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Pros: Windows Mobile 6.1, MS Office mobile apps, GPS, EV-DO Rev A, 3.2 MP camera, wireless network printing, strap holder, push email, video out, expansion slot (1 GB micro SD memory included), physical QWERTY keyboard, rounded edges, beautiful screen, TouchFlo 3D, swipe function and accelerometer (when they work).

Cons: Bulky handset, sluggish operation (especially if a lot of programs are running), user has to press hard on the screen, no 3.5 mm headphone jack (USB stereo headset), no dedicated camera key, keys are stiff and flat, accelerometer is finicky, Sprint TV stalled the phone a lot, stylus

I've been playing with Sprint's HTC Touch Pro for the past few days, and in truth, I have a love/hate relationship with this device. It does everything I want a smartphone to do, but not always very well.

Case in point: I was at a cheese shop on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, waiting for my turn at the counter, when a guy came up to me and asked about the phone in my hand.

    "Is that a Touch Pro? I was thinking about getting one of those. How do you like it?"
    "It's not bad. Having a slide-out QWERTY board rocks, but the screen's kind of tough to press."
    "Doesn't it have a stylus?"
    "Yep, right here." Sure enough, I dropped the stylus while trying to pull it out of the built-in holster. "I hate these things."
    He started laughing. "I know what you mean. But I've had a Palm for like 7 years, so I'm used to it."
    "I keep losing it all around my apartment."
    "Me too. But you learn to buy them in multi-packs."

My new friend asked to check out the device, and I let him. I watched as he turned it over and over in his hand.

    "Fat, huh?"
    "Yeah. It's like .7 mm. Doesn't sound like much, but when I stash it in my pocket, I get self-conscious. Like someone's going to say, 'Is that a phone in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?'"
    "Ha! Well, that wouldn't bother me. I'm packin' a Palm, a cell and a laptop all the time. My contract's up soon, so I'm ready to stop schlepping everything around." He poked around and accidentally hit the Calendar function on the homescreen. "How do I shut this off?" He started randomly touching things. That was right before the phone froze. He looked horrified.
    "Oh my God, I broke it."
    "Nah. It's fine. It's done this before."

And that sums up my initial two days with the Touch Pro. I usually try out a new gadget without the manual at first, to see how intuitive everything is. In this case, I ended up freezing this device no less than 3 times. And more than once, I'd exit a screen only to find later that the program was still running in the background. Do this a few times, and all the apps that are still running concurrently can crash the phone. To add insult to injury, even when it was working properly, I still had trouble finding or operating simple things, like SMS text. I finally gave in and read the manual on the third day.

When I finally knew what I was doing, I learned how to text like a champ, switch between different types of on-screen keyboards and even print to my wireless printer. And I love being able to edit docs on the go. As an iPhone user, I never realized how much I missed cutting and pasting text. Frankly, this function blew me away.

So there's a lot of good that comes with the Touch Pro, and if I were a Sprint business user, I'd probably be in love. This smartphone takes all the good stuff from the previous Touch Diamond, like WinMo 6.1, the full Office mobile suite, push e-mail, Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS, and adds a physical QWERTY keyboard and a memory expansion slot to the mix. Although the system can be kind of laggy, people who want something close to a palmtop computer in a high-class gadget will still appreciate all the productivity tools and executive styling.

The screen is gorgeous, as is the sleek black top, brushed metal backing and shiny silver accent. It feels good in the hand, with the rounded corners and substantial-but-not-too-heavy weight. The biggest downside is the bulk, which my new friend pointed out. Yeah, I get that it takes room to include the slide-out keyboard, but it's too thick to fit comfortably in my pants pocket or clutch bag. Given that I'll be carrying this phone in my hand a lot, however, it is nice that it includes a notched strap holder so I won't drop it.

It comes loaded with multimedia programs for enjoying MP3s and videos, and also features Sprint TV, which may not offer the best quality for a mobile broadcasting network, but some people would rather have it than not. Personally, I prefer the VCast network on Verizon Wireless (though not the fees), but that's a carrier issue, not a problem with the device. The Touch Pro itself displays video beautifully and takes very decent shots for a phone camera, which, by the way, has 3.2 MP and a flash. The camcorder's not bad either. It won't turn you into Martin Scorsese or anything, but it will capture that sudden celebrity sighting at the mall with decent enough clarity.

Did I say I loved the physical QWERTY keyboard? Well, it bears repeating. They did a great job with the slide-out design. My only qualms with it were that the keys were a bit flat (beveling would've been nice, to boost the tactility of the buttons) and a little stiff to press. Maybe the spring action would loosen up a bit over time, but it didn't in the week I had to test it. Still, I liked that it slid out from the side, which gave it plenty of room for typing comfortably on the generously sized keys.

As I said before, I'm not wild about the stylus. Thankfully, the TouchFlo 3D interface worked without it, but I had to really press my finger or nail into it, which was annoying, and the swiping with my fingertip didn't always work. (It always worked with the stylus, though.) The accelerometer also went haywire a couple of times, like it wasn't certain whether I was holding it in landscape or portrait mode. It jarringly flipped back and forth as if a demon had possessed it.

In general, there are really only three things I want from a cell phone: Ease of use, cool, well thought-out features and a nice-looking, compact handset. So really, I was only halfway thrilled on each count. While the features really impressed me, the user experience didn't. In my opinion, a few fixes would take this smartphone from good to great: Improved stability, a slimmer profile, greater sensitivity on the touchscreen and a more tactile keyboard. And since I don't dig reading manuals, having a smaller learning curve would be great too.

Verdict: Thumbs half up

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