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Round Robin: AT&T Fuze Final Review

Fri Nov 21, 2008 - 12:50 PM EST - By Jennifer Chappell

Overview

I've been using the AT&T Fuze for a few days for our 2nd Annual Smartphone Round Robin, and my time is up as I've shipped the Fuze off to the next writer who will use it in place of his regular smartphone.

Even though it's fun getting to use a new device, it's still hard not to be able to pick up my own smartphone and use it. I'm sure the other editors are feeling the same way, especially Kevin over at CrackBerry.com who has been using the Treo Pro this week. The BlackBerry Storm arrived this week and Kevin had to stick with using the Treo Pro. He's been getting plenty of help over in our TreoCentral forums. Kevin posted his Treo Pro video review this week too.

The Round Robin is a great experience in which we get to see what it's like on the other side. Not the bad side; just the other side as I like all smartphones and all the platforms. Well, I actually haven't gotten a hold of the Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 yet, so I can't really say if I like that one or not.

When you use a particular smartphone as your main brain, you get to really know the device quite well. You're used to feeling it in your hand, and the device becomes like an extension of your hand because you use and depend on it so much. And you become accustomed to its operating system, screen, buttons, and unique keyboard. Some people can even type out text messages without looking at their keyboards. I'm not one of them though. I can type pretty fast, but I don't type often enough to have memorized the keyboard. I don't have much time for texting, and most of the typing I do is right here on my desktop PC. I bet a lot of you out there have your TV remote buttons memorized though, huh? Yep, I see all those heads nodding. ;-) I don't watch as much television as I used to, but at one time I did have the remote buttons memorized and could change channels in the dark. Well, imagine going to someone else's home and picking up their TV remote and not knowing how to work it. I realize that some remotes are very similar, but I've seen some that are nothing at all like the one I have at home. I have no idea how to work my Mom's TV remote, so when I'm over there and I want to turn on her TV or change the channel, I have to ask her what button is what. The Round Robin is sort of like that. We're not exactly at home with the different devices that we have to use. The buttons are in different places and things just work differently. So we head over to the forums and ask you, our readers, what's what. Our forums are filled with mobile device experts who are always willing to help each other out, so the forums are the perfect places to visit during the Round Robin.


Light the Fuze

The HTC AT&T Fuze, aka the Sprint Touch Pro runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition. I've already had a taste of WM 6.1 Pro with my Palm Treo Pro. Below are some specs of the Fuze:

  • Operating System: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
  • Processor: Qualcomm MSM 7201a, 528Mhz
  • Memory: ROM: 512 RAM: 288 MB
  • Display: 2.8" VGA TFT touchscreen, 65K colors, Size 480 x 640 pixels, 2.8 inches, Full QWERTY keyboard, TouchFLO 3D finger swipe navigation, Accelerometer sensor for auto-rotate, Touch-sensitive navigation controls
  • Radios: GSM/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, 1900. HSPA/UMTS/3G: 850, 1900, 2100

    Built-in, Works with AT&T Navigator (Telenav), GPS/A-GPS
  • Battery: Lithium-ion Polymer 1340mAh
  • Expansion: Up to 32GB MicroSDHC Card
  • Wi-Fi: WiFi 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR
  • Internet: Opera Mobile (default) and Internet Explorer

  • Email: Microsoft Exchange, POP3, IMAP, BlackBerry Connect, AT&T Xpressmail, and Good

I'd never experienced TouchFLO 3D until I turned on the screen and lit the Fuze. Wow, it was like art in motion. TouchFLO 3D is one sweet UI. Using the TouchFLO 3D felt a lot like moving around on the iPhone that I had. You touch the screen with your finger and swipe upwards or downwards to scroll vertically. You move the tabs on the Home screen horizontally. First you press a tab, like the first one, the little House icon you see at the bottom left when you're looking at the Clock. Then, while keeping pressure on the tab, you drag your finger across the screen and the highlighted part around the tab follows your finger until you stop on another tab. As you pass each tab, the corresponding app shows up on the screen. I was really impressed with the TouchFLO 3D and the built-in accelerometer, which switches the screen view whenever you rotate the Fuze. Again, very iPhoneish, and nice.

I did experience some lag now and then on the Fuze though. Sometimes I think the lag was due to my trying to swipe my finger across the screen too quickly, but there were many times when I did it slowly and there was still some lag. I don't recall my iPhone lagging at all. And even though my Cento doesn't have the fancy UI that the Fuze has, I don't experience any lag when tapping on apps.

I was surprised that there was any lag at all since the Fuze runs on a Qualcomm 528 MHz processor with lots of RAM. Besides the lag when trying to move through the apps via the bottom tabs, I also noticed some lag when turning the Fuze sideways to activate the screen rotation. Other than those few instances, the Fuze seemed quite snappy.


Hardware

One of the first things I noticed about the Fuze was that it felt very solid. The Fuze looks to be extremely well constructed. The device has a real heft to it too. The Fuze weighs in at 5.8 oz., which is about a full ounce heavier than the 4.69 oz. Treo Pro. My Centro is even lighter at 4.2 ounces.

Back to the topic of solid construction, I have to give props to the Fuze when compared to the Treo Pro, especially in light of the problem with cracks on the body of the Treo Pro emerging. When I first got my Treo Pro, I felt that it was really well constructed, but since I found a crack next to my Wi-Fi button and have read about so many other Treo Pro owners finding cracks, some with multiple Treo Pro cracks, I'm having to think again. My Centro "feels" as if it wouldn't be as solid as the Treo Pro as there are some creaks and flexibility when squeezing the device. And we all know that the Centro's flimsy, plastic stylus is a joke. But hey, I'll take a flimsy stylus anyday over a cracked body on a high dollar smartphone! Sheesh!

The Fuze is a thick smartphone compared to the Treo Pro and Centro, especially compared to the Treo Pro. Of course the Fuze is thicker because it has the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The Treo Pro is thinner but is wider and taller than the Fuze.

The high resolution VGA screen on the Fuze is really stunning. I enjoyed the larger sized screen as well. The Centro and Treo Pro screens are much smaller in comparison. I think all three have bright and crisp screens though. But that TouchFLO 3D sure did stand out on the Fuze.


Buttons

The Fuze is almost bare of buttons on the front. There is the recessed Center button that serves as the Okay function when you press it. There are 4 tiny arrows around the Center button for Up, Down, Left and Right. You have to press outside the Center button. At first, I was pressing right on the outer edges of the Center button. This caused me to go to the wrong app, especially whenever I would try to press to go to the Right. I would keep hitting the Back arrow by mistake. I finally figured out that if I wanted to go Right or Left,I needed to press the area further outside the Center button.

The Center button also functions as a zoom wheel when you're browsing on Opera. I thought that was pretty neat. You slide your finger clockwise to zoom in and counterclockwise to zoom out. You can also double tap the screen to zoom in like you do on the iPhone.

I like that the Center button lights up when you have notifications/alerts as does the Center button on the Treo Pro.

The other buttons on the front of the Fuze are flush buttons like on the Treo Pro. The Fuze has a Home button, Phone Send, Back button, and a Phone End/Power button on either side of the Center button. These buttons are backlit whenever you're using them.

On the left side of the Fuze are the Volume up and Down buttons and a large Push To Talk (PTT) button. The right side is void of any buttons. The stylus is located at the bottom right. The stylus is short but solidly built with metal and hard plastic. The tip of the stylus is magnetic and when you remove the stylus from its silo, the screen is activated. I thought that was so cool! I wish the Centro had a solid stylus like that, magnetized or not. I do like my Treo Pro's stylus though. It's located in the same spot as the Fuze stylus. They both blend in very well with the body of the device.

On top of the Fuze is the lone Power button. The bottom of the Fuze has a mini USB port for syncing and charging. Also on the bottom are the microphone and a soft reset button, which is just below the headphone icon. You can press the reset button with the tip of the stylus. I prefer being able to press a hole with my stylus than having to take the battery cover off to press a hole or to have to remove the battery to reboot the device. Unfortunately, the Centro and Treo Pro both have to have their batteries removed in order to reboot. And if you've read my first impressions article on the Treo Pro, you know how hard it is for me to get the darned battery cover off. Ugh.

There isn't a headphone jack on the bottom of the Fuze like on the Treo Pro and Centro. Instead, the Fuze ships with a multi-adapter that plugs into the mini USB port. What the crap? I just don't get that. Why would I want to go through the extra steps of connecting an adapter to the bottom of the Fuze and then connect the other end of that adapter to the end of my headphone? The only positive thing about the multi-connector is that it works with both 2.5 and 3.5mm headset jacks.

The back of the device is certainly interesting. The back is multi-faceted like the Diamond and really looks slick. My only problem is that the shiny surface is the worst fingerprint magnet I've come across in a smartphone yet. The shiny back looks better than the soft back on the Touch Pro, but the fingerprints and smudges pretty much ruin the look after about 4 seconds of handling the Fuze. And no amount of wiping is going to satisfy me because there's no way to keep the fingerprints off. Well, I guess you could put a skin on it. If not, you'll just have to live with the fingerprints or with continuous wiping. That's how the back of the iPod video is too. I think I just finally gave up on trying to keep the fingerprints and smudges off of my iPod. I just tried not to look at the back of it, because I'd cringe at the sight.

Also on the back of Fuze is the 3.2 megapixel camera lens and LED flash, and speaker. The whole back cover slides off, quite easily I might add, revealing the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot. I miss the card slot being conveniently placed on the side of the device where you can easily access it like on the Treo 680. It's a small annoyance to have to remove the battery cover on the Fuze, Centro, and Treo Pro to get to the card slot. But then again, having said that, the card slot door on the side of the Treo 680 is flimsy and looks like it could break off if you breathed on it.


Keyboard

The Fuze has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. A lot of people don't care for slide-out keyboards, but as I mentioned in the 1st Round Robin, I like them. I think they have a certain cool factor, being all hidden away like they are. Besides looking great, the Fuze keyboard has lots of features on it. There are dedicated shortcut keys for Email, Internet, Contacts, and Calendar. And there are Fn shortcuts for IM, SMS, AT&T's Music Directory, AT&T's Video Service, the Wireless Manager, and switching between T9 and ABC modes. Plus there is a dedicated key for the Windows Mobile Start menu and an OK key. There are also indicator lights for Caps and Fn. With all those cool features, I really couldn't care less that there isn't a dedicated row for numbers.

I enjoyed typing on the keyboard found it really easy to type on. Of course typing on the keyboard was very different from typing on my Centro or Treo Pro. I have small hands so I have no trouble typing on the Centro or Treo Pro. Both those keyboards are designed for one-handed use, whereas you need both hands to type on the Fuze's slide-out keyboard. For typing out long emails, the Fuze would great and probably even better than the Centro and Pro's keyboards. I still think I like the Centro's keyboard the best, smallest or not, because I love the clear-gel looking buttons and the rubbery feel to them that keeps the tips of my fingernails from sliding off. Plus the color of the keys on my Electric Blue Centro looks just gorgeous.

If you don't want to bother sliding out the Fuze's QWERTY keyboard, you can easily pull up the virtual keypad and type on it. I did that many times over the last few days. It was nice having both options.


Features

Well, naturally I found the beautiful screen with the TouchFLO 3D to be a feature. Everything just seemed to pop on the wonderful screen. I loved the Weather app included on the Fuze. To me, that was a great feature. That had to be the coolest weather app I've seen. The images for the current conditons of each city had the coolest 3D graphics! When it's clear, there's an image of the Earth and it just seems to pop right off the screen. My favorite weather condition was rain. When it's raining, there are water drops on the screen and when you first click on the city, a drop or two actually move. Then an animated windshield wiper swipes across the screen. I was hoping that when it was snowing, there would be animated snowflakes falling on the screen, but there was just a picture of some clouds and some snowflakes.

Some more features of the Fuze are Bluetooth the built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g). I really appreciated the Wi-Fi since I couldn't enjoy the 3G on the Fuze. My area STILL does NOT have 3G. The Wi-Fi was great just as it is on my Treo Pro! I'll have to say that I enjoyed browsing the Web much more on the Fuze than I do on my Treo Pro because of the included Opera Mobile 9.5 browser. The webpages opened fast on Opera Mobile and I enjoyed being able to zoom in and out.

The Fuze has a pretty nice 3.2 megapixel camera too. I never did get around to taking any outdoor pics, but I did take some indoors. I thought that the camera took some good photos. The Fuze even has a flash, which is pretty cool. The camera on the Fuze, being a 3.2 megapixel camera, is naturally better than the camera on the Treo Pro, which is a 2 megapixel camera.

Here are a few pics that I snapped with the Fuze. Haji, our Blue Tabby, seen above, was napping and woke up when I approached him to take his photo. The little sleepy head didn't seem too bothered that I took his picture.

I'm sure all you gadget gals out there can guess what this medical device is. Me and the girls had an appointment for a very "pressing" matter, and when the technician walked out to show my films to the radiologist, I snapped a couple of photos. I had a smashing time as usual, but luckily everything turned out okay. Boyhowdy, you guys don't know how lucky you are that you don't have to endure some of the fun tests that we women do.


Software

I mentioned some of the tabs on the Fuze earlier. The included software on the tabs are Home, Contacts, Email, Messaging, AT&T Programs, Internet, Music, Weather, Programs, Camera/Photos, and Settings. I briefly went over the tabs in my video review.

Some More Included Apps

  • Internet Sharing
  • Adobe Reader LE
  • Remote Desktop
  • Bluetooth Explorer
  • Worldcard Mobile Business Card Scanner
  • a Java Virtual Machine (Esmertec Jbed)
  • Sprite Backup
  • WikiMobile
  • Download links for Xpress Mail and BlackBerry Messenger
  • Jetcet Print, QuickGPS
  • Zip for unzipping
  • Streaming Media for Video
  • the Teeter game
  • Trial-ware apps: MobiTV, Ms. Pac Man, Brain Challenge, Midnight Pool, etc.

Editor "Must-Dos"

As part of the Round Robin rules, all the editors have a list of "must-dos" that we each must attempt to follow. Below are the results of my Fuze "must-dos":

  1. Use their assigned smartphone as their "main brain" and may not use any other smartphone OR music device (such as an iPod) for one full week: I made it through my first week. The Fuze was a fun ride. I still felt bad when I saw my Palm smartphones sitting on my desk, knowing I couldn't use them.
  2. Get their PIM data onto their phone. Ideally they will 'Sync with the Cloud," but a computer sync is ok too: Well, that was a tough one for me with the Fuze. I wasted a lot of time the first two days that I had the Fuze just trying to get it to sync. More on that in the "Snag" section below...
  3. Get up their email on the smartphone: Thank goodness, that was a piece of cake! I was easily able to add a new email account and get my Gmail on the Fuze.
  4. Use their smartphone to get directions at least once: I used Google Maps and got directions to a couple of restaurants and some antique stores in nearby cities.
  5. Use their smartphone with a bluetooth headset: I paired the Fuze up with my BlueAnt V1 headset and the bluetooth seemed to work nicely. I had no problems.
  6. Install at least 2 3rd-party apps (if possible) on their smartphone: I installed Agendus for Windows Mobile and a couple of screen capture apps. Agendus was great, but I couldn't get either of the screen capture programs to take any screenshots. No matter what key I pressed, no screenshot was ever taken. Very annoying and a waste of time. And that's the reason that you don't see any screenshots in this review. Sorry!
  7. Play a game: I absolutely LOVED the included game, "Teeter"! I played it a lot and my Mom and oldest brother really got a kick out of it too. It was so cool how you could feel the steel ball thumping against the sides of the outer board. The game was challenging too so that made it interesting.
  8. Browse the internet: Browsing the Web with Opera Mobile was lots of fun. The pages opened quickly and smoothly and being able to zoom in and out was nice too.
  9. Add music to their smartphone and use it as their music device: I was able to add some of my MP3 files to the Fuze via ActiveSync by grabbing some tunes out of my Windows Media Player library. I used the included headphones but as I mentioned earlier, having to connect the Fuze to the headphones via the multi-adapter via the USB port was sort of lame.
  10. Watch a video on their device: I watched several videos, some that I recorded with the camcorder on the Fuze and some on YouTube that is included on the Fuze, yet strangely hidden in the Windows Directory. Annoying to have to search for the app and copy and paste it in the Start Menu. But I enjoyed being able to watch some music videos of my favorite singer, Sia, so it turned out good.

Snag

I use my Palm Centro more than my Treo Pro, so taking a ride with the Fuze was a whole different world. The first couple of days were conFUZing for me because I couldn't get the Fuze to sync with either or my computers. I have a Windows XP desktop PC and a Windows Vista laptop. I have my Treo 680 and iPod Touch connected to my desktop PC, along with several other devices, so I thought it might be best to sync the Fuze with my laptop, which I've only used to sync my Palm Centro. Sounds simple. Well, the Fuze didn't ship with a software CD so I had to find the syncing software and download it. I found that I'd need to download Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC), which takes the place of Microsoft Active Sync on Vista computers. So I found the software and downloaded it on my Vista laptop. I connected the USB sync cable to the Fuze and my laptop and but the WMDC didn't open up. I had to find it on my computer under Start/Programs. There was supposed to be a WMDC icon in the taskbar. So, obviously WMDC wasn't finding or connecting to the Fuze. There was a message in the lower left corner of the WMDC window that said, "Not Connected". So I unplugged the sync cable, soft reset the Fuze and rebooted my laptop. That didn't make a difference though because the WMDC still didn't connect to the Fuze. I decided to try to sync the Fuze with my desktop PC. I had no luck there either. I even did the same thing; rebooted and soft reset the Fuze. I even uninstalled ActiveSync and reinstalled it and plugged my USB cable directly into my computer instead of plugging it into my hub as I had been doing.

I headed over to the WMExperts forums to the Round Robin/Fuze contest thread and asked the kind WM folks about the syncing situation. Several people responded with some great advice. To make a long story short, I ended up doing a hard reset on the Fuze. Now let me tell ya, this was no easy task as you practically have to play finger "Twister" to simultaneously press the Lower Volume button and the Center button at the same time as you're pressing the reset button with the stylus.

Anyway, after I did the hard reset, I remembered what some people in the forum thread had said about making sure that the advanced networking was turned off. After I did that, and then connected the Fuze to the computer via the USB cable (via my hub), Active Sync actually recognized the Fuze and I saw the drivers being loaded and all the other positive notifications. So after all that, now I'm wondering if it was the advanced networking thing keeping me from being able to sync all that time. Or was it because I did a hard reset? I guess I'll never know for sure. But I was sooooooooooo happy that the Fuze was finally syncing! Things went smooth as silk after that.


Final Thoughts

I was impressed with the Fuze, even though I almost hated it the first couple of days when I couldn't get it to sync. That was so frustrating. The Fuze is a sleek and sexy piece of gadget art for sure. The large and bright screen combined with the slick TouchFLO 3D UI made for some yummy eye candy! The Fuze is feature packed and a lot of fun to use. I even had faint thoughts in the back of my mind about buying one, but I just couldn't justify spending that amount of money, especially when I was a little wary of some of the lag I'd experienced. When it lagged, it really lagged. The Fuze is solidly built and is one of the latest and greatest smartphones on the market right now.

Windows Mobile 6.1 is pretty nice, but I still have a hard time getting around on WM at times. I don't hate WM but I sure as heck don't love it. I kind of like it. I still prefer the Palm OS and appreciate its simplicity. I just feel more at home with the Palm OS. Of course there are many things that could be improved and I hope that Palm will address all those things in their upcoming next generation platform. I'd love to see a web browser that compares to Safari and Opera Mobile. I'd love to see a bigger screen too and a better launcher. A fancier UI like multi-touch or TouchFLO 3D wouldn't hurt either.

I want to say a special THANKS to all those great WMExperts folks who were kind enough to answer my questions about the Fuze! I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten the Fuze to sync if not for all your help!

The Fuze was fun! Next up for me will be the BlackBerry Bold. Stay tuned for my first impressions/video review on that device.

Until then, discuss this article here in the Round Robin Official Contest thread.





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