Confessions of an Audiophile #2 - playing with the Touch Pro 2

I've been yearning to do this article for such a long time, practically ever since I had my last audiophile encounter with the ZuneHD back in 2009. That gadget told me a lot about what I was missing as far as a modern portable audio device (mp3 player) was concerned, and to be honest left me feeling quite disappointed.

While I've been fortunate to have the HTC Touch Pro 2 with me for quite some time, it's been a painstakingly long wait in getting the last few accessories I needed to really see how the device performs when doing audio and video playback. Now that those final pieces have fallen into place, it's time to take the Touch Pro 2 on an extended test drive. How does it handle? Three words - I love it!

PROS: Maximum sound quality, straightforward operation, amazing accessories, full smartphone functionality

CONS: Can be expensive, accessories hard to get, storage limited by microSDHC card capacity


While it has been several months since purchasing my Touch Pro 2, the various audio accessories I needed to get it to do what I wanted have only been with me for about a month. Much of what I have is only available imported from overseas, since even the smartphone itself is a manufacturer-unlocked GSM version different to what T-Mobile sells retail. Fortunately, I was able to contact Expansys through their US website and order everything that I needed. They stock a ton of rare to find gear, including HTC, but availability can be sparse.

So what are the accessories I'm using with my Touch Pro 2? First and foremost, I have my Sony XB700 headphones, which I also love to use with my notebook and netbook. Second, I have the RC E100 remote control accessory from HTC. Finally, I went and got an ORA-branded deluxe desktop cradle for the Touch Pro 2.

Required for high-end cans - the HTC remote
Those familiar with the device will know that the GSM version of the Touch Pro 2 doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack, only an 11-pin EXT-USB proprietary connector. That presented a major problem for me, since I wanted to use my Sony cans to listen to music. The EXT-USB connector used by HTC supplies audio and video signals through the additional pins, but gaining access to those would require the use of an adapter, hence the RC E100. This small device is similar to a wired headset, in that it plugs into the phone and has buttons to allow control of the device without having to hold the device itself. It includes a spring clip on the back that lets you attach it to your clothing, has a built-in mic for use during calls, and volume controls. Most importantly, it has a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, letting you connect any standard headphones to enjoy your music. Other controls on the RC E100 include a hold switch, play/pause, fwd/rev track skip, call answer/end and a mute button.

When you have the RC E100 connected, the Touch Pro 2 will let you use the Audio Booster application, something that is otherwise locked. This can be accessed from the audio player menu which let's you adjust 10 full bands of equalization, provides over a dozen EQ presets which are adjustable, and lets you create your own custom presets. This is exactly the kind of detailed sound shaping functionality that was so glaringly absent from the ZuneHD, as it makes a world of a difference when listening to quality source material with high-end headphones. Playback quality is as good as I get from my home audio equipment, which makes the Sony cans perform at their best.

Movie playback is very fluid, with WMV and mp4 formats playing back the best. While the Touch Pro 2 doesn't have an AMOLED display, the 3.6" screen is still bright, rich in color, and offers a crisp 480x800 resolution. The touch interface is as good as a resistive interface gets - I got used to it very quickly and actually behaves very close to a capacitive touch screen. With 6+ hours of movie playback time on the standard 1500mAh battery, dual cameras, microSDHC slot, sliding 5-row back-lit QWERTY keyboard, a unique tilting display, HTC SENSE interface and a ton of other smartphone features, the Touch Pro 2 certainly delivers where it needs to. It's no accident this was the top smartphone at CTIA 2009 - this device (still) dazzles!

Indeed, the fact that the Touch Pro 2 has been on sale since June 2009 indicates a solid, and by today's smartphone trends, impressively long product life. HTC definitely did their homework on this one - the manufacturer hasn't even scheduled a successor device to replace the TP2 in the immediate future. That means the only new sliding keyboard Windows phone we see would come in a Windows Phone 7 variant sometime in 2011. Not knowing what that phone may be like or offer, however, it's a safe bet to buy what's been proven to be the best device currently, and enjoy everything it can do for you today.


Bluetooth audio streaming in the car...
The next big thing I wanted my Touch Pro 2 to do was stream music in my car over bluetooth. If you recall my review of the ZuneHD, you will know the ZuneHD does not offer bluetooth at all. But the Touch Pro 2, being a smartphone, has full bluetooth connectivity as standard. Having done a complete audio system upgrade on my car a while back (new speakers, amps and subwoofer), I made provisions to have bluetooth available for both hands-free phone use and to stream audio. My head unit is a double-DIN JVC KW-AVX800 multimedia receiver, but in order to use Bluetooth I needed to pick up one additional item - a JVC KS-BTA200 bluetooth adapter. At $100, this adapter was still cheaper than many other non-audio, phone-only bluetooth car interface solutions out there, giving me a lot more bang for the buck. Since I was able to install it myself, though, I also saved a nice chunk of change on installation costs.

As well as making it far safer to talk and drive, which I can appreciate given busy traffic, I can now listen to the library of music on my Touch Pro 2. I have two profiles set up on the handset, one for hands-free and one for audio. When the JVC head unit turns on, the Touch Pro 2 automatically connects using both profiles. When a call comes in, it automatically mutes whatever music is playing and connects the call. Likewise, as soon as I fire up a tune on the Touch Pro 2, the head unit will switch over to bluetooth audio mode and play through the car's speakers. Sound quality is extremely good, and the listening experience is very impressive. It has made my daily drive a lot more interesting, safer and fun.

What's even better is that I now have access to a new source of listening material, as I can just as easily stream music from any other bluetooth device in range, be it a friend's smartphone who I am driving with or even a small handheld PC. Up until now, I've kept my music collection on DVD and played it back off disc. Now I can take my music with me on my Touch Pro 2 and keep it on a more robust SD card. With SDHC cards trumping DVD in capacity, my music collection can stretch beyond 8GB easily.


...and at home via the desktop cradle
Finally, I should touch on (pun intended) the cradle accessory. My last smartphone didn't have a cradle, which I sorely missed, especially since the phone I had before that DID have it's own charging stand. I kept it bedside as it worked well as an alarm and made charging as simple as dropping it in every night. I wanted to get the same functionality with the Touch Pro 2, so I looked around to see what docks were available for the handset. Eventually, I found the ORA Touch Pro 2 deluxe desktop cradle at Expansys. This device does four important things - it makes my Touch Pro 2 look good on the desk (!!!), it charges the handset, works as a USB data sync when connected to my notebook, and it feeds audio out to a home audio system.

That last part is made possible thanks to a 3.5mm stereo jack on the back of the cradle, which you can connect either with another 3.5mm stereo cable or an RCA L/R split cable, depending on your receiver. My home stereo system is a glass-top JVC CA-FSSD550 micro CD/receiver (made famous by Will Smith in the movie I-Robot). It's got an AUX input on the rear that let's me connect the audio cable from the Touch Pro 2's cradle. Music plays back directly, meaning I can still use the handset to sync with my notebook over USB or transfer files over bluetooth without interrupting the audio stream.

Alternatively, the dock lets me connect the RC E100 remote control, letting me still use the Touch Pro 2 with headphones while it's sitting in the dock charging or syncing over bluetooth. Get really creative, and I could connect the RC E100 in-line with my home stereo and use the remote to play/pause and skip tracks without touching the Touch Pro 2 in it's cradle!!! That kind of wide versatility and functionality is very impressive - it gives me access to my music in far more ways than I could have imagined. It also lets me enjoy my music in a variety of situations, be it at a desk while at work or on my coffee table at home, either with or without headphones. Talk about being sonically spoiled!


One thing I noticed right away was that volume was very low when streaming music over bluetooth and during calls. I had to crank up the volume on the Touch Pro 2 to maximum in order to get normal volume on my car's head unit and hear the other person during a call. It's a small nag having to adjust the volume every time I connect, but only an extra step since I tend to connect the car charger cable as well.

The same was true when listening to music at home with the desktop cradle - I would need to crank the volume on the Touch Pro 2 on high for the receiver to pick up the signal. That does make sense though, since the receiver expects line-in level input and not headphone level output, the latter which is generally much weaker. I can forgive both instances though, since adjusting the volume is something I normally do anyway, it's just a habit now of making sure I turn it back down on the Touch Pro 2 when I disconnect.

Right now I have an 8GB microSDHC card inserted, which is more than enough to store my current music collection, back up my handset and keep a handful of full-length movies available for watching. Get carried away with your movies though, and you could run into the situation that even a 32GB card won't be enough. That's both a pro and a con though, as you can use any number of cards you happen to have, as long as you're happy popping off the back cover to swap cards. Personally, I would go with the largest capacity currently affordable (16GB) and stream my media remotely.

Another thing to carefully consider is the price of all this gear. My Touch Pro 2 is the unlocked GSM version not available through US providers, hence the high import price of $409. Add the price of the cradle ($32), SD card ($17) and remote control ($30), and you're now at around double the price of a 32GB ZuneHD ($239). It's certainly an expensive proposition. But when I look at all the amazing accessories the Touch Pro 2 has, the features, flexibility, audio fidelity and many more ways I can listen to my music, I'm convinced the cost has been well worth it. Hey, it's a high-end smartphone at the end of the day too.

Availability, however, is becoming scarce. It took me one month to get just the remote control accessory alone, with Expansys frequently running out of stock of the Touch Pro 2 at times as well. Clearly, retailers today are getting rid of their WM6.5 inventory in anticipation of Windows Phone 7 - a trend that's been quite evident in especially these last few months. You really need to look around for the accessories you need, compare pricing, check availability, and if you're ready to buy, not fuss around. Deals out there now may be gone tomorrow!


As an audiophile, I have to admit that I absolutely love the Touch Pro 2 - it is the definitive portable audio playback device. I am extremely impressed. The 10-band customizable graphic equalizer, hifi audio quality, remote control convenience and bluetooth connectivity all place it clearly ahead of Microsoft's much-touted ZuneHD. The ability to route audio from the desktop cradle to my home hifi system is also a great feature that I just can't get enough of. Combine the many advantages of today's smartphones, internet connectivity, long battery life and wide range of accessories, and you have a device that will not only make you extremely happy to use and proud to own, but will serve you well for a long time yet. I am so glad I got this!


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