In terms of packaging, HTC are all about being minimalistic. Included in the box is the phone, the charger, and the headset, and a couple of minimalistic handbooks to get you going.
The HTC Desire HD offers a pretty impressive hardware platform, which promised to be a reasonable upgrade from a Nexus 1 or HTC Desire
- 4.3 Inch Capacitive LCD Touchscreen (480x800 resolution, at 218 pixels per inch)
- Qualcomm Scorpion (Snapdragon) MSM 8255 @ 1 GHZ
- Qualcomm Adreno 205 GPU
- 8 Megapixel camera with dual LED flash, featuring face detection and geotagging capability
- 1.5 GB onboard memory, plus MicroSD support up to 32GB
- 768 MB RAM
- Dual Band HSDPA/HSUPA (14.4 mb/s down 5.76 mb/s up maximum)
- Wifi B/G/N
- Bluetooth 2.1
- 1230 mAh Lithium Ion battery
The phone is a pretty hefty phone, weighing in at 164 grams (5.8 ounces), and at 4.3 inches, it's screen is very large, so if weight is a concern for you, or you simply don't like carrying large objects in your pocket the Desire HD will not be the phone for you. The phone is finished in a high quality aluminium cover, with the same metallic brown colouring used on the original HTC Desire.
The build quality of the phone is excellent, it feels good in the hand, and looks stylish. HTC have opted to place the phone's 3.5mm audio jack at the bottom of the phone, rather than the top, next to the USB/Charger input, which should make it easier to remove the phone from your pocket, which is a sensible design change. At the bottom of the phone, a black plastic panel (click/slide) can be removed to provide access to the sim card slot, and also the MicroSD slot, as HTC have decided to go down a different design route with battery placement, this means that unlike the original HTC Desire, you can swap your MicroSD cards without powering off the phone and removing the battery, which is a very welcome addition.
The battery cover is provided in a second slide off panel on the left hand side of the phone, the battery then just slots into the phone. This is one design change that I am not quite so fond of, the panel can be rather tricky and fiddly to remove and replace, thankfully because of the separate placement of the Micro SD and sim card slots, you shouldn't have to remove this very often. Another side effect of this design change is that it makes it impossible to install a high capacity aftermarket battery, as most high capacity batteries usually require an extra large cover, however replacement batteries can still be installed if they are ordinary sized batteries. The advantage of this design however, is that it makes it far less likely that the battery will come out if you happen to drop the phone.
The power switch and volume rockers are pretty normal fare for smartphones, being placed on the top, and left respectively. However, I find that both the power switch and the volume rocker are not quite prominent enough and sit too flush to the case, which can make activating them a touch fiddly, especially if you have large fingers like mine. All in all though, despite the small niggles, the build quality of the phone is pretty high.
The Desire HD is a DNLA certified handset, and via the phone's built in Connected Media application, you are able to stream video, music, and photos to any DNLA enabled device on your network. The phone will automatically scan your network for any DNLA enabled device, and then offer you the option to stream media to it. I tested this feature using my Windows 7 PC, with Windows Media Player, and it worked just as advertised, a pretty useful feature.
The HTC Music application has also received a facelift over previous versions, it now includes a very similar experience to coverflow in landscape mode, and also has direct integration with the Amazon MP3 market, allowing you to search for and purchase music from within the music application. The audio quality of this phone is an improvement over previous HTC phones. The Desire HD also incorporated dolby digital mobile into it's sound experience, allowing you to use a custom equaliser (music only), and also providing the options of Dolby SRS, or WOW surround sound. I was personally not keen on the sound produced with WOW surround sound, however Dolby SRS produces a pretty nice quality boost, and by my reckoning sound quality was reasonably close to what I experienced from my iPod touch, although I must stress I own a pair of Sennheiser CX-300II headphones and do not use the pair provided with the handset. However, to my disappointment the phone does not provide an option to turn these features on system wide, you can only use them from within HTC's own music and gallery options, which means that if you use a different music player or video player, you cannot use these sound enhancement features, which is a little disappointing.
The other playback option, the HTC Gallery for Photos and videos has not really changed a great deal from previous Android phones, it provides pretty fluid transition from photo to photo, and the pinch to zoom function is smooth and fluid (although a little too oversensitive if you pinch quickly), however to my slight annoyance I found that HTC seem to have arbitrarily disabled the option to change your photo / video layout to grid view (the default is slideshow view) when you put the phone into landscape mode, which is a slightly odd omission from HTC. Video playback is pretty much the same, however due to the larger screen, and slightly lower pixel density, you will find that lower quality videos, or videos not at the phone's native resolution may look a touch pixelated.
Social networking and Internet
This is one area where HTC Sense phones excel over other smartphones, they offer a very well connected social networking experience, and the Desire HD is no exception. As standard, the Friend Stream widget is included, which pulls updates from your twitter, facebook, and flickr accounts and displays them. However, one area where HTC Sense phones excel greatly over their rivals is in their very tight integration with Facebook, and again the Desire HD is no exception. From within the Sense people application, you can view all of the normal things like phone numbers, email addresses, ETC, however if you link your phone contact to their facebook profile, you can also view their status updates, and photos from within the HTC people application. If your contact is linked to a Facebook profile, the phone will even display their latest status as well as their contact photo when they call you which is a pretty neat, if not somewhat gimmicky feature. If you have your friends linked to Flickr and twitter accounts, you can also view their twitter posts, and Flickr albums from within the people application.
The Internet browser included with the Desire HD is reasonably similar to the browser included with the previous generation of HTC Sense phones, save for a slightly modified interface. Due to the fact that the Desire HD has no trackpad, text fields can only be manipulated with your finger, however if you hold your finger over the text, a small zoom box will appear, allowing you to more accurately see where you are moving the cursor, a feature that works pretty well. The web browser is pretty fast, and zooms smoothly and fluidly, and as with all HTC Sense browsers is based on webkit. The fact that this phone is compatible with the slightly faster HSDPA specification should mean ability to achieve better data transfer performance, and with the Vodafone network (which supports this standard) in a random outdoor location with 3 bars of signal, I was able to achieve very respectable speeds of 4.14 mbps down and 3.37 up over a HSDPA signal
One of the most noticeable changes in the new HTC Sense experience is that it now supports the option for custom skins to be applied, at the moment the only skins available are stock HTC skins (there are a few available, more should be forthcoming over time), which will come as welcome news to people looking for a phone they can customise. HTC have included a new application called HTC Hub which allows the user to download skins, sound themes, ringtones, message alerts, wallpapers, and so on with a couple of clicks, and whilst the range is somewhat limited at this moment in time, you can expect offerings to expand as HTC release more phones with the new experience. Also included are the customary live wallpapers, and normal stock HTC wallpapers. HTC provide access to all of your customisations through a button (next to the phone button), which makes it very easy to apply customisations. Downloading skins, ETC can also be performed through this panel as well as the HTC Hub offering easy customisation.
HTC have gone to great lengths with the new Sense experience to offer a far more customisable experience, in order to allow users to really make devices their own, and what HTC offer in this department absolutely blows the customisability of the iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and most other Android phones out of the water, which is a trend I hope to see continue with other smartphone OSes.
As well as the standard Android market, HTC have introduced their own application with the new Sense experience called "HTC Likes", which spotlights the most popular Android Market applications amongst their users, and allows you to download and install them, you can also view comments that other HTC users have made. Apart from the applications I have already mentioned in other parts of this review, HTC still include Peep, their proprietary Twitter app, however the official Twitter application is also bundled with the latest version of Sense, a slightly strange decision from HTC. They have however discontinued use of the default PDF reader, and included the Adobe Viewer application instead. Also included (new to this version of Sense) is a call blocking application which allows you to enter numbers manually, or block from your contacts or call log, and whilst there are applications on the Android market that can do this, the integration is a bit more elegant, blocked calls will be sent to voicemail. An eBook reader is also included, which can read ebooks that are already on the phone, or from a Kobe or Adobe ID. As I do not own any eBooks, I cannot test this application more fully. HTC have also included a widget with their Locations application, allowing you to find local amenities at the touch of a button. Another neat addition is that you can now see a scrollable list at the top of the pull down notifications menu of all of the apps you have launched since booting the phone, for quick and easy access.
The new sense experience also provides some interesting options that you can control from your computer, by creating a htcsense.com account and linking it to your phone, you can set up call and SMS forwarding. You are also able to make the phone ring at it's loudest volume (even if on silent) with the click of a button, which could prove very useful if you put your phone down and forget where it is. You can also lock the phone remotely, and prevent it from being used without a pin code, which is a pretty useful security feature for someone potentially liable to misplace their phone. The option is also provided to remotely erase your phone for added security. I am unable to test if these security measures can be circumvented under normal circumstances, however it is worth nothing that if you root your phone, then a phone lock could probably be alleviated by a wipe from recovery.
With the hardware upgrades to the HTC Desire HD, better performance was to be expected. And whilst it's specifications on paper sound pretty similar to the original desire, the CPU used in the Desire HD is an upgraded, and more powerful Snapdragon CPU. Running at standard clock speed, a Linpack score of around 40 megaflops is achievable (for comparison the average on the Desire was about 32 megaflops), this CPU is also manufactured on a 45 nanometer fabrication process, which should also make it more efficient and consume less power than the original Desire's CPU. the Desire HD also features an Adreno 205 GPU. Together, the combination provide a pretty serious performance increase. The Desire HD is able to produce quadrant scores of 1,800-1,900 in comparison the original desire averaged at about 1,200-1,300 with Android 2.2, which in my subjective opinion translated to real life usage, as I found gaming on the phone to feel smoother than it did on the Desire. The GPU is compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenGL ES 1.1, OpenVG 1.1, EGL 1.3, Direct3D Mobile, SVGT 1.2, Direct Draw, GDI. Concurrent CPU, DSP, graphics, and MDP.
The screen on the Desire HD is the same resolution as the original Desire's screen, it is built from an LCD panel. Compared to the AMOLED screen on the original Desire, the Desire HD's panel is a little less vibrant, however the screen is still of excellent quality, and very responsive to touch inputs. HTC have also decided to do away with physical buttons, and use touch sensitive buttons, and although the fact that there is no raised surface could potentially make these harder to use in poorly lit environments, they are responsive, even to light touches and are reasonably easy to use.
The camera included is an 8MP camera with autofocus, face detection, and an LED flash, which seems to perform pretty well. Like all camera phones, quality is so-so in poor light conditions (I found setting the ISO to 800 alleviates this problem somewhat), the camera is pretty good in good light conditions. And whilst you can never really expect miracles from a phone camera, the camera included with the Desire HD is perfectly good for a few casual family photos. Video quality is about on a par with the original HTC desire, although recording in 720p mode seems to come at a slightly better framerate, probably due to the more powerful CPU. I do not own an iPhone so I cannot make a comparison, however the Desire HD's camera is far superior to the camera on the original HTC desire. If you look at my comparison photos, you will notice that photos from the Desire look pretty dull and washed out, whereas photos from the Desire HD look far more colourful and vibrant. To make this test fair, I took the photos in very close proximity to each other, of the same scene, with the same lighting conditions, and same ISO conditions (an ISO of 100 for both photos, recommended to take photos in perfect sunlight).
Photo taken with original Desire Camera | Photo taken with Desire HD Camera (Warning, these photos are at their original resolutions, and therefore pretty large)
HTC Have taken the option to include a 1230 mAh battery with the Desire HD, which is a rather odd decision considering that the original had a 1400 mAh battery. The fact that the phone does not have an AMOLED screen increases this problem, meaning battery life is not brilliant. You should be able to get about a day out of it with light usage, however heavy GPS, Data, or Gaming usage will drain the battery pretty quickly. The battery life, coupled with the low powered choice of battery is a little disappointing from HTC, although it is not unusual for smartphones to need a daily charge so this is far from a show stopping problem.
1.5 GB of onboard memory is included with the Desire HD, of which about 1.07 GB is usable for applications and application data, which should address a common complaint about HTC phones simply not having enough onboard memory. I have about 70 applications installed, and still have about 740 MB of space remaining, so this should prove more than ample for the vast majority of users, and the option to install to the SD card is still there. This addresses what for me was my biggest niggle with HTC phones, and I am happy that they have finally seen sense on this issue and decided to provide a more reasonable amount of onboard storage on their phones.
The Desire HD uses the now familiar HTC IME, however on the Desire HD it has been tweaked for the lack of optical touchpad, with arrow buttons that allow you to position the cursor by tapping them, a neat little addition for anyone not keen on dragging the cursor around with their finger. As with other HTC phones, the on screen keyboard is pretty accurate, and the large screen makes it considerably easy to type with, especially in landscape mode.
I came to the HTC Desire HD expecting a great experience, already having been familiarised with Sense UI from my use of the original HTC Desire, and overall I have not been disappointed. It has a beautiful large screen, a very powerful hardware platform, and provides the rock solid reliability of Android 2.2 with a highly evolved custom UI that adds a plethora of options for all comers. No other smartphone OS can touch the new Sense experience in terms of the features it offers, or the level of customisation that can be performed. HTC have hit upon a real winner in this department, and they just continue to improve Sense. The phone is fluid, it is powerful, and can handle any task you throw at it with considerable ease.
If the battery life, or small niggles are a concern this will not be the handset for you, I could also imagine the size of the phone making it a little uncomfortable for people with small hands to use. However despite those small issues I find it to be a fantastic handset, and would recommend it to anyone in the lookout for a high quality feature packed smartphone.
Edited by Subject Delta, 22 January 2011 - 14:10.