Hands-on with the T-Mobile HD2 and a look at all the new content
HTC is known for making fantastic hardware and the HD2 was highly anticipated before its arrival in the US. T-Mobile did not disappoint with lots of media content and partnerships to bring such a loaded device for just $200.
I have been waffling back and forth over whether or not to buy an HD2 on T-Mobile, but when they announced it would only cost $199.99 that made a decision a lot easier. The lack of an upgrade to WP7 was scaring me away and I thought I would have to pay the $459.99 price since I bought a Touch Pro2 last year. I decided it wouldn't hurt to go to the T-Mobile store when it opened and was pleasantly surprised to find there were already 20 people ahead of me in line buying the device with a LOT of excitement in the store. This is honestly the first time I have EVER seen this kind of enthusiasm in the store for a Windows Mobile device and it seems the general public is not deterred by the fact that WP7 Series is coming out in late 2010. Check out some shots of the hardware in my image gallery, along with my thoughts on what sets this HD2 apart from the European one I reviewed earlier. If you are a T-Mobile customer who wants a good smartphone, then I recommend you get to a store and check one of these out. I understand they may be sold out across the country though so you may have a hard time buying one.
As I was checking out and expecting to pay the full $459.99 price for the HD2, I discovered I was actually eligible for the full subsidy so I bought it for just $199.99 plus tax and that stupid $18 upgrade fee. I then bought the $6/month insurance since this big, bad display needs some insurance. The retail experience was awesome and everyone was friendly and excited. There were balloons, water, a person taking names as soon as you walked in and cool music. It was a very festive atmosphere and the lines went fast. When I was buying mine I heard the representative say there were only 10 left so I know they sold out after just a couple hours.
HTC makes it quite easy for the new user to get setup on their HD2 and walks them through the keyboard usage, adding email accounts, configuring social networks, and more. I also discovered there were software updates for Microsoft MyPhone, B&N eReader, MobiTV and BlockBuster so that the latest and greatest clients were loaded up with a few quick steps.
Back during Mobile World Congress I wrote that the distinguishing feature of the T-Mobile USA HD2 was the partnerships that were struck to bring content to the WM platform and after just a day of use I would say they did quite well with this. The HD2 makes it easy to get movies and ebooks right on your device with streaming music fully supported too. I can see sticking with this device for a while and skipping the first WP7 device on T-Mobile (I'll talk more about that later). Let's take a closer look at the media content aspects of the HD2.
BlockBuster On Demand
Getting media easily onto your Windows Mobile device has never been very easy so I was very pleased to see the partnership with BlockBuster on the HD2. Before you can use the application you need to activate your device and setup your account for purchases. You can do it on the browser of you HD2, but it was faster and easier to just follow the instructions and do it on a PC. After activating your HD2 and account, you will get an email similar to the below one:
Thanks for activating BLOCKBUSTER On Demand® on your HTC HD2!
T-Mobile invites you to enjoy two classic Paramount Pictures movie rentals, Forrest Gump and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, on your phone. To download the rentals to your phone, first click on a name above to go to blockbuster.com and select Rent from the On Demand box on the right. Then choose the appropriate coupon for the movie at checkout. After checking out, please launch the BLOCKBUSTER On Demand application on your phone and go to your Library to begin downloading your movies. Please do not begin downloading on your computer first. Once you've started downloading rentals to your computer, you won't be able to download to your phone. Please note: you may only use one coupon at a time, so make sure to place separate orders for each movie.
I tried this at first on my MacBook Pro and discovered you actually need Windows and Internet Explorer to follow the steps in the email. It really is a shame that this couldn't all be taken care of on your HD2, but it is tough to complain when the rentals are free. The directions are pretty good, except I was scared a bit about selecting Download since there was no option to add to cart. Here are the steps you need to take to get these two free $2.99 each 24 hour rentals:
Click the link in the email to one movie.
Make sure the box is selected for On Demand and Rent.
Select Checkout on the next screen.
Click on the promotional code offer down lower on the display for the single movie in your cart.
Select to Apply the code.
Select Continue on the next screen.
Select Submit Purchase to make the purchase, should have a charge of $0.00.
DO NOT DOWNLOAD ON YOUR PC, but go to your WiFi-connected HD2 and tap on the Library icon in the BlockBuster app. You should see your movie rental and then you can tap Download to get it on your device. Remember after you start viewing it you get 24 hours to finish it.
Repeat this process for the second free rental.
I was curious if all rentals and purchases were going to be such a hassle and since I have not yet seen The Blind Side I selected it for rent for $3.99 ($17.99 for purchase) right from the main display on the BlockBuster HD2 app. I then tapped Confirm Purchase and it appeared in my Library as Ready to Download along with the two other free rental movies. There was no secondary "are you sure" prompt to make sure I really wanted it so be careful to only select Confirm Purchase if you really want to make the purchase.
Too bad the free rentals couldn't have been as easy an experience as a regular purchase/rental. Keep in mind you can only download over a WiFi connection. Your available capacity is shown, but I did not see any size estimates next to the movie. It took about 20 minutes to download The Blind Side to my HD2 over WiFi. I also wonder if you can move purchased movies to your PC to watch on a large display. Then again, I need to figure out if TV out is supported on the HD2 so I can use it as the media server for a TV.
The one aspect of the BlockBuster app that I found a bit clunky was the store. Tapping the Store icon takes you out to the web browser where you make choices and purchases. I prefer to stay in the optimized app and will try to stick to the movie choices found on the Browse or Search tabs.
Barnes & Noble eReader
Regular readers know I am a big fan of my B&N nook so when I heard that T-Mobile was bringing an ebook reader client to the HD2 I was quite excited. After launching B&N eReader I just logged into my B&N account and thumbnails and details of all the books I have purchased appeared instantly in my library. I had the option to download each one onto my HD2 for reading. A couple gave me errors that they were not supported on this client, but that wasn't a big deal to me since so many worked just fine. Newspapers are even supported and I can actually see subscribing to one or two since I am MUCH more likely to always have my HD2 with me while the nook sits in my bag or at home. The Washington Times looked better on the HD2 than on the nook, actually.
Once you open a book or newspaper to read you can tap on the display and access the Settings. In the Settings you can manage the font size, line spacing, margins, page turn gestures, and animation of page turns. I found that different books were not always consistent so sometimes font sizes had to be changed. The good thing is that this is near instantaneous so wasn't a bother for me.
There are four tabs on the top of the app; my library, reading now, shop, and settings. The one that I hope gets upgraded is the shop action since it takes you out of the application and into the web browser to access the B&N store. It works to find and buy books, but is not as elegant as the in-app experience could be. Oh well, I have all of my content with me on the go and it looks great.
Other carriers have had MobiTV for quite some time, but this is the first time I have seen it on T-Mobile USA. MobiTV is designed for landscape only mode and if you are in portrait orientation at launch you will see the directory cut off so stick with landscape orientation. There are quite a few stations to choose from and the content looks pretty good. This is a $9.99 monthly subscription service and I doubt I will be using it much past the trial, unless some of my show episodes can be found on there.
I used to watch the Transformers cartoons as a kid and really enjoyed the first movie. I thought the second one was a bit cheesy with too much inclusion of Meghan Fox doing very little for the storyline. That said, the movies have awesome visuals and sounds that are really brought out on the HD2. T-Mobile includes both full featured films on the included 16GB microSD card and there is even a Transformers icon on the device to launch a browser for these two movies. They play in the full entire screen and look awesome.
As I have written many times, I have a small music collection and prefer to stream my music. Slacker is my personal favorite since it gives me a great selection with very few repeats. Slacker launched their Windows Mobile client yesterday on the HD2 (works with other WM 6.5 devices too) and this actually influence my decision for the HD2 as well. It plays wonderfully on the HD2 and album art looks fantastic on this large display. You can try the free version and be quite happy or pay the small $48 charge to have unlimited skips, no ads, complete lyrics, and mobile station caching (when it comes to WM eventually).
I have played games on Windows Mobile devices for years and they were mostly puzzle games or RPGs. HTC, T-Mobile and game developers are showing off some pretty amazing gaming capability on the HD2 with Guitar Hero (full version installed), Ferrari GT Evolution, Prince of Persia HD, Millionaire 2010, and Tetris. I tried a couple on my HD2 and included samples in my video embedded earlier in this article so check them out. Windows Mobile can be good for gaming with the right hardware and developers.
TeleNav GPS navigation
TeleNav has been on smartphones for some time and offers a very good connected GPS navigation service for $9.99 per month. It looks great on the HD2 and with 4.3 inches of screen real estate the HD2 is an excellent in-car GPS navigation system.
Gogo inflight service
There is an application on the HD2 for Gogo inflight service and after activating the trial you get 6 months of usage or up to 30 June 2011, whichever comes first. I may be on some flights soon, but am not sure they support this service so I will wait to try it out. There are several pricing options after the trial is over and it looks like the trial is probably part of the Gogo Mobile Pass that costs $4.95 to $7.95 per flight. If I take a flight that supports this I will test it out and write something up for you all.
Other 3rd parties I loaded up
I also loaded up Laridian PocketBible, Evernote, WMWiFiRouter, various Astraware games, Netflix Mobile, Alaska Air application, WinMoSquare, moTweets, Bing, ListPro, and Midomi to name a few. Unlike the Euro version there is no WiFi tethering application, but WMWiFiRouter appears to work just fine and only costs $19.99.
Unfortunately, I could not find a version of Qik that works on the HD2 so I will have to ask if they are working on something since the HD2 is quite popular.
Summary of trials and subscription costs
Let's give you a breakdown of these services I mentioned so you can know what they may cost if you go past the trial length.
BlockBuster, each movie can be rented or purchased individually, two free rentals included
B&N eReader, each book costs money
MobiTV, 30 day free trial, $9.99/month after
Transformers 1 and 2, free and loaded on the microSD card
Slacker Radio, free with a paid version for less ads and more personal control
Guitar Hero game, free and preinstalled
Ferrari GT Evolution game, couple hundred seconds free and $4.99 after billable to phone bill
Prince of Persia HD game, couple hundred seconds free and $4.99 after billable to phone bill
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 2010 game, could not find price for T-Mobile
Tetris game from EA, could not find price for T-Mobile
TeleNav GPS Navigator, 60 day free trial, $10/month after
Gogo Inflight, 6 month free trial, various price levels after
The nice thing about the subscriptions I looked through (TeleNav and MobiTV) you can unsubscribe right from within the menu options in the application so you shouldn't have to spend hours with customer service or anything. A couple of the games returned faulty web pages so you couldn't even purchase them if you wanted to. T-Mobile should take a hard look at these links if they actually want to sell any of these games.
Unique text input option included
The HTC keyboard is pretty good on the HD2, but there is a new input method that I have been beta testing on my Nexus One. Swype launched on the T-Mobile HTC HD2 and Motorola Cliq XT and is a predictive text input method where you simply slide your finger across the keyboard to enter letters. I showed another HD2 buyer in the store and was able to Swype very fast and accurately. This is a great way to be able to use your HD2 with one hand and with just a little practice you may be amazed how accurate it really is. You always have the option to tap away on keys too. Check out my earlier video that includes a bit of Swype usage.
Why get this when Windows Phone 7 Series is coming?
I know I asked this same question and honestly the HD2 is a fantastic device at the low $200 price and will easily last you at least a year and perform quite well. I may even find myself leaving my Google Nexus One behind because there are many apps that work just fine for me and satisfy most all of my needs. I am a big Exchange user and nothing beats Windows Mobile for Exchange.
T-Mobile did a good job with partnerships and made getting movies and ebooks on to the device quite easy. Although the Zune integration isn't here, there is plenty to do with the device and I doubt most people care what may or may not come from Microsoft in late 2010 or 2011.
People also know that Windows Mobile has been around a while and can multitask, copy and paste, and run other applications that their companies may have developed. WM 6.5 is a known operating system and with the right hardware powering it the device can actually be quite outstanding.
WM is also not a perfect OS and this version 6.5.1 still has issues. Settings are sprinkled throughout the device and I actually became a bit frustrated looking for settings I know WM has, but that were not where I expected. A new user may be perfectly happy though since they have no expectations and just access what is readily available. So far the HD2 has been quite fluid and snappy so the hardware looks to be able to handle most anything thrown at it.
Things to test out
I have only spent a day with my new device and plan to post more thoughts as I figure things out. Since there is a B&N eReader application I plan to see if Adobe Digital Editions and EPUB titles are supported on the HD2. I will be placing some of my movies on the HD2 with the help of DoubleTwist while also trying out more 3rd party apps.
Please let me know if there is anything you wish for me to test out and I will try to include it as well in a follow-up post.
Closing initial thoughts
I hesitated before buying the HD2 because of the shock and awe of the Sprint HTC EVO 4G, but since I am already a T-Mobile customer who won't be leaving any time soon there was just a hardware cost to get the HD2. After the store sold me the HD2 for just $200 then it was a no-brainer decision. I know Windows Mobile has been around for a while, but I have always enjoyed their customizability, Exchange support, and form factor devices. HTC did an excellent job with the HD2 and the content partners that were lined up really make the HD2 a super device. I could not believe how many "regular" people were buying the HD2 today without a single commercial on TV or any other advertising that I saw. It will be interesting to see how well this does on T-Mobile. I am now off to watch a movie and enjoy my new HTC HD2.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that T-Mobile included doubleTwist Multimedia Sync right on the HD2, similar to the myTouch 3G, so when you plug in your HD2 to a Mac or Windows PC then you have the option to sync content using doubleTwist. This is great for new owners who are wondering how to get content onto their devices.