Review: Microsoft’s superphone – the HTC HD2

13 Jan

At a time when a smartphone is just not enough, handset vendors and operating system developers have their spin machine running at full-steam to convince users that their ‘device’ is better than the last-best. At such times, the HD2 from HTC comes as a surprise. With little fuss, no major launch event and no hype-machine humming in the background, HTC has managed to belt out the best Windows Mobile smartphone, EVER!

I have been using the HD2 for about a week now as my primary phone now and am pretty pleased with its performance. The highlight of the HD2 is its massive 4.3 inch capacitive display is a treat to use, though I’d rate its sensitivity to be slightly lesser than the iPhone. But I have to confess that my major concern was how comfortable a device as big as the HD2 would be to hold and pocket. And this is where I must commend HTC’s design team, which I believe has matured well over time, to have made a big footprint (the HD2 stands over 12 cm tall!) comfortable to use as a phone.

The HD2 is also special as it is the first Windows Mobile smartphone to be embedded with HTC’s Sense UI, which we first saw on its Hero. HTC is famous (and infamous among the folks at Redmond) for tweaking the OS to an extent that it does not appear like Windows Mobile, which is a good thing for users. The HD2 is the pinnacle of that effort as HTC has virtually overhauled Windows Mobile. The Sense UI coupled with TouchFlo 3D homescreen is so deep-rooted that there is no option to turn it off and have the default Windows Mobile UI. Officially, Windows Mobile does not support multi-touch, yet. But the HD2 does in the browser, media gallery and even Google Maps! And of course, it uses Opera Mobile as its default browser instead of Internet Explorer. HTC has gone to such extreme levels of even changing the settings menu option!

The result of all this customisation is a brilliant user interface. Coupled with Qualcomm’s 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, the interface is snappy and things work as they should. The device hasn’t frozen even once and did not show any signs of slowing down despite of heavy multi-tasking (five-six apps running simultaneously).

What’s disappointing on the HD2 is the absence of apps on Microsoft’s application store that it calls Market Place. At the moment, there are less than 500 apps in the store and only a minority of them are free. Compare this with Apple’s App Store with over 100,000 apps, majority of them being free and over 10,000 on Android’s Market, again most of them free. It is a pity to see such good hardware going to waste due to the absence of apps.

HTC, on its part, has pre-installed a number of apps and has even embedded a few into its UI. Like Sense UI on the Hero, even the HD2 combines your online social networks with your phonebook. Then there is a very basic dedicated Twitter client. One of the pre-installed apps that I’d like to highlight is the ‘Wi-Fi Router’ that converts the data connection from your carrier into a Wi-Fi hotspot to which other devices can latch on. I used it successfully with my iPod Touch.

Another point where the HD2 falters is its battery life, which is comparable to that of the iPhone 3G (not the iPhone 3GS, mind you). After charging the battery in the morning, I had to plug it again for charging early in the evening. I got about 15 hours of battery life with about an hour of calls and about two hours of web browsing and Tweeting. The 4.3 inch display is the culprit here, but that is something that HTC should have thought about. Its 5.0 MP camera is nothing worth writing home about.

Retailing at about Rs 37,000 in India, the HD2 from HTC is the best Windows Mobile smartphone that money can buy at the moment. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing that it’d have done more good to HTC had it been running Android, considering the absence of apps from Microsoft’s store.

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