Sprint's first Windows Phone smart phone, the HTC Arrive, hits the market on March 20 ($200 with a two-year contract and rebates). It measures a chunky 4.63 x 2.32 x 0.61 inches and weighs a hefty 6.5 ounces, but that's to be expected for a phone with a slide-out keyboard that tilts up. The keyboard, with its five well-spaced rows of backlighted keys, is one of the best I've seen on a phone.
The other hardware elements are less remarkable. These include a Qualcomm 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, a 3.6-inch WVGA touch-screen, 16GB of internal memory, and a 5-megapixel camera with flash and HD video recording (720p).
While both Sprint and HTC are the pioneers of 4G network phones, the Arrive is marooned on Sprint's 3G networks, because Windows 7 doesn't yet support 4G. It's also hampered by several inexplicable omissions in the operating system. Nevertheless, I found plenty of reasons to like this phone.
Winning data entry. Physical keyboards are still the easiest and most accurate way to enter data, and the Arrive's is a winner. Besides its well-spaced keys, the Arrives' keyboard has a fifth row devoted to numbers and symbols. You can insert them by hitting the Function key, which is clearly marked in fluorescent yellow.
The physical keyboard also benefits from Windows Phone's predictive-text feature, which offers many intuitive word options as you type. Android keyboards also have predictive text—but only the virtual keyboards. When you're typing on a physical Android keyboard, like the ones found on the Motorola Droids, you're on your own.
The virtual keyboard on the Arrive also worked well, and it reoriented quickly from portrait mode to landscape when I tilted the phone.
Fancy formatting. This is the coolest feature for both virtual and real keyboards: While in Office, you can perform significant text-formatting feats on the fly. These include changing font size and color, highlighting in color, boldfacing, italicizing, underlining, and striking through.
Cut and paste. The HTC Arrive is one of the first Windows Phone devices to get this critical feature. (Other Windows Phone smart phones will receive this capability during the next few weeks via a free over-the-air update.)
Once I got the hang of it, it was easy to use: In a document or Web page, tap the screen once to place the cursor in the appropriate place, then tap again to highlight the adjacent word (a tiny Copy icon floats above the text). Expand the Copy field to include a whole sentence, paragraph, or page by pulling the tiny arrows on the edges of the field with your finger. When you're done highlighting, just tap the Copy icon and tap your finger in the target section. You can then insert the text into another section of any document by tapping your finger in the new section and hitting the Paste key.
Attractive interface. Windows Phone has one of the most attractive and efficient interfaces in Smartphoneville. Fonts are large and sharp, and they really pop on the often-black background—particularly on the People hub and calendar, which presents data from various sources in their own distinctive colors.
One of my only quibbles is that you can't integrate Twitter, LinkedIn, and feeds from some other services into the People Hub. Sorry, but Windows Live is a poor substitute. Also, Windows Phone makes it a challenge to integrate data from Google Calendar. You won't find it as an option in email and account settings; instead, you have to select Sync Calendar from your Google e-mail account.
Smooth multimedia. Photos and Web pages appeared quite sharp and bright on the Arrive's 3.6-inch display. And on YouTube (an app you have to download from the phone's HTC Hub), videos were smooth when the phone received at least three bars of Sprint signal. The built-in FM radio worked well, too. The Zune Marketplace has a decent selection of music, but not much in terms of movies and apps. And you can't download films directly to your phone, as you can on an Apple iPhone.
Decent camera. The Arrive's 5-megapixel camera took decent photos and videos, and as with other Windows Phone devices, you can launch the camera when the phone is locked. The Arrive offers plenty of options for sharing pics, as do other smart phones. For example, you can upload them to your personal online account, called SkyDrive, and then access them from any computer.
The camera app also allows you to enhance your pics with about a dozen special effects. However, this feature is not available for videos. In fact, videos can't be shared over the cell network; you have to move them to a computer first.
Bottom line. With its great keyboard, brilliant interface, and long-awaited cut-and-paste feature, the HTC Arrive appears to be a solid performer. But the real fun in owning a smart phone lies in what you can put on it. So unless Microsoft gets serious about opening its content doors to the much larger Twittering, Googling, app-crazy world, the Arrive and its Windows Phone cousins will never be more than niche players.