The HTC HD Mini is a jaunty wee smart phone that manages to pull off the seemingly impossible -- it runs the Windows Mobile operating system and still manages to be excellent. HTC has injected some life into the old dog that is Windows Mobile 6.5 with a snazzy user interface and sexy hardware. As far as pocket-friendly smart phones go, the Mini is a surprise success.
The Mini is available for free on a two-year, £25-per-month contract, or for about £320 SIM-free.
HD2's little bro
The Mini is the pint-sized follow-up to the HTC HD2, our favourite-ever Windows Mobile phone. The HD2's touchscreen was huge, measuring 109mm (4.3 inches), and it was also the first Windows Mobile phone with a capacitive touchscreen. The large display helped to make Windows Mobile's tiny icons big enough to poke with a finger, and the capacitive touchscreen made the HD2 feel more finger-friendly than phones with traditional resistive touchscreens, which require you to interact with them using a stylus or fingernail.
The Mini has a much less insane 81mm (3.2-inch) screen. That's the same size as the HTC Legend's screen, but the Mini's display has a smaller bezel around it, making the handset about 10mm shorter than the Legend. That makes the Mini feel quite trim. We thought the Mini's smaller stature could make it less usable than the HD2, but we were wrong. Like the HD2, the Mini gets the best out of Windows Mobile.
The reason why the Mini is so good is that HTC has almost obliterated the Windows Mobile operating system, covering it up almost everywhere with its own Sense user interface. The home screen, for example, has a fun, sliding menu bar along the bottom, for navigating to key areas of the phone, like your contacts list and messages.
The Mini even improves on the HD2 by removing some of the duplication whereby an HTC app and Windows Mobile app handled the same task. There are still some examples of this -- you can read your email in HTC's email client or in a separate Outlook client, for example -- but HTC has wisely removed most of the Windows Apps that aren't as good-looking or easy to use as its own offerings.
There's still room for improvement when it comes to some aspects of the user interface, though. The email widget on the home screen looks great, with a fun interface that lets you flip through emails with a swipe of a finger, as if you're flicking through a stack of pages. But it doesn't render special characters very well. Also, it only shows the first few lines of an email, so you'll have to tap on a message to open the full email and really take a look. Although the email client does a better job of rendering emails, it doesn't look as good.
Windows Mobile doesn't measure up to the iPhone OS or Google's Android operating system in terms of usability -- after all, it wasn't designed for modern touchscreen phones -- but it does give you a huge amount of power. For example, you can set up your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and tether your laptop to your phone so that you can surf the Web using the Mini's 3G connection.
Windows Mobile is also good at connecting to Microsoft Exchange, which many people use for their work email, and it syncs with your desktop computer via USB fairly easily too. The Mini also includes a free online service called Microsoft My Phone, which backs up your contacts and files wirelessly over the cloud.
Browse the menu
The Mini offers a choice of two built-in Web browsers. HTC has gone with the speedy Opera Mobile as its default choice, but Internet Explorer is also on-board. Although Internet Explorer is slower, it supports Flash, so you can see more Web sites as their designers intended. The small text on Web pages sometimes looks rather blurry on the Mini's screen, although we still had no trouble reading it.