HTC Touch HD Review

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The HTC Touch HD offers a wide array of high-end features: WVGA display, 5 MPx camera, 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and  the latest version of Microsoft Windows Mobile.

Its combination of a large, high-resolution touchscreen, fast processor, and excellent battery life makes it a winner for those looking for a highly-capable smartphone.

It’s not perfect though, and potential buyers in the U.S. should be aware of a couple of location-specific drawbacks, too.

 
HTC Touch HDInside this Review

Design= Touchscreen

The Touch HD’s design is completely centered on its large touchscreen. Basically, this device is a casing wrapped around a display. There are minimal hardware buttons, and most of these are actually extensions of the touchscreen. Even the traditional D-pad has been cut to make more room for the screen.

Fortunately, the display is worth all this attention: its 3.8 inches and 800 by 480 pixels of sheer beauty. That’s so big that I never find myself squinting when I look at anything on the screen, whether I’m working or watching a movie.

It’s even large enough to almost make a stylus unnecessary. Windows Mobile was designed to be used with a stylus, and many of the items that need to be tapped on are therefore small. The Touch HD’s screen is so expansive that these items are blown up to the point where you can easily hit them with a fingertip.

Despite its generously-sized display, the Touch HD is easy to carry around. This is mostly because it’s fairly thin: 0.47 inches.

There’s part of me that wishes for a built-in keyboard, but not at the price of doubling the thickness. And that’s what adding a hardware keyboard would have done. This slim, easily-pocketable device would become a behemoth.

HTC Touch HDI think I miss the D-pad more, but a few days of practice made using the device easier. You just have to get used to touching the screen for virtually everything, though.

User Interface

The Touch HD comes with HTC’s alternate user interface, TouchFLO 3D. This has been designed to make the device easier to use with a fingertip.

This one application gives easy access to all the most commonly performed tasks: check email, play music, check stocks, surf the Web, and so on. These are arranged into a series of tabs, and you slide back and forth between tabs by sliding your finger on the screen. There’s a couple of finger-friendly keyboard layouts that can be used in any application, too.

TouchFLO 3D is pretty, but I don’t think it’s really necessary on the Touch HD. As I mentioned earlier, the standard Windows Mobile user interface is easy enough to use on this model, so it’s not worth putting up with the disadvantage of HTC’s alternate: it’s slightly but still noticeably slower than the regular user interface.

As a Phone

There’s no room for doubt, acting as a phone isn’t the Touch HD’s strongest point. This is a device created to emphasize the “smart” part of smartphone, while the “phone” part is secondary.

This model doesn’t have a hardware numberpad, so you have to do all your dialing either by choosing names out of your address book, or with an on-screen numberpad.

Fortunately, Windows Mobile has one of the better systems for handling on-screen dialing, so it’s not like this is a burden.

My only real complaint relates to controlling the phone when it’s ringing. As soon as a call is received, a single tap of one button picks up the call, or a tap of another one sends it to voicemail. It’s too easy to accidentally hit one of these. More often than not, when I get a call and pull the device out of my pocket I find I’m either already talking to the person or they are already talking to my voicemail.

One of the things you’ll have to get used to is the way Windows Mobile automatically turns the screen off as soon as your call is connected. There’s a good reason for this — you don’t want to be pushing on-screen buttons with your ear when you’re talking — but it’s a bit disconcerting the first few times it happens. Just push the Power button and the screen will turn back on. The call won’t be affected.

Call quality for me is decent, but this is something that’s going to vary depending on which wireless carrier you use.

Wireless

So far, the only version of the Touch HD that HTC has released was created to be used primarily in Europe. It’s available in the U.S. (here and here, for example), as an “unlocked” phone. As such, it can be used with any carrier that employs the GSM standard, and I’ve tested it with both AT&T and T-Mobile.

There’s a hitch, though. Although this device can be used to make calls in the U.S., and connect to the 2.5G standard EDGE, there’s no support for 3G.

Just to be extra clear, the Touch HD does support the 3G networks in Europe, Asia, etc., just not the ones in N. America.

I’m a “glass is half full” guy, so I don’t think the lack of 3G service is crippling. This is mostly because I have Wi-Fi access most of the places I go to. At home or office, I use Wi-Fi for all my web surfing and TV streaming. It’s only when I’m on the road that I have to get by on EDGE, and that’s fast enough for my basic needs.

Naturally, this smartphone offers Bluetooth, too. I’ve tried it with a couple of wireless headsets and I had no problems.

The Touch HD also has a built-in GPS receiver, and all you need to do is add some free software to take advantage of it. Google Maps Mobile works very well on this device for basic turn-by-turn directions.

Productivity

As a Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone, this model comes with Microsoft’s own suite of productivity applications. These cover everything from keeping track of your address book and appointments to email and even working with Microsoft Office files.

If you use Microsoft Outlook you can synchronize your personal data with your PC. If you have access to an Exchange Server you can synchronize your data with this, and also have Push email, in which messages are immediately sent to your phone as soon as they arrive. This is a great productivity tool.

The generous screen on the Touch HD makes working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files much easier than with typical smartphones. And Microsoft’s versions of these are surprisingly capable. By that I mean they are the equivalent of the desktop versions from several years ago, including spell-checking.

I use them all the time — I’m writing this review in Word Mobile — but most businesspeople turn to them primarily when documents are emailed to them.

Entertainment

The Touch HD is a powerful business device, but its large display also makes it an outstanding mobile video player. I regularly watch streaming TV with a SlingBox, and I watch pre-recorded movies with the included Windows Media Player Mobile.

HTC Touch HDWMP Mobile also handles MP3s, and streaming audio, too.

To make all this easier, HTC has — thankfully — included a standard 3.5 mm headset jack. You can also use a Stereo Bluetooth headset if you prefer.

This device has 300 MB of internal storage, but if you’re going to take advantage of its multimedia capabilities, you’re going to want more than that. That’s why HTC put in a microSD card slot. Despite their tiny size, microSD cards can hold gigabytes of information; I have an 8 GB card in mine, and there are larger ones available.

The Touch HD’s dearth of buttons and especially the lack of a D-pad puts a crimp in its game-playing ability, though. Still, there are many games where this doesn’t matter.

Camera

HTC put a 5 MPx camera in this smartphone, but it’s still not one of its bright spots.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken some decent pictures with it, but these were under ideal conditions. In anything less than ideal, its camera is almost useless.

It’s very slow coming on and it’s very slow taking pictures. I like that it’s auto focus, not simple fixed focus, but the focusing process takes a while. Whatever you’re taking a picture of needs to be very patient.

In addition, it doesn’t perform well in low light situations. And by “low light” I mean anything other than very well lit. The camera is also very sensitive to the type of light source. Its “auto” feature for this is about useless, so you need to manually change between florescent, incandescent, and sunlight if you want your colors to be right.

In short, getting good pictures takes patience, luck, and fortitude.

Performance

The Touch HD is based around a 528 MHz processor, and has 288 MB of RAM. This combination gives it good performance, even though it’s having to drive that high-resolution screen.

That’s not to say that you can’t slow it down by running six or seven applications simultaneously. But this is the exception, not the rule.

HTC Touch HDI’ve already brought up the only time I’ve regularly run into lag: when using TouchFLO 3D. This is a really huge, complicated application, and sometimes it bogs the device down.

Battery Life

I’m very impressed with the Touch HD’s battery life.

I live in the U.S., an area where the current version of the Touch HD doesn’t offer 3G, so I almost always have Wi-Fi on. Despite Wi-Fi’s notorious drain on the battery, I never have problems. I keep Push email on all day, make phone calls, and surf the Web for 2-3 hours via Wi-Fi, and I still have run into a low-battery warning only a single time.

If you’re use is less extreme, you can expect the battery to get you through days and days of light use.

Specifications

Platform: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
Processor: 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM 7201A
Memory: 288 MB RAM, 512 MB ROM
Display: 3.8-inch TFT-LCD flat touchsensitive screen at 800 x 480 pixels
Wireless:
     GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
     HSDPA/WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz
     Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 b/g)
     Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR and A2DP
Expansion: microSD memory card
GPS: Yes
Camera;
     Main: 5 MPx with auto focus
     Secondary: VGA
Audio: 3.5 mm audio jack, microphone, speaker, FM radio
Size: 4.4 in x 2.5 in x 0.47 in (115 x 62.8 x 12 mm) 
Weight: 5.2 ozs. (147 grams) 
Battery: 1350 mAh

Conclusion

This Windows Mobile smartphone has a large, beautiful touchscreen, loads of storage capacity, Wi-Fi, GPS… the list just keeps on going. It’s even easily portable.

As an unlocked smartphone, this device is being sold directly to the public in the U.S. The up-side of this is it can be used with any GSM carrier; the down-side is that the Touch HD comes without a carrier subsidy. Expect to pay at least $700.

Some may feel sticker shock, but for those who are willing to pay for the best, the HTC Touch HD could be the way to go.


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