My HTC Dream – A Review

I am planning to take a break (maybe a long one) from the world of Android and of phones in general. Actually, it is only from the Smartphone category. I find that I spend quite some time catching up on news particularly on the three main OSes as I perceive them, namely Android, iOS (aka iPhone OS) and Windows Phone. For that reason, I am selling off my faithful HTC Dream that served me very well for more than 1 year since I bought it back in May 2009. It is a worth while investment, in my honest opinion.

Hardware

  • The Positive

The Build, Keyboard and Display: HTC Dream is a solidly built phone. I got into a dispute over this on Facebook with an old (now) acquaintance over this point. It is solid. I have dropped this phone a few times over my usage of it and it has NEVER caused any problems or glitches at all. Sure there is a bit of ‘give’ in sliding the keyboard out and in, but it is nothing but a design aspect that may have been poorly executed. Typing on this is really fun since the keyboard is well spaced. In fact, this is one of those HTC devices that provides a 5 row QWERTY keyboard layout. People do not realise the convenience of not having to press the function or shift key to call up ‘numbers’. Personally, keyboards are fun and important because of the tactile feedback and because it gives more screen size when doing certain things. Playing emulator games in general is a bliss because I have an unhindered 3.2″ view of the screen, which is very different from having my hands cluttering most of the screen on a full touchscreen device. 4 buttons with a ‘Menu’ button, volume controls on the side and a dedicated camera button brings a lot of ‘buttons’ on the first Android phone. The good thing is that it is uncluttered, since the buttons are small and well spaced. But mine you, this device is heavy. If you have used a purely touchscreen device, do not expect the Dream to be equivalent in weight and size. It weights a heavy 158 grams. But if you compare this with other keyboard devices, it is considered alright (especially for its age).

Digital Compass: Besides all this, the existence of a digital compass was a first for any handset of its time. The value of this was explored in the initial application by Google, Google Sky Map, that allowed a person to identify the sky objects above him, wherever he was in the world. It was an amazing app that had frightening accuracy and worthy as a ‘show off’ app to friends who were ignorant of Android. Besides that, its integration into Google Maps was beneficial to provide more accurate directions for navigations, where before, it was done mostly by calculating the GPS location changes to determine driving directions.

The Negatives

Having said this, there are of course some negative aspects to be wary for the phone; the inconvenience of slotting the microSD card and the battery is at the top of this negative list. The other thing is of course the weight, since it is well over 100grams. But then again, some of us prefer such ‘weightier’ phones in order to ‘know’ that it is there. The weight does bring some reassurance of its presence, at least that’s the case for me.

Now, one issue that I think is a mixture of hardware and software, pertains to the sensitivity of the capacitive screen. I would have to admit that the sensitivity is alright but is not as sensitive as I would like it to have. It takes sometime to get use to the screen input, as sometimes it would register a touch, and other times it would only half register it. Maybe it is the screen protector that I use, but I have to say that it certainly needs to be tweaked to be more sensitive, especially for keyboard typing (using the virtual Android provided). The sensitivity seems to be more problematic towards the edges of the screen compared to the center. It is not a deal breaker for me, but definitely takes away some joy when compared to the iPhone screen (sourced from Samsung).

The lack of proximity sensors is a minor thing, especially when it was launched (in late 2008), but the lack is more pronounced now when most new handsets include that as part of the battery efficiency measure.

Performance

Having said enough about the physical appearance of the phone, it is time to get down to the main thing concerning the HTC Dream phone; it’s performance on Android. I have to say that the experience is not bad at all. Granted that I have rooted my phone and installed all the necessary components needed to run custom ROMS, but nevertheless, running Android 2.1 (aka Eclair) was a smooth transition from 1.6 (Donut). Probably it helped that I was running a modified kernel that allowed for overclocking of it’s weak CPU, the MSM7201A chip running at 528Mhz (originally only 384Mhz on stock ROM). With the CPU overclocked to a maximum of 633Mhz and underclocked to a minimum of 160Mhz, performance was snappy. The downside for the performance of Dream comes from its limited and poor RAM space, which is only 192MB. This is definitely not sufficient, and is shown by its lag, when the CPU tries to free up space to load other programs or applications. This can be circumvented by installing Swapper that uses the MicroSD card as a ‘virtual or fake’ RAM. It works to an extent, which is why it is always better to set the swap size to something small like 32MB or anything below 64MB. Using custom homescreen launchers like Launcher Pro (which I highly recommend) I find that the screen flies at the littlest swipes on the touchscreen. Applications could generally work pretty well (as long as it meets the criterion given, e.g. CPU speed) and does not have too much of a lag (especially when using Swap).

However, the down side is in the inevitable lag that is occasionally experienced due to the poor RAM size. This happens even with swapper, in the rare occasions when the swap size is more than 64MB. Not only that, the performance of ‘contacts’ and ‘dial panel’ is marred by a 2 seconds lag. Keeping the swap alive helps to make an instantaneous change to the phone function needed, but you will still need to initiate it first, in order for it to be stored in the phone’s memory. This is but a secondary solution to a main problem in switching between the phone functions. However, I find that this is slightly improved in Cyanogen’s ROM 5.0.8. final, when compared to Donut and Froyo (CyanogenMod’s 6.0 RC). This will not be fixed unless a developer comes out with a streamlined version of the ROMS without other resource hogging applications available. We have not seen such innovation on this front yet.

Playing Emulators on the HTC Dream is wonderful to say the least. Why? The physical keyboard actually allows the user to map any key to the keyboard without our hands occupying or covering at least 1/2 (half) the screen size. I usually get the full 3.2″ inch display whether I am using the Genesis or Gameboy Advanced on my keyboard! The effect is much better than the full touchscreen phone.

Camera and Video Recording

The 3.2MP camera was adequate for the job, although it does not produces much radiancy of colours. For quick shots, this is ideal. The waiting moment between shots is around 3-4 seconds. Video is pathetic, but will work for sending MMS quality files or for quick short clips. A new improvement on the camera has already been completed (only for rooted phones with CyanogenMod OS; a bump up in resolutions to 480*320 with an estimated frames-per-second (fps) of 13-14fps. This is not remarkable, but at least it is an improvement from the stock radio.

Conclusion

I sold my HTC Dream recently. I still miss the amount of hacking and tweaking made available to Android enthusiast from XDA and some other phone portals. However, I would not mind picking up a second HTC Dream if given a second set. It is useable as a daily driver and I would recommend it with minor qualifications. The solid build will ensure that it will give you what you need even though there might be the occasional bugs popping up whenever it feels like it.

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