The HTC HD2 is the greatest Windows Mobile phone in the world. That may not necessarily be saying much, but HTC has effectively covered up Windows Mobile's flaws with a customised user interface so beautiful that just looking up the weather brings tears to our eyes. Also, the HD2's huge, 109mm (4.3-inch) screen makes the tiny icons in Microsoft's mobile OS worth tapping on.
We'll update this review with contract prices as soon as they're available, but, in the meantime, you can pick up the HD2 SIM-free for around £500.
Forget miniaturisation. We want bigger, flashier screens on our mobiles, and that's what the HD2 delivers. It sports an epic screen -- the biggest of any mobile currently out there, in fact. Despite this, unlike the Toshiba TG01, it doesn't feel that huge, since the bezel around the screen is so small. At 67 by 121 by 11mm, it's possible to pop the HD2 into a pocket, although you'll need a big one.
We love the large touchscreen for all the usual reasons -- it makes it simple to surf the Web and watch videos, for example -- but one of its biggest strengths is that it makes using Windows Mobile easy. Despite improvements in the latest version of the OS, Windows Mobile 6.5, there's no hiding the fact that this operating system was originally designed to have tiny icons that the user poked with a stylus. Now that we're used to poking with a fingertip, we need big, finger-friendly icons. The HD2's huge touchscreen makes everything easy to tap.
What really made us drench the HD2 in tears of joy, however, is the fact that the touchscreen is of the capacitive variety, so you don't have to apply pressure to make it work. The touchscreen is responsive and a pleasure to use, especially in the parts of the user interface customised by HTC. The home screen, for example, has a fun, sliding menu bar along the bottom, for navigating to key areas of the phone, like contacts and messages. HTC's great design and the huge screen make this part of the phone simply gorgeous. We usually consider weather apps a waste of space, but we could watch the smooth, beautiful animation of clouds rolling in on the HD2 for days.
Now for the bad news. We'd love to report that HTC has swept aside all of the pain and sorrow of yesteryear and delivered Windows Mobile out of the darkness, but there are still a few flaws.
In many places, features are duplicated, with an HTC version and a Windows Mobile version. This left us bewildered at times, especially when our task wasn't straightforward. We found that videos might open in HTC's player or they might default to the dated-looking Windows Media Player. Troubleshooting email could lead to a maze of screens, all offering to get us configured but leaving us wondering if we'd set up the right stuff. This duplication can work on a PC but it's far too complicated and confusing on a phone.
In some cases, problems arise because HTC hasn't gone far enough -- its user-interface tweaks feel cosmetic. For example, emails look great on the home screen, and they're fun to flip through with the swipe of a finger, but only a few lines are displayed. To read the whole thing, view images or even reply, you have to open the message in the ugly Windows Mobile email viewer. When filing it away, you'll be presented with Windows Mobile's tiny, out-of-proportion folder view. To add insult to injury, we found the pretty email view sometimes had trouble displaying special characters correctly.
We can forgive HTC for leaving many areas of Windows Mobile's user interface untouched, because we won't often be visiting the ActiveSync configuration screen, for example. But email is one of a smart phone's most important features, and we don't like being dumped out of the warm bath of the HTC Sense user interface into the cold shower of Windows Mobile.
HTC has brought the same social-networking mojo that we loved on the HTC Hero to the HD2. This includes an address book that grabs your friends' info from Facebook, a photo gallery that grabs their online photos, and a dedicated Twitter app as one of the home-screen tabs. It all works fairly well, although we had to merge many of our contacts manually if they weren't using the same email address everywhere. Also, Twitter didn't update reliably enough.
App me like a
Windows Mobile is a great platform for app developers, but we found the HD2's on-board apps to be a mixed bag. For instance, the YouTube app is fast and easy to use, while the Facebook app doesn't have all the features we need -- we ended up going to the Web site to check our inbox.
There are heaps more excellent apps out there for this platform, but they're not always easy to find or install. Microsoft has launched Windows Marketplace for Mobile to help, but the shelves are still almost bare. We missed the simplicity of Apple's App Store, but at least the big screen makes browsing the Web for good apps a pleasure.
The HD2 also includes the Microsoft My Phone service, which makes it wonderfully easy to back up your files and manage them from anywhere over the Web. It beats ActiveSync and a USB cable any day, and, unlike Apple's MobileMe offering, it's free.
Walking the Web
You have 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, and, although slower, it supports Flash so you can see more Web sites as their designers intended.
You can also track down other choices, like Fennec (from the crazy kids who brought you Firefox) and Skyfire. With a big screen like the HD2's, it might be worth trying them all out to find your favourite.
Multitude of touches
HTC has put some welcome effort into making the HD2 support multi-touch gestures, letting you, for example, zoom into Web pages by pinching the screen with two fingers. But be warned that, in terms of browsers, multi-touch gestures only work with the default Opera Mobile. Multi-touch functionality also makes an appearance, however, in the Google Maps and photo-gallery apps. It makes using the phone so much more fun that HTC should get a hug every time someone takes advantage of it.
We also have to give special mention to the on-screen keyboard, which is the same as the HTC Hero's. The buttons are laid out well and easy to press. Each button also provides a handy shortcut for adding numbers and symbols, without the need to swap to another keyboard. On a screen this big, the keyboard is huge, even in portrait orientation. As we write, it's our favourite virtual keyboard in the world.
The HD2 also sports a 5-megapixel camera with two insanely bright LED
photo lights. You can focus just by tapping the
screen, and it's also possible to record video.
As if that weren't enough, there are all the usual fantastic smart-phone features, including Wi-Fi and 7.2Mbps HSDPA for faster downloads over 3G. Even our old friend the 3.5mm headphone jack makes an appearance. There are plenty of other interesting features to find if you dig around the HD2. One example is a car mode with mega-big icons, although you'll need a car dock to use it. Even with all these features, battery life proved good in our tests.
The HTC HD2 applies a substantial boot to the backside of every other Windows Mobile phone currently available. In fact, it accomplishes the near impossible -- it makes Windows Mobile crave-worthy. We love its huge capacitive touchscreen, and, thanks to HTC, it's got a lovely home screen and some excellent apps. We only wish that the user-interface tweaks were less skin-deep in places, and that Windows Marketplace for Mobile did a better job of helping us find the best apps out there.
If the HD2 were running Android, we would have already run away with it forever to a country with no phone-stealing extradition treaty. As it is, for big-screen fans and people who need Windows Mobile for work purposes, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the HD2.
Edited by Charles Kloet