If you're looking for the ultimate smart phone, you just found it. The HTC Desire HD is a big beast for the average user, but if you value power over portability, you won't be disappointed. The best Web browser in the business and a screen that pushes tablet territory means the Desire HD is more than smart -- it's genius.
The HTC Desire HD is available free on a £40 per month, two-year contract or £465 SIM-free and unlocked. See our Mobile Deals page for more offers.
The most obvious difference between the Desire HD and its little brother the HTC Desire is the screen. It's been ramped up from a healthy 3.7 inches to a monstrous 4.3 inches. It has the same WVGA resolution, 480x800 pixels, which equates to 217 pixels per inch, but the larger screen doesn't look blurry or low-res. It doesn't have the eye-burning saturation of the 233ppi Samsung Galaxy S, or the pin-sharp 330ppi resolution of the iPhone 4, but it still looks very good indeed.
The touchscreen is also fast and responsive. If we had to nitpick, we'd say that it isn't quite as buttery smooth as the iPhone or the HTC HD7. Since the Desire HD's hardware and processor are almost identical to the HD7's, we're tempted to blame Android for the fact that sometimes scrolling and swiping are fractionally more juddery than the best of the competition. Nevertheless, it's still very smooth and easy to use.
The machined aluminium case feels wonderfully solid. We'd still rather not drop it on concrete, but it feels more likely to survive than most large smart phones, especially since the aluminium case wraps around the edge of the screen. But the trade-off is weight -- combined with the huge screen, the Desire HD weighs in at 164g.
Inevitably, the Desire HD feels massive in your hand. You could still pop it in a pocket, but you couldn't sit down comfortably. Whether such an enormous screen is worth the weight is up to you -- we love it, but we like our smart phones bodaciously big-boned. If you want something smaller, the HTC Legend may be more your size.
Despite its vast surface area, HTC has made a few surgical snips to the Desire HD compared to the original Desire. Gone are the optical trackpad and the four physical buttons along the bottom of the screen, replaced with the touch-sensitive kind. We prefer the physical buttons, but in our tests, the touch-sensitive ones on the Desire HD worked very well.
The missing trackpad could be more of a problem, since Android doesn't have an easy way to move the cursor around tiny text, which is a pain on the Samsung Galaxy S. But HTC has sorted it by taking a leaf from the iPhone's UI manual. Hold down your finger on the text and you'll see a magnified area that helps you place the cursor exactly where you want it. The copy and paste function is similarly well done.
The magnified cursor is just one example of the many good additions HTC makes to Android with its Sense skin. Most manufacturers struggle to improve Android, and end up just slapping on a jumble of features that often fail to impress. HTC's efforts are much better thought-out than most.
Sense makes the Desire HD look and feel more polished, and it includes a bunch of widgets that do a good job of displaying live data on the seven home screens. The clock and weather widget is so good looking that the Android Market is full of imitations that can be installed on non-HTC phones. The calendar widget is another favourite -- it does a great job of stylishly displaying upcoming appointments from multiple calendars.
The social-network integration on the Desire HD is excellent. The address book pulls in profile photos and updates from your contact's Facebook and Twitter accounts, and in our tests it linked our mates to their profiles without any problems. If you get a call from someone in your address book, the screen flashes up their photo and their latest status update, too.
The gallery also grabs your photos from Facebook and Flickr, although we wish it worked with Google's photo service, Picasa, too. Our Google Nexus One, which runs unadulerated Android, has that service built in, so we don't know why it's missing on the Desire HD.
Sense has expanded since we saw it on the Desire, including several themes that wrap the display in simulated wood or other colours. It's also launched a cloud-based service that can track your phone's GPS on a map, make it ring at max volume to find it under the sofa cushions, or wipe it remotely. In our tests, it took a few seconds for the service to find our phone, but everything worked a treat eventually.
It would take all the virtual paper on the Internet to describe all of Android's features, and HTC adds even more. For example, when the phone rings, and you pick it up, the ring quietens a little until you answer it -- handy if you're holding it up to check who's calling but don't want to deafen yourself. If you're in a call and you put the phone face-down on a table, it automatically switches to speaker phone. And most importantly, all these features are easy to set up and turn off, if you don't want them.
The weath of features on the Desire HD could be overwhelming, if you prefer the simple life. After all, it's more straightforward to just turn on speaker phone with a button on the screen when you want it. Although the user interface does a good job of presenting the options in an intuitive way, having so many choices inevitably leads to some long menus. The iPhone, and even the new Windows Phone 7 phones, do a better job at controlling information overload by not throwing in every feature under the sun. But if you like having everything but the kitchen sink at your command, the Desire HD will not disappoint you. It's still much more fun and pleasurable to use than many of its competiors, such as the Nokia N8.
The downside of Sense is that it seems to delay getting Android updates from Google. The Desire HD runs the most recent version at the time of writing, Android 2.2 Froyo, but there are certain to be new versions along soon. Since each update adds features and fixes bugs, it can be painful to wait while HTC polishes it with Sense before rolling it out to phones. If you're on a network contract it takes even longer as the phone company adds its own bits and bobs.
Sense or non-Sense, Android gets better wth each new version. It's especially useful if you use Google's services, such as Gmail and Google Maps, because Android is Google's own mobile OS, so you get plenty of Android-only perks. Google Maps supports layers, for example, so you can show your Google My Maps or traffic on the map.
Google also fires out new apps into the Android Market regularly -- Listen, for downloading podcasts, and Sky Maps, for star gazing, are a couple of our favourites.
HTC has also scoped out some of the best apps for its HTC Likes app, which is a browsable subset of the Market. We've poo-pooed efforts like this in the past -- after all, why bother visiting the HTC app store when you could just hit the Market and see everything in one place? But finding the best apps on the Android Market can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack, since it's more open than the iPhone App Store and there's not the same quality control. You can always check out our list of the best Android apps, but we approve of HTC's choices too, and they're all free.
If you're a Web addict for whom being offline is worse than being unconscious, the Desire HD is the best smart phone available. The enormoscreen has the real estate to display the finickiest webpage, although we do fantasise about how good it would be if it had the iPhone 4's stunning resolution. The latest 802.11n standard of Wi-Fi is on board, as well as 14.4Mbps HSDPA for epic download speeds over 3G.
The software is also up to the challenge, with a great Web browser that displays pages quickly and accurately. Perhaps best of all, the Desire HD supports Flash Player 10, so every page is served up in perfect condition, without missing pieces. There's been much talk about how Flash will kill your battery and crash your phone, but in our tests it was worth it to be able to see everything from page navigation to BBC iPlayer, just as their creators intended.
Sure, all this power sucks a full battery charge like a camel stocking up for a long walk -- especially with the widgets pulling down data by the bucketload all the time. With heavy use, surfing the Web and watching loads of videos, a fully charged battery didn't last us a day. But there is a power-saver mode, which prompts you to ease off when the battery drops below 15 per cent.
It's another example of how the Desire HD is a portable computer powerhouse rather than just a phone. We had no trouble, however, making or receiving phone calls reliably in our tests. Such a vast phone isn't the most comfortable to hold against your face, and we thought the speaker could be a smidge louder. But if you tend to spend more time updating your status than chatting old-school, the Desire HD does the job.
For smart-phone fans who want the biggest, most feature-packed beauty that money can buy, the HTC Desire HD delivers in style. Android 2.2 is better than ever, and HTC's Sense skin helps smooth over the remaining rough edges, as well as adding some handy extras.
The 4.3-inch screen and heavy case means it may be too much phone for some people. It's not cheap either, and its app store has a whiff of the Wild West. But we think bigger is better, and the Desire HD bestrides the narrow world like a Colossus.
Edited by Nick Hide
Update: Our first review was based on a pre-launch sample. We have updated our review after confirming how scrolling and the FriendFeed widget behave on a final version of the phone.