Wednesday 12 March 2008

HTC Touch Dual: Return to Sender

I've been like a child waiting for Christmas the last few months waiting for my upgrade date to tick round on my phone contract so I could get my HTC Touch Dual without having to pay for it (yeah, I know I pay indirectly but it still feels like I'm getting a free toy).  And on Saturday I took delivery of a sleek black box containing a gorgeous shiny new phone!  Wooo!

It looks nice, feels well made without being too bulky, and most important for me it has a real keypad as well as a touchscreen.  (That was what had me sold from the minute I first read about the thing - I have no desire at all for an iPhone simply because I don't want to have to look at the thing to be able to do stuff I can do with buttons without looking.  And anyway, it has no high speed data.)  When I got my sim activated I browsed a few pages over HSDPA which was impressively quick, synced up my contacts from my PC, installed OneNote mobile (the other thing I'd been missing since I last had a Windows SmartPhone a couple of years ago), synced again, played about a bit with some settings, and generally admired its sleek loveliness and its cute little fabric bag.  There were a few things I was a bit disappointed by, mostly things I used to do on my C600 (a much older HTC, I think, rebadged as 'Orange') and assumed I'd be able to do with this.  But I was cautiously optimistic we'd work out our minor differences.

Four days on I absolutely loathe the thing.  I've just rung up my provider to send it back.  (Thankfully I did my upgrade online so I'm covered by a return policy - phew!)  Just a few of my gripes with it are:

  • Having a touchscreen on a phone is a bad idea unless it's smart enough to lock itself during calls.    See this appendage on the side of my head that I use for listening?  My ear?  Guess what happens when I'm on a call?  Yes, it touches my phone. And usually activates the SpeakerPhone option.  AGH!
  • Going through touch-menus to send a text message is not my idea of convenient, and texting is what I use my phone for most.  To my mind, I should be able to do that without getting the stylus out or making ham-fisted attempts to pick out some tiny menu option with my fingernail.
  • After four days I still haven't found a foolproof way of locking and unlocking the touchscreen/keypad so I can carry it in my bag without accidentally creating a dozen tasks called £*^$%"%%"!.  (Which, coincidentally, is exactly what I said while I was deleting said tasks.)  I'm not some doddery grandma who can't program my PVR, locking and unlocking should be intuitive; if there's a knack to it, it shouldn't take me four days to get it.
  • It's useful to have some kind of 'new event' indicator (other than an amber flashing light that has to be configured by an option buried deep in the menus of the thing) so I know if I missed a call or a text with just a glance.  Even now I have the amber light configured, I still have to look for two seconds before it flashes.  That is not a glance.  I could have done something with those two seconds.  My C600 was slightly annoying in that regard as well, but you can probably tell I've already lost my rag with the Touch Dual.  It's got to the point where the green light - the one you get when you have no new events to trigger an amber light - seems to be mocking me for my lack of calls or texts.  (Now do you see why I have to send it back?)

Those might seem like pretty minor annoyances but I guess the essence of it is that everything I could do on my previous handset (Sony Ericsson W850i) just seems to be so much less 'at my fingertips'.  I used to be able to pick up a text and reply to it and walk down the road at the same time.  Today I actually had to stop in the street to read a text message.  Oh, the humiliation.

Don't get me wrong, if you want a touchscreen PDA with phone features and think the addition of a numeric/T9 keypad will be useful then there's a good chance you'll love this thing, it really is quite attractive after all.  But I wanted a phone with some touchscreen PDA features, which this isn't.  At its heart is a touchscreen OS and the keypad is just an afterthought.  It's a shame.  I'm off now to console myself by window shopping for its replacement...

Friday 7 March 2008

Writing in plain English

I've been creating quite a bit of documentation lately.  I try very hard to write good, clear documents without unnecessary detail.  (So that means not describing in detail, with screenshots, every input box on a straightforward authentication dialog in a document aimed at desktop support people.  If your support teams need that level of help, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you have problems that no amount of documentation will fix.  But I digress...)

Recently I was asked to translate a fairly technical description of a problem into something a less technically-minded person could understand.  In fact the brief was "translate it into something your granny would understand" (a pretty tall order as neither of my grandmothers are alive, but I knew what he meant).

Thankfully this is something I've done several times before - usually the instructions are "translate it into something my MD will understand" but unless the MD in question has a technical background that usually equates to about the same.

Anyhow, had I found the task at all difficult, this excellent document from the Plain English Campaign would have given me some great pointers:

How to write in plain English

I recommend having a look around the whole site because it's entertaining as well as informative.  Us techies are infamous for being poor communicators so it does no harm to a) try to learn to do better or b) console ourselves that at least there are worse offenders and have a good laugh at their expense.

In fact I'm starting to think the document above should be compulsory reading for anyone who ever went to university.  I've no idea how it happens (I left school at 18 so I'm in the clear), but somewhere between school and the workplace people stop writing "we did the experiment and wrote down the results" and start coming up with strange constructions like "a manual recording and collation methodology was employed in order to compile a dataset for utilisation in analysis of the observations resulting from the application of the prescribed experimentation procedures".  (I made that one up, but if you look around on the Plain English Campaign site you'll see it isn't that far-fetched.)

I plan to follow up with a handful of posts about writing technical and user documentation... if I ever break off from writing actual documents long enough to write the posts, that is!

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