We snagged one of the very first retail units in the country to test out, so read on for our verdict in this exclusive HTC 7 Pro review.
If you like the look of the Dell Venue Pro but want more choice of networks, or want your phone now, the HTC 7 Pro is definitely the handset to go for – it’s the most productive Windows Phone 7 model yet. But how much is that actually saying?
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With Windows Phone 7 largely locked to Microsoft’s specification, hardware is where handsets have to compete, and the HTC 7 Pro can kick it with the big boys. It’s seriously sturdy, and the metal and plastic edges shrug off fingerprints: it’s much less tacky looking than the otherwise excellent Samsung Omnia 7.
On the top, you’ve got a 3.5mm audio slot and the power/lock button, while the top half of the right side houses the physical camera button, and the bottom half of the left hand side hosts an open micro USB port for charging and sideloading. Around the back is a five megapixel camera with LED flash, and a metal backplate that houses the battery and SIM card – we were a bit flummoxed at first as to how to pry it off, until we realised you have to slide the screen up to get at the dint for lifting it off.
On the front, below the display are three responsive capacitive buttons, and slick looking speaker grilles on the top and bottom. It all amounts to a premium look and feel with glimpses of previous HTC Windows Phones, like the Touch Diamond2. With one caveat: it’s blinking massive.
At 185g and 15.5mm thick, the HTC 7 Pro is a clumpy thing to carry around in your pocket, but if you’re after a keyboard, you’ll probably forgive it for its hinge mechanism.
The HTC 7 Pro continues HTC’s trend of using really, really random hinge mechanisms for its slide out phones, but this one’s a lot better than the saggy, droopy hinges on the HTC Touch Pro2 and HTC Desire Z.
Slide the screen up and it travels straight along rails up until the end, when it drops down into lower groove, which then pops up with a spring and lodges into place. It’s odd, but it certainly keeps the screen locked at an angle. Pushing it down and then back again isn’t quite as convenient as the Nokia N97‘s awesome hinge, but it’s the next best thing, and the angle is roughly similar. It takes a bit of getting used to, but does at least mean you have to keep your head higher when walking, which is hardly a bad thing.
As for the keyboard itself, we can honestly say we love it. The HTC 7 Pro sports one of the best landscape physical keyboards we’ve ever used, with just enough spacing to differentiate without having to pay much attention.The keys are backlit in the dark, and there are shift and function buttons with – what we love – LED lights to let you know when they’re down or not, as well as a dedicated ? button, and a cursor keys for milling around in the text.
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You can really pick up quite a pace typing on the HTC 7 Pro, and in fact we found the software itself was more of a limiting factor – more on that later. Our only reservations were with the rather superfluous smiley and äé buttons to the left of the space bar. The UK version of this phone has the latter, presumably meant for European markets, and we’ve not seen any press photos that suggest any other layouts exist.
What’s the screen like?
We’re sorry to say, but the HTC 7 Pro seven’s 3.6-inch 800×480 screen is rather unremarkable, if not its weakest aspect. As with the HTC HD7, the LCD panel produces washed out colours, and blacks with a purple/white hue, like it was drawn on with a cheap black felt tip pen. Viewing angles are rather shallow as well – compared to an iPhone 4 or a Samsung phone with a Super AMOLED display, well, it doesn’t. See for yourself in the close up below, next to a Google Nexus S, both with brightness cranked up to the max.
Of course, for those who don’t spend aged staring at phones on the shelf trying to see the difference, this may not make much of a difference, and we should stress that it’s perfectly responsive – the excellent on screen Windows Phone 7 keyboard works wonderfully as always.
Windows Phone 7
Microsoft is keeping a tight leash on manufacturers when it comes to its software. Where Android has been tugged, pulled, hacked and shoehorned into just about every form factor, manufacturers can only supplement the core Windows Phone 7 OS with their own bespoke apps.
If you want our full thoughts on Windows Phone 7 then, check out our in depth review from launch – nothing has changed since then, other than the addition of more apps to the Marketplace. We still like how idiot proof it is, and hate the lack of copy and paste and loading times for apps when you lock and unlock the phone. This isn’t a phone for Android tweakers or iOS hipsters: it’s still almost a feature phone platform, only one with some great, great games.
First up, HTC’s added its own apps, all of which you can remove from the main screen, which is a relief. There are no surprises here, but we do like its custom YouTube app for watching in high quality, as well as the Photo Enhancer for Instragram style filters on your snaps, and Sound Enhancer which gives you an equaliser when you plug in your headphones. Stocks and the HTC Hub’s loading times however, we can live without.
What we suspected we would find, as from using the Dell Venue Pro’s pop out keyboard, is that Windows Phone 7 still isn’t fully primed for physical keyboard support. While core apps like messaging tilt into landscape mode when you snap the keyboard out, the homescreen doesn’t, and even more damningly, neither does HTC’s own HTC Hub app.
Microsoft really needs to add universal search by typing, and make Bing searches with the keyboard quicker. Where the HTC Desire Z has a Search button on its QWERTY, you have to tap the regular search button by the screen to launch Bing, then tap the search bar itself again to start typing a query with the HTC 7 Pro.
This is by no means a dealbreaker if you love typing with physical buttons, but it’d be nice to see Microsoft address this promptly.
We actually quite enjoyed the results from the HTC 7 Pro’s five megapixel camera. HTC isn’t exactly known for stellar snappers but we were pleased with the lack of noise in shots. We didn’t quite as much clarity as we’ve seen from some of the best cameraphones in our shots, but in side by side shots with our Google Nexus S, it certainly came away the winner.
The 720p HD video wasn’t up to a great deal however as you can see in this clip:
Much more annoying is Windows Phone 7′s constant resetting to default every time you leave the camera app, which will leave more demanding shooters at the end of their tether after a few days.
Performance and battery life
We’re pleased to report that the HTC 7 Pro has a satisfactory battery life – and given how powerful smartphones are these days, that’s as close to a compliment as you’re ever going to get. The 1500mAh battery lasted a full day from 9am to after midnight with the 3G and Wi-Fi left on, scores of shots and some internet surfing.
Likewise on the performance front, the HTC 7 Pro doesn’t falter: the 512MB of RAM and 1GHz CPU mean Windows Phone 7 never lags – in fact the actual bottleneck is the OS’ lengthy animation transitions. Camera shots can be fired off incredibly quickly, which is a plus over Android at any rate.
We have to end on a sad note however: call quality was only passable, and the speakerphone dismal, with low volume and crinkled sound. We had high hopes for a booming conference caller of a handset considering this is a sequel of sorts to the HTC Touch Pro2, but it’s not to be.
Is the HTC 7 Pro the best Windows Phone 7 handset yet? Absolutely, if you prioritise email over anything else. It boasts one of the best landscape QWERTY boards we’ve ever used, and only a BlackBerry offers a faster typing experience over a prolonged time. For those who just want to muck about on Windows Phone 7′s choice selection of games, we’d still go with the Samsung Omnia 7 and HTC HD7 for their palatial screens and thinner profiles.
The real question, as we suspect will be the case for some time to come, is should you really buy a Windows Phone 7 handset at all? It’s not as painless and app packed as iPhone, and nor is it as versatile as Android. But if your office admin tells you he only accepts Windows Phone 7 on the corporate network, well, you know where to go.