Did HTC address Windows Mobile 6.5's initial shortcomings?

I understood that Windows Mobile 6.5 was going to be a fairly minor update to bridge the gap between WM 6.1 and 7, but as I stated in my Windows Mobile 6.5 review I found too many things still missing from the update that I expected to see even with this understanding. Given the experiences I had with 6.5, I was expecting the same issues on the HTC HD2. I was pleased to discover that HTC didn't just settle for Windows Mobile 6.5.0 and took it to the next level with several optimizations to make the experience better.

I understood that Windows Mobile 6.5 was going to be a fairly minor update to bridge the gap between WM 6.1 and 7, but as I stated in my Windows Mobile 6.5 review I found too many things still missing from the update that I expected to see even with this understanding. Given the experiences I had with 6.5, I was expecting the same issues on the HTC HD2. I was pleased to discover that HTC didn't just settle for Windows Mobile 6.5.0 and took it to the next level with several optimizations to make the experience better. There are still a couple of issues I want to see addressed in an update prior to Windows Mobile 7, but HTC did a great job with the HD2 and we may see updates to address these issues too.

Issues solved by HTC

Home/Today screen
: As I mentioned in my 6.5 article, I find the default Windows Mobile Home/Today screen to be way too limiting. The WM 6.5 Today screen (accessed by pressing the Home button) is like the WM 6.1 Standard (non-touch screen) Home screen where quick access to your information is provided by scrolling up and down through the different sections. The trouble with it is that you cannot move anything around in the list, remove an item you never use from the list, or switch some of the topics to different applications you use. There just really is NO customizability with this new Home/Today screen. You can still use this same Home/Today screen by turning off the HTC Sense option in the Today screen settings.

HTC addresses the limitations with WM 6.5 Home/Today by enabling HTC Sense by default out of the box. Before trying out the HTC HD2 I though that I would see the same Sense UI experience I have seen on devices like the HTC Hero Google Android smartphone. The Sense UI in Android includes widget support, different social network and data integration, and more. HTC Sense on Windows Mobile 6.5 is really the latest version of TouchFLO 3D taken to the next level. Unfortunately, there are no widgets available like we have seen on HTC Android devices, this may be an operating system issue, so the Sense displays are not completely customizable.

Sense UI on the HD2 is quite slick with a TouchFLO 3D experience that I actually plan to use rather than installing Spb Mobile Shell right away like I did on my T-Mobile Touch Pro2. I like the weather animations, music player, photo viewer, and more. HTC integrates your friends' Facebook data into your contacts and their People application is very helpful. You will also find HTC has new messaging utilities for text/media messages. The one issue I have with the HTC Sense email utility is that I cannot mark as read, delete or reply to the email right from the Today screen and have to jump into Messaging to take any action.

Stylus needed for common tasks: The HTC HD2 is the first Windows Mobile device with capacitive touch screen so HTC needed to make sure there were no remaining areas where a stylus is needed. I thought Microsoft was going to address this in WM 6.5, but we see this is not the case even one level down. For example, you cannot even create a new appointment in WM 6.5 without using your fingernail or stylus to select a data and time. Not to even mention all of the areas in the settings where a stylus is still required in WM 6.5.

HTC went deep down into the OS and has introduced finger friendly drop downs and selectors in every single area where I had an issue with the default WM 6.5 OS. This includes new appointments, sounds & notifications, regional settings, and more. These same standard non-finger friendly areas are still present if you look in the right places, but HTC has alternative utilities to manage all of these settings right in their Sense UI/TouchFLO 3D interface so if you stay in this environment you will see the finger friendliness. You can even find the default, lame calendar, but there is also the HTC Calendar that is much better. I wish HTC was able to toggle off all the standard WM 6.5 OS level apps and utilities, but maybe there are operating system limits. Again, if you stay in the Sense UI environment you can avoid all these stylus friendly areas.

Windows Media Player: Windows Media Player Mobile is still present on the HTC HD2, but HTC has added their own media player to the Sense UI so you can listen to music without diving into WMP. Check out my look at media to see how well the media player does. Note that I actually have Zune Pass subscriptions songs working perfectly on my HD2 and with the Audio Boost utility the HD2 is an awesome media player.

Photos & Video: The Photos & Video application has been around on Windows Mobile for a few years and is again a bit old school with limited usage. HTC has again added their own photo browser and as I showed in the video in my look at media blog post the photo viewer is awesome for quick photo navigation and viewing, along with cool slideshow capability.

Web browser: Internet Explorer Mobile has been upgraded in WM 6.5 and is actually a very nice improvement over the previous versions of the browser. HTC includes this browser on the HD2, but then also adds an optimized version of Opera Mobile 9.7 that absolutely rocks and is setup as the default browser. One of the major reasons I prefer Opera Mobile over the iPhone web browser is the much better text reflow support in Opera Mobile. With the iPhone and Safari you still need to move around the page with your finger even when just reading text. Opera Mobile reflows the text to any zoom level you get to so you only have to move up and down to read text instead of scrolling left and right too.

Remaining issues to be addressed

Start page: We heard that Windows Mobile 6.5 would have some more customization functions on the new Start screen, but the only option when you tap and hold on an icon is to "Move it to top". There is no way to remove an icon, place it exactly where you want it, or organize them into folders. IMHO, this new Start screen is actually a step back from the Start menu where you did have more customization options. Unfortunately, the same limited functionality is present on the current HTC HD2 device. I now have most of my popular apps on the main first page, but still want better support for customization options.

Finger friendly utilities: As I stated above, HTC provides alternative utilities and apps that address every area I had an issue with in regards to stylus usage on Windows Mobile 6.5. Unfortunately, all the standard apps and utilities are still present and customers may bump into them and be disappointed. I would like to see the ability to hide these since HTC has better replacements.

Stability: I have seen the HD2 freeze up a couple of times and had to power it off and restart it to get things running again. This shouldn't be happening with such a powerful device and I am sure it is fixable with a firmware update. What happens for me is that the unlock slide doesn't appear to work, but pressing the Start button does take me into the Start page. I can't do much when I get here though and then restart it to clear things up. I have not yet had the HD2 lock up on my while actually in an application and working away, just when unlocking the device.

I am enjoying the experience on the HTC HD2 and still think it is the most impressive Windows Mobile device to date. It is a nice alternative to the iPhone with a fabulous display, solid form factor, and good performance overall. I find it to be a very good ebook device with eReader and will show you how awesome it is at GPS navigation tomorrow with CoPilot Live 8. I still want to find applications for Google Voice, Google Talk, and streaming radio, but I have apps for most other functions. It is nice to have my Zune Pass music working fine, but Microsoft needs to provide a better way of getting video content on their devices since that is a big factor that sets the iPhone apart from other smartphones.