HTC HD Mini Review

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The HTC HD Mini is likely to be HTC’s last device to run Windows Mobile. Their focus will soon turn towards Windows Phone 7 as they look ahead to the next generation of smartphone devices. But for now, we have the HD Mini, which is HTC’s only Windows Mobile 6.5.3 device. This slightly new version of Windows Mobile brings native support for capactive multi-touch displays. It also has small visual enhancements, for example: you can tap and drag Start menu icons; the Start menu button has been removed from the top bar making for a thinner (Android-like) notification bar; tabs and check boxes have been replaced with larger finger-friendly elements, and so on. Overall, 6.5.3 is a modest upgrade designed to bridge Microsoft hardware partners from legacy Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.

HTC has made it clear that they created the HD Mini with the HD2 in mind. With its massive 4.3″ display, fantastic performance, thin form factor, and gorgeous Sense interface, the HD2 is indeed a device to be copied. As HTC explains (and we figured this would be the case): many people want an HD2, but don’t want to have such a big device reside in their pocket. And so enter the HD Mini, a supposed Mini version of the almighty HD2. So how are the HD2 and HD Mini the same, and how do they differ? We’ll cover that in the review.

BOX CONTENTS

Here’s the unboxing for the HD Mini. The typical HTC accessories are included, but what we don’t find is an expansion card. The HD Mini has a mere 512MB of storage space…it would have been nice for HTC to include a microSD card.

HARDWARE

Let’s talk specs. The HD Mini is running with a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 CPU with 384MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. To compare, the HD2 has a 1GHz CPU with 576MB of RAM and and 1GB of ROM. Continuing on, the HD Mini has WiFi, Bluetooth, aGPS, and an FM radio. The camera on the rear is 5.0MP and has autofocus but no flash. It’s a quadband GSM phone (850/900/1800/1900) with dualband UMTS (900/2100), meaning you won’t get 3G in the US. Powering everything is a 1200mAh battery. For audio, the HD Mini has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and for charging and syncing, it uses the standard microUSB. For full specs, check out PDAdb.net.

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The HD Mini is similar in size to the HTC Touch line of devices from yesteryear. Overall, the device seems haphazardly designed on the front. It’s a simple candy-bar device with a 3.2″ glass display that sits flush with the buttons. Speaking of the display, it has 480×320 HVGA resolution, which we’ve never seen with a Windows Phone. As we discover later, it does cause problems. That said, the clarity of the screen is fantastic, even though it’s not AMOLED. It seems to be significantly more vivid than the iPhone, and even the HD2. Also, outdoor screen visibility was just fine.

The only adorning element to the facade of the device is the chrome strip along the top, and the chrome material used for the volume rocker on the side. Besides that, the HD Mini is one of the more boring-looking devices that HTC has released.

Overall, the HD Mini feels good in hand thanks to great build quality and a rubbery backing. Speaking of the backing, it “peels off” like the Palm Pixi, which I’m not a big fan of. It’s difficult to remove, and it’s likely that over the course of a dozen or two removals, the backing will become loose and will not stay on tightly.

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HTC likes to rave about the yellow area that reveals itself when you remove the battery cover. While the yellow is indeed very interesting, it’s just not something that you spend much time looking at. Also from back here you can see the industrial-looking screws that show through the back battery cover. That’s a pretty cool touch, I suppose.

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The HD Mini is only 11.7mm thick, but it doesn’t feel thin. A device this small should have the width of a pencil.

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Here’s one place where we see a similary with the HD2: the buttons. The HD Mini has five buttons that are capacitive (meaning you can select them with a light touch of your finger). They include call start, call end, Start, home, and back. These also light up when the light sensor detects a dark environment. You can see in this closer view how dust accumulation around the perimeter of the screen may become a problem.

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Towards the top we get a closer look at the 3.5mm headphone jack and the chrome power button. Also note the industrial-looking screws that show through from behind the battery cover. The speaker surrounding the camera is shown in chrome. Sadly, it would distort even at a medium volume, and it sounded more “tinny” than any other mobile phone speaker I’ve heard.

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So here’s the family portrait…little brother next to big brother. As implied throughout this review, the HD2 and the HD Mini really share few similarities. The only visual similarity on the front is the button configuration.

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Turning over to the back, we again see very little (if any) resemblence between these two devices. But do note how much larger the HTC branding is on the HD Mini. I actually like the new larger HTC branding (also found on the Legend and Desire). HTC is a great company and they deserve to be a bit louder about branding than they have been in the past.

SOFTWARE

Here’s a look at the Sense interface on the HD Mini. Overall, it’s a pleasant experience, but it’s clear that HTC had to water down the Sense UI to be able to run on the HD Mini. Also missing are some of the more flashy animations found on the HD2. What you also get to see in this video is how performance of the HD Mini is not up to par. Certain screen transitions were choppy, and the device would become unstable at times.

In this video, we first compare the HD2 with the HD Mini in terms of the Sense UI experience, but as mentioned above, certain sacrifices were made because of the weaker hardware on the HD Mini.

Then, we talk about the web browsing experience through Opera 9.7, which we find to be capable, but a bit slow. Also, the multi-touch experience wasn’t as good as it is on the HD2, though perhaps we shouldn’t complain because this is only the second Windows Phone to bring multi-touch to the table!

We also go through text entry. If you have small hands, the HD Mini’s on-screen keyboards will suffice. But if you’re hands aren’t small, expect to have trouble with the tiny keys.

Lastly, and tragically, we see what happens when we run third party apps on a device that has a screen resolution with which no developer is making their programs compatible. Two of the best known Windows Mobile apps, Skyfire and Spb Mobile Shell, don’t display properly on the HD Mini. That’s a huge shame. I also had trouble with the popular Twitter client Twikini.

CAMERA

The camera on HD Mini is decent, but not great. You can see some sample images here (indoor close up), and here (outdoor bright light). The HD Mini has touch to focus, which helps with close-up shots. But the lack of flash makes low-light photos come out very noisy. The HD Mini can take video in VGA resolution. You can see a sample in MP4 format here.

PERFORMANCE

My hunch is that HTC is working on a software update for the HD Mini, because overall, performance was not great. After running just a couple of apps, the device would begin to stutter. Also, I experienced several random freezes and other weird behavior (like the device turning itself off). For basic email and web, you probably won’t run into trouble, but if you’re trying to do moderate or heavy multitasking or are attempting to watch high bitrate video, you’re going to have problems.

CALL QUALITY

Call quality and reception on the HD Mini was acceptable. However, the speakerphone was abysmal. As mentioned above, even at medium volume, the external speaker would distort, making it nearly impossible to hear the caller on the other line.

BATTERY LIFE

With a 1200mAh battery, the HD Mini does quite well for battery life. With heavy use, I was able to go a day and a half without needing a charge. With moderate use, the HD Mini kept running for about two full days. Not bad!

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

Currently you can only buy an HD Mini from Europe, though you can import it in the US like I did and use it on T-Mobile or AT&T and get EDGE data. Over at Clove Technology, they are selling it for £275 or about $425 unlocked. While not cheap, it’s still far less expensive than the HD2, which is now going for £395 or $610. No word on a US release, though we’re going to give a confident “no” on that prospect.

PROS

+ Capacitive, multitouch display

+ Windows Mobile 6.5.3

+ Solid battery life

+ Great build quality

+ Vivid screen

+ Reasonable price

CONS

– Some third party apps won’t run because of screen resolution

– Unstable and buggy at times

– Horrible speakerphone

– No case or microSD card included

– No US 3G version

Conclusion

HTC should not have positioned the HD Mini as a “the impressive experience of the HTC HD2 in a compact package” because in doing so, they’ve set our expectations sky high, and those expectations were not met. Instead, they should have positioned it as the successor to their Touch line of devices, perhaps calling it the Touch3.

Overall, the HD Mini nothing special. There’s no one thing about it that makes it unique and interesting. It’s a generally well-rounded device, but these days, that’s just not good enough. If you want a psuedo HD2 experience in a smaller package, consider the HD Mini, otherwise, you’d be much better off with something like the HTC Legend.

I give the HD Mini a 2.5/5.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.