen: 2.8″ 240×320 resolution (QVGA), 65536 colors TFT screen (effective)
Audio: Dual Receivers/Speakers, Hands-Free supported, microphone
Multimedia Player: Windows Media Player 10 Mobile
Supported ring tones: 40 chord polyphonic, MIDI/SP-MIDI/WMA/WMV/MP3/AMR/SMF
Cameras: Primary: 2.0 megapixel CMOS w/flash and mirror, 0.1 megapixel CMOS for video calls and self-portraits, video recording capable
The Hermes measures exactly 4.44″ tall x 2.29″ wide x 0.85″ thick and with its memory card installed weighs 6.1 ounces. In hand it is quite comfortable and feels very solid - there is no creaking and the keyboard is not loose.
Those who read my PPC-6700 review may remember that I thought the silver painted plastic of that particular device made it feel and look cheap; there is none of that here. While the 838Pro’s case is still composed of plastic, it is matte black with matte silver plastic trim. There is a muted silver metal trim around the right side of the screen, and the only truly shiny area on the front is in the center of the directional pad. As I’ve stated previously, I believe that this center button was left shiny so that it could also operate as a mirror when making video calls.
Overall, the 838Pro’s style greatly appeals to me; it feels nicely weighted without being too heavy, and it looks like the expensive device that it is.
Previous to using the Dopod, I was alternating between the HTC Universal or the DualCor cPC as my daily driver, depending upon the circumstance. You can see in this line-up that the Hermes is quite diminutive when compared to my two favorite devices.
It’s amazing what can be crammed into such a tiny space…
The left side of the Hermes introduces a feature that I immediately fell in love with and that I truly believe should be on every PDA - the scroll wheel. Measuring just 0.25″ long, when used in conjunction with the OK button directly below it the pressable scroll wheel makes it possible to quickly move through a screen full of options and make a selection - all without taking out the stylus or touching the screen. The black button to the right is the voice recorder, which will create a voice note when pressed. This button is generally mapped to eReader on all of my PDAs, it’s not a function that I ever need.
For those that aren’t familiar with what an OK button will do, look at it as a type of “Back” button. When in a program, pressing the OK button will minimize the window of the screen that is open. If four programs are open, it will back through each of them until the user is back to the Today screen. When at the Today screen, pressing the OK button next to the scroll wheel will expand the Start menu.
Even at half-brightness, the Hermes’ 2.8″ QVGA screen is quite vivid and bright. I never know if it is because the device is newer or simply because screens continue to improve as new devices come out, but it always seems as if the screen on a newer device is clearer and crisper, and the Dopod’s is no exception. Here it is compared to the screen on the HTC Universal.
Hermes on the left, Universal on the right
While I missed the Universal’s larger screen when reading eBooks, believe it or not I found that the scroll wheel almost made up for it…almost!
Towards the bottom of the device is a slot for one of the tiniest memory formats available - microSD. The card presses in and out of the slot, similar to the way a spring-loaded SD card slot accepts and ejects its card.
On the one hand it drives me crazy that I now have yet another memory card to keep up with, on the other hand microSD memory card prices are not too outrageous at all. I would like to think that the space saved by not installing an SD slot allowed the Hermes to add an extra feature…or two.
The button cluster on the front of the device is quite complex - not only is there a four-way and selectable D-pad, there are also seven other buttons surrounding it. From the top left corner and going clockwise…
The first button activates the Video Call Button. Those that are not on a UMTS system, and that therefore can’t use the video call features, might want to remap this button to another function…but you can’t. Ha!
Instead, you can press the button to call up the video call function and just make voice phone calls - dreaming of the day when your area has an upgraded 3G network. The other six buttons are pretty self-explanatory: left and right confirmation buttons, another OK button (this one does not activate the Start menu from the Today screen), a red LED backlit call Hang-Up button, a green LED backlit Talk button, and a Start Menu button - ah, that explains why the OK button wouldn’t do that particular function…
Phone calls are made by pressing the green LED Talk button on the left. When pressed, an onscreen keypad will pop up and the numbers can either be tapped in with the stylus or a finger. Numbers can also be entered without ever touching the screen - pressing the D-pad to the left will pull up the sped dial screen, while pressing it to the right will pull up recently dialed numbers. I found that it was possible to do much of the navigation one-handed - without ever touching the screen or using the stylus.
The bottom of the Hermes has an Infrared port, a small reset button hole, a small microphone, the battery compartment lock/unlock latch and the mini-USB port which not only serves to sync and charge the device, it is also the headset jack. This was a new feature to me, and I have to admit that while it is nice to eliminate yet another orifice on a device, it means that a separate adapter must be purchased if the user does not find the included headset acceptable…or if, in other words, you want to use your favorite 3.5mm plugged headset to listen to MP3s.
On the bottom of the right side is the stylus silo, the button above it activates the camera. Further up the side of the Hermes are the button that triggers the Communication Manager screen and the Power button. There are a couple things that should be pointed out about the Power button - a quick press only turns the screen on or off. The device is not actually shut off unless the button is pressed and held for five seconds. When the screen is turned off calls may be received, when the device is turned off no calls will come through.
Here’s another shot of the top end of the Hermes…
…and here is a close up of the dedicated Messaging Center and the Pocket Internet Explorer buttons; each button is set on the end of a brushed metal toggle which reminds me of a dignified see-saw. Both buttons are remappable for those that are using other than the default programs. Under this toggle bar are two LEDs that surround the call speaker. The left LED indicates WiFi or Bluetooth status, while the right LED indicates event notifications, charging status, and UMTS/GSM status. Looking mighty splotchy in the upper right corner is the video call camera.
The top of the Hermes is smooth and domed - and missing an external antenna of any kind. I found that the reception was quite excellent in my area, and although displayed bars may be a lame indicator of signal strength, it was still reassuring to see a full line-up when indoors. Calls made on the handset were clear, and I did not experience any dropped calls during testing.
Since I got it almost a month ago, I have made a habit of opening and closing the slider even when I don’t need to use it - trying to see if the repeated action will cause the action to loosen or “sloppy”; the keyboard still feels as tight now as it did the day I got the device.
When the keyboard is opened the Hermes immediately converts from a portrait oriented PDA to landscape. The keyboard has a bright blue backlight which while pretty seems slightly “blurry”; personally, I would prefer a sharp white LED. The keyboard itself is very well laid out, the buttons have a good tactile feedback, and using my thumbs to tap out text messages and emails is quite comfortable.
Here is a shot that shows the keys when backlit. The selection of accessible features from the keyboard is quite good…but wait, what is that I see? Is that yet another OK button?! Enough is enough already.
Similar to the HTC Apache I previously reviewed, the keyboard on the Hermes is moves on twin rails which slide open and shut. Unlike the Apache keyboard, when opened there is no play between the two halves of the device whatsoever; everything feels rock solid.
The user replaceable battery is accessed by sliding the battery cover latch to the unlock position; the thin plastic back will immediately unlock and release into a lifted position.
Although the battery compartment cover is as thin as that of the Apache, there is a huge difference between the closure quality. Unlike the Apache, the Hermes’ cover can not be slid off when too much pressure is applied; it is only released when the compartment release is triggered.
The SIM card slides into a receiving tray underneath the tightly fitting battery.
To the left of the camera is the rubber cap which covers the car antenna connection; it also pokes through the battery compartment cover when it is in place.
The Hermes is outfitted with two cameras, the main one being the 2.0 megapixel CMOS with a white LED flash and round mirror. The camera has two focus settings, normal and macro. This camera can also be used to capture videos.
Here are two sample photos taken on a rather overcast day…not too shabby for a cheesy ol’ PDA camera!
For comparison, I am including two photos from the HTC Universal. Although it is only a 1.3 megapixel camera, there is a setting that allows a two megapixel capture size. (FYI - picture sets were taken at different times of day, so please excuse shading differences)
The video camera on the front of the Hermes is a much lesser quality 0.1 megapixel CMOS; it can also be used for self-portraits…but I didn’t take any.
The stylus is housed in the bottom right of the Hermes…
…it is of the telescoping variety.
When completely compact, the stylus measures just a little over 2″ long.
When extended, the stylus is 3.25″. As one can imagine, the stylus is “okay” for jotting a quick note, but it is not comfortable for extended text entry; its tip is also quite sharp and scratchy. I have noticed scratches in the Block Recognizer area of the lower left screen. Thankfully I put a left-over PPC-6700 screen protector on the first day and there is no permanent damage to the actual screen.
A feature I might have scoffed at years ago, but that I greatly appreciate now is the lanyard hole. If you are the type to often walk around with your device in hand, it only makes sense to add a simple wrist lanyard. The first time you forget what you are doing and reflexively open your hand, you’ll be grateful. If you never walk with your device in hand, the hole is nicely designed and easy to overlook.
The included leather pouch is as expected - better than nothing, but still pretty lame.
It has a clip that will accept up to a 1.5″ belt on the rear…
And while it provides excellent screen protection, three sides of the Hermes are left greatly exposed.
As I mentioned in the Specifications section, the Hermes has built in GSM Quadband (850/900/1800/1900)+WCDMA Triband (850/1900/2100), EDGE/GPRS/UMTS, Bluetooth (v2.0) WiFi and Infrared. In a nutshell, this means that you will be able to connect just about anywhere - except perhaps in the middle of nowhere.
The only thing that might be out of the ordinary here is that since the Dopod is set up for Asia, mine did not have the T-Mobile wireless internet settings pre-programmed. This was solved by creating an internet connection through the process mentioned on the T-Mobile site. Once that was completed, I was able to surf and email to my heart’s content.
I was able to read an eBook for several hours, check my email via T-Mobile GPRS, and make a few calls without dipping below 80%. That’s not a very scientific test, but since I am not far from a plug for much of the day, it will have to do for now. I will try to get a more thorough battery test performed and posted in the next day or two.
A Potential Problem:
As mentioned previously on this site, several HTC Hermes owners are having issues with their digitizers. Please read this entry for more information. At this time I have not had any problems with mine, but it needs to be a consideration.
Since the usual included Windows Mobile 5 software has already been covered many times already, I’ll just briefly touch upon the Dopod 838Pro’a add-on software…
It came loaded with Cyberon Voice Commander, a “Hands free voice command & control for PPC phone with highly accurate continuous speech recognition.”
Aidem MP3 Player, which is a Dopod add-on for MP3 and WMA files.
Magic Productions Magic Puz, a very simple bubble pop game and Magic Productions Another World, an old Amiga role playing game that has been translated to the PPC, which even if it is corny is…kind of cool. Someone needs to translate Leisure Suit Larry!
And SimpleAct QuickMark, which is best described as a bar-scanner and decoder program for mobile devices.
The Application CD includes a copy of World Card Mobile, an interesting application which allows you to use the camera to take pictures of people’s business cards, edit them, and then file the transcribed info directly into Contacts. Clever!
Hermes owners interested in a little bit of fine-tuning should also check out fit4cat Hermes Tweaker.
I will admit that I was somewhat prejudiced against the Hermes coming into this review. It should be obvious that I have become quite spoiled by the larger screens of the Universal and cPC, and “downgrading” to 2.8″ again just seemed so backwards. However the HTC Hermes turned out to be a very robust wireless PDA, and it quickly won me over.
Perhaps because of its smaller size I found myself holding it more often and using it when I might not have otherwise thought to. Battery life has turned out to be quite good, and the bright screen has been a welcome treat for my eyes.
Overall, this is a PDA phone that I would recommend to anyone that wants a “can do it all” device. While this might not necessarily be a mobile phone for a PDA beginner, it is intuitive enough that almost anyone could easily learn its functions. I have to admit that I will miss it once it’s gone…I hope the new user enjoys it as much as I have.
The HTC Hermes is available from various distributors under various brand names.
MSRP: Approx $999US, approx. $1499AU
What I Like: Excellent style & finish, snappy performance, bright screen, A2DP, Quad Band, easy wireless connections with multiple options, 2 megapixel camera with macro-mode
What Needs Improvement: The non-standard mini-USB headset jack, digitizer problems on some Hermes devices
Added Later: These are the results gathered by running Spb Benchmark on both the HTC Hermes and Universal. Each device had been freshly reset and had no programs installed…