It's big, bold, and beautiful. The HTC HD7 ($199) is the first Windows Phone 7 device on T-Mobile's network and the first 4.3-inch device running Microsoft's user-friendly new OS. This handset provides plenty of real estate for web surfing, watching videos, and playing Xbox Live games. The integrated kickstand is also a nice perk. Then again, the WP7-powered Samsung Focus on AT&T has a superior display, and T-Mobile's lineup of Android devices is looking mighty fine these days. Read on to find out if the HD7 can really hang with the top smart phones on the market.
Imposing but also sleek in its own way, the 5.7-ounce HD7 looks like a more refined Evo 4G (6 ounces), from the chrome trim to the silver cutouts above and below the display. Still, at 4.8 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches, there's no getting around the fact that this is a large and somewhat hefty phone, both in your hand and in your pocket. Those with smaller mitts will likely gravitate toward the Samsung Focus (4.1 ounces), which feels cheaper but is much easier to carry.
A glossy black surface surrounds the HD7's screen, which houses the three responsive capacitive buttons. On the back you'll find the sturdy metal kickstand that will come in handy when using the HD7 as a media player, which has cutouts for the 5-megapixel camera lens and dual LED flash.
Some may be annoyed that the 3.5mm jack is on the bottom of the phone, but we didn't find it to be an issue. However, we do take issue with how narrow the volume rocker is on the right side; we found it too difficult to adjust the HD7's volume while the device was in our pocket. Plus, we didn't like how this rocker rattled when we used it. We don't mind that the camera button is small because you'll likely use it less often.
Display and Typing
If you're going to carry around a Windows Phone 7 device that's 1.5 ounces heavier than the Samsung Focus, the extra real estate had better be worth it. The good news is that even though both phones have the same resolution (800 x 480), text on web pages was slightly larger and easier to read on the 4.3-inch HD7. We also appreciated that the touch keyboard layout was larger in both landscape and portrait modes, which cuts down on the number of errors.
Where the HD7 falls flat versus the competition is image quality. While generally crisp and plenty bright, this LCD doesn't offer the rich colors, high contrast, or ultra-wide viewing angles of Super AMOLED phones such as the Samsung Vibrant and Focus. The myTouch 4G has a brighter and slightly crisper Super LCD panel. The HD7's screen also washes out when you're viewing it slightly off-axis. This display is fine, but it certainly isn't the best you can get for $199.
Specs and Performance
No surprises here. The HD7 shares the same 1-GHz Snapdragon processor as other WP7 devices, as well as a 512MB of RAM and ROM. You also get the standard-issue 5-MP camera with 720p HD video recording. For storage there's a 16GB microSD card that can't be removed.
In daily use, the HD7 proved to be a snappy performer when navigating menus and opening most apps. The phone was also quick to find our location using the Maps app. When we played demos of Need for Speed Underground and Rocket Riot, the HD7 had no trouble keeping up with the fast-paced action.
Despite the fact that it's not a "4G" smart phone, the HD7 loaded web pages quickly over T-Mobile's HSPA network. We're talking 6 seconds for the Mobile version of CNN.com, 18 seconds for ESPN.com, 22 seconds for NYTimes.com, and 16 for Laptopmag.com. The WP7-powered Samsung Focus on AT&T brought up the rear on all of these sites in side-by-side tests, lagging by an average of 11 seconds. That's a big advantage, which you'll also notice when browsing the Marketplace (pictured) and downloading apps.
There's just one catch. When you fall back to T-Mobile's EDGE network, the HD7's data speeds drop like a rock. It took the phone 8 seconds to open the mobile YouTube site over EDGE, compared to 5 seconds for the Focus on 3G.
The interface of this Windows Phone 7 device is very similar to other handsets running the OS, with a few minor differences. As with all WP7 phones, you get a lock screen that displays your next appointment and alerts you to new messages. When you swipe up you'll see Microsoft's trademark Live Tiles, which display helpful at-a-glance info, such as the number of app updates awaiting you in the Marketplace or the latest Facebook update for a friend you've pinned to the Start menu. As with all WP7 devices, you can easily move tiles around, and pin anything to the Start screen from people and apps to Webpages and notes. To us, the UI is more attractive and user-friendly than Android, regardless of the skin.
Like all WP7 handsets, the HD7 includes a polished and snappy Outlook Mobile for e-mail, a full version of Office Mobile for viewing and editing office documents, Xbox Live games, and Zune integration for downloading music, movies, and TV shows. Unfortunately, you can't multitask with third-party apps. So, for example, you can't play the bundled Slacker app while surfing the web. WP7 also lacks a unified inbox, universal search, mobile hotspot app support, and instant messaging. For a more in-depth review of the OS, check out our full review here.
Right on the home screen you'll notice shortcuts to pre-loaded versions of Netflix and Slacker. These apps are freely available in the Marketplace but they're welcome nonetheless. HTC bundles a useful Lists app with the HD7, which allows you to create to-do lists with items you can cross off with just a swipe (pretty cool). You'll also find an HTC Hub app, which loads slowly but lets you check the local weather forecast and download a handful of other HTC apps, including Converter, Flashlight, Photo Enhancer, and Stocks.
T-Mobile brings a couple of its own apps to the table, including the intriguing but limited Family Room. With this app, you can share a family calendar and post pictures and notes from other family members to see on WP7 devices only. T-Mobile TV, basically a rebranded MobiTV, gives you 30 days of access before you have to fork over $10 per month. Don't even bother with the free trial. When we streamed Fox News Live, the video looked like a pixilated, blurry mess. ESPN Mobile TV looked a bit better.
With a little over 1,000 apps in the Marketplace, WP7 stocks a decent selection for being such a new OS. You'll find everything from Foursquare and Zagat to Go to Twitter and Facebook. Other noteworthy apps include eBay, Last.fm, OpenTable, WeatherBug, and Yelp. Unfortunately, you can't charge premium apps to your T-Mobile account; you'll need to set up a credit card with your Windows Live account. The good news is that if you only need to do this once for both Zune purchases and the Marketplace.
Camera and Camcorder
The HD7's 5-megapixel camera takes passable photos, but it takes too long to fire. Just like the Samsung Focus, this phone suffers from sluggish shutter speed, so shooting moving subjects will be a real challenge. On the plus side, a shot of a fruit stand we took had good color accuracy and looked crisp. Indoors, the flash worked almost too well; it blew out objects closer to the lens.
Although the HD7 can record up to 720p video, our clip looked out of focus and somewhat jerky when we played it back on a larger display. Stepping down to VGA quality helped, but you shouldn't have to do that.
Music and Video
One of the first things you'll notice about the HD7 when you plug it in to your PC is that you can't just drag and drop content onto it. Like all Windows Phone 7 devices, you need to have Zune software installed to sync music, photos, and videos. Once you're set up, it's pretty easy to download content on the HD7. If you're willing to spend $15 per month, you can grab all the tunes you want and keep 10 tracks per month. The Zune desktop software also lets you purchase TV shows and movies, but you can't do this from the phone.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Calls made on the HD7 sounded mostly clear with just a slight echo on our end of the line. Other callers said that we sounded good even when we dialed from a noisy bus. Unfortunately, the HD7 does not support Wi-Fi calling, unlike the myTouch 4G.
The HD7 packs a 1230mAH battery that's rated for 6.5 hours of talk time. In our testing, which involved web surfing, checking e-mail, streaming Slacker, and playing games, the device lasted from 9 a.m. to just before 6 p.m. That's less endurance than the Samsung Focus, which squeezes a beefier 1500mAh battery into its smaller frame and lasted well into the evening.
If you're intrigued by Windows Phone 7, the HD7 is a tempting choice. It offers faster data speeds than the Samsung Focus (when you're within HSPA range), and its larger display makes typing and reading sites easier. However, we ultimately prefer the Focus because of its richer Super AMOLED screen and more pocket-friendly design. If you're not sold on WP7, take a good look at the Android-powered myTouch 4G, which adds even faster data speeds over HSPA+, a mobile hotspot app, and a front-facing camera. Overall, the HD7 is a good vehicle for Windows Phone 7, but it will have to settle for second best.