What's hot: Goregeous design, huge high res capacitive display.
What's not: Battery life is so-so.
Reviewed April 6, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Here comes that super-phone buzz word again. Google started it with their self-proclaimed super-phone the Nexus One and since then, top-of-the-line smartphones with killer specs have gotten the moniker. The HTC HD2 undeniably fits into this category with its triple play of a jaw-dropping 4.3” multi-touch capacitive display, 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and a slim design that inspires gadget lust. We first reviewed the HD2 in December when it was released overseas minus US 3G. It was available from importers as an unlocked GSM phone. To get the full low down on the HD2, please peruse our first review since we won’t repeat everything here.
Today we look at the T-Mobile US version of the HTC HD2 and it’s even better thanks to 3G HSDPA and excellent added software. It’s not often that a carrier makes a phone better with bundled software, and T-Mobile is one of the few that doesn’t load up their high end phones with bloatware but rather thoughtfully adds apps that enhance the device’s experience. The core software and OS remain the same as the overseas version: Windows Mobile 6.5 with HTC’s Sense UI on top. Sense is the latest evolution of TouchFLO 3D, and those of you who’ve used TouchFLO 3D HTC phones will feel right at home. HTC has added features like Footprints (geo-tagged image travelogue), Twitter, even further reaching, fancier weather and more. They’ve nearly eradicated the stock Windows Mobile UI, and for most folks that’s a good thing. Windows Mobile is a very robust and powerful OS but the user interface is years out of date. HTC has replaced so much of the UI that you’ll rarely see the old WinMo look. Because they’re darned bright folks, HTC has managed to make Sense faster with every revision too, so it doesn’t slow down the smartphone. The HD2’s 1 GHz CPU also helps keep things speedy, though we did notice occasional pauses and lags that lasted a second or two every so often. Alas, that’s WinMo, it stops to think once in a while.
Though the HD2 has a 4.3” touch screen (the largest available on a phone), it looks like a large but not brickish device. HTC’s designers did an impressive job of making the phone as small as possible (there’s barely any bezel surrounding the display and the phone is only 0.43” thick). It’s in roughly the same size camp as the iPhone 3GS and is a little bit bigger than the Google Nexus One (also built by HTC). The HD2 looks very modern, high end and sexy. The casing is a mix of soft-touch coated plastics and metal. To keep the smartphone small, the buttons at the bottom are very small but they are usable. They’re so close to the bottom edge (again to keep the phone small), that it’s not terribly easy to use them one-handed unless you’re careful to support the back of the phone with a few fingers, lest it fall. Our only complaint? There’s no dedicated camera button so you’ll have to use the home screen shortcut to launch the camera and press the on-screen shutter button to focus and take a shot. Since the phone is large and the shutter button is at the far edge of the display, it’s easy to wag the phone like a barn door when tapping the software button.
What about the software? Yes the HTC HD2 runs the beleaguered Windows Mobile OS but that doesn’t doom it to irrelevancy. HTC has done such a good job of remaking the UI (Windows Mobile’s only real problem is the UI) that I wouldn’t mind using the HD2 as my personal phone. Not at all. The HD2 with Sense is intuitive, fun and productive. Thanks to Windows Mobile it has fast and robust networking, well-developed calling features including voice dialing and it multi-tasks. Though Windows Mobile 6.5 has the Marketplace for apps, there aren’t nearly as many apps available as there are for Android or the iPhone—another potential drawback. But there are plenty of useful apps in the Marketplace and for Windows Mobile veterans who are accustomed to using their favorite third party apps gotten outside the marketplace direct from developers or from Windows Mobile software sites, there are even more to choose from outside the Marketplace. Still, you won’t find yourself spending hours each week loading and deleting free apps via the Marketplace and most decent apps cost at least $5. Software junkies take note. Also take note that there won’t be any official upgrade to Windows Phone 7, due out by the end of 2010 or early 2011.
Wirefly price (no rebate required):
Since this is Windows Mobile, the HD2 has robust MS Exchange email and syncing support and it can sync to Google via Exchange ActiveSync. Or you can go with the traditional USB cable syncing method and sync to Outlook on the desktop (Mac users will need to buy third party software like Missing Sync to sync to their Macs). HTC and T-Mobile have pre-loaded the freeware doubleTwist application for both Windows and Mac to sync the HD2 with iTunes.
The HD2, like all Windows Mobile smartphones, has a file manager so you can load and access whatever kinds of files you wish (take that, iPhone). It has a microSD card slot and T-Mobile includes a 16 gig card loaded with goodies like the Transformers and Transformers 2 movies in high quality, doubleTwist and more. T-Mobile has included the Blockbuster application which makes its debut on the HD2. You can buy and rent movies and watch them on the HD2’s stunning 800 x 480 pixel display. Movies look stunning on the HD2 and it’s more of a PMP (portable media player) experience than a smartphone experience. The Snapdragon CPU and graphics subsystem do an excellent job of playing even HD content. If you’re addicted to movies and video, the HD2 is sure to please. Note that you must use WiFi to download Blockbuster content (T-Mobile doesn’t want gigs of data crossing their network).
Also included is MobiTV, and this isn’t your grandma’s MobiTV from the Treo days. It’s actually high quality stuff that fills the high res screen and looks good. You get a trial period to test it out and if you want to continue using it, it costs $9.99/month. You can use MobiTV over 3G and it works just fine. MobiTV has 35 channels and plenty of full TV episodes as well as ESPN, MTV, MSNBC, USA and more.
For music playback, you get Windows Media Player Mobile (again, tired UI) and HTC's player (much nicer UI). There's a 3.5mm stereo jack and T-Mobile includes a stereo earbud headset.
The Barnes & Noble ebook reading application is also pre-installed. This isn’t unique to the HD2 but it’s a great idea given the HD2’s large and sharp display. I’d actually loaded the B&N reader app on my import HD2 and found it made for an excellent reading experience on the go when I didn’t have my nook with me.
In terms of media production, the HD2 has a decent 5 megapixel camera with auto-focus (touch-focus to be exact) and a dual LED flash. While it can’t compete with Nokia Nseries phones, it does take quite good shots, particularly in well-lit settings. It can also shoot passable video up to VGA resolution. The camera is significantly better than the Nexus One’s with sharper images and better color balance.
Pre-loaded games include Guitar Hero 5 Mobile and demos of Ferrari GT Evolution and Prince of Persia HD both of which look as good as an iPhone game and play well (they cost $5 for the full version once you’ve used the trial). HTC’s Teeter (a Labyrinth game) is here as are Tetris and Millionaire 2010 demos.
To see MobiTV, high quality video playback, games and more, watch our video review:
The HTC HD2 is a quad band GSM world phone with 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on T-Mobile’s US bands and 2100Mhz for overseas. Reception is average and isn’t as strong as the Nokia N900 (a top reception phone) but it’s better than the Nexus One which has mediocre reception. Call quality is superb with loud and clear voice on both ends. Bluetooth headset performance was solid with the Jawbone 2, Solar Voice i908 and Samsung WEP870. We did note that the HD2 didn't work well with the Plantronics Discovery 925, an otherwise solid headset (outgoing voice was very low). The phone also supports A2DP Bluetooth stereo. It comes with Microsoft’s Voice Command software for voice dialing and the usual set of call management features including call history, smart dialing and note taking when in a call. When on 3G, you can access the web and email if you wish, and the phone multi-tasks with non-Net apps too. The HD2 has a proximity sensor that prevents cheek dialing.
For web browsing, the very capable Opera 9.7 Mobile web browser is the default web browser. Thanks to HTC’s software enhancements you can pinch zoom in Opera. It does a very good job of rendering desktop web sites and really shines on the large display. There’s no Flash support in Opera, but the included IE Mobile 6 supports Flash Lite. HTC’s YouTube player is on board and by default it plays the HQ version of YouTube mobile videos that look quite good over 3G and WiFi.
Google Maps and TeleNav are pre-installed and both work well with the integrated GPS with aGPS capabilities. Satellite reception is good and the very loud speaker is easy to hear in a noisy car. Google Maps looks glorious on this display and it too supports pinch zooming. You can switch from portrait to landscape mode by rotating the phone (it has an accelerometer) and get satellite and street views as well as POIs. TeleNav costs $9.99/month (you get a 60 day trial) and as usual it provides excellent spoken turn-by-turn directions and has a strong POI database.
A phone with a huge display, 1 GHz CPU and multiple wireless radios is doomed to punish its battery. The HD2’s 1230 mAh Lithium Ion battery is relatively low capacity for a powerful smartphone—that’s the price of a slim device with no room for a beefy battery. The HD2 can make it through the day on a charge with moderate use, but if you intend to watch videos on your 1 hour commute, use MS Direct Push email and use the GPS, you’ll need to top it up during the day or get a spare battery.
Yes, the HTC D2 on T-Mobile is one of the best smartphones on the US market. It’s the first phone that can truly replace a PMP/iPhone/iPod Touch for video playback, it has excellent call quality, quality build and design and an industry-leading display. It’s generally fast (other than typical WinMo pauses once in a while) and with both HSDPA and WiFi, high speed data is present and accounted for. No wonder T-Mobile can’t keep this super-phone in stock.
The drawback? Apps. The phone comes with the core software most of us need: Microsoft’s Mobile Office suite, email, web browsers x2, YouTube, Twitter, weather, stocks, photo viewer, calculator, Outlook/Exchange/Google syncing and more. It’s not like there are gaping holes. Microsoft’s free Facebook app is also pre-installed, as are IM clients. But the user interface is set in stone and if you dig customizing the home screen and adding lots of apps as you might with Android, the HD2 can’t compete. Is that a deal breaker? Personally I don’t think so, but it is a matter of personal preference.
Pro: Gorgeous and professional-looking design, immense 4.3” capacitive 800 x 480 touch screen, multi-tasking, can install apps from any source and load documents of your choice, 16 gig SDHC card included, strong video playback performance, excellent MS Exchange and MS Office support, very good call quality.
Con: Large phone, just passable battery life, not as many apps available compared to the iPhone and Android OS. Occasional Windows Mobile sputters and stutters, though overall performance is quite good.
Price: $199 with a 2 year contract, $450 retail with no contract
Display:4.3" capacitive multi-touch display with pinch zoom. Resolution:
480 x 800, Supports both portrait and landscape modes (landscape mode not supported in all applications).
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 8250B processor. 576 MB built-in RAM. 1024 MB Flash ROM with over 600 megs available.
x 2.64 x 0.43 inches. Weight: 5.5 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz. 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on the 1700/2100MHz T-Mobile US and overseas bands.
Camera:5.0 megapixel with autofocus lens and dual LED flash.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Has FM radio.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Bluetooth profiles: headset, handsfree, A2DP stereo, DUN, FTP, GAP, GOEP, SAP, serial port, AVRC.
Mobile 6.5 Professional operating system with HTC Sense UI.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet
Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, Microsoft Windows Mobile Marketplace, Windows Live, File Explorer, Calculator and MSN Messenger. HTC media player, HTC Calendar, HTC People (contacts), YouTube player, HTC Footprints, HTC Messages and Albums. Blockbuster video client, MobiTV, Barnes & Noble ebook reader and Transformers 1 and 2 movies included.
SDHC microSD card slot under back cover. 16 gig card included.