Taiwan's HTC has been pumping out variations on its Touch theme touch-operated devices with striking regularity this year, including the G1 (Google phone), iPhone-alike Touch HD, svelte but powerful Touch Diamonnd and QWERTY keyboard-packing Touch Pro.

Now they've taken a step back to go forward with the HTC Touch Viva, an update of the original Touch from way back in 2007.

Things have moved on so much since the original Touch, so that what was once innovative, now takes its place at the bottom, budget end of the range.

Suprising omissions

First off, it's probably easiest to list what the HTC Touch Viva doesn't have. There's no 3G, though there is Wi-Fi, and there's no GPS and no headphones. There's not much in the way of onboard memory either, with just 256MB, though there's a microSD slot underneath the battery.

The HTC Touch Viva is different from other Touches in that the touch screen is recessed a couple of millimetres from the phone's casing. While this might provide some protection against scratches if you lay it down on its face, it has the effect of making it more difficult to use.

It's hard to activate the touch screen at the sides with your finger or thumb, meaning you have to rely on the side-mounted stylus. It's not a disaster, but it can be a nuisance, especially when you want to activate a scroll bar in a hurry.

That aside, the TouchFLO interface that sits on top of the Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional OS is still a winner, making it easy to organise your favourite apps. It doesn't look quite as flashy as the 3D version available on the higher end models, but it does the job well enough.

Easy browsing

The decision not to include 3G is a strange one, not least because the Viva's web browser is one of its main strengths.

The default browser is Opera (though you can use Explorer if you really must) and you can pan around pages by brushing the screen with your fingertip.

Zooming is easy using the zoom scroll bar and it's only a shame that there's no option to view pages in landscape mode (unless you're watching videos via the YouTube app).

Basic camera

The camera is only of the 2 megapixel variety, so lagging well behind the Touch HD's 5 megapixel snapper (which actually isn't as good as it should be).

There's no flash and it doesn't handle movement well but brightly lit still pics come out okay. It's unlikely you'll bother much with the video camera though, since blurring seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

Viewing your still pics afterwards however is a joy since the HTC pic browser lets you zoom in or out by drawing circles with your finger around the point you want to zoom in on, and you can move on to the next pic by brushing your finger across the screen.

Punchy music player

The music player is similar to other Touches and it's a fine piece of software, kicking out a decent whack via the loudspeaker. But there's no headphones, and no 3.5mm headphone jack which would have made it easier to add your own pair, so you'll need to get a mini USB adaptor if you want to use this device for music.

Battery life is pretty good for this class of phone, and it gave us a good three days of moderate use before recharging.

Limited appeal

The lowest specced contender in any range is always going to suffer from comparison with its peers.

The HTC Touch Viva could have been better if its positioning had been a bit clearer – if it's meant for browsing, include 3G, if it's music, give it some headphones, if it's for watching video, make sure you can view them in widescreen.

It may find a niche as a cut-price Windows Mobile device given out to corporate drones, but the rest of us are likely to find it too frustrating that it's not a Pro, or an HD, or a Diamond…

Network availability: TBC

Looks: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Features: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value: 3.5/5