HTC Desire HD Review

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A lot of people have called the HTC Desire HD an EVO 4G for GSM carriers. While the form factor and specifications may seem similar, there are a lot of differences behind the Desire HD’s ample screen. It’s the screen itself that will grab your attention, and well it should. When it comes to screen dimensions, somewhere there is a line between “not big enough” and “too big”. I don’t think we’ve found that magic number just yet: the Desire HD’s 4.3-inch, 800 x 480 WVGA screen is “ginormous”, but not awkwardly so.

Many of you prefer having a physical keyboard to a slimmer phone. This phone almost does away with that need. When rotated horizontally, the phone’s on-screen keyboard is every bit as usable and finger-friendly as the physical keyboards that I’ve used in the past. Speaking of keyboards, the phone comes pre-packaged with HTC’s soft-keyboard (or “IME”), which is one of the more advanced, intelligent soft-keyboards that I’ve used – a large improvement over the stock Android IME (which is pretty good to start with). I was hoping for Swype to come pre-installed on the phone; it was not, and I had to install my beta copy (which loses some functionality when it’s not built onto the phone – more on that later).

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Box Contents

Inside the Desire HD’s box you’ll find pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a high-end Android device. Rather than a top-lift box design, the phone comes packaged in a slightly harder-to-open “slide-up” box. Once inside it the phone, a few documents, wall-wort with European prong attachment, headphones/headset with inline player controls, microUSB cable, and an 8GB Class 2 microSD card installed in the phone.

Hardware

HTC has always made quality devices, even back when no one knew who it was. The Desire HD is a shining example of that. The exterior is a unibody, matte aluminum that feels solid and comfortable. The back is elegantly curved while the edges have a slight frontward bevel that adds significantly to the ergonomics of the device.

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One of the first things I noticed while using this device was how cool it was – temperature wise. The aluminum unibody must act like a heat sink, drawing device-killing heat from the innards of the phone to the outside.

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The covers to the battery compartment and the microsd and SIM slots are unusual in that they are two separate pieces — unlike the single cover we’ve seen before — and they are relatively small: not an entire back, or back-plate like other devices have. Unfortunately, the battery compartment cover proved tricky to remove, and frustrating to try and put back iton place. Also, the lower cover never seemed to fit right, leaving a bit of a gap and uneven edges.

The screen on the Desire HD is the biggest feature – and the biggest drawback to the device. It’s big, but not too big. Where it falls short is with the super-high reflective surface of the display. Inside the display isn’t bad, but when you step outside in any kind of moderately bright light, you’ll be hunting for shade to be able to see the image.

Screen resolution is quite good, images are clear, and text is crisp.

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Weight: 5.78 ounces

Width: 2.68-inches

Height: 4.84-inches

Thickness: 0.46-inches

Screen: 4.3-inches, 480×800 WVGA

CPU/GPU: 1GHz (QSD8255 45nm Snapdragon)/Adreno 205 graphics

Memory: 768MB RAM, 1.5MB internal storage, 8GB Class 2 microsdhc (included)

OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo) with HTC Sense UI and HTC apps

Connectors: 3.5mm stereo audio/headset jack; microUSB 2.0 port

Radios: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n; Bluetooth; 3G, GPRS, EDGE; USB & WiFi tethering built-in

European Bands: HSPA/WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz; GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

Asia Pacific Bands: HSPA/WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz; GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

Battery: 1230mAh

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Software

I’ve never liked the HTC Sense UI all that much. It seemed to just add overhead and complexity to Android’s already good UI. This iteration of Sense is much smoother, faster, and gets in the way much less often. HTC still uses its apps for basic PIM functionality, and still has room for improvement, but the launcher portion of Sense UI is finally everything I’d hoped it would be. All the polished and friendly HTC widgets work very well, mingling amongst standard Android widgets without missing a beat.

HTC modified the web browser experience, removing the zoom-in/zoom-out on-screen buttons, which makes you rely on the pinch-to-zoom or double-tap gestures to perform this function. While this doesn’t hamper the usability, it does take a moment to figure out why the traditional on-screen buttons aren’t showing up.

Also of note, the HTC keyboard IME features a row of directional buttons across the bottom, which position the cursor, which is handy to fix typos, but it stuck out as unusual. To do this on my Nexus One or G2 I use the scrollball or trackpad. The Desire HD has neither. What’s even more noteworthy: I didn’t notice its absence until I saw those directional buttons on the keyboard. Unfortunately, when adding a third party IME those buttons won’t be present and I found myself missing the ability to cursor around using Swype and other SIP’s. Also, when using the beta version of Swype, the voice-input “microphone” button is no longer present.

These two combined almost force the user to use the stock HTC keyboard.

HTC includes a custom Navigation app which supposedly pre-caches map data for improved performance. In actual use, the app was so laggy that I couldn’t use it at all. This was likely not a problem in the app itself, rather with my EDGE-only data coverage. Luckily, Daniel didn’t have the same sorts of problems that I did and was able to shoot this video.

Camera

The camera app on the Desire HD is by far the best I’ve ever used. It’s fast, it’s intuitive, and the video preview fills the entire screen rather than being boxed into a much smaller frame. It comes with everything you’d expect, from geo-tagging, automatic white-balancing, automatic dual-LED flash, and more. Still pictures are an impressive 8-megapixel (3264 x 1952), and video comes set at 800 x 480 with the capability of shooting up to 720p HD (1280 x 720).

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Both pictures and videos were reasonable, but won’t replace your SLR or dedicated point-and-shoot camera. Video and stills don’t turn out well in low light, which is to be expected. Image quality in moderate-light isn’t as good as I had expected, resulting in dark images, or other sorts of “noise” in the images.

Sample images have been reduced to 550px wide. No other image manipulations have been applied. Click to see the full-sized images.

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Performance

With a second-generation, 1Ghz CPU I expected a little more speed than what I experienced. The overall performance of the device and Sense UI launcher was generally fast and snappy, but I encountered intermittent periods of very noticeable lag in seemingly random places. Restarting the phone resolved the issue.

Music and videos played flawlessly without hesitation, skips, pops, or other anomalies.

Call Quality/Network Speed

Call quality using both T-Mobile’s network and Google Voice were clean and clear. The device fits easily in the hand for traditional phone-to-face holding and both sides of the conversation were superb. Calls made using various Bluetooth devices and the included wired headset were equally clear.

Network speed over 802.11g and 802.11n was fast and reliable with network acquisition quick and easy. Since the phone doesn’t include T-Mobile’s 3G bands I was unable to test 3G performance, but EDGE was reliable and as fast as you’d expect. I tried using a friend’s AT&T SIM which should theoretically have provided 3G connectivity, but for some reason that we could not discover, did not; EGDE worked equally as well on AT&T as it did on T-Mobile

Battery Life

When I cracked open the battery compartment for the first time I was honestly surprised to see a 1230mAh hiding inside – it seemed somewhat small. The G2, with a slower processor, small screen, and HSPA+ radio, has a 1300mAh battery.

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During the initial several days of using the Desire HD as my daily-use device, the battery was in the red by noon. I don’t put much stock in the battery indicator or battery life for the first week of use. During this period you’ll typically be using significantly more battery life while downloading, installing, and configuring apps, contacts, Tweets, and emails; and the device is still calibrating its measurements of battery itself.

Unfortunately, battery life didn’t improve all that much after the initial break-in period. The phone will last all day, as long as you’re not watching much video, streaming much audio, or doing a lot of eBook or webpage reading. Add in any of those items and you’ll want to have a charger in your car and on your desk. Even more discouraging is that the ability to obtain an extended battery is all but eliminated by the design of the Desire HD’s battery compartment.

Purchasing and Availability

Since the Desire HD is a European phone and you’ll find it available from clove.co.uk for £399.99, or around $650.

Pros

+ Large screen

+ Solid construction

+ Wonderful ergonomics

Cons

– Poorly fitting compartment covers

– Small battery capacity

– Screen is very reflective

Conclusion

The Desire HD is a beautiful phone with respectable performance and speed. As long as you can charge up the battery in the middle of the day, you won’t be disappointed with this large-screen handset.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.