Windows Mobile — or Windows Phone as Microsoft now wishes it to be known — is not having the best of times. Windows Phone 7 is still a way off, and new Windows smartphone launches, such as HTC's HD mini are relatively few and far between. The consumer arena is being shaken up by Google's Android OS — and with Android's recently added ability to handle Exchange email, the corporate sector is well within its sights too.
The HD mini weighs 110g, has a 3.2in. screen and runs Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional overlain with HTC's Sense interface
The HTC HD mini measures just 57.7mm wide by 103.8mm tall by 11.7mm thick and weighs 110g, bucking the trend for smartphones with ever-larger diplays. This makes it relatively easy to pocket, but of course the trade-off is screen size: measuring 3.2in. across the diagonal with a resolution of 320 by 480 pixels, this may prove a little challenging for those with less than perfect eyesight — particularly when it comes to web browsing. But the display is beautifully sharp and bright, and has excellent viewing angles.
Beneath the screen is an array of touch-sensitive buttons for Call, End, Back, Home and Windows Start functions. Tap one and the whole bank gets a white backlight. There's a little haptic feedback to signify you've made a press, and the touch buttons do make for a sleek fascia, but we still prefer physical buttons.
There's little in the way of controls around the edges. There's a volume rocker on the left, the power button and a 3.5mm headset jack on the top, and a microUSB connector for recharging and PC connection on the bottom. The right edge is bare.
The edges and backplate have a rubberised finish, which helps you grip the handset and also keeps it stable on a surface. The backplate looks as though it's held on by four industrial-looking screws, but in fact these are merely visible through holes in the backplate. Remove this and the innards of the device — and the battery — are revealed to be a bright yellow colour. It's an amusing, if pointless, design touch.
The microSD and SIM card slots are under the backplate
There's a microSD card slot under the backplate that can be accessed without removing the battery. You do need to remove the battery to access the SIM, but this is unikely to be an issue.
The HTC HD mini ships with an AC adapter, a PC connection cable and a one-piece stereo headset with inline music playback controls.
The HTC HD mini's technical specifications are a little short of top-notch. For example, the Qualcomm 7227 processor runs at 600MHz, whereas leading-edge smartpones tend to use the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon. There's 384MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM, with the microSD card slot providing up to 32GB of additional storage.
The HD mini is a quad-band GSM phone with GPRS, EDGE and HSPA connectivity, the latter supporting uploads up to 7.2Mbps and downloads up to 2Mbps. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and GPS are all integrated. A G-Sensor handles automatic screen rotation within applications.
The GPS can be used out of the box with the preinstalled copy of Google Maps and with HTC's own Footprints application, which allows you to create geolocated 'postcards' of places you have visited. You also get a 15-day trial of the CoPilot navigation software.
The Wi-Fi gets an unusual and welcome use out of the box too in the shape of an application which lets you easily set the HTC HD mini up as a Wi-Fi router for use with other devices. HTC also adds the Opera web browser as an alternative to Microsoft's bundled Internet Explorer, along with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter clients (HTC Peep), plus an FM radio.
As with HTC's Android-based Desire and Legend, the HD mini uses its G-sensor for some call management features. For example, it can be set to mute an incoming call when you turn the handset face down, and lower the ringtone as you raise the handset to your ear. It will also raise the ringer volume when the handset is in your pocket or bag — presumably in this case using the ambient light sensor to judge the change of location.
HTC has built its Sense user interface on top of Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional. This hides the Windows Mobile UI pretty effectively, so you don't have to struggle with its small stylus-era icons. The Sense UI is visually quite similar to HTC's equivalent on its Android devices. The home screen offers a view of the current date, with call history and calendar shortcuts. You sweep upwards to access a grid of nine favourite application shortcuts.
You don't have access to widgets or multiple home screens as on Android devices, but there is a scrolling bar along the bottom of the screen populated with shortcuts you can customise and reorder. The default order is Home, People, Messages, Mail, Internet, Calendar, Stocks, Photos and Video, Music, Weather, Twitter, Footprints and Settings. Each of these takes you to a main screen for the relevant application or service. The Internet tab, for example, offers thumbnails of web bookmarks, while Music gives you a finger-scrollable directory of what's on the device.
When you get into specific applications, you'll see that HTC has worked hard to prevent you from ever seeing Windows Mobile's native UI. When entering an appointment, for example, the HD mini uses Sense all the way, whereas its predecessor, the HTC HD 2, leaves you at Windows Mobile's mercy.
Just as important as a good user interface is the ability to enter data easily. Here, the HD mini's capacitive touchscreen makes it comfortable to tap out text in both portrait and landscape modes, and HTC's predictive text system is pretty accurate. Those with stubby fingers might find the screen a little small for comfortable typing, though. The capacitive screen, incidentally, supports pinch-to-zoom web browsing.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back of the device lacks a flash, so performance degrades as ambient light reduces. Even so, picture quality is surprisingly good — certainly good enough for the odd work-related photo. There is no front-facing camera for two-way video calls.
Performance & battery life
Making and taking calls presented no problems on the HD mini. Battery life could prove to be an issue though. The device's 1,200mAh battery is rated by HTC for up to 435 minutes (7.25h) of GSM talk, or 340 hours on standby. It can deliver up to 8 hours of video playback and 12 hours of music playback, according to HTC.
In our test of music playback from a full battery charge with the screen always on, we got 4 hours 50 minutes of music. Of course, if you allow the screen to turn off you'll get longer life. In general use, we never felt really comfortable going for 24 hours of use without access to mains power.
We found the HTC HD mini a pleasure to use. Its small format makes it pocket-friendly and easy to handle, and only very keen mobile web users will find the 3.2in. screen restrictive.
Although the latest version of HTC's Sense user interface for Windows Mobile is a step forward from its predecessor, the real question here is not about usability. It's whether business users will upgrade now or hunker down and wait for Windows Phone 7 devices to arrive.