The HTC HD2 is THE Windows Mobile Phone to Get!

In Cellular, Consumer Electronics, Gadgets, General, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Review, Video by Michael Sheehan5 Comments

Did that title grab you? It is perhaps a bit misleading simply because I have only tested a handful of Windows 6.5 Mobile phones to date. Most of my focus has been on the iPhone and a few Android-based phones. However, I do feel that it is important to talk about the HTC HD2 (TMobile link), especially since it will be hitting the US market (carried by TMobile) in March 2010. There are two versions of this phone, the Non-US version and the US-version. The only main differences are with RAM/ROM and button coloring.

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The last Windows Mobile (WinMo) phone that I had was the TMobile MDA which was an HTC as well. It had a slide out keyboard and touch screen and was a pretty decent workhorse. I did have a lot of fun installing “cooked” ROMs onto it to give it more features, better performance and stay ahead of the stock carrier ROMs that were slow to be released. ROM “cooking” is basically the process of compiling new operating system software with registry and program tweaks, hacks and additions to change the functionality of the device. Note: installing cooked ROMs may void your warranty or “brick” your phone, rendering it to a paperweight so do that stuff at your own risk. It ran on the TMobile network when there was no such thing as a “3G” network, at least not on that device.

TMobile will be the carrier for the HTC HD2. I’m a bit surprised with this choice but it seems that the other main carriers have been getting the really “cool stuff”, at least until now. In my opinion, if you want a great performing, keyboard-less Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional phone from TMobile, this is the one to get.

I’m not going to go into much about Windows 6.5 Mobile Professional in this review. You either like it, simply deal with it or hate it. (I guess that can be said about any of the Mobile OS-es out there – what changes it the percentages in each category.) In my opinion, users really need to start thinking about Windows Phone 7 (or is it called “Windows Mobile 7” or “Windows 7 Mobile”?) and if they can hold off on buying a Windows Mobile phone until it is released, they should do so. This is especially true since a majority of the phones running Windows Mobile 6.5 will not run Windows 7 Mobile due to high hardware requirements.

Before reading on, you might want to watch this video review that shows the HTC HD2 in action:

However, the HTC HD2 is rumored to be one of the few phones that will be upgradable to Windows 7 Mobile. Do note, the decision as to whether the HTC HD2 will be on the upgrade path for WinMo 7 is still being made! Regardless of whether it is or not, it is probably the best piece of hardware out there running WinMo initially. Here is why I think so:

Elegant Design

Well, this has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the requirements for Win7Mobile, but I really wanted to discuss the design of the HD2 in greater detail first. When I first unpacked this phone, I was amazed at its elegance and techy look and feel. It is pretty large but extremely thin, fits well in your hand, is balanced and the smooth metal body really feels not only strong and durable but also almost bullet-proof.

Boasting one of the largest haptic touch-screens out in the market, it is really beautiful to not only look at but explore as well. The screen is 4.3 inches diagonally with a 800 x 480 capacitive WVGA touchscreen which is simply amazing to interact with. I believe that it is the largest touchscreen in the smartphone market. It’s bright even in direct sunlight, very clear, and has multi-touch capability.

The screen is the first thing that gets everyone’s attention. However to further explore the design, one finds it to be very simple and minimal. There are 4 buttons on the bottom (although one is actually two buttons in one):

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There is (from left to right) an Answer button, a Home button, Windows button, Back button and a Power/Hangup button. The bottom of the device sports a micro-USB connector and a 3.5 mm headphone connector. The left side has a volume rocker. There aren’t other buttons which is something that I actually like. Everything is very simple. The only slightly odd thing is the protruding lens for the camera. I would have liked to have had it flush to the body somehow.

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The camera itself is not too bad actually. It has a blinding dual LED flash and a 5 Megapixel camera that shoots video as well. It seems that HTC has done a bit of work fine-tuning the camera software as part of its complete WinMo makeover (see section below “HTC Makeover”). The camera takes pretty nice pictures and it is simply a pleasure using the huge screen as a view-finder. The details of the 5 megapixel camera is pretty great (note the details on my jeans):

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I did notice that sometimes on indoor shots when the flash is set to automatic and your subject is close that it will fire the flash that basically white-washes the subject in the picture. Just turn off the automatic flash and you will get a great result in most cases.

Below are some side-by-side shots with and without the flash firing up.

The tree below is pretty much “in the dark” when this was shot at night-time. However, the flash really lights up the scene (note: flash shots are obviously on the right)! These are original photos and have not been touched up in any way.

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When you get close to a “subject”, the flash almost washes out the details though.

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Indoors with standard lighting (at night as well), it’s a matter of choice on which is better.

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Sometimes the flash can creating interesting details. However, these need to be retouched I would think.

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The HD2 is, in my opinion, a pretty good size but others may disagree with me. For someone with large hands and who stores their phones in a shirt or pants pocket, I would say it is a perfect size. If you need to store it in a purse or someplace small, I’m not sure if this would be the right phone for you. Also, it doesn’t come with a stylus so you do all of the swiping with your finger, which could go against my statement about it being good for people with large hands. However, I have not had any problems to date with the one that I have been using.

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I like how the battery cover is essentially a thin aluminum cover that you pop off to review the battery, SIM card and Micro SD card slot. Also, the cover is slightly textured (at least differently than the rest of the body) giving you an interesting sensation when holding it.

Tech Specs Drive Performance

As I mentioned, there is a good possibility that the HD2 will support WinMo 7, and it may be one of the few if not the only device that can claim that title. The jury is still out on that but I have a feeling that enough HD2 owners will rebel once it hits the market with TMobile. Otherwise, it will be a HUGE waste of technology and people simply won’t buy the HD2. If this market-winning device is going to succeed in the Windows Mobile market, it must be on that upgrade path!

The reason most people think it will be supported is because of the 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The HD2 only has 448 MB of RAM (although there are rumors that the US version might have more – the version I have is an unlocked European one). And there is 512 MB of ROM for app/system storage. With the microSD slot, you have the ability to store a lot more data, music, videos and files.

I found the HD2 to be one of the fastest, responsive and peppiest Windows Mobile devices I have ever used. It responds to swipes, taps and pinches quickly, applications don’t take forever to open, it simply works the way ALL smart phones should. I only noticed slowdown of the systems a couple of times where the HD2 became a bit unresponsive. It had been sitting around for a few days and I think that the Windows Mobile OS just consumed some memory. But that was a rare case. When you want the HD2 to move, it moves; in my opinion it has set a standard for other WinMo phones to strive for.

Some other specs (note this is for the non-US version of the HD2 – the TMobile has a larger RAM/ROM size):

  • Size: .043″ thick x 2.64″ wide x 4.74″ high
  • Weight: 5.54 oz (with battery)
  • Display: 4.3″ diagonal
  • Screen Type: Capacitive touch screen
  • Resolution: 480×800 WVGA
  • OS: Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional (maybe Windows Mobile 7?)
  • ROM Storage: 512 MB (non-US version) / 1GB (TMobile version)
  • RAM: 448 MB (non-US version) / 576 MB (TMobile version)
  • Expansion slot: microSD
  • CPU: 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • Battery: 1230 mAh
  • Talk time: 320 mins (WCDMA) / 380 ins (GSM)
  • Standby time: 390 hours (WCDMA) / 490 hours (GSM)
  • Video playback: 8 hours
  • Audio playback: 12 hours
  • Connectors: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, micro-USB
  • Camera: 5 megapixels, color, auto focus, dual LED flash
  • Data support: 3G/GPRS/Edge/Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • Tethering: Internet sharing through USB/Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Router
  • Audio formats: .aac, .amr, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .mp4, .qcp, .wav, .wma
  • Video formats: .wmv, .asf, .mp4, .3gp, .3g2, .m4v, .avi
  • Other items: FM radio, GPS antenna, Digital Compass, G-Sensor, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor

Honestly, the entire design of the HD2 is solid. It feels incredibly well built with close attention to minimalism in the details. You will definitely want to protect it with a carrying case, but not one that covers it all of the time simply because this is a smartphone that you MUST show off!

HTC Makeover

HTC did something interesting with the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, they tried their best to hide it away. In my opinion, Windows Mobile 6.5 is due for a complete overhaul, especially in the UI department. There were times that I got into the “innards” of the OS with some configuration options where it seemed like I was flash-backed to 10 years ago with something like Windows 6 or earlier. I felt almost embarrassed when I saw the “old stuff.”

I guess that HTC was embarrassed as well with their decision to overlay their own touch-screen interface on top of WinMo. It was a good decision actually as they make the user experience almost on par with the iPhone or an Android-based phone. And, they truly take advantage of this gloriously huge screen.

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HTC calls it “HTC Sense” which is supposedly built on work that HTC did with the Android platform, coupled with their older TouchFLO 3D work. But what does that translate to? In my mind, it makes the interface pretty darn good, provided you keep yourself at that layer slightly above the WInMo interface. What you get when you log in is an elegant homescreen display:

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Along the bottom of the screen is a bar that has a variety of applications on it. Since I didn’t read the manual or anything, I had to figure out how to use this. It’s actually quite intuitive, you touch-hold and slide the bar to the right or left to get to the application you want. Once you arrive there, what you see it sort of a flashy interface to the full functional application. The interface is what HTC has come up with. For example, if you “slide” over to the email app, you see graphical email icon with email context embedded therein. You can then flick up or down to view a preview of the email you want. When you want to launch the email program, just click the preview.

The Photos & Videos HTC app is very slick as well. You can flick through images in horizontal or vertical alignments (uh, this is very similar to how you can flick through pictures on the iPhone).

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Similarly and probably the coolest of these apps is the Weather application which overlays a snazzy animation of the weather in the city you want. Probably the best thing is to take a look at my video review for an example of this because words doesn’t do it justice. Every time I demo this eye-candy, I get “oohs” and “aaahs” from the people I show.

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Another interesting app is called “Footprints” which brings together a variety of functions built into the HD2. Essentially, this a is a way for you to track a trip or voyage. You take pictures which are tagged by the GPS, add notes, audio and commentary, and you essentially have a vibrant journal of your trip.

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Interestingly, HTC decided to make Opera the default browser on the HD2. I don’t argue with that at all as it seems to work very nicely. On Internet Explorer, Flash is not really supported (same with Opera as well) which is a kind of a bummer. Below are some screenshots of both IE and Opera (note, my blog detects if a user is coming from IE6 – try it!). Also below you can see a variety of screenshots that show the keyboard in both horizontal and vertical orientations:

Text input on Internet Explorer:

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Note the difference between IE (on the left) and Opera (on the right):

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Horizontal view in Opera:

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Lastly, I want to talk about the keyboard. There is no physical keyboard on this device which means that you are left to use either a vertical or horizontal keyboard. But, HTC has really done a great job working on the on-screen keyboard. When you type, for example, you get haptic feedback on button pushes meaning that the phone buzzes briefly. Also, the keyboard actually reminded me a lot of a mixture between the Android and the iPhone keyboard. It was responsive and I actually liked how the interface worked. In horizontal mode the screen is big enough to have a rather large keyboard. Another nice thing is that for secondary keys like numbers or other symbols, you click and hold the key to easily get to those characters (much like on the iPhone)

Vertical keyboard in Opera:

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Horizontal keyboard in Opera:

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Frankly, I’m just fine using an onboard keyboard. The only time it started acting up with me is when I hadn’t fully closed out all of my running apps. Task Manager will QUICKLY become your friend (as is true on ANY WinMo device). When struggling for memory (I was using a Twitter client called “Peep”), the typing got SO crazy that it was impossible to type in any type of recognizable English.

Pricing and Other Details

The price point for the HTC HS2 on TMobile is rumored to be at $199.99 for a contract with TMobile or $449.99 unlocked. You can buy the International (Unlocked) version for about $700 on Amazon currently.

I have said this already, but I firmly believe that this is the best Windows 6.5 Mobile Professional phone on the market. When (and if) it is on the “authorized” upgrade path for Windows Phone 7, it will be a solid contender there as well, provided there aren’t a slew of new smartphones introduced specifically for the new OS (which I am sure there will be). While at times, I felt the OS bogging down, especially with multiple apps running (WOW, is that called MULTITASKING?), the HTC HD2 is a super fast and peppy device, much more so than many other smartphones (even of different OS-es).

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The design is minimalistic and elegant, the HTC software (HTC Sense) is brilliant and helps you forget what is running underneath, and the hardware powering the HD2 really comes through. I think that TMobile will have a winner here, provided they don’t over-bloat it with other software or cripple any of the functionality. I only wish that the one that I have (the international one) worked on AT&T’s 3G network (Edge works fine).

HTC, you have a winner here!

Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.

HTD says: If you want a Windows Mobile phone that sets the performance & design standard, get the HTC HD2 without a doubt!