HTC’s been pretty regular with releasing phones with gigantic screens, with the HD2, HD7 all sporting a 4.3 Inch formfactor. Enter the HTC Desire HD following all that, constructed with a aluminium unibody frame, pushing the upper limit of what we might consider a pocketable device nowadays, with a screen just as large at WVGA 800 x 480 resolution. It also features an 8 Megapixel Camera with Dual LED Flash, 720p HD Video recording, and a 1 Ghz processor, running Android 2.2 Froyo, with HTC’s Sense UI on top.
So it’s not the most powerful smartphone on the market today, but its spec list isnt too bad either, is it? So should you consider this one at all? Read on for our review.
The Desire HD features an aluminum unibody design, carved out of a single slab of lightweight aluminum, which makes the device more rigid and durable. The phone feels very solid and cohesive, and once you pick it up, there’s no doubt about its long term durability. The Matt styling doesnt scratch too easily either.
At the top of the phone, you have the lone Power key which also acts as a screenlock key.
The back panel has three plastic elements which distract from the aluminum styling.
The relatively-brittle plastic does not sit flush with the metal back, but we did appreciate having access to the microSD, Battery and SIM card slots.
The battery lid is side-mounted and was quite the nightmare to open or close. When you do manage to open it though, the battery just slides out, having to retention mechanism to hold it.
Next to the Battery slot, is a volume ‘rocker’ button which has almost no travel at all, which in-turn, makes it very hard to differentiate between whether you’re pressing the top, middle or bottom part of it.
Another sour point, was that the aluminum frames the display, sticking out about a millimeter in front of the screen, which generates a sort of ridge that your finger will almost always hit when you perform swipe actions on the phone.
In addition, the camera on the back panel is not protected from scratches, and sticks out from the body.
Which means when you place the Desire HD on its back, the device rests directly on the lens itself. That’s not a good thing in the long term.
At the bottom, you have the microUSB charging/connector port and the 3.5mm Audio Jack.
But admittedly apart from focusing on the negatives of the Desire HD’s exterior, the phone has robust construction, and for a phone of its size, has very good ergonomics, both when held in the hand or when placed in the pocket, being quite portable.
The Internals and Battery Life:
The Desire HD runs on a second generation SnapDragon 1GHz QSD8255 chip (with Adreno 205 graphics) and 768 MB of RAM which results in a very smooth Android experience. This also means it can both record and play 720p video without breaking a sweat.
But for all that power, the Desire HD only comes with a 1230 mAh battery, which is quite low compared to the 1500 mAh units that come standard with most devices featuring similar specs nowadays. In our experience, with light browsing, 30-odd minutes of gaming (and Angry Birds), 40 minutes of calls, a couple pictures and some more Wifi usage, the Desire HD will only last about 14 hours ish, with the display on full brightness. You can squeeze a day’s usage out of the phone if you barely do anything. At all.
So yes, the Desire HD is quite power hungry, and you wont really feel comfortable doing anything even relatively intensive, without worrying about the battery life. This is quite a shame considering the amount of functionality this device offers. Another unfortunate problem of the new back panel design, is that it’s hard to find third party extended battery providers offering an alternative.
The primary reason that battery runs out of juice so quickly, is the humungous 4.3 Inch display. We had the same thoughts about the HTC HD7 too, and here we go again. Pixel Density purists might not like the display on the Desire HD though, since it has the same 800 x 480 screen resolution as the Original Desire, but magnified to fit the larger display. But we thought it made operating the phone and reading text, a lot easier.
The LCD screen on the Desire HD is decent, much like the one on the HD7, and gets the job done. It does however have a glossy coating on top which mildly annoyed us under direct sunlight. And yes, its not as good as an AMOLED or Super LCD display.
The 8 Megapixel Camera on the Desire HD performs decently enough. It cant handle low light very well, with harsh noise elements sneaking into your picture.
Focusing in low/no light can also be a tad impossible, and the Dual LED Flash will result in quite a few blurred pictures if you’re not holding it perfectly still. It’s pretty much just as good as you’d expect it to be, nothing more or less.
Images are displayed in a gallery, in the usual grid pattern that you’d see on any Android phone these days.
Here’s a couple camera image samples from the HTC Desire HD:
Video quality was also quite good, picking up a good amount of detail. Fixed focus though. Here’s a camera video sample from the HTC Desire HD:
The Loudspeaker and Audio:
The loudspeaker on the Desire HD is about average, with its highest volume being lower than what we’d prefer. Call quality was just as good as other handsets released lately.
The Music player has a UI that’s easy enough to use, with Album art support and everything. Video Playback has Dolby and SRS Sound options, which generate different outputs, both of which we felt were a bit poor in terms of quality.
The HTC Desire HD runs Android 2.2 Froyo currently. While some models have received the update to Gingerbread in Europe, our unit had unfortunately not. Feature-wise the UI and functionality is basically the same as versions before, this one having Wifi hotspot and USB Tethering features, along with Flash Player 10.1 to play Flash content directly within the browser, and a tweaked, reworked faster web browser.
As you might already know if you’ve handled an Android phone lately, the browser loads content heavy pages quite easily and quickly, and respond to touch inputs in a very alert manner. Scrolling and Pinch-to-zoom is supported, with near-instantaneous transitions of portrait to landscape. Rendering if quick, and Flash plays back reliably and smooth thanks to the ample RAM.
Then there’s multitasking. As you might know if you’ve played around with an Android phone lately, the OS basically doesnt close any program you start up. Which can be very handy when you only have quick moments to look at your phone and dont want to have to constantly restart an app. Hence you can play a game, switch to the calendar, make a phone call, take a picture, and still head back to the game and resume where you left off. Which can be a relief compared to operating systems like, oh i dunno, Windows Phone 7 which closes each 3rd part program and you exit.
But this has its drawbacks too. Having apps that never really close, tends to pull down resources, which results in battery depletion, which can be quite annoying for a Desire HD owner, since it already suffers from relatively poor battery life. Luckily you can download an app to close currently running apps in the background, like Quick Task Killer or any other.
That all being said, the Desire HD never really showed any signs of slowdown even with a couple apps queued up in its dropdown shade. Performance is still top notch.
The Sense UI:
The first thing you’ll notice on HTC’s new Sense devices, is a much quicker startup time. HTC claims that the Desire HD can boot up within 10 seconds. We found this was true, unless you happen to take the battery out, removing whatever background caching that HTC would be doing.
The ringer is intelligent, which was quite the surprise when we came across the settings for it. It can ring louder when it senses that the phone is in a pocket or handbag, and will silence the ringer if you flip your phone over when someone calls. Could save you a couple embarrassing moments.
The homescreen on the Desire HD is what you’d usually see on an Android phone these days, having 7 multiple homescreens, each able to hold its own widgets and app shortcuts. You can also pinch-to-zoom out into an overview mode to see all your widgets on one screen.
And if you need to customize any part of your phone, from the wallpaper, skin to the audio tons, you can just tap the personalize button on the homescreen, to get to the screen above.
HTCSense.com is HTC’s attempt to get into the cloud service fad. There’s Messages and People sections (Not available in some countries) where you can view and tweak content online, and an HTC Hub area that exhibits Apps, Ringtones and other content that you can download to your device. There’s also a nice Dashboard area, where you can lock your phone incase you lose it, or display a message on a stolen phone, or remotely wipe out all your data, etc. All that, and Map Tracking of your phone’s current location to boot. Provided its still switched on.
It’s also worth mentioning that Google does a great enough job of backing up your Contacts, Apps and Data by itself, so if you’re moving from another Android phone, or another HTC Android device to the Desire HD, you’ll find it pulls in all your data quite nicely once you sign in.
GPS and Navigation:
HTC’s Locations App aims to better Google’s own Maps Navigation, by allowing you to download map data ahead of time, so you dont have to wait for Navigation to kick in when you start up the app. TomTom provides the Mapping Data for the app, which can be quite useful if you have no data signal around, or a slow 2G connection.
And ofcourse there’s also Google’s own Maps installed (this is an Android phone afterall), providing you with rich satellite and street view images and everything you’ve come to know and love about Google’s Maps.
Worth noting though, is that Navigation is only supported in a few countries.
Apart from the Above:
Thanks to all that ample performance, games run very smoothly on the Desire HD. You’ll be up and running a game of Angry Birds before you even know it.
Emails are also pulled in and sent out right on time, having full HTML support, and great integration with Google’s Gmail services, with support for labels, folders and what not.
The Desire HD also supports Xvid/DivX video formats (on the latest version), and can play back most files smoothly. We had some issues with 1080p, and some 720p files though.
And yes, that huge screen is gorgeous to watch videos on.
So what do we make of the HTC Desire HD? Well… it has pretty bad battery life, and the design could have been better.
But it brings a whole lot of goodness to the table, with a very polished Sense UI on top of Froyo, with an update to gingerbread coming along any day now. The aluminum unibody means great build quality, with a nice large screen that should keep anyone happy, all with a pretty powerful set of internal specs to keep things chugging along smoothly. The camera’s also decent enough, though we arnt too crazy about how the phone rests on it, when laid flat.
In terms of functionality, performance and screen dimensions, the HTC Desire HD is pretty darn sweet, and will probably keep you happy for a while. Just make sure you carry around a charger.
Here’s a video overview of our review:
Pros: Great performance, Solid Browser, Good Build quality with Aluminum Unibdy, Huge Screen.
Cons: Poor Battery Life, Unprotected Camera Lens, Strange Battery Panel Construction means few/no 3rd Party Extended Batteries