Editor’s Note:During our tests, we used AT&T’s EDGE network, as the unlocked European version doesn’t support 3G bands in North America. The U.S. version of the HD2 will very likely support 3G.
Whenever we showed the HTC HD2 to someone, they had the same reaction: “Whoa.” That’s because the HD2 looks and feels like a full-fledged mobile Internet device that you can slip in your pocket. Its 4.3-inch screen dwarfs those on the iPhone 3GS and Motorola Droid, and when paired with HTC’s slick Sense interface, you can’t help but be impressed. Thanks to a blazing 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, this device ($629 unlocked through Amazon.com) is so smooth that you almost forget about the lag that has dogged Windows Mobile phones for ages. And, for the first time on any Windows phone, you get multitouch support. But what about the apps? And does HTC’s extreme makeover of Windows Mobile go deep enough to cover up the platform’s other blemishes?
At 4.7 x 2.6 inches and 5.5 ounces, the black HTC HD2 is one of the largest smart phones on the market, but it’s a surprising 0.4 inches thin. The iPhone 3GS, by comparison, is 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches and weighs 4.8 ounces. The Motorola Droid is about the same size (4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches) but is an even heftier 6.0 ounces. Despite its size, the HD2 is still comfortable to hold in the hand, although it felt a little too wide in our jeans.
A massive 4.3-inch, 800 x 480-pixel display takes up the HD2’s facade (the iPhone 3GS has a 3.5-inch, 480 x 320-pixel screen). Despite its larger size, the HD2 has a lower resolution than the Motorola Droid’s 3.7-inch 854 x 480 resolution display. Still, you’ll be able to view more of a single Web page than on most smart phones, and it also means that videos and even small text on the screen looks much crisper and is easier to read. The display automatically adjusts its brightness based on ambient light, and turns off when you hold it near your face to avoid accidental button taps with your cheek.
Below the display are five buttons: Send/End, Home, Windows, and Return. The volume rocker is on the left hand side of the phone, and there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB charging port on the bottom. The back, which has a metal battery cover, is home to the device’s 5-megapixel autofocus camera and dual-LED flash.
One of the best things about the HD2 is HTC’s Sense user experience, which sits on top of Windows Mobile 6.5. Unlike Android phones, you can’t customize the home screen with live updating widgets, but at least you can choose the order in which icons appear along the bottom of the screen.
On the home screen, the time and date are displayed prominently, as is the weather. Depending on the conditions outside, the phone will set off a series of animations, such as rain (windshield wipers swipe across the screen), sunshine (rays beam out), or a thunderstorm (lighting strikes). Little touches like this give the HD2 appeal beyond its high-end specs.
Below, there’s a shortcut to your calendar, as well as three customizable quick-launch icons. If you swipe these icons upwards, there are another six empty spaces where you can add additional shortcuts.
Sense also has a few surprises. If you turn the HD2 sideways, you can flip through your photos much like you would a photo album. If you choose an image, you can view it full screen and then pinch and pull it as you would on the iPhone. The UI also ties in with Twitter via HTC’s Peep client for updating your status and viewing recent updates.
The HD2 tightly integrates with Facebook, pulling in friends’ profile pictures and allowing you to view updates, as well as quickly send SMS and e-mail updates to them. We liked that we could click a contact and then quickly view past messages and call history.
At the bottom of the screen is HTC’s familiar icon-ribbon interface. With a swipe of your finger, you can view your calendar, contacts, e-mails, messages, stocks, Twitter feed, and more. The order of these icons can be customized, too.
However, the underlying Windows Mobile 6.5 OS is boring. Once you access the Start menu, for example, you’re presented with the stock honeycomb interface. While it’s easy to access your programs, you can’t create folders or change the layout of the icons aside from sending any given one to the top of the page. That’s a far cry from the highly customizable Google Android OS. Even the iPhone’s OS lets you choose exactly where your icons sit, and BlackBerrys have long allowed you to create folders and organize apps. For more of our thoughts on Windows Mobile 6.5, check out our full review.
The HD2 has one of the fastest processors for smart phones, a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chip paired with 512MB of ROM and a hefty 448MB of RAM. Moving through the interface was seamless, and switching from landscape to portrait mode and back was quick. When we used multitouch to zoom into Google maps and images, everything remained very fluid.
HTC has been doing an excellent job with its on-screen keyboards for Android devices, and the HD2’s is even better because of its larger screen. We could type accurately almost immediately, and the pop-up icon for each letter as they are pressed reminds us of typing on the iPhone. Our only gripe is that the space bar in portrait mode is a smidge too small.
E-mail and Messaging
As a Windows phone, Microsoft Exchange is natively supported, so you have access to all of your Exchange server calendar entries, contacts, and e-mail accounts. If you have a commonly used Gmail or Yahoo account, Windows Mobile 6.5 recognizes the settings and will automatically set it up for you—this process was a breeze.
E-mail is displayed in a flip-card format that’s easy to flick through. Click on a card, and the full message opens. It’s a fun way to view your latest messages, but if you get hundreds of messages a day, it’s easier to just view your inbox list. From within an e-mail, if one or more of the senders is in your address book, you can quickly choose to call them by clicking their name at the top of the screen. There’s also the option to send an SMS message or respond via e-mail.
If you have the information for a scheduled conference call in an e-mail that you’ve saved to your calendar with the dial-in number and PIN, the HD2 will automatically remind you of the call at the exact time, and it even displays a large green button with the correct phone number to dial.
Preinstalled on the HD2 is Office Mobile and Adobe Reader LE. It’s very frustrating that you still have to press Send/Receive before you can view an attachment. The phone comes with Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger, but we recommend checking out Palringo or BeejiveIM instead. (Neither is available in Microsoft’s Application Market Place, but we downloaded the Windows Mobile 6.1 versions and they worked fine).
Microsoft’s Marketplace for Mobile app store has just over 800 applications listed. That’s measly compared to the Android Market (more than 10,000), and the iTunes App Store (more than 100,000). Also, the selection is pretty dismal. There are a few social networking apps such as Facebook for Windows Mobile and Twikini, but there’s a lot of apps we’ve never heard of like iterum2, instead of more recognizable ones like Pandora or Slacker. We’d like to see more chat applications, better games, and better social networking apps.
We also encountered a few bugs while downloading applications. After attempting to install AP Mobile, the AP News app, our download cut out while it was 75 percent finished, even though it appeared to install correctly. When you pay for an application, you can choose to add it to your bill (for AT&T, in our case) or set up a credit card to pay immediately. We hope the U.S. version offers this convenience; other app stores currently don’t offer carrier billing.
The HD2 offers a fairly robust Web surfing experience thanks its Opera 9.7 browser (although Internet Explorer Mobile is also on board). Over Wi-Fi, we loaded CNN.com in 5 seconds, ESPN.comin 6 seconds, and Laptopmag.com in 15 seconds. Over EDGE, the same sites took 15 seconds, 13 seconds, and 1:15, respectively. (The U.S. version of the HD2 will support 3G data.)
When we loaded the NYTimes.com on the HD2, the Motorola Droid, and the iPhone 3GS, we were astounded at the differences in how much of the page each phone showed. The HD2 displayed nearly the entire Web site, while the Droid showed just the upper left corner and the beginning of the first column. The iPhone 3GS displayed just as much horizontally as the HD2, but it didn’t display nearly as much content lengthwise. Zooming in (using Opera Mobile) is as easy as making a pinch gesture on the multitouch display.
The HD2 also has a neat trick up its sleeve. You can share its cellular data connection with multiple devices via Wi-Fi. In other words, this smart phone can double as a mini router. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get this feature to work over our EDGE connection.
The HD2 comes with CoPilot Live 8 by ALK Technologies ($34.99 after a 15-day trial). Annoyingly, the software uses its own inferior non-QWERTY alphabetical keyboard. We also had to install maps ourselves; when we tried to download the United States map (953MB) to the HD2, we were told there wasn’t sufficient memory available, so we installed the smaller New York City map (28MB) instead. You can install maps to a microSD Card from your PC, but we couldn’t find a way to do this directly on the phone.
The software has thousands of points of interest depending on which maps you load, and it’s easy to navigate using just one finger. You can plan trips, view in 2D or 3D mode, plan a Quick Stop at a restaurant or gas station, and save favorite destinations. The full version provides live traffic, weather, and the ability to link to other drivers on the road who are using the same software. We appreciated that we could choose different modes of travel: Auto, Bicycle, Motorcycle, RV, or Walking. Also, the software automatically rotates into landscape mode when you turn the device to the side.
The HD2’s 4.3-inch display is excellent for videos, and its 3.5mm headphone jack allows you to use your own headphones. However, Windows Mobile 6.5’s Windows Media Player Mobile is far from polished. We had to dig through menus to find our multimedia files. We loaded John Mayer’s “Assassin” from our 16GB microSD Card (a 2GB card comes with the phone). Music sounded clearer out of the device’s rear speaker than it did on the iPhone 3G, and was sufficiently loud. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist looked beautiful in full-screen mode.
Although Android and webOS users have the option to purchase music over the air using Amazon’s MP3 Store, and the iPhone can download music from iTunes wirelessly, Windows Mobile users are left out in the cold. And while the HD2 has an FM radio (it requires you to plug headphones in, which act as an antenna) you can’t download Pandora or Slacker from the Marketplace. In fact, we’d like to see Microsoft add the ability for users to download music and videos to Windows Phones via its Zune Marketplace. The HD2 does come with a Windows Mobile YouTube application installed, but we needed to use a Wi-Fi network to stream video at an acceptable quality.
We expected more from the HD2’s 5-MP camera. Shots were rather blurry and washed out, even in good light, and sunlight bled into our outdoor shots. The dual LED flash did a sufficient job in low-light conditions, however, and it didn’t take more than a second or so for the autofocus to lock on.
The HD2 captures 640 x 480 video at 24 frames per second. Outdoors, colors were accurate; the royal blue of a bicycle cart was much deeper in the HD2 video than with the iPhone 3GS. However, the iPhone 3GS recorded sharper images; a sidewalk was much more detailed in our iPhone video. Indoors, the HD2 captured colors more accurately than the iPhone 3GS, but the difference was negligible.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Our voice came through clearly when we left a voicemail on our landline phone; background noise was eliminated, and we didn’t notice any clipped words. During subsequent calls with other cell phone users, one person said that we sounded “about average” over AT&T’s network, and we noticed some fuzz on our end.
HTC includes a couple of cool calling features. The phone’s ringer automatically starts to soften as you pick it up. Also, you can turn the HD2 on its face to automatically activate a good-sounding speaker phone.
We were able to get about two full days of use out of the HD2 before having to recharge it. That’s very good battery life, but we suspect that the lack of 3G support on our device helped.
There’s no question that the HTC HD2 is the best Windows Mobile phone we’ve tested. This device proves that Microsoft’s platform can compete with the big boys when it’s paired with a capacitive screen, smart interface, and snappy processor. However, some will find the HD2 a bit much to carry, and Microsoft’s app store has a long way to go before it even approaches the breadth and depth of choices available on Android devices and the iPhone. And while HTC’s Sense interface provides a great user experience, the stock e-mail client and media players in particular feel dated. Overall, though, the HD2 is a very good smart phone that backs up that initial “whoa” with speed and polish. We can’t wait to test out the U.S. version.