The HTC Desire HD. Where to begin? While the phone has only been official for a month, it’s a smartphone that gadget obsessives have been waiting on for much longer. Ever since the 4.3-in HTC HD2 stunned us a year ago by challenging our notions of how big a screen should be, we’ve been waiting for the Taiwanese trendsetter to serve up an equivalent sized handset, packed with Android, instead of the dreadful, crashy Windows Mobile.
The Americans got one in the Summer in the HTC Evo 4G, and now, at long last, British fans are getting one in the HTC Desire HD. Is it the iPhone 4 trumper we’ve been hoping for? Find out with our full HTC Desire HD review.
There’s no denying the beauty of the HTC Desire HD. Other than the iPhone 4 and HTC Legend, there has never been a better looking phone. HTC makes a phone that’s all screen like no one else, and the unibody matte, purplish teflon makes it much less smudge prone than the very similar HTC HD7. It’s incredibly sturdy, with curves in all the right places, and more than ever, we’re convinced four inch screens and above are the way forward.
If we have to stop ogling the HTC Desire HD for a second and act a bit more rationally, we do have a few complaints with the logistics of the handset. There are two separate removable panels on the back, one for the battery and one for the SIM slot and microSD storage, which can get a tad confusing. You might not touch them all that often but the enclosed area in which the battery sits does salt the earth a little bit, likely ruling out third party batteries with greater capacities – of which the HTC Desire HD is in need. More on that later.
Over the last year, HTC has solved any issues we had with the touch sensitive (or not, as was the case on the Google Nexus One) buttons on its phones, and the row on the HTC Desire HD were never less than responsive. The screen itself however can’t compare to that of Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels on the Galaxy S and Samsung Omnia 7, but still appears to offer slightly richer colour than the poor display on the HTC HD7. It feels like just enough to keep up with most competitors – and the sheer size of the WVGA panel will more than make amends for the colour it produces. While Samsung continues to call dibs on its AMOLED displays, there’s probably not a great deal HTC can do about this.
The screen is however responsive, and more to the point, unbelievably roomy. It just gives you enough space to really race across the screen, whether you’re typing on the excellent HTC keyboard or playing games. Sure, its vast size means it’s technically much less pixel dense than the iPhone 4 and its Retina Display, but who cares when it means you never miss a key stroke on the excellent HTC Sense on screen keyboard? Better visibility in direct sunlight too makes up for the rather average viewing angles.
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There are a few differences between the build of the HTC Desire HD and HTC HD7 beyond a logo re-position and different touch sensitive buttons however. The HD7 has a 5MP camera, plus a shutter button on the side, and a kickstand on the back. The HTC Desire HD meanwhile has an 8MP sensor, no physical camera button and no kickstand, and a more purple hue in keeping with the design of the original Desire. It’s just a shade thicker as well, but it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, and it’ll still slide easily into any pocket.
The camera on the HTC Desire HD meanwhile still isn’t setting trends, even though the sensor is now up to eight megapixels. It’s good enough for your phone, but won’t replace a compact like the Nokia N8 genuinely can, with mediocre indoor performance, over white LED flash and occasionally washy colours. The 720p HD video meanwhile is pretty smooth and rich, although autofocus didn’t seem to be up to scratch with the HTC HD7, oddly, as you can see in the clip below.
One strange thing we did notice is that the HTC Desire HD tended to crash when we played back our recordings in the gallery. It’s mildly disconcerting, but the footage is there if you want to stick it on your computer or YouTube. Onto the software!
Android 2.2 with HTC Sense
HTC Sense, the social networking skinned theme HTC drapes on top of Android, isn’t new, and for the most part little has changed compared to a HTC Desire. Useful features like Flash 10.1 support and mobile hotpot creation for instant WiFi are back, and the basic seven screen layout of Sense on Android is still in operation. In fact, for the full skinny on the features Android 2.2 brings, head on over to our HTC Desire Froyo review (Short answer: it’s easy, friendly and excellent).
Sense on the HTC Desire HD is slightly tweaked however, with some welcome UI tweaks and extra apps. You’ll notice this straight away the first time you pull down the Android notification bar: it now shows recent apps to make task switching easier, as well as whatever music you have playing. The former is a great touch, the latter a bit iffy since it can vanish when you get a phone call. We’d also like to see the connectivity bar in here, like Samsung provides on the Galaxy S, but this isn’t a major issue.
One excellent addition is universal search, by way of the Search Anywhere app, which rifles through everything from contacts and music tracks to even messages in the Twitter Peep app. It’s not any better than what you’ll find on webOS or BlackBerry 6, but you’ll be glad it’s there from time to time.
We’re sorry to say however that HTC’s DLNA media streaming app, Connected Media, really is a disappointment. In short, we simply couldn’t get it to work with either a PS3 or an Xbox 360, on a network where we’ve never had any troubles doing the same with Samsung and Acer Android phones. Of course you can use a third party app like Twonky if you need it so it’s not the end of days, but it’s still disappointing to see HTC shipping the HTC Desire HD with an app that crashed regularly and never worked.
Much more interesting is the Locations app that comes preloaded, with cached maps so you don’t need to rely on a data signal to look up where you are, as with Google Maps Navigation. It’s fast, and instantly renders when you pinch to zoom, but realistically you’ll only ever need it in an emergency since Google Maps’ auto suggestions and free turn by turn direction are vastly more useful when 3G is present. Free maps for foreign countries are definitely handy too on your jollies, but it’s difficult to recommend the £5.99 subscription for turn by turn when free or pay once Google and CoPilot have the satnav app market on Android wrapped up.
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Truth be told, HTC’s Sense cloud services aren’t of massive interest if you’re an Android expert. Its phone tracking feature is great should you lose the HTC Desire HD, but you can achieve the same security with any Android phone for free using Prey. Still, if it helps more people retrieve their smartphone because it’s easy to activate, we’re all for it – there’s no denying the HTC Desire HD could make you a mugging target, being so large and lovely and all. HTC Sense location sharing between other people with new HTC Sense phones on the other hand is pretty pointless: why not just use Google Latitude instead? We did like the new options to skin the HTC Sense panes, letting you add new themes instead of just wallpapers, and you can download more of these from HTC’s online hub, which is helpful.
We did notice a few other unfortunate bugs during our time with the HTC Desire HD. The notification bar occasionally got stuck (quickly solved by tapping the homescreen button), and a shade more annoyingly, the browser locked up and crashed a couple of times. Neither needed a restart, BlackBerry style, so we can overlook these, particularly if you prefer to use Skyfire or Dolphin Browser HD as your browser of choice anyway.
None of those bugs should detract from the fact that Froyo on the HTC Desire HD ran stunningly, blazingly fast. Between its 2nd gen 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 768MB of RAM, you’ll frankly struggle to trip this phone up, save for the bugs we mentioned. Games look glorious, videos run smoothly (though HTC’s limited format support means you should install the excellent and free RockPlayer) and even Flash 10.1 doesn’t stumble. It’s almost a pity that the HTC Desire HD doesn’t have an HDMI port like its cousin the Evo 4G: with the right apps, we’d actually prefer to have this plugged into our telly than the new Apple TV.
All of this comes at a cost though: the battery life. Ever since launch, we’ve been fretting about the 1230mAh battery powering the HTC Desire HD, especially with little option to replace it with a bigger one. The HTC Desire has notoriously bad battery life, and we hate to say it, but so does the HTC Desire HD. With 3G on and multiple accounts whirring away grabbing updates on the regs, we did get through a day with about 10 percent battery remaining – we fielded maybe 20 minutes of calls, 20 minutes of music and 15 minutes of trying to make the DLNA app work and failing.
Six days out of seven, this will be enough, but if you’re hoping for the HTC Desire HD to provide you with entertainment on a long train journey, you better hope said train has plugs as even a bit of surfing and one TV show can put a major dint in your juice supply. The company seriously needs to address this issue with its design in future: it’s pushing up against the boundaries of acceptability right now. HTC: it’s OK to make your phones a little thicker to make them last a full day, you know.
Call quality was passable on the HTC Desire HD, but nothing to worry the likes of the Motorola Milestone. The speakerphone is rather robotic and scratchy, which is something of a shame from the company that brought us the booming HTC Touch Pro 2, but it’s enough for casual use in the kitchen, and we didn’t have any alarming reception issues.
Should you buy a HTC Desire HD? We can’t honestly say that it brings anything new to Android which will win iPhone converts over, but you know what? That’s no longer an issue: Android’s here to stay, and if you know you like it, you certainly are going to love the HTC Desire HD. We’d also recommend it over any Windows Phone 7 handset right now unless you’re so technophobic someone is making you read this at gunpoint: Android 2.2 is so much more feature packed and polished than the debutante Windows Phone 7.
Once again though, as with the Sophie’s choice between HTC HD7 and Samsung Omnia 7, we’re forced to pick between design flair and screen. We’re going to stick it out with the Galaxy S until that promising Froyo update hits, but in the meantime, we wouldn’t blame you for backing HTC, its looks and smart extra features instead.
The HTC Desire HD has made a clean sweep of our Top 5s, including Best smartphone, Best Android phone, Best HTC phone and best gadget of 2010, which is why we’ve given it our Recommended rosette. Check out more Top 5s here and find out more about how they work with our Top 5 guarantee.