What's not: No US 3G, no carrier subsidies so it's expensive.
Editor's Update April 2010: Read our review of the HTC HD2 for T-Mobile with US 3G!
Reviewed December 7, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
How things change in just a year: the HTC Touch HD was a huge-screen, heavenly Windows Mobile phone with TouchFLO 3D jazzing things up last fall. Now it's just reasonably cool and the likes of the HTC Imagio on Verizon does pretty much the same stuff for much less than the Touch HD's original import price of $1,000. The once-capacious 3.8" resistive touch screen pales in comparison to the HTC HD2's 4.3" capacitive multi-touch display, and the HD looks a little thick and chunky next to the impossibly thin HD2. HTC's latest iteration of TouchFLO 3D, now called Sense just like their Android UI on the HTC Hero and Droid Eris has really hit its stride. This is a luxurious phone, and since it's hot and available only as an unlocked GSM import phone, prices are near highway robbery at $800 for the preferred Euro model (the Asian model is a bit cheaper but has a shorter warranty and language/regional variations). There's nearly no bezel for that edge-to-edge display look (capacitive displays don't need as large a bezel), the industrial design is pure gadget sex appeal and the brushed metal battery door says this is quality gear. It measures just 0.43" thin, making this otherwise large phone pocketable (just be careful of that glass display). The 1GHZ Snapdragon processor flies with the help of beefy RAM. If HTC Windows Mobile phones are your thing and you don't mind a large phone, the HD2 is to die for. It's like upgrading your old Sony Trinitron and DVD player to a honking-big flat panel display and a Blu-ray player.
Features at a Glance
The HD2 is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE. It has 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps only on the 900/2100MHz bands used in Europe and Asia. That means EDGE-only in the US on AT&T and T-Mobile. The HD2 has WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with a full set of profiles including A2DP stereo and DUN (not that US readers will be dying to use this as a wireless modem on EDGE), a new WiFi Router cellular data connection sharing applet (again, only exciting if you have 3G to share with your WiFi notebook) and a GPS. As mentioned, the phone has a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU and 488 megs of RAM with 512 megs of flash ROM. The HD2 runs Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional customized to support the capacitive display and it has the HTC Sense UI. The phone has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and it can shoot VGA video.
Superficially, the HD2 looks like a wider, taller iPhone. It has that large slate design, but it bests the iPhone with its super-sized piece of capacitive glass. That 4.3" touch screen puts it in the MID (mobile Internet device) category, but the slim design and absence of a hardware keyboard let it slip into the phone camp. It looks well made and like a high class piece of gear. In fact it is well made. Our only complaint is the compression-fit metal battery cover that chews away at fingernails each time you pry at the "pry here" groove. That back is on tight and won't wiggle-jiggle or fall off like the Motorola Droid's battery door. The screen dominates the front, and there's hardly a bezel at all. The bottom buttons are small, yet are surprisingly easy to operate. Given how thin the HD2 is, HTC was smart to avoid micro-sized side buttons. The volume rocker is it, in comparison to Toshiba's similarly designed TG01 with its impossible selection of micro-sized side buttons.
The front buttons handle call send and end, home, back and the Windows Start Menu. As with most all HTC TouchFLO 3D phones, there's no camera button but you can assign a home screen button to the camera. With the HD2, HTC has begun the change to a micro USB connector rather than their old proprietary EXTUSB port-- 3 cheers. There's a 3.5mm stereo jack on the phone's bottom edge, next to the USB port so you can use your favorite headphones. The speaker grille, camera lens and dual LED flash are on the back.
The HD2 is larger than the iPhone and Moto Droid, but not hugely so. It weighs 5.5 ounces.
Windows Mobile 6.5 doesn't support capacitive displays. Thanks to the iPhone and Android OS phones, capacitive displays are all the rage. And they do have their advantages when paired with a finger-optimized UI: they require a lighter touch and support multi-touch for features like pinch zooming. What do you lose? You can't use a stylus for handwriting input or drawing, there's no pressure sensitivity and you can't wear gloves unless they're ultra-thin. HTC wrote their own capacitive drivers for Windows Mobile and completely redesigned the UI for every app that wasn't finger-friendly (or in some cases removed the icons leading to old WinMo non-finger friendly apps). That's why the HD2 is currently the world's only capacitive display Windows Mobile 6.5 phone. How does it work? Wonderfully! Factor in that very large display and you've got a smartphone that's very easy to use with fingers. The HD2 one-ups the iPhone with haptic feedback that's especially appreciated when using the excellent HTC on-screen keyboard. I'm generally not in love with on-screen keyboards but this one is excellent and even better than the iPhone's. The HD2 has an accelerometer that automatically changes between portrait and landscape modes, though only some applications support this: Opera, the video player, YouTube player, IE 6 Mobile and image viewers but not the HTC Sense home screen UI (TouchFLO 3D) or Office Mobile. Pinch to zoom works in Opera, Office Mobile and the photo viewer but not in IE 6.
The display is bright, even with the fairly conservative light sensor and auto-brightness feature enabled, and it's very sharp. Colors are good, though not eye-popping like Samsung's AMOLED displays and even small text is readable (assuming good eyes). The 480 x 800 WVGA display has quickly become the standard resolution for high end smartphones, and at 4.3", that high resolution no longer taxes the eyes. The HD2 has a proximity sensor that's used not just to disable the screen when you're in a call to prevent cheek dialing; there are also features to reduce ring volume as you put the phone closer to your head (though most of us would answer the call before moving the phone to our noggins) and to increase ring volume when the phone's sensor knows it's in a pocket or bag. We suspect the glass has a coating to resist fingerprints because it doesn't get nearly as yucky as do most touch screen phones.
HTC Sense on Windows Mobile is really the latest evolution of TouchFLO 3D. We can understand that HTC wants cross-platform branding, but it is quite different from Sense on Android. You've got the usual set of home screen tabs for the most gorgeous multi-city weather you've ever seen, stocks, calendar with a full month view, settings, HTC Footprints and now Twitter gets its own tab powered by Peep. The weather is now integrated into the calendar so you can see if it will rain on the scheduled soccer match, and the weather is embedded into the big analog clock on the main home screen, a la the Android flavor of HTC Sense. Tap on the clock to see the weather forecast for your current GPS-based location. The dedicated applications tab is gone but customizable shortcut icons are appended to the bottom of the scrollable main home screen. The web tab now has icon-based bookmarks that are scrollable too. All good stuff: HTC has picked the things most of us care about and made them quick to access.
The calendar day view with embedded weather.
To get a full 360 view of the device, see the new HTC Sense UI in action along with Opera Mobile, GPS with maps and more, check out our video review:
Need for Speed
The Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU running at 1GHz has phone geeks drooling. That's much faster than any previous Windows Mobile phone, and WinMo plus HTC's eye candy do have a need for speed. That 1GHz translates into a very fast smartphone, with no lag in the UI, instant switching between tabs of the home screen and even faster application installations. I never felt the HTC Imagio was a slow phone, but after using the HD2, the Imagio feels like its less bright little brother. Plainly, the phone is fast. Yes, it's as fast as the iPhone 3GS when moving around in the UI, and the HD2 is multitasking too. Despite the EDGE Internet connection, web pages load quicker than expected in Opera Mobile, feeling more like UMTS than EDGE and that's due to the CPU's faster rendering speed.
Gone are the problems of constrained memory since the HD2 has 488 megs of RAM (previous HTC high end WinMo phone have had 288 megs). Thus you can run more applications simultaneously without slowdowns or glitches. In fact the HD2 has been the most stable WinMo 6.5 device we've tested and we escaped from the reboot every other day routine to keep things running well.
Phone and Internet
The HD2 is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE that's currently sold unlocked with no contract or carrier support in the US. It has 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on the European and Asian 900/2100MHz bands only. Rumor has it that T-Mobile US will pick up the HD2 and thus add their flavor of 3G, but we've had no confirmation of that. As per usual with HTC, the HD2 ships with Opera Mobile 9 as the default web browser. Opera is currently the best WinMo web browser for rich, desktop-style rendering. That said, the version on the HD2 is setup to identify itself as a mobile browser, and that means sites that have mobile versions like CNN, the New York Times and Engadget will serve mobile versions. Likely a registry edit could change this, but be careful what you ask for: we tested the full version of CNN and the Times and the browser sometimes bogged down to a near grinding halt dealing with those heavy pages. Internet Explorer Mobile 6 is on board and it gets the full versions of web sites by default (with even more bogging down since it attempts to handle Flash Lite content too which Opera doesn't). With older versions of Opera on last generation HTC and Samsung WinMo phones we found it hard to press links-- you generally had to double-tap to zoom in first, then apply serious pressure to select a link. That's gone on the HD2, and selecting links is a finger-friendly pleasure. Pinch zooming works in Opera Mobile but not in IE Mobile.
Web pages downloaded and rendered surprisingly quickly over EDGE in Opera Mobile. It feels tolerably fast, despite our average 150 kbps speed test results on AT&T and 100k on T-Mobile. Mail downloads were reasonably fast when downloading 30 or fewer emails sans attachments. WiFi web browsing speeds were simply wonderful and rivaled the iPhone 3GS. We can only imagine what a pleasure the HD2 would be on HSDPA.
Call quality is excellent on AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Reception has been strong and call drops are a rarity with a reasonable signal. The HD2 has a tab dedicated to speed dial via photo icons of your favorite contacts but no numeric speed dial or voice dialing. You can put photo speed dial icons on the main home screen as well. The HD2 worked fine with a variety of headsets including the Jawbone 2, Plantronics Discovery 925 and Jabra Stone.
Multimedia: not the old HTC
HTC took hard knocks for mediocre video playback performance on their older high end WinMo phones like the first gen Tilt on AT&T and prior devices. HTC's response was those were business devices, not multimedia phones. Now they've realized that smartphones must be good at both, and with a 1GHz CPU, the HD2 rocks on video. The phone can easily play MPEG4 video ripped for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and we tested some higher resolution MPEG4 movies ripped at up to 640 x 352 pixels and 1,066 kbps that played well with a few frame drops but nothing that seriously detracted from the experience. HTC's video player automatically stretches content to fill the screen and at 4.3", the HD2 feels more like a PMP than a smartphone. In terms of frame rate and audio/video sync, the HD2 still falls behind the Zune HD and iPhone 3GS, but the screen size makes up for minor frame drops when playing high bitrate, high resolution videos.
Like all recent HTC phones, the HD2 comes with their YouTube player and it does a good job of playing videos full screen at fairly good quality. In the US, you'll want to use WiFi to stream videos since EDGE is too slow, resulting in low quality videos that stall. But over WiFi, video quality isn't a problem.
Camera, 5 megapixels but are those pixels any good?
HTC's cameras haven't been their strong point and they know it. They're working on improving that and in the meantime, the HD2 takes the best photos among their latest smartphones. That means better exposure and sharper shots than the HTC Pure but the HD2's videos can't compare to Nokia and Sony Ericsson's high end 5 megapixel shooters. The HD2's autofocus is fairly fast and you can move the focus point by placing your finger on the designated point on the full screen viewfinder. The on-screen shutter button is plenty large enough but this is a large phone that tends to swing like a barn door when you tap the button, making for blurry shots if you don't hold the phone with one hand on each end.
There are options for save location, postview duration, white balance, ISO, widescreen mode, quality, effects, flash mode and self timer mode. Images taken with the flash at close range tend to be overexposed by the bright dual LED flash, but it works well with subjects at 5 feet away. Indoor shots have some noise, even with the flash while outdoor shots have little noise but show some digital smoothing that reduces sharpness (in contrast, most HTC cameras oversharpen which is even less attractive). Overall, the shots are nice but they won't wean a photo buff away from a good Nokia Nseries phone or the Nokia N900.
Video is VGA and averages 17 fps. It's surprisingly color-saturated and has relatively low noise for indoor video and outdoor video looks quite nice except for some motion blur and overexposure of highlights under bright sun. Overall, we're more impressed with video than still photos, though most non-camera buffs will be happy with both, especially with photos once they're sized down about 30% to increase apparent sharpness.
There is no front-facing camera for video calling.
The phone ships with Google Maps and a trial edition of CoPilot 8 for spoken turn-by-turn directions. The built-in GPS managed good fix times and held a fix even at highway speeds. Google Maps is a joy to use on the HD2's large, high resolution display and it too supports pinch zooming. CoPilot also supports pinch zooming and it uses the entire display to give a driving-friendly view of your route. The HD2's single speaker is loud enough for car use, though there's a bit of buzzing with the volume cranked. With a dash mount, the HD2 would make a very good handle car nav replacement.
The HD2 has a 1230 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. That sounds like a shockingly low capacity battery for a smartphone with this size display and a 1GHz CPU. And this is when I'm happy the phone lacks US 3G-- battery life is actually accecptible since the HD2 doesn't have power-hungry 3G. With moderate to heavy use, the HD2 lasts a day even with push email on during the business day. If you spend considerable time streaming YouTube over WiFi, watch alocally stored feature length movie or use the GPS quite a bit, expect to have trouble making it through the day, but that's pretty heavy use.
The HTC HD2 isn't your average smartphone. Rather it's HTC's dream machine: that what if you could have a 1 GHz processor, a crazy large capacitive display and yet still fit it in your pocket kind of product. It's hard not to really like the HD2, not just thanks to the gorgeous hardware but HTC's Sense UI that makes the fun seem elegant, fun and modern. There are occasional WinMo gotcha moments, but very few, and HTC let Microsoft's strengths shine through: excellent Outlook and MS Exchange support, fast networking and MS Office compatibility. The tradeoffs for this fantasy phone? The first is price-- this is one expensive phone at the moment. It's also large and there's no 3G in the US.
Pro: Absolutely wonderful and huge 4.3" capacitive multi-touch display that's impressed everyone we've shown it to. The HD2 is fast, Sense UI is a pleasure to look at and useful too. Opera loads web pages unusually fast over EDGE, reducing the agony of 2g-only cellular data in the US. The smartphone looks and feels like a quality piece of hardware and the looks are super-sexy.
Con: Expensive, no US 3G, camera is decent but not top notch.
x 2.64 x 0.43 inches. Weight: 5.5 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz. Sold unlocked for use with any GSM SIM card. 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on the 900/2100MHz European and Asian bands. 3G will not work in the US.
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 MyPhone, 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.
SDHC microSD card slot under back cover.