HTC HD2: Superb Hardware, Outdated OS

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Ginny Mies
PC World
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; 12:19 AM

With its gorgeous hardware, speedy Snapdragon processor, and a knockout 4.3-inch display, the HTC HD2 ($200 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile; price as of 4/1/10) seems to be the perfect smartphone. But there's a caveat: The HD2 runs the almost-obsolete Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. And unfortunately, when Windows Phone 7 Series finally debuts at the end of this year, the HD2 won't be upgradable.

Beautifully Designed

In its hardware, though, the HTC HD2 is hands-down the best Windows Mobile phone currently available. The HD2's minimalist design and its stainless steel and soft black rubber body give it a very classy look. The HD2 is slightly larger than your average smartphone, measuring 4.7 by 2.6 by 0.4 inches thick.

This size might be a turnoff for some, but in my opinion, the tradeoff is worth it: The HD2 is slightly larger to accommodate its brilliant 480-by-800, 4.3-inch WVGA display. The screen was fairly responsive, but I encountered some sluggishness in the software (see "Spotty Performance" below).

Five oblong hardware buttons lie below the display: Talk, Home, Windows Start, Back, and End/Power. Oddly, the 3.5-mm headphone jack is on the bottom edge of the HD2; I prefer it on the top or side. The mini-USB port is also on the bottom of the phone. On the left spine, you'll find the HD2's long volume rocker. The 5-megapixel camera and dual LED flash are just above the stainless steel battery cover.

Slightly Dated Operating System

As mentioned, the HD2 runs Windows Mobile 6.5 OS, but with HTC's custom user interface, HTC Sense, running over it. HTC Sense makes the sometimes slow and confusing WinMo experience more user-friendly and easier on the eyes. Unfortunately, Sense can only do so much; some of Windows Mobile's confusing elements remain.

Like the version running on HTC's Android phones (the HTC Hero, for example), Sense consists of a bar of shortcuts (to your "Home" screen, applications, and the Internet browser, e-mail, and the music player) that runs along the bottom of the screen. Flick through the shortcut bar to find an application, and it will instantly pop up on the screen. You can also create more shortcuts for other apps as well as for your bookmarks and contacts. The Home tab, however, is littered with preloaded T-Mobile third-party partner content, such as Blockbuster and Transformers apps. You can, of course, delete these, but it is annoying to start up a new phone that's cluttered with advertisements.

Here's where things get a bit confusing: Besides the Sense "Home" tab, there's also the Windows Mobile Start screen--pressing the Windows Start hardware button takes you there. The Start screen displays even more of your apps than the Sense main screen and lets you customize its appearance and the order of the apps.

The most useful Windows Mobile 6.5 feature is the lock screen, which lets you to see missed calls or messages without unlocking the phone. If you want to respond to one, simply unlock the notification, and you'll jump straight to that application.

The HD2 comes loaded with two browsers: Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile. Opera Mobile is ideal for quickly looking up something on the Web; Internet Explorer's Flash Lite support is useful for watching YouTube videos. Browsing the Web on the HD2 is superb: The multitouch display is large enough to view pages without having to scroll a lot to see everything on the page.

Solid Multimedia Features

The always capable Windows Media player does a fine job of playing your favorite tracks, but aesthetically, it is incredibly dull. Thankfully, you also get the HTC Sense player as a better-looking alternative. Sound quality through my own earbuds was clean, but a bit tinny through the HD2's external speakers.

While YouTube videos took a few seconds to load, playback over Wi-Fi and T-Mobile's 3G network was smooth and as good of quality as you'd expect over YouTube. I downloaded a couple of movie trailers from Yahoo Movies and was impressed with how clean and crisp they looked on the HD2's gorgeous screen.

The HD2's 5-megapixel camera also impressed me. Its dual LED flash nicely lit up my indoor shots without blowing out too much detail (though colors appeared a bit washed out). My outdoor shots were even better, with vivid colors and sharp detail. A handful of photo editing options are available, as well. Video capture was quite good: My clips looked smooth with little blurriness or image noise.

Spotty Performance

The HD2 is powered by Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon processor, the same processor found in the Google Nexus One. Overall, I was pleased with its speed: Apps launched quickly, and scrolling through menus and lists was fluid with no stuttering. I also didn't notice much delay while running multiple applications. When I compared the HD2 side-by-side with the Nexus One, however, the WinMo phone dragged behind the Android phone a bit.

I had no issues loading up media-heavy pages like PCWorld.com and CNN.com over Wi-Fi, but the HD2 struggled a bit. T-Mobile's 3G coverage was spotty in San Francisco: At my apartment, I had no trouble loading pages, but when I tried browsing at my office, the network switched between 3G and EDGE frequently.

Call quality over T-Mobile's network was generally pretty good. I heard some background static on one call, but callers on the other end of the line didn't hear anything. Voices had an ample amount of volume and sounded natural.

The HD2 is an almost-perfect smartphone. Its design, features, and multimedia capabilities put it in a league of its own among other high-end handsets. It is certainly the best Windows Mobile phone on the market and possibly even T-Mobile's strongest offering. If T-Mobile's Android offerings don't interest you, you'll certainly be happy with the HTC HD2--but you might experience buyer's remorse when HTC's Windows Phone 7 lineup debuts. If the HTC HD2 had come out six months ago, it would have made a stronger impact than it does now.


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