HTC HD2 Review

The HD HD2. This phone has a lot of weight on it’s shoulders. In recent years and months Windows Mobile has been badly knocked by the iPhone and Android. Both of these platforms have made serious inroads and many Windows Mobile customers have moved away.

You may remember our initial thoughts on Windows Mobile 6.5. We were fairly dismissive of the update, and rightly so. In it’s vanilla form the 6.5 update isn’t a huge leap forward and there’s massive cracks that lead you straight back into the old 6.1 “I need a stylus” screens all too quickly. However, with the HTC HD2 there is no stylus, just a gorgeous 4.3″ screen. Can this be enough to drive 6.5 ? No, of course not. Luckily HTC have waved their magic wand and added the Windows Mobile version of “Sense” – something we saw on the Android-powered Hero and quickly fell in love with. HTC Sense – which was previously known as “HTC TouchFLO 3D” on Windows Mobile – has been updated and tweaked. Here on the HD2 it melts into the OS layer and becomes more deeply entwined. Out of the box I no longer have to search around for a stylus when changing a ringtone or setting the alarm, it’s a feast of silky finger-friendly gorgeousness.

Specs

The HD2 is so well spec’ed out it’s probably better to tell you what the HD2 doesn’t have. HTC have the low-down here but let me just point out the hugely quick 1Ghz Snapdragon CPU – this elevates Windows Mobile and the HTC Sense interface into something I’ve just never properly experience on a Microsoft phone. Speed. Utter, utter speed and no judder. Get into the HTC Sense interface, move through to the “Photos” tab and rotate the screen – the G-Sensor will kick in and you’ll watch in awe as your pictures re-position themselves with a grace and elegance that I’ve only ever seen in ice-dancing. 5.9, 5.9,
5.9.

Inside there’s 512MB ROM, 448MB RAM and a microSD expansion slot under the back for extra storage. It’s powered by a 1230 mAh battery, has a 5 megapixel camera with auto-focus and a dual LED flashlight, FM radio, G-sensor, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, GPS, digital compass and yes – a standard 3.5mm audio jack for your headphones (or those supplied).

In addition you’ll get WiFi, 3G / HSDPA /HSPA and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR. Let’s not forget that you can use “WiFi Tethering” to turn your super-fast GSM / 3G / HSDPA connection into a WiFi hotspot to get your laptop connected easily.

HTC have also added some extra goodies (what, all that’s not enough ?!) – Twitter and Facebook integration, a YouTube player and HTC Footprints for Geotagging your photos and reminding yourself where you’ve been. The Opera browser replaces Microsoft Internet Explorer as the default browser and .. boy is it good.

Video Review

Although we spend a good while actually writing these reviews it’s always great to add a video overview too. We initially had a few days with the HD2 and recorded thee videos. They cover pretty much everything we don’t mention here..


Outside

The immediate worry with the HD2 is that it’ll be just too large. At 4.74″ high it sounds like quite a lot to handle (ahem), but in reality it dances just to the right side of “too large” and the screen seems to
stretch itself right to the edge of the HD2, reducing any “wastage” and keeping the screen border to an absolute minimum. The screen is capacitive too, so you’ll find pretty quickly that you can actually
type pretty easily and quickly with the on-screen keyboard.

Arriving in understated but sexy packaging the HD2 is a simple, yet classic looking thing. Inside you’ll find a pouch, charger, sync cable (microUSB this time, no more miniUSB), a set of headphones with a remote control system (these double as hands-free). There’s also the appropriate plug for your country.

Along the bottom there’s just five keys and no navigation control – no trackball or joystick of any kind.

To the left, a call answer key. Press it once and you’ll get into the dialler. The dialler does it’s usual trickery – guessing contacts as you type in names on the on-screen keypad. If you type the first few numbers of a phone number it’ll guess who you mean too. If I’m completely honest this has a far more technical name, “Predictive dialling”, and dramatically reduces the amount of interaction you’ll need to make a call. If you’re dialling someone you’ll pretty much only ever have to type the first few letters or digits. It’ll go through your recent call list, contacts and will instantly pick out thepossible numbers and contacts. The speedy CPU ensures that this happens quickly and we found no lag when dialling.

The Home key will take you back to the first tab within the HTC Sense system.

The Windows and “back” key live on the same large key but they obviously are two different entities. When pressed the Windows key will take you into the new Windows Mobile 6.5 programs list which we’ll look at in a moment, whilst the “back” key takes you back to what you were doing previously. When browsing this will take you back to the previous page.

The call-drop key doubles as your power button. Tap to stop a call, hold to power on / off the device. Along the bottom is that 3.5mm audio jack and the all-new microUSB port. Gone are the days of miniUSB, as all handset manufacturers adopt the microUSB standard for charging and sync’ing your phone.

On the left-side of the phone is the volume up / down key. Fairly self explanatory this one, but hey – have you noticed something that isn’t present? Yep, no stylus. Not even a cheeky little one tucked away in the back somewhere.

The back of the phone has that 5 megapixel camera with the dual LED flash sitting next to it. The battery cover takes up the mid-section of the phone and is removed by prising the edges off.

Inside

As we’ve included a huge amount of video in this review I’m going to give you an overview of the Sense and Windows Mobile interface here as we’ve already gone into detail within the video blogs. The screenshots, as you can see, are colossal. We’ve added a huge range of screenshots here, so feel free to dive in.

We first saw the “HTC Sense” interface on the HTC Hero. Let’s be honest, it was stunning. A multi-screen, drag-and-drop
interface which was just jaw-droppingly sexy. Here, on Windows Mobile, it’s not quite the same interface. This is what HTC used to call “HTC TouchFLO 3D”, but now it’s under the same “Sense” banner. There’s no drag-and-drop, but you can at least plonk your favourite programs, apps and shortcuts onto the first tab here. This, when slid down, reveals even more space to add your stuff.

The 1Ghz processor ensures that, at last, there’s no suggestion of judder. As I write HTC are rolling out another update for the HD2 to make things even smoother too. The whole interface was originally just an overlay to the rapidly ageing OS and it was fairly easy to see through the cracks into the original stylus-driven Microsoft world. Here though the Sense interface has filtered down into the OS even more than ever before. Even with the 6.5 improvements from Microsoft it’s still all-too easy to get into an old-style menu that’s been around since 2005, so HTC have worked their magic to make things totally finger-friendly. Changing the ringtone is now easy, with a HTC experience all the way. No more tapping with a stylus – it’s a swish, sliding menu with a simple but stunning layout and is so easy to understand.

Our videos have shown a lot of the interface in action so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. The Windows Mobile version of Sense maintains the tab-driven format, which is slightly different to the multiple “screens” in the Android flavour, but now the Sense (TouchFLO 3D) interface has been given more colour, with larger icons and more room to play. Again, the 1Ghz Snapdragon chip ensures that little things like screen rotation happen quickly. HTC realise that waiting is NOT an option.

Unlocking the HD2 is done via a new, but still old-looking Windows Mobile lock bar. Slide it either way and the phone will spark into life. This lock screen shots the time and date, so you can keep a check on that without having to unlock your phone. The on-screen keyboard works well and the capacitive screen means that the words are predicted by the phone correctly for the most part. I did find small issues with the predictive dictionary, mainly the fact that it didn’t always capitalise words when texting but I’ve now heard that the recent update has fixed this issue. In the same way as contacts are found when dialling, the predictive dictionary will find words as you type. For example, if I want to type quite a long word like “application” I’ll
only ever type in “app”, then whack the appropriate suggestion that pops up on screen. When emailing or sending an MMS there’s also an easy-to-find paper-clip for attaching media and, joy of joys, it actually goes into the appropriate HTC app and not into the “bleugh” Windows Mobile “Pictures and Videos” app. At last, an integrated experience that isn’t broken?

photos

mesage

Microsoft have worked on the base OS though, and we shouldn’t ignore this. Pressing the Windows key takes you into a revamped Programs listing with chunky icons. You can re-order these too – press and hold on one and choose “Move to top”. It’s almost drag-and-drop, but not quite. On a HTC app (like Sense on the Hero) I’d expect to be able to freely move these around as I see fit, but here you can just put them at the top.

Actually, a lot of what you see on the Programs list / Start menu isn’t software from MS. HTC Messages, that’s a HTC app. HTC Calendar.. yep, that’ll be a HTC app too. Footprints… yep. Music. Yep. Microsoft have
added a couple of goodies which we don’t usually see – Microsoft My Phone is a particular favourite of mine and will let you backup your contacts, photos and messages into “the cloud”. A secure login will let you retrieve these at any time and, believe me, it’s brilliant when you accidentally delete someone or you lose your phone. You can tell this to sync automatically or you can send data yourself when you’re on WiFi
– probably best for all those 5 megapixel pictures! Facebook is here too, so you can keep in touch with your on-line life. Pictures, updates and the ability to send pictures, videos or messages direct to Facebook
is included and it’s in apps like this that you’ll notice something…

Traditional Pocket PC apps had a rather old-style appearance. If you’ve got an older Pocket PC then you’ll know what those pop-up menus look like. A white box with text. The same every time yeah? Now, although
the apps are still the same you’ll get a glossy menu pop up when you press a soft-key in your favourite app. No stylus needed here – the options are larger and the menu allows scrolling too. It’s an attempt by Microsoft to get even those older apps working better on handsets without a stylus, plus it means that you get a better looking application. This doesn’t fix all the issues of course, and you may find that some apps still aren’t geared towards your stubby finger.Although the menus are larger, the text, icons and layout may still be designed for devices with a stylus. Try clicking in little check-boxes or drop-downs and you could find yourself finding the end of a pen or the edge of your finger-nail fairly quickly. Again, this isn’t the fault of HTC and you can’t really blame it all on Microsoft either. This is a platform that has been around for a long time and it really wasn’t originally designed to be working on devices like this. It was always designed with a stylus in mind, with a certain Microsoft “look and feel”. Coders and developers have designed their apps to be that way, so we get a bit of fragmentation when a device appears which pushes the boundaries out this far.

So what do we do? Honestly, I feel that this will be by only issue with the HD2. The spec is brilliant. The build quality, design and reliability is spot on. The HTC software is just fantastic. The Windows Mobile 6.5 OS is “getting there” but needs work. It brings the stop-gap, but something fairly massive needs to happen with Windows Mobile 7. Older apps and highly popular apps can be “bent” to work with phones like this. Sure, chuck in some larger menus, add a bigger screen – it works to a degree, but the experience doesn’t flow. Stay in the HTC experience (which you will do for 99% of the time) and you’ll positively LOVE the HD2. It’s without doubt the most powerful, most stunning bit of Windows Mobile kit I’ve had the pleasure to review for
some time. However, when we look across the fence at the competition(and yes, I do mean the iPhone) we see it’s success was built on apps – everyone who has an iPhone knows about the apps. They probably have at least a dozen installed and they LOVE them. On Windows Mobile 6.5 you now get an app store – Windows Marketplace. The apps are a little more expensive than you’d expect and, when you install them, the HTC
experience (and to some extent, the Windows Mobile experience too) becomes fragmented. Let’s hope Windows Mobile 7 brings that complete and familiar experience.

I’m aware that I may be labouring this point a little, but it’s important. HTC have done a bang-up job here, but they’ve had to pretty much replace the entire Windows Mobile OS in the HD2.The only bit they can’t fully control is that apps you install. Microsoft can, but they have such a range of handsets that it’s difficult to now get every app looking right on every handset.

The Sense interface is on, as default. You CANNOT turn it off. This is HTC heavily putting the boot down. It’s their phone now and rightly so. The Sense interface has gone much further into the Windows Mobile 6.5
OS than ever before, but it does mean that when you hit that Windows key you’ll instantly get a different experience. Power-users trying to find an additional setting that isn’t included in the “Settings” tab will instantly find themselves back in the Windows Mobile 6.5 interface. The 6.5 screens include a lot of information, programs and settings, so you’ll find that they’ve been sorted into folders. However, as Microsoft have realised with Windows 7 on the PC, you can’t always shove things in folders constantly. You need a smooth and easy-to-understand system which will let you access what you want,quickly. Trying to navigate around the WM 6.5 settings screen is still tricky. Want to find how much memory is being used? That’ll be in
settings->System->Memory and BLEUGH! It’s the old-fashioned Microsoft interface from years ago.. aghh..

Don’t for a minute think I’m calling this a bad phone, because it’s not. Not at all. HTC have yet again pushed Windows Mobile to another level. This time that level is “Windows Mobile? Really? Where?” If there wasn’t a Windows flag on the front of this or on the top-left of the screen then most users really wouldn’t know that Microsoft had done anything. Really. Everything has been swapped out by HTC, and with far, far better applications that I’ve been wanting from Microsoft for god-knows-how-long.

keys

The new text / MMS / email messaging system from HTC is wonderful. It’s intuitive, it knows what you want, it’ll let you do what you want. Want to send a text? Sure. Want to send it to multiple people? Sure, here –
set yourself up a group of people. Just press this lovely menu item, press that swooshy item that slides onto the screen. Here’s a nice big on-screen keyboard that’s usable and intelligent. Want to rotate the screen? Sure. Want to attach a photo ? Sure. I’ll convert it to an MMS then shall I? No problem.

Opera is the browser of choice. Deep, deep down in the basement you’ll find Internet Explorer too but, let’s face it, it’s just no good compared to Opera. I did try Internet Explorer, but the rendering still seems to take too long and there’s no multi-touch. On Opera you can do the fancy “pinch-and-zoom”, you get that “text re-flow” system that’ll stop you having to scroll right-left-right to read text and Flash is supported (most sites, not everything we threw at it seemed to work – those Flash game websites seemed to have a fit).

In the email field this is a Microsoft phone, so Exchange is here and it works well. When you do go to the “Mail” tab (or you get presented with the option at first boot-up) you’ll have a “Choose Mail Provider” screen. Outlook, Google Mail and AOL are listed here and Microsoft need to keep an eye on the second one. I’ve lost count of just how many businesses are switching across to Google
Apps
lately. They’re just grabbing their domain, changing the MX records and getting completely free push-email and collaboration from Google. Thanks very much Google, you’ve just broken the Microsoft
Exchange business model. :)

The Twitter client, HTC Peep, works well and feels very much like the Android version. I couldn’t get it working in landscape mode, which was a bit of a shame. This will let you update your timeline, check your
replies, check direct messages and add favourite Tweets. You can also update your location and set how many Tweets you’d like to receive, plus how often.

I’ve never really used a Windows Mobile phone to any great degree for playing music. The addition of the 3.5mm audio jack is welcomed with open arms and the HTC Media Player is streets ahead of the “what, is
that it?” Windows Media Player on the handset. I’d love to see automated album art brought down from the web but I did find that the HTC-supplied headphones had a music-control system on so you could skip tracks without having to touch the phone.

A new, more friendly notifications system will keep those annoying pop-ups to an absolute minimum and you’ll find any messages tucked up in the notifications bar at the top of the screen. YouTube will let you watch videos and upload them too. You can also change the background wallpaper on the Sense interface. There’s an array of backgrounds to choose from or you can select your own. Change the lock-screen background too, it’s all designed to make the HD2 your own device.

As is usual with Windows Mobile, your contacts are sync’d from your main computer. Pictures, details and – thanks to HTC – each social network is integrated with the contact. Click on someone and you’ll instantly see all the communication between yourself and that person, whether it be via text, email or missed calls. It’s centralising and sorting your communication and it makes much more sense than having to scroll through texts, emails etc.


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Adding contacts is easy enough on the phone too, with a greatly improved HTC interface for adding people and all the details under the sun. Click into your gallery (which yes, takes you into the HTC system and not the old Microsoft one) and you can choose a picture or take a snap direct from your 5 megapixel shooter. All the details are sync’d back with Exchange or your PC next time you hook up and you can search through the contacts easily with the predictive dial system or scrolling through the contacts list. This is a speedy.

The HTC Footprints system is a geotagging app. Snap a picture on holiday or when you’re in a new place and it’ll attach GPS data along with a audio recording of what you thought of the place. Attach phone
number info and more.

Other apps include the always-stunning Google Maps and an FM Radio (both shown in the video), plus we had CoPilot 8 Live installed on our review unit. You can use the free trial (15 days) or buy it. This is a great addition because usually satnav software of this calibre usually comes delivered on a separate microSD – and that’s your external storage gone straight off. It’ll use the internal GPS to get you to your destination. QuickGPS is included and will ensure that only your most local satellites are contacted for a quick GPS lock when you’re using this or Google Maps to navigate.

Other apps include WorldCard Mobile, an OCR system which lets you snap business cards and convert them into text or a contact. Simple but effective and a great addition, as is the PDF viewer (Adobe Reader), Remote Desktop, RSS Hub (for grabbing the latest and greatest news from all your favourite news and blog sites), a voice recorder, a calculator (which is actually very nice to use at last) and Jetcet print for
remote printing.

I was a big fan of the compass (this is included in the “Tools” section in the WM 6.5 menu), MP3 trimmer (in “Multimedia”) and I still like the fact that the entire mobile Office suite is included too – Word, OneNote, PowerPoint and Excel. Great for creating and editing documents on the fly.

Camera

Example shots can be found below. The camera produced 2592×1552 resolution shots on 5 megapixel and there’s touch-focus by just tapping the screen. You can control pretty much every setting, altering the widescreen nature of images, adjusting the quality, time stamp, shutter sound, counter and much more. On the main screen you also get icons for diving into the album, zooming into objects and additional controls to
set the white balance etc.

The camera app also lets you GPS tag your photos, so no more guessing where those shots were taken. Once you’ve snapped a photo, head into the beautiful gallery app to view the photos as a slideshow, mail them or zoom in with the pinch-to-zoom multi-touch feature.

Below are some example shots, including one with the flash. Click on them to get the original which was taken direct from the phone..

We took some example video too. The HD2 is able to record video in 640×480, so I strapped it to the car and took this video. Just click here to download the original.

Conclusion

Now available on an array of UK networks the HTC HD2 is by far the most potent Windows phone on the market. The battery life is surprisingly good, the spec list, which includes GPS, FM radio, G-sensor, WiFi and that gorgeous screen just can’t be argued with. The thin form factor seems to be almost an impossibility when you stare at that sizeable display. It boots fast, it works quick, that screen is crisp and bright. It’s a joy to use and has pretty much everything we could ever wish to have from a phone. There’s extra goodies like the WiFi tethering too – that’ll turn your GSM mobile data connection into a WiFi hotspot for true mobile working on your laptop.

As a business device and a fun device it’s brilliant and HTC have gone further than I would have ever have imagined. Sure, there’s still a few foibles, like the strange inability to add Owner Information, plus I couldn’t change button allocation (for example, to have a long-press on “volume up” to start a program or app). My main concern comes from that OS. 6.1 is an updated version of 6.5, and adding bigger menus and a bigger screen isn’t going to add cohesion to a stack of apps from the Pocket PC / Windows Mobile 6.x days. The HD2 makes me proud of Windows Mobile 6.5 and HTC, but it also makes me a little sad, because I feel that this is truly as far as the platform can go in it’s current format.

Availability
The HTC HD2 is available unlocked on www.devicewire.co.uk
and is also on T-Mobile, Vodafone and o2