Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
6/13/2010 10:00:48 AM
Responsive touch-screen, excellent social networking integration and a huge 4.3-inch HD display are just some of the things great about the HTC Desire HD
Only four webpages can be opened at any one time and there?s no video call facility
Fresh from being named Mobile Choice's Phone of The Year, the HTC Desire is back, only in true comeback fashion, this time it's bigger and, dare we say it, better. In truth, to call the HTC Desire HD a follow up phone would do it something of a disservice, for it's very much its own beast, with a larger screen, improved OS and revamped design. That said, however you view HTC's new Android offering, the pressure is certainly on to deliver another masterpiece and remain the genuine alternative for the iPhone fanboys.
Crafted from sleek aluminium, the HTC Desire HD's design is more akin to the handsome HTC Legend rather than the Teflon-based original Desire. Flip the handset over and you'll notice there are two removable covers. The one at the bottom of the handset is where you store the SIM and microSD card, while the one on the right hand side is where the battery is stored. The benefit of this is that you'll be able to hot swap your memory cards without having to turn the phone off first. However, the way in which the battery literally falls out concerned us, as after continual use we'd be worried how secure the battery cover would be, as last thing you want is your battery falling out.
Despite the HTC Desire HD sporting a massive 4.3-inch display, HTC has kept the handset's dimensions to slimline proportions. However, its length still makes it border on cumbersome. Personally, we like our screens large, and we were able to fit the HTC Desire HD into our pocket without any discomfort, yet the largeness of the phone is likely to deter some. We applaud the fact that HTC has utilised the front fascia of the phone, with the touch-screen reaching the edge of all sides of the phone, bar the bottom. The reason for this exception is here lies four touch-keys; the Home key, the Menu key, the Back button and the Search tool. This in itself is another step away from the original Desire, which opted to kit these functions with hard keys. Touch-keys can often be hit and miss, but we're happy to report we encountered no problems with the Desire HD's offerings, with each having a generous surface area to ensure the right key press. The Home key is something of a security blanket. Hit it at any time and you'll be immediately taken back to the phone's main home screen (you know, the one with HTC's familiar digital clock interface). However, hit it when you're in your main home screen and all seven of the Desire HD's screens will appear in thumbnail fashion, enabling you to quickly press on the relevant one, rather than having to skim through them all. It's worth noting that this process can also be achieved by pinching your finger and thumb together.
Customisation has always been key to HTC, but the Desire HD takes it to the next level, aided by the excellent HTC Sense user interface. In fact, HTC has even kitted the handset out with a its own dedicated customisation icon, in the shape of an artist's palette and paintbrush, that sits in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Here you can change your wallpaper, edit your home screens, and even change the colour scheme and design of Google's familiar notification bar that, as always, sits at the top of the screen. Talking of which, as well as any new emails, social network activity, updates or messages, pull this bar down and you'll also find a scrolling list of your most recently used programs, which we thought was a nice touch. To pull the notifications bar down you will need to place your thumb at the very top of the screen, so it affectively overlaps onto the surrounding border, which felt a little alien.
We'll put it out there; HTC has the best social network integration of any manufacturer. Their Friend Stream expertly syncs all your Facebook and Twitter contacts without any repetition. You'll be able to state 'What's on your mind?', which will post an update across both networks, specify what kind of news and from what networks you wish to view and even recount your conversation history with a particular contact while also being able to view any photos they have posted to their social network of choice. Likewise, email is excellent on the HTC Desire HD. Simply enter your email address and password and you're good to go. You can then merge all your different accounts into one stream or choose to view email correspondence with one particular individual, unread emails, or even those with attachments. It's as close to a desktop experience as you're likely to get on a mobile phone. We also liked the fact that the handset remembered your email addresses, saving you time when needing to re-enter them to log into another account, as well as the inclsuion of a dedicated ".com" key whether you are using the landscape or portrait positioned virtual keyboard.
Underneath the HTC Sense UI and Friend Stream lies the latest Android operating system, Froyo 2.2. We've touched on what this latest OS brings you before, but in a nutshell, it's faster, enables voice search and dictation and the ability to play flash video, the type that is found embedded in sites such as the BBC's. While we're big fans of Android as a whole, it's not as sleek as say Apple's OS. Thankfully, this is another issue addressed by HTC Sense, skinning over the Android UI with large vibrant icons and customisable menus.
Be it via HSDPA or Wi-Fi, our internet needs were well catered for with the HTC Desire HD. The accelerometers were impressively responsive and with a screen of this magnitude, watching video is greatly enhanced, particularly when watching the videos in landscape mode. However, we advise some due care when holding the phone in both hands, as we found our thumbs accidentally brushing the edge of the display and before we knew it we'd been navigated away to another webpage.
Hold your finger down on any area of a webpage that isn't a video or picture and a window will pop up with three options. The first one is the copy text option, which when selected will magnify that area, enabling you to select the correct piece of text you wish to copy and then, if you so wish, paste into a text message, email or social media post. The second is 'Quick Lookup', which enables you to highlight a word before either looking it up on Wikipedia, Google, Google Translate, Google Dictionary or even YouTube. Finally, the 'Share via' facility enables you to post the link to that webpage again into a text or email, or directly onto Facebook or Twitter. Something that surprised us a little was the fact that you can only open a maximum of four webpages at any one time. At first this irked us, but then we figured, how often do you actually need more than four websites opened at any one time?
As well as the ability to play flash video, HTC has fitted the Desire HD with some other sought after media credentials. With both Dolby and surround sound settings, we were treated to a crisp, crackle-free audio experience. Switch between the two and then go back to the 'normal' setting and you'll wonder how you ever put up with substandard performances. No surprise to find HTC has kitted the Desire HD with a 3.5mm headphone socket, until you realise it's on the bottom of the phone. According to HTC, this is so that when you have the phone in your pocket and your headphones plugged in, when you pull the handset out it's facing the right way up. So simple, yet a little bit of genius, we're sure you'd agree?
With an eight-megapixel snapper, the HTC Desire HD is the manufacturer's most equipped Android-toting camera phone to date (the HTC Mozart trumps it with a Xenon flash, but it runs on Windows Phone 7). There's no dedicated camera key (you'll have to access it via the virtual onscreen icon) or lens protector, two common bugbears for us. However, the dual LED flash was more than competent and there are a dozen different effects you can play with, all of which can be previewed before you actually take your photo. We also liked the fact that when you turn the phone from landscape to portrait the virtual icons realign themselves. Though the handset boasts that it can record in high definition, we were a tad disappointed with the video recording facility. It's certainly not terrible, with over one hour's footage available, the ability to zoom in and out while you record, the use of flash as well as the standard effects you get with the still camera. It's just we found it took a while for the camera to adjust to a sudden change of light, which gave it an amateurish look.
HTC has designated one of the home screens to its own mapping service, Footprints. Using esteemed Route 66's navigational technology, it's excellent, with voice instructions, extras such as ATM and petrol station locations, as well as the ability to call POI's directly. But, and it's a big but, it doesn't really offer any more than Google Maps, which is also pre-embedded on the device, but with one big difference. You won't be paying anything more than data rates for Google Maps. Ultimately both solutions impressed, with a fast A-GPS fix that remained strong and accurate throughout.
There are enough features on the HTC Desire HD to fill an entire magazine, which sadly wouldn't get past our subbing team. However, the frighteningly useful call blocking facility that enables you to divert specific numbers in your address book to your voicemail deserves a mention, as does the Amazon MP3 store, which is a genuine alternative to iTunes, with a host of singles and albums available, many of which are cheaper than Apple's offering.
We said at the start of the review that following the critically acclaimed HTC Desire, the pressure was on for the HTC Desire HD to carry on the torch. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's taken that torch and started a rather large bonfire. It may not have that initial wow factor the original did, but that's only because we now expect HTC to deliver, and boy does the Desire HD deliver. Everything it attempts it achieves, from the excellent social network integration, to the flawless navigational experience. In fact, the only reason we can think why you won't like this device is if you find the shell just too big or your name happens to be Steve Jobs, and there's no pleasing everyone.