What's hot: Huge 4.3" display, kickstand and good call quality.
What's not: Screen is lackluster, camera is so-so.
Reviewed November 9, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Sometimes the world of mobile tech is wonderfully full of surprises. Take Microsoft and their smartphone OS that became a dirty word in a world captivated by the iPhone, Android and even a somewhat OS 6-revived BlackBerry. It's been many months since a Windows Mobile device was released, and no one (beyond us tech reviewers) seemed to notice or care. Windows Mobile devices disappeared from the parade of new releases because Microsoft has been hard at work on a completely new OS, Windows Phone 7, and it's finally here, at least on GSM carriers. CDMA users (Verizon and Sprint in the US) will have to wait until Q1 of 2011 for a Windows 7 Phone.
The screen looks more faded in photos than it does in person thanks to
screen glare that the camera picks up.
At launch, T-Mobile US offered up the HTC HD7, an HTC HD2 reborn with a new OS. Why can't you upgrade your otherwise capable HD2 to Windows Phone 7? Because Microsoft has strict minimum hardware and design specs, and these include a hardware camera button that the HD2 lacks. Storage is also handled differently with all but the Samsung Focus on AT&T omitting the user-accessible microSD card slot (more on that later). Your other November 2010 T-Mobile option is the Dell Venue Pro, a QWERTY portrait slider that Dell will sell direct (it likely won't be in T-Mobile stores).
Design and Display
The HD7 is a lovely piece of hardware with judicious use of metal and techno-modern design elements that give it a classy look and feel. The HD7 is the highest end looking Windows 7 phone at launch in terms of materials and design (the Samsung Focus is great looking but screams plastic). Like the HD2 and HTC Evo 4G Android smartphone on Sprint, it's a beast of a phone since it has a 4.3" capacitive display. If you're looking for a cuddly and pocketable smartphone, the HD7 shouldn't be your first choice. But if you want big screen movies that actually do fit in a roomy pocket, easier to read text and a bigger and badder phone than your buddies carry, the HTC HD7 is it.
The display is indeed large and movies and videos take on a whole new level of enjoyment when you add those extra tenths of an inch vs. 3.7" and 4" smartphones. But the story is bittersweet because the HD7's display looks, feels and is in fact the last generation TFT used on the HD2. It isn't just the fierce competition from Samsung's Super AMOLED display and Apple's Retina Display that makes the HD7 look a bit dull on the color front and faded. In comparison to the HTC's T-Mobile G2 display (a recently released Android smartphone on T-Mobile), the HTC Surround and the Dell Streak, which use current gen SLCDs, the HD7's blacks aren't as deep and the colors are faded, especially if you shift your viewing angle. Part of the problem is the excessive glare because this is one of the glossiest-screened phones on the planet-- it's truly a mirror. That said, when not viewed next to a phone with a superior display it looks OK and it's quite sharp. The HD7's display is leagues ahead of Motorola's recent QVGA Android displays and resistive displays on old Windows Mobile phones.
Deals and Shopping:
The specs are identical to the rest of the Windows Phone 7 launch pack because these phones were all designed to meet Microsoft's minimum hardware requirements. These include a first generation 1GHz Snapdragon CPU with Adreno 200 GPU, 512 megs of RAM, at least 8 gigs of storage (the HD7 has 16 gigs), a 5 megapixel autofocus camera, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth and a GPS. The hardware spec requires an 800 x 480 pixel capacitive multi-touch display with an accelerometer, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor as well. All devices support fast pinch-zooming most everywhere (browser, photos, MS Office Mobile, email and more). Unless manufacturers want to up the ante (and none seemed willing to do so until they saw how well Windows Phone 7 did on the market), there's little room for spec variation and the special sauce is instead added features and design elements like the HD7's particularly large display and kickstand, the HTC Surround's slide-out speaker bar and the Dell Venue Pro's slide-out keyboard.
HTC likes the pop-out kickstand schtick, and we're a sucker for it each time they put one on the back of a smartphone. It's a beautiful looking piece of carved metal, and though it's quite thin, we weren't too worried about its staying power. That said, this is a thin piece of metal with a very small mount point, and if you grabbed it and yanked it like a pop-top can ring, I'm sure it would come off. Don't do that, OK?
The sides are slightly angled toward the phone's front face and the smoky chrome surround is very slippery-- not good on a phone this heavy. Be careful if you're lifting it out of a pocket or purse by these slippery edges. The back is grippy gray plastic with a pleasing texture that resists fingerprints. The front, like many touch screen phones, is a fingerprint magnet.
GPS Good, Battery Just OK
A section of the back pries off to reveal the SIM card slot and surprisingly low capacity 1230 mAh Lithium Ion battery. That's not a very high capacity battery for a smartphone with a very large display and a power-hungry Snapdragon CPU, and we found that we had to charge it nightly with moderate use and top it off during the day with heavy use. T-Mobile TV will eat your battery like mad, as will an hour of navigation.
Speaking of navigation, T-Mobile includes TeleNav, an app that offers spoken directions and generally excellent routing and traffic reporting for $10/month. It worked well in our tests as did the GPS hardware. Bing Maps (free) is also on board for POIs and excellent location-based services. Interestingly, when you type a search term in Internet Explorer Mobile's URL bar, it uses Google for web search rather than Bing. Apparently Microsoft has left that up to the manufacturer and carrier.
Speed? Plenty of it
Since the hardware spec is the same on all devices and Microsoft optimized the OS for that hardware, all the Windows 7 phones are equally speedy. And we do mean speedy: even with plenty of in-your-face animations, the device flies. Yes, they feel faster than the rocket ship HTC G2 and myTouch 4G. Experientially the HD7 (and other Windows 7 phones) feel a bit faster than the iPhone 4 when navigating the device and opening apps. Of course, Windows Phone 7 devices have a speed advantage: like iOS versions prior to 4.0, only Microsoft apps are allowed to multi-task. And the iPhone 4 does have an advantage when it comes to web page load times and game load times.
The HD7 has 16 gigs of internal storage that formats to approximately 14.6 gigs and there is no user-accessible microSD card slot. In actuality, Windows Phone 7 devices have an internal microSD card that's sealed under the plastic casing, and the OS treats internal flash memory and card memory as one virtual partition. Swapping cards is a challenging as a result, so all but the Samsung Focus have forgone a user accessible card. Still, 16 gigs is a healthy amount for loading lots of music from the Zune Desktop and videos too.
There's the mighty Zune Player for music and video (totally sweet, totally like the Zune HD experience), there's XBOX Live with some very good looking games, there's a Microsoft-made Facebook page in the People hub and no support for USB file transfer of anything beyond music and video. You'll use the Zune Windows desktop software to sync music, photos and video to and from the phone, just as you'd use iTunes with an iPhone. Mac users, yes there's an OS X Windows Phone 7 Connector app and it worked fine on my Mac to sync non-DRM iTunes library music and video to and from the phone. You can even select individual playlists from your iTunes library for syncing. Shocking, ain't it?
The MS Office Mobile suite is capable and attractive, and it does support SharePoint for you business types. But there's currently no USB loading of Office documents or PDFs. You can upload your photos to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service but there's no way to get at Office files on SkyDrive short of emailing document URLs to the phone or downloading docs from other websites. MS Exchange support is of course very robust, though Windows Phone 7 doesn't yet support all Exchange policies (the most commonly used are supported). The OS seems very secure and sandboxed, and apps are vetted on the Marketplace. The drawback: that's the only place to get apps, not even corporate apps can be installed-- chalk up one for the iPhone and BlackBerry. So Windows Phone 7 is business-friendly in terms of robust MS Exchange support and security (it even has remote wipe and find my phone features), but it lacks features heavy business users crave.
The home screen is comprised of tiles and the UI is named "Metro". These tiles can be live and provide info on the number of new emails and missed calls and rotate images from your photo collection. Apps include IE Mobile (based on IE 7) and a fantastic email client that looks even nicer than Android's. It supports POP3, IMAP and Exchange accounts as well as Hotmail and Google mail. Bing search and maps are on board, as is MS Office Mobile and OneNote (view PowerPoint files and view/create/edit Word, OneNote and Excel files). The Marketplace is where you'll download free and paid apps (there are approximately 1,000 titles as of this writing and we expect the number to rise quickly). XBOX Live is your gaming hub and there's a photo viewer, calculator and alarms.
What's missing at launch? There's no copy and paste, though that should be coming soon via an update. Only the built-in apps can multi-task. There's no mass storage mode. Since 3rd party apps can't multi-task, there's no background updating for Twitter, and games don't always save state if you're in the middle of a level and exit the app or turn off the phone. You can sync over WiFi with a Windows desktop but there's no Bluetooth file transfer and no tethering.
T-Mobile and HTC apps include HTC Hub. HTC Hub oddly doesn't do much but HTC offers several small apps for download on the marketplace that are handy (notes, unit converter and other utilities). TeleNav is on board, as is T-Mobile TV which looks awesome.
Phone and Internet
The HD7 is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE and 3G HSDPA 7.2Mbps on T-Mobile's AWS 1700/2100MHz bands. Call quality is quite good but reception is just middle of the road. Windows Phone 7 smartphones don't report signal strength in decibels so we can only compare bars: the HD7 typically had one less bar than my Samsung Vibrant, BlackBerry 3G and T-Mobile G2. Reception was on par with the T-Mobile myTouch 4G also made by HTC.
Data speeds for app downloads are very good (you can use 3G to download apps from the Marketplace but must use WiFi for games since they're large). T-Mobile TV (powered by MobiTV) looks great and streams smoothly over 3G and sample Zune music streamed fine. The full HTML web browser is leaps and bounds ahead of Windows Mobile and it renders desktop sites well. Speeds are a few seconds behind Safari on the iPhone and the Android web browser. Currently there's no support for HTML5 or Flash, and that hurts. We hope those will come soon.
The Zune player looks every bit as good as it does on the Zune HD, in fact it's better. Honestly, it makes iTunes on the iPhone look a bit dated and it certainly blows away even custom music and media players on Android. The side-scrolling panorama view is filled with eye candy, album art and useful stuff like a history of what you've recently played. The music player can run in the background and the lock screen has access to playback controls. You'll get your songs and videos onto the device using the Zune desktop software on Windows or the Mac utility on OS X (a free download from Microsoft). You don't have to buy Zune music, though it's hard to resist the Zune Pass plan: for $15/month you get subscription music (download and stream all that you want as long as your Pass plan is active) and you get to download and keep 10 mostly DRM-free songs each month. You can use the Zune desktop player to rip songs from CDs and import tunes already on your hard drive.
The video player is capable, and if your video isn't in a Zune player-friendly format like MPEG4, the desktop app will convert it for you. The HD7 had no problem playing high quality video and the kickstand plus large display invite you to kick back and watch long content. The built-in stereo speakers that flank the display are a bit harsh and thin sounding, though there's plenty of volume. Also on-board and standard for Windows Phone 7 is an FM radio that uses the included stereo earbud headset as the antenna.
Now for the bad news: the camera is not good. The 5 megapixel shooter has an autofocus lens and a dual LED flash that's blinding but focus is maddeningly slow and image quality is just OK. As far as I can tell, this is the same camera as that used in the HTC HD2, so we're once again facing last year's technology. Autofocus speeds on camera phones have improved by leaps and bounds in the past year and the HD7 seems slow and balky to get proper focus and exposure. Worse yet, the magenta bug that plagued the HD2 is back on the HD7; surprising since an HD2 firmware update largely ameliorated that problem. Sometimes the camera shows a magenta to pink cast in the viewfinder and shoots a pink photo. Oye.
Microsoft's camera software is brilliant with intuitive controls and a nifty way to get back to your last photo using the Metro UI's panoramic scrolling. The camera can shoot 720p video, but we weren't wowed by the results.
Here's our video review of the HTC HD7:
If you're a T-Mobile customer looking to try a new Windows 7 Phone, the HD7 is a great way to start. It's not perfect, but the display size, classy looking hardware and kickstand are big pluses. Until the Dell Venue Pro hits retail shelves (if it ever makes the trip from online sale via Dell.com), the HD7 is also your only Windows 7 Phone selection on T-Mobile. There's much to like in Microsoft's brand new, clean slate OS; particularly the clean and stunning UI. If you find Android a little too uncharted and geeky, Windows Phone 7 is worth a look. Don't forget this is a 1.0 product and some features like USB mass storage mode, tethering and copy and paste are MIA for now. That said, it's wickedly fast and incredibly stable. If you're not wedded to T-Mobile in your hunt for a Windows 7 Phone, the Samsung Focus offers fierce competition and that Dell Venue is looking tempting, though we'll reserve judgment until we get the Dell in-house.
Pro: Very large display, kickstand for kicking back and watching videos, very fast phone, good web browser though Flash and HTML5 are missing, superb email client, syncs to multiple accounts (Exchange, Google, EAS), very stable, pretty and intuitive UI. Good looking device- classiest of the launch Windows 7 phones.
Con:Display quality not tops (colors look faded, too much glare), camera isn't good, slippery and heavy (bad combo), battery life so-so.
x 2.68 x 0.44 inches. Weight: 5.71 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with 3G HSDPA 7.2MBps on T-Mobile's US 1700/2100MHz bands.
Camera:5 megapixel with autofocus lens and dual LED flash. Can shoot 720p video.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice command software integrated into OS. Has FM radio.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with headset, handsfree and A2DP stereo profiles.
Phone 7 OS. Standard apps include IE, MS Office Mobile, email client, Marketplace, Bing Maps and Search, Zune music and video player, alarms, calculator, XBOX Live Games, People (contacts, Windows Live and Facebook), Pictures and Settings. T-Mobile software: TeleNav Navigator, T-Mobile TV and Family Room. HTC software: HTC Hub. You can download additional free HTC apps from the Marketplace.