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The HTC Advantage – why it’s good to follow the brick road

All technology turns up devices that rather than being just nuts and bolts they become friends and the boxy old HTC Advantage is just one of those.

There are people who still swear by their Nokia Communicators, known affectionately by those who use them as ‘the Brick’ and indeed I know of one former naval officer who has tried to keep his together with layers of blue electrical tape and I feel the same about my HTC.

It’s not pretty and after a few months the matt black paint rubs off. After a year or so the leather case gets a little battered and in the case of mine with good reason as it fell off the bonnet of the car at 30 mph when it had been unforgivably left there.

But it survived, and now it has developed the sort of assured and battered look that you can only usually get from army equipment that has taken a few turns around a war zone.

Which is the point. At a time when the average mobile has the life expectancy of a butterfly – around 9 months – I have kept hold of my HTC precisely because its useful

Mine is an old man now. It’s 8Gb of memory marking it out as one of the first of the few. It runs Bluetooth, WiFi, 3G – Windows Mobile a video camera and a standard camera, five inch screen and a usable qwerty keyboard that you can just about touch type on rather than the ones that you have to use two fingers to bash away on.

I have to admit that when I first got it I thought it was rubbish but it has grown on me. The camera is awful and takes ages to load and when it eventually does the images are not great more snapshot than art shot.

Though its greatest attraction for me was the keyboard, which initially turned out to be a disappointment. The keys were stiff and typing was not good – to register you had to hit them and they suffered, terribly from not being under-lit. But over time they wore and the action now is perfect

It also has one other notable design quirk because the keyboard separates from the phone and is snapped together by magnets, a feature that defines it according to every child who has seen it as a laptop rather than a phone.

As a further mark of how long I have had it over the years I have acquired a Brodit car mount for the system. It is an elegant mount and there is an eye to making the system look as though it is part of the car, because it’s in the car that the HTC comes into its own.

Just by looking at it you know that this is an in car laptop and not an oversized Satnav.

An opinion confirmed by every child who enters the car who instantly confer the title ‘cool’ on the device and treat it as the car’s communications centre and their role on journeys as being communications officer.

They effortlessly set up the Satnav, field any incoming text messages, answer emails and field queries from others in the car by pulling down answers from the internet. The keyboard being large enough to use despite the movement of the car.

Latterly they have taken advantage of an I-Pod socket built into the car to connect up the HTC’s media player and use the device as a music centre an innovation that has rendered the CD player obsolete overnight

All well and good you say but isn’t it meant to be a phone too.

Well yes, and as in the case of the Nokia Brick you do look odd holding a little laptop to your head. There has been the sustained erosion of time against my HTC and the stylus snapped and half is now stuck inside its sleeve and the headphones gave up the ghost, so now I have installed a bluetooth headpiece which has got around the elegance issue.

A practical innovation that has interested me, as some in the mobile phone design industry are suggesting that a heresy might develop, where those seeking ‘functional cool’ ie a powerful mobile computing device, as opposed to ‘chic cool’ a pretty but small mobile device may opt to separate the headset from the processing power.

In essence a solution that would be remarkably similar to the old telephones of the 80s, handsets connected to a phone by a wire.

Thus my combination makes me see myself more as a pioneer than an early adopter.

A position that the HTC has massively bolstered in all children’s eyes by the fact that it can connect to the car’s built in communications system via Bluetooth allowing me to make and take phone calls using voice control.

And it is this in car role for the HTC that has confirmed to me something that I have always thought about the car manufacturer’s battle to sell us vehicles based on its ability to put the latest technology into them and how flawed that concept is.

Technology dates very fast unless it is good and in car technology dates faster than any other. The Satnav systems in relatively modern Volvos quickly looked as though they were designed by Sir Clive Sinclair in the 1980s.

It is to the interface for technology that car manufacturers if they want to steal a march on their rivals. Aerials, wifi antennae, Bluetooth connectivity and Oled screens and usable keyboards set into seats until voice technology comes of age.

Meantime leave the passengers to bring their own processing power already packed with their personal content and they will not go far wrong.

You see I’ve had the advantage of working with my mate on this and he’s a brick.

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Written on an HTC Advantage