Review: HTC HD2 raises the bar for Windows Mobile devices

While Windows Mobile fans like myself are very pleased with the HTC Touch Pro2 there hasn't been as much excitement around a Microsoft smartphone as we have seen with the HTC HD2 for quite some time. People are enthusiastic about its release due to the 1GHz Snapdragon processor, capacitive display, large 4.3 inch 480x800 high resolution display, multi-touch support in the browser and photo viewer, and Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. We also know that the HD2 will eventually be coming to a major US wireless carrier, but who that carrier is going to be remains to be seen. I have been using it as my primary device for the past week and wanted to give you some more details to enjoy over the Thanksgiving weekend as I now have experiences with many of those topics I mentioned in my first impressions article.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

While Windows Mobile fans like myself are very pleased with the HTC Touch Pro2 there hasn't been as much excitement around a Microsoft smartphone as we have seen with the HTC HD2 for quite some time. People are enthusiastic about its release due to the 1GHz Snapdragon processor, capacitive display, large 4.3 inch 480x800 high resolution display, multi-touch support in the browser and photo viewer, and Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. We also know that the HD2 will eventually be coming to a major US wireless carrier, but who that carrier is going to be remains to be seen. HTC gave each of us who attended the Mobius event in Seattle last week a SIM-unlocked European version of the HD2 and I have been using it as my primary device for the past week and wanted to give you some more details to enjoy over the Thanksgiving weekend as I now have experiences with many of those topics I mentioned in my first impressions article. You can browse through my image gallery to view a few product images and screenshots of the HD2.

Image Gallery:There are some product photos and screenshots of the HTC HD2 in this image gallery.
Image Gallery: HD2 in hand
Image Gallery: Music browser

I wrote that I planned to test out the following on the HTC HD2 and had the chance to perform all of this testing over the past week. I created specific blog posts to address a couple topics, as linked to below, and I will cover the other topics later in this review.

  • GPS navigation: I posted a full review of CoPilot Live 8 running on the beautiful 4.3 inch display.
  • Movie playing capability
  • Zune subscription music support: I wrote about some media features and stated that you can use your Zune Pass music on the HD2. Check out the section later in this review for the steps to make this possible.
  • Text entry keyboard accuracy and speed
  • Image/video capture quality

In the box

As I said, HTC handed the HD2 to me so it came in a typical review white box. Inside the white box was a bright lime green compartment that held the HD2 on top with a USB cable, A/C charger adapter, and wired stereo headset. I am not sure what the retail packaging will look like and am sure it will vary by the carrier that sells the device.


As a geek, I like to check out the specs and then see if the experience can match up to my expectations so let's take a look at some of the best specifications seen on any Windows Mobile device.

  • 4.3 inch 480x800 pixel capacitive touchscreen display
  • Quad-band GSM and dual-band UMTS (900/2100 MHz) support for 3G data outside the US
  • 1GHz Snapdragon processor
  • Windows Mobile 6.5.0
  • Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP stereo support
  • 512 MB ROM and 448 MB RAM
  • Integrated 802.11 b/g WiFi. Understand 802.11n can be unlocked too.
  • 5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash
  • Integrated A-GPS receiver
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • microUSB port for charging and syncing
  • 1230 mAh Lithium ion battery
  • G-sensor, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, and digital compass
  • Weight of 5.54 ounces
  • Size of 4.74 x 2.64 x 0.43 inches

The HD2 is wider (by 0.24 inch), longer (by 0.24 inch), and heavier (by 0.84 ounce) than the iPhone 3GS. It is actually thinner than the iPhone 3GS by 0.05 inch. It really is a beautiful device and I cannot wait to see which carrier picks up the device in the US.

Let's take a look at the hardware and WM 6.5 OS ª

Walk around the hardware

The HTC HD2 is not a small device (2.64 inches wide by 4.74 inches tall), but it is quite thin (0.43 inches) and thus still feels good in your hand. It is dense feeling (5.54 ounces) and has a metal back battery cover that gives you a feeling it is strong and can take a drop or two. The front is consumed by the large 4.3 inch diagonal, oleophobic (like the HTC Hero and iPhone 3GS), capacitive touch screen display and when you turn it on and see that 800x480 pixel resolution you instantly fall in love with it. There is an indicator light and proximity sensor located above the display with NO front facing camera. Below the display you will find the HTC branding with five small hardware buttons. These buttons, from left to right, are for Send, Home, Start, Back, and End and none of them can be customized to perform a different function out of the box.

The HD2 has a very minimalist feel to it with nothing at all located on the right side or top. The only thing you will find on the left side is the single volume button.

HTC has done a great job with the design along the bottom too with the microphone opening, microUSB port (for syncing and charging), and 3.5mm headset jack all flowing nicely into the casing. I am pretty impressed that HTC was able to get a 3.5mm headset jack in a device as thin as the HD2 and am very happy they did not use any doors over the microUSB port.

The top and bottom of the back is composed of a soft touch covered material with the center area being taken up by a metal removable cover. Under the cover you will find the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot. Centered towards the top of the back you will find the 5 megapixel camera lens with the dual LED just to the right of it. The camera has sharp edges around it and I recommend you take great care in sliding the HD2 on a wooden table or desk as you may scratch the wood. I would like to have seen a bit of rounding of these edges since these edges catch on your skin and jeans as you try to slide the device in and out of your pocket. I hope the lens cover doesn't get scratched over time and think this is the one area of the device that could have used more design attention to detail.

Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system and app support

I posted my take on Windows Mobile 6.5 back on the day of the announcement and was brutally honest about the operating system update. As I just recently wrote, HTC has fixed most all of those issues with the HTC HD2 even though the Windows Mobile 6.5 bits are still present and can be found by the end user. Even on the HD2 though things are not perfect as I have had the lock screen fail about three times over the course of the week. I would slide right and then nothing would happen. I could then tap the Start button and go the Start screen of apps, but taps on the display did not register a selection. I have read of other people having issues with the music player acting up and there may be 3rd party apps messing with things or an update may need to be released to fix these issues.

I can't say I like the limited Start display either and at least expected to be able to move the icons where I wanted them placed. I am a bit surprised that HTC was not able to offer a better alternative here, given that they provided their own Calendar, Messaging, and Media Player clients on top of Windows Mobile.

I do like the premier Exchange experience on Windows Mobile and if you rely on an Exchange server it is unbeatable with no real limitations. I also like the available software for the Windows Mobile platform and there are applications for just about everything I need, but I have yet to find a good Google Voice application. Evernote is better on the WM platform than on any other platform. I also like the following applications; Laridian's PocketBible, CoPilot Live 8, Panoramic moTweets, Midomi, Ilium Software's ListPro, eReader, WorldCard Mobile and Bing. HTC also added a WiFi router utility so you can turn your HD2 into a wireless modem. This isn't a big deal in the US where this current model does not support 3G though.

You can load up alternative web browsers on the HD2 and HTC includes Opera Mobile 9.7 as the default browser. I LOVE this browser and find it to be much better than even the iPhone Safari browser for one distinguishing functionality and that is the text reflow capability. With Opera Mobile you can zoom into any level and have text reflow to the display, even to the point of such a high zoom level that only a couple of words appear on the display. This makes text in the browser extremely readable with a better navigation experience since you then just scroll up and down. The iPhone only reflows to one level and then forces you to scroll left, right, up, and down to view columns of text, thus ruining the user experience. Remember you can also enter config:prefs in the Opera Mobile browser to access a host of settings, such as the number of available tabs, Opera Turbo (proxy) mode and much more.

HTC Sense and media player capability ª

Is Sense the same on the HD2 as on the Hero?

As I wrote in my Sprint HTC Hero review I find the HTC Sense user experience on the Google Android platform to be a huge benefit and won't buy one without HTC Sense. When I heard that HTC Sense would be on the HD2 I was all excited to see the widgets, calendar integration, and social networking support brought to Windows Mobile. Unfortunately, HTC Sense on the HTC HD2 is actually a new name for the latest TouchFLO 3D user interface. This is not to say that this latest design experience is bad, but it is different than HTC Sense on Android and I am not convinced it should have been branded with the same name. HTC did a good job with the social networking integration though, as I detail below.

According to the HTC site, HTC Sense is composed of three principles; make it mine, stay close, and discover the unexpected. The Make it Mine principle revolves around the widgets and Scenes that allow you to full customize your device. Stay Close is a way to have social networks, calendar appointments, and contact information centralized and related to people. Discover the Unexpected is the way HTC present your inbox, phone dialer, and search on the device.

On a Windows Mobile device like the HD2 you can choose which predesigned tabs to show and in what order to show them, but there are limits on what you can do to customize most of them with some shortcut support. There are no widgets to add to a home screen or custom tabs you can design yourself. HTC does include Facebook integration into their People feature and selecting someone in your contact database does give you access to an excellent communication history that you have had with that person. I would like to see better calendar integration (multiple Google calendars or custom calendars), but understand this may be a limitation of Windows Mobile. HTC does provide custom HTC utilities, such as their music player, calendar, and text/MMS messaging offerings, but I would love to have a better search utility instead of the lame, tired Windows Mobile one included on the device.

As you can see HTC Sense on the HD2 is not the HTC Sense you have seen on the HTC Hero, but it is still much better than the default Windows Mobile experience and I appreciate the work HTC did with it. I just don't think I would have branded it as HTC Sense since that might have people expecting something different.

Media playing capability

HTC provides lots of eye candy on the HD2 and with the 1GHz Snapdragon processor they can get away with the animations and visual experience. As I posted a few days ago the weather utility, photo viewer, and music player utilities are very good and make the HD2 quite a good mobile media player. I like that HTC provides easy Facebook interaction in the photo viewer so you can view photos on your device and those stored up in the cloud on Facebook servers.

The fact that I can load up and listen to my Zune Pass subscription content on the HD2 is a huge bonus for me since I don't always feel like carrying both the HD2 and my Zune HD around at the same time. BTW, here are the simple steps to get Zune Pass subscription music onto your HD2:

  1. Launch Windows Media Player on your Windows computer
  2. Connect your HTC HD2 (disk drive or ActiveSync modes work)
  3. After your HD2 microSD card appears in WMP, simply drag songs from your Zune collection (should appear in your WMP library) onto the HD2 storage card
  4. Click the Sync button to transfer music to your microSD card

A weakness that has always been glossed over by Microsoft is getting video content onto your Windows Mobile device. I understand that it is quite easy with a Windows Media Center PC, but I don't have one myself and don't know any friends or family that has one either. This is one area where Apple really excels and I would love to see a content provider like Amazon or even Netflix step up and provide this capability. As it is now, you have to rip a DVD into the proper format and then transfer it to your device.

I spent a bit of time this morning using the latest version of Handbrake on my MacBook Pro and ripped my new Star Trek DVD into a format for the HD2. I am happy to report that I left most all of the Handbrake settings at their defaults and have an amazingly high quality version on my HD2 that plays flawlessly with no skipping, stuttering, or pixelation. FYI, here are the Handbrake settings I used:

  1. Set Output Settings- MPEG 4 (FFMPEG) for Video, AAC for audio, leave width and height blank
  2. Leave framerate same as source
  3. Slide Constant Quality bar to the right to 83.33%
  4. Change audio output to 160 kbps audio
  5. Click Start and then transfer movie to your HD2

As you can see, I left most things at their defaults and may play around a bit with display size, etc., but I am quite happy with the current Star Trek movie quality and if it is this easy to get a decent quality movie on the HD2 then I am just sticking with this easy method.

Text entry and camera usage ª

How is text entry without a physical keyboard?

I think the full QWERTY keyboard on my T-Mobile Touch Pro2 is the best I have ever used on a mobile device and thought I would miss having a physical keyboard on the HD2. I admit I still prefer a physical keyboard, but I am quite fast on the HD2 keyboard thanks in large part to the custom keyboard that HTC has installed on the device. The keys are large, prediction works well (toggle on or off with single tap), and it flips into a huge QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode. I like that a press and hold presents you with alternative characters and that the keyboard is context aware so tapping and holding on a .com in a URL entry field pops up .com, .net, .org, and .gov. The keyboard changes slightly for the application necessary so it gives you an optimal text entry experience. You will also find directional arrows appearing on the keyboard in case you want to use them rather than tapping on the display. The HD2 has haptic feedback support so you can have a slight buzz/vibration present as you tap on the keyboard.

One nice feature with soft keyboards is that you can also choose different formats, depending on what you are used to and what you prefer. HTC provides you with options for a phone keypad, compact QWERTY (similar to a SureType experience), and full QWERTY. You can also quickly switch languages and the keyboard automatically adjusts for that language. Windows Mobile has always had a very powerful handwriting recognition software, but now that the HD2 has a capacitive display you will not find this text input method as an option. I never used this functionality so it does not affect me, but I know there are some that love it and want to make sure you are aware of this change.

Can it take decent photos and capture good video?

The HTC HD2 has a 5 megapixel auto focus camera that does take decent photos. I included a couple in my image gallery and as you can see it captures panoramic shots too. It was difficult to lineup the shot in the stadium due to the bright lights and similar crowd images. The duel LED flash lights on the HD2 are very bright and are actually almost too bright at times as they tend to overexpose shots. The lights can also be turned on and used while capturing video. Video is captured in VGA at 30 fps and is decent, but still cannot compare to those dedicated portable video recorders and is useful for those spur of the moment video capture situations.

There has been reports of a pink hue on the camera and for the first five days of usage and about 40 photos I never saw this at all. Then when a bunch of my Mobius friends started talking about it I saw it appear. It seems to only show up at infrequent times when you first start up the camera and then goes away. HTC has acknowledged that some HD2 units have issues and it can be fixed with a software update.

Phone calls and daily usage ª

What about phone calls?

HTC does a great job of giving you an optimal calling experience on many of their phones and they provide you with a nice experience on the HD2. After adding contacts to your People tab on HTC Sense/TouchFLO then a tap on the bottom of the icon brings you to your contact details where you can tap and interact how you wish (phone, text, email, etc. and cruise through the four other history tabs for text messages, emails, Facebook events and status updates, and call history. If you tap on the contact photo directly, then a call with that person is initiated. When you initiate a call then a screen appears with your contact image, End call, and keypad buttons appearing. You can slide down to access even more functions for speaker/bluetooth headset, mute, calendar, note, add call, and hold. The buttons are large and handling calls is a real pleasure on the HD2. The HD2 also has a proximity sensor so holding the device up to your head turns the display off so no accidental screen presses will occur. I found calls on both ends to be of good quality and really do not spend that much time on the phone so phone call quality is only an issue if it is truly poor.

Even if calls are not vital to you, HTC's integration of people's information into a central interface is a welcome feature that is invaluable and blows anything the iPhone has when it comes to a people-centric interface.

Performance, daily usage and battery life

I talked about the WM 6.5 lock screen issues earlier in this review, but other than that the device has performed pretty well. I have had a couple instances where I had to perform a soft reset, but I believe it was because some 3rd party apps I was running caused some lockups. I missed a task manager so I was pleased when a buddy passed along a link to install the standard HTC task manager. I now see I have had up to 12 apps running at once, including the camera, web browser, and more and the HD2 did not balk in terms of performance. The 1GHz Snapdragon processor seems to do a good job at powering apps and keeping the HD2 running smoothly.

I have been using the HD2 daily with my T-Mobile SIM since last week and love the form factor and display. It is a bit wide, but the thinness of it makes it easily pocketable and usable. I am willing to sacrifice a bit in width for the amazing display. Since this is a European model, it does not support 3G here in the US so the fastest data is via EDGE on T-Mobile. That said, T-Mobile's EDGE data is quite snappy in Western Washington and speed tests show me in the 175 to 232 kbps range. Battery life is better than on the iPhone 3GS (even on EDGE) and I can go a full day with moderate usage. The N900 and iPhone 3GS cannot handle a full day of my typical moderate usage while the HD2 can so I am satisfied with the battery life. This is actually a little surprising given that the HD2 only has a 1230 mAh battery. We will probably soon see 3rd party higher capacity batteries since I think this will be a popular device.

iPhone 3GS comparison and closing thoughts ª

So, how does it stack up against the iPhone?

I know, I know, everyone hates it when all the devices get compared to the iPhone. However, it is also going to happen, especially with a device such as this that has so much in common with the iPhone in terms of the look and feel with touch screen only focus. I own an iPhone 3GS so can compare these two leaders in the touch screen world and while both have some different strengths and weaknesses, I prefer the more open nature of the HD2 and the fabulous, large display and form factor.

The iPhone 3GS leads in number and variety of applications and blows the HD2 out when it comes to the gaming experience. The iPhone is also easier to get video content on, but I prefer to use my Zune Pass music on the HD2. I want to see someone come out with an easy way to get video content on the HD2 and take advantage of this gorgeous display since your average consumer won't be ripping DVDs to put on it like I do.

I prefer the customizability of Windows Mobile over the iPhone OS and also like that the 1GHz Snapdragon processor can handle multiple applications running at the same time quite well. The HTC HD2 has a built in utility to turn the device into a WiFi hotspot, but since this particular unit does not support 3G in the US I couldn't test this out.

As I mentioned earlier, I also find the Opera Mobile browser experience to be better than the iPhone Safari experience, primarily due to the text reflow capability.

Lastly, I can't stand that the iPhone OS doesn't give you any quick view of your day like Windows Mobile does. Of course, Exchange is better on the HD2 than on the iPhone as well.

Closing thoughts

The HTC HD2 is obviously the best Windows Mobile device ever created and sets the bar for future Windows Mobile devices. That said, it is still not perfect since it runs an operating system that needs to be upgraded in several areas (settings, stability, and media). To be appealing to the mass market, there needs to be better ways to get media content onto the device and that is one major reason the iPhone is so popular. Apple can look at what HTC has done with the HD2 and you can imagine they will come out with an iPhone with a much higher resolution display and better camera in 2010. If you like to use Windows Mobile devices then I am pretty sure you will love the HD2. You can find the HD2 now from US importers for about $800, but remember this model does not support 3G in the US. It will be interesting to see which carrier picks it up and what the price will be in 2010. It is a fantastic piece of hardware and I appreciate HTC giving these out to Mobius 2009 attendees last week.

Go back to the beginning

Editorial standards