HTC has become an extremely popular Android user since the release of the original HTC Desire. More than ever, Android fan boys and tech-enthusiasts alike are hanging on their every word, hoping for the smartphone of their dreams to be realized in their next release. Now, we shall see if the HTC Desire HD can manage to enamour us with its huge 4.3-inch screen, cutting edge processor, 8MP camera and the brand new version of HTC Sense coupled with the popular Froyo.
At a gigantic 4.3 inches, this superLCD display lights up brightly. Once everything loads up, widgets, page transitions and response times all look very positive from the offset with the screen looking crisp. At a resolution of 400×840, it’s pretty much the minimum resolution that’s to be expected from an Android phone with a screen this size that doesn’t detract from the initial impact of the screen. Brightness options can be adjusted through the menu or a home-screen widget with three set levels which are low, medium and high.
The HTC Desire HD is a wondrous combination of aluminium unibody and glass fronted fascia. Four capacitive buttons are directly below the screen with the HTC insignia below them. The buttons are fairly sensitive and provide sufficient haptic feedback to the touch. We were concerned that they would be too close to the screen, but we didn’t find ourselves accidentally pressing them as we have on other handsets. Moving to the top of the screen lies a cavity accommodating a mean looking grill (the speaker) with a miniscule notification light to its right. The phone’s top side houses the power button whereas the phone’s base contains a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as an in-call mic. The left side has the volume rocker while the back of the HTC Desire HD contains the 8MP camera, dual LED flash, loud speaker and centred chrome HTC insignia. This accommodates the removable parts like the battery cover and the SIM card/microSD card cover, which are all the darker shade of grey along with a rectangle surrounding the camera. The aluminium part of the HTC Desire HD, is the lighter shade. HTC is appearing to like this two tone styling lately, with a number of their Windows Phone 7 handsets taking on a similar styling. While the removable covers secure onto the phone well, there is a sense that these may weaken over time, especially at the bottom due to small gap between elements.
The HTC Desire HD feels solid and utilises interesting means of securing the battery and cards, while managing to look sweet in the process. The screen is big, bright and beautiful, despite delivering less saturated colours compared to a Super AMOLED screen and the handling is very comfortable.
HTC Sense takes some getting used to if you’ve never used it before, but isn’t more challenging than other Androids.
Tapping the “Phone” button, centred in the bottom of any one of the 7 home screens pulls the dialler up which enables you to numerically enter a name (i.e. tom as 262), with the HTC Desire HD displaying it instantly. The phonebook works very well once you learn how to use it since HTC Sense pulls in ALL your contacts from EVERYWHERE by default. This may feel a bit overwhelming at first, however, open “People”, press “Menu” and then tap “View” and you can select which contacts to display (Google, Facebook, SIM etc). Once you’re done, your contacts are a pleasure to browse through. As far as voice recognition goes, it works better than most, but still gets it wrong every so often.
We would daresay the HTC Desire HD has one of the best on-screen keyboard experience we’ve used to date. It has good haptic feedback, amazing predictive text, comfortable and intuitive key spacing all make for greatness. However, with the experience being so good for text entry, number and symbol entry requires a long press on a key which construes as too long, breaking the speedy entry and what could have been a near perfect keyboard experience but nevertheless, amazing.
Use the widgets wisely as they tend to lag if it syncs too much; however, managing your phone’s connections (to preserve battery) and it shouldn’t be an issue.
The camera is 8MP with autofocus, which the HTC Desire HD kicks things off to a solid set of specs, and with a dual LED flash, we’re expecting many good things. It includes a range of special modes: Distortion, Vignette Depth of Field, Vintage, Vintage Warm, Vintage Cold, Greyscale, Sepia, Negative, Solarize, Posterize and Aqua which work very nicely, although some are gimmicky, but others such as ‘Vintage’ are adding quality to the image we really like.
As for the standalone performance of the camera, it’s unfortunately not very clear-cut. Focusing is a bit of an issue, with shots out of focus (OOF) for roughly 10% of the time. Colour reproduction is fairly okay but inconsistent. The phone’s camera isn’t handling noise well at all which are evident even in daytime shots where the black visibly suffers from grain. The night shots were also quite shabby unless the subject is well lit. Macro shots weren’t too bad at all and there is a focusing distance of about 4 inches, and we found that this is one of the phones stronger points. Indoor shots, however, are entirely dependent on lighting. Suffice to say, the HTC Desire HD isn’t going to replace your digital camera.
Video recording is fairly good at 720p and 25fps with detail visibly lacking when comparing video with some other HD handsets such as the Nokia N8 and the colours are also over saturated on the HTC Desire HD2, however, video looks much smoother overall, so it’s a trade-off. Video effect options are only limited to: greyscale, sepia, negative, solarize and posterize.
The Dolby Mobile and SRS Wow HD offer a nice amount of roundness to the sound the HTC Desire HD can produce which is a great wow factor. Unfortunately, we were unable to activate these features for most audio and video players that aren’t the system’s standard.
The loudspeaker plays music quite well considering the sound’s being pushed through a tiny grill on the back, though it isn’t one that can be listened to comfortably for a lengthy amount of time. The HTC Desire HD plays DivX, H.264, MP4 and Xvid files out of the box but unfortunately, HTC hasn’t implemented the standard of video playback that can be found on the Nokia N8 or C7, with DivX and Xvid only playable up to 640×480 without audio sync issues. We discovered that it plays H.264 and MP4 up to 720p well.
Once a movie is in a format the phone likes at its native resolution of 800×480, all we can say is wow. The Dolby Mobile audio and SRS Wow HD does make a huge difference and coupled with the huge screen, it made us forget we were in a packed train watching Avatar on our phone, and left us feeling all shades of blue and CGI.
The HTC Desire HD has a GPS on board to take full advantage of all HTC Sense has to offer, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and quad-band GSM, as well as dual band 3G. You also get the DLNA functionality, which should work with a Windows 7 PC or any another DLNA enabled device.
Email is quite typical for an Android phone. HTC have incorporated enhanced usability for its widgets and Sense immersion while the core emailing experience is very good. Setting up our Gmail account took mere minutes and Android brought all our Google contacts, emails and calendar information onto the phone very quickly.
The HTC Desire HD’s screen is also perfect for surfing the web. Having a responsive screen coupled with speedy responsive scrolling through even larger sites makes this an incredibly good, pocketable web browsing device. Thanks to Froyo, the real high point comes when browsing Flash sites, with the HTC Desire HD managing the challenge incredibly well, especially when playing embedded video(s).
While we’ve covered the feature set HTC Sense provides you with, it turbo-charges the phone’s standard connectivity features. Sense makes the GPS, for instance, more usable, caching maps and making the world revolve around you using the in-built compass. As for the network connectivity, it is useful on its own; with HTC Sense – unique, giving you connection to your phone, even when you don’t know where your phone is. We cannot stress this point enough, for every negative we get, the positives look much better.
Friend Stream with the HTC Sense is a widget and app that pulls your Twitter and Facebook updates to a big, clear tile on your home screen or a respective standalone window in app format. Look a bit deeper and you’ll find that HTC has found a nifty way of merging your phonebook with your social networking contacts. Although it requires the user’s confirmation that the contacts it wants to merge are the same, it may be a very useful asset to hardcore social networkers and this feature is much more intuitively integrated than MOTOBLUR or Sony Ericsson’s Timescape which earns HTC another thumbs up.
The HTC Desire HD has a 1GHz processor which is the standard top-class processors. The HTC Sense widgets go pretty heavily on the phone. The fact that they’re useful means they’re worth it, but the phone does lag every once in a while.
Battery life is definitely the HTC Desire HD’s weakest area. With regular use and at mid to full brightness, the phone usually struggles to make it til evening before prompting us to put it into power saver mode which is a disappointment since it was quoted to be able to withstand 9.16 hours of talk time (5.3 hours 3G) and 18 days of standby time. However, if you have a HTC Desire HD, you will want to use it a lot, because it’s so useful. You will want to watch a movie and surf the web while listening to songs and getting directions when you’re all done. This usually means that your battery may not make it through a whole day if you don’t show some restraint (especially with screen brightness).
Pros and Cons
The gigantic screen is ideal for movies on the go and the keyboard input offers one of the best touch experiences to date. The Dolby Mobile / SRS provides great sound variation and the HTC Sense offers wonderful functionality out of the box.
The rather poor battery life and occasional lag when multitasking along with its pretty fiddly battery/card covers are quite worrisome.
The HTC Desire HD is more exciting than a perfect phone. We’re as excited about how HTC is evolving their Sense UI, as we are about the hardware. As it happens, the hardware and software are in a wonderful marriage, so job well done, HTC. You’re not really getting the best of anything however, as the Nokia N8 has a much better camera, the Samsung Galaxy S has a richer screen of a similar size and the iPhone 4 has a way better app support. What the HTC brings together however, is the best combination of everything, with a mouth-watering addition of innovation to go with it. Battery life being the one big drawback, the HTC Desire HD is nevertheless on our highly-recommended list although alternatives would be the iPhone 4 as mentioned for an alternative operating system, the Nokia N8 for a stronger camera experience, or a HTC Desire Z if you’re smitten by much of the functionality mentioned, but want a QWERTY keyboard.