By November 9, 2008

HTC Touch HD review

image Having switched from Windows Mobile to the iPhone nearly one year ago to the day I have been waiting for a device with a similar form factor without all the restrictions and frustrations that an Apple device brings along with it. Sure the iPhone does a fantastic job at making usability simple but with it comes a straight jacketed approach that really frustrates me. Welcome to the HTC Touch HD, can it live up to all the hype, is it really the device that can pull me away from the iPhone 3G and condemn it to my sock draw, read on to find out.

What’s in the box

  • HTC Touch HD
  • 8GB microSDHC card
  • AC Adapter (UK)
  • USB Cable
  • Stereo earphones with mic
  • Pouch Case
  • Battery (1350mAh)
  • Additional Stylus
  • Screen Protector
  • Getting Started CD
  • User Manual CD

    On the outside

    This device screams minimalistic from all angles so don’t expect lots of hardware buttons. On the top we have a 3.5mm headphone socket, not recessed at all and fits all headphones with a 3.5mm jack, nice one HTC about time too. To the left of that we have a simple on/off button and a tiny green led which flashes when you have a missed call etc.

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    The bottom has the mini USB charging port, this is not the normal HTC mini USB charging port as on this occasion all it supports is charging and connectivity to a PC etc, no audio headsets or TV Out functionality. Next to this is the small circular opening for the microphone.

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    The left hand edge of the phone has one long button however this is a rocker type button for the volume up and down controls. The right edge is totally free of anything but at the lowest point is the access for the stylus, this is similar to the HTC Diamond as it is magnetically drawn into position with a satisfying click when your done. Again when you remove the stylus the device is intelligent enough to know that you need the screen to come on, and come on it does.

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    The front of the phone has an ear piece speaker grille at the top centre, to the right of that is the front facing video call camera, under that is a fantastic 3.8″ 800 x 480 screen finished at the bottom with four touch sensitive symbols, I say symbols as they are not physical buttons but when selected give a haptic feedback buzz so you know you have activated them. The symbols are call, home, back and end. Strange omission is illumination of the buttons, you cannot see them in the dark and there is no back lighting at all.

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    The rear plate of the device is a two tone black with a raised brushed chrome effect camera lense housing which proudly announces a 5.0 mega pixel auto focus camera.

    Under the cover we have the battery compartment, SIM Card slot and MicroSD card slot. The soft reset button is the small red button.

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    Software

    Ok we have had a look at the outside what about switching it on. To turn the device on a short press and hold of the top button is required, the unit buzzes and starts to boot up with Smart Mobility and the HTC logo shortly followed by the Windows Mobile 6.1 splash screen, total boot time from an off position is approximately 60 seconds however the first switch on needed some setup and probably took around five minutes with customisations etc for specific carrier data settings and screen calibrations. The first thing that strikes you when TouchFlo 3D appears on the screen with the big clock is just how clear crisp and bright this display is, it really does take you by surprise, it just looks fantastic.

    One of the best features of the phone is the sensitivity of the touch screen. Windows Mobile devices use a resistive touch screen which reacts to pressure where as the iPhone and recent Google Android G1 handsets use capacitive touch screen’s which react to electrical pulses. Because of this normally you need to press much harder on a resistive screen however this pressure has been massively reduced on the Touch HD although it is still a long way from being as easy to use as the iPhone it is a great improvement. Some would argue that resistive is the better technology as it gives you more accurate input and a choice of finger or stylus, its open to debate.

    TouchFlo 3D for those that don’t know is HTC’s overlay on top of Windows Mobile 6.1 that is supposed to make finger navigation easy, does it succeed, until now I would say no, however the large screen and TouchFlo 3D are made for each other, selecting icons, scrolling, flicking, tapping all work perfectly and holding one of the dock icons and moving your finger left to right changes the display in a fluid and consistent way. You can also swipe left to right or right to left across the screen to switch between tabs. One of the original criticism’s of TouchFlo 3D was how deep it went into the Windows Mobile OS or should that be how shallow it went, well that hasn’t changed drastically and go a little way into the OS and again your faced with tiny menus and you struggle to hit a down pointing arrow to open a menu with your finger nail and you have to admit defeat and pull out the stylus, what a shame.

    The TouchFlo 3D includes tabs and finger friendly version screens as below:-

     

    Home Screens

    Home  home 1

    Lovely home screen with flip over clock, call history and up to three appointments shown, the dock is at the bottom of the screen with all the tabs for easy access via touch or pressing down on one of them and dragging left or right.

     

    People and Messages

    People Messages 

    The People tab is where you can add quick dial numbers with pictures, click on a photo and you can easily access options to call, email,SMS, MMS etc. The messaging tab lets you flick through your recent text messages or create new ones.

     

    Mail and Internet

    mailInternet 

    The mail tab is very similar to the messaging tab but purely concentrates on email, here you have access to your email inboxes, I have three shown but they have no titles so you have to guess which one is which until you get to know their order, you can create new messages from here and also click individual messages which opens up the standard Windows Mobile Outlook screens. As this is a Windows Mobile device the email integration is top draw with support for full HTML email and if you have an Exchange account, push email, contacts and agenda all work flawlessly. This is where Windows Mobile excels.

    The Internet tab has quick access to the pre-installed Opera 9.5 Browser, YouTube application and favourite bookmarks. The browser works well and renders pages as fast as the iPhones’s Safari browser but I found the interface mainly due to the resistive screen to be harder to use, maybe practice will change my perspective. When your used to pinching and expanding two figures to zoom in and out having to pull up a toolbar and a slider to do the same does not seem as natural to me. The browser although being a newer version than the one seen on the HTC Diamond or the Touch Pro still has no support for Flash.

     

    Stock, Photos and Video

    Stockphotos 

    The Stock tab shows the latest stock prices which is updated as and when required, obviously aimed at the business sector, not something that interests me. The Photo tab has quick access to your stored photos which again you can flick through with swipe gestures and very light flicks at that. Click a photo to open it, zoom in by drawing a clockwise circle on the screen with your finger and out and again with anti-clockwise motion all works really well.  You can also access the still camera and video camera from this tab.

     

    Weather and Music

    weatherMusic

    The Weather tab is stunning on the 3.8″ screen, it updates as soon as you select the tab and the graphical representation of the current climate conditions looks fantastic, due to the resolution of the screen you are now able to see the next four days forecast right underneath, up to seven cities can be set, there is no better weather app for me.

    The music tab is somewhat basic but does show album artwork although somewhat fussily if that is a word but you can setup repeats, shuffles and playlists as well as access the audio boost settings. You can flick through albums by swiping the screen vertically up or down.

     

    Settings and Programs

    Settings Programs

    The settings tab gives you easy access to various system settings as well as a new option which allows you to change the order and display options of the tabs themselves, a nice addition.

    Programs is a simple but highly ef
    fective launch grid where you can add shortcuts to your most used programs, simply click on a free space and it opens a list of installed programs, select the one you want and it appears on the grid, reminds me of an iPhone home screen and is very usable

    Other additional software over and above the Windows Mobile core worth mentioning is the YouTube application, this like the iPhone gives you access to flash based YouTube videos as the browser cannot handle them. You can search for videos easily as well as look at featured or most watched, a menu allows you to select them based on various different viewing options. Once selected the screen flips to landscape and the video is streamed, works very well over WiFi or HSDPA.

    youtube youtubeset

    Google Maps, no street view as yet but again the screen shows this application in the best possible light, full satellite imagery in glorious 800 x 480 resolution looks simply stunning, GPS seemed to work fine for me without any of the lag problems others are reporting. I also loaded up TomTom and a free map and tested the GPS and all seemed perfectly fine to me, no different from the stand alone version I have and it kept up without any noticeable lag.

    Gmaps

    Text entry was my major concern, well HTC have included various onscreen keyboard configurations, Phone Keypad, Compact QWERTY, Full QWERTY, and the usual Windows Mobile Transcriber, Block Recognisers etc. Now these keyboards all serve a function but they are not that great for consistent text entry, the main problem is when you press the key it is hidden along with the keys around it by your finger tip so your never sure you have hit the right key, another problem is the text error correction is very basic compared to other phones I have used and found myself correcting mistakes that the OS should have spotted and been intelligent enough to rectify on the fly.

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    These are the keyboard screen captures, top left is the Compact QWERTY, top right is the Phone Keypad, bottom left is the Full QWERTY and bottom right is the preferred SPB Keyboard which is actually slightly bigger taking up more space on the screen. As you can see the HTC version highlights the key all around it which is still obscured by your finger where as the SPB version highlights the key above your finger making it easy to see whilst you press the button.

    I have been fortunate enough to be testing out the SPB Keyboard latest version, now imagine the iPhone keyboard where the letters when pressed jump above your finger tip so you can confirm that you have hit the correct key and that’s how this version performs, text entry in this way is as easy as the iPhone’s, a big relief for me. I have also been trying Touchpal and it takes a little getting used too but again is much better than the HTC included options.

     

    Sound Quality

    Being able to use a 3.5mm set of headphones is a major plus as we no longer have to use stock headphones or buy adaptors and it also gives you the option to try out the device’s sound quality with a good pair, I have a set of Bose in ear headphones and the sound playback through the device was very clear and had a lovely strong bass to it, volume was not the highest even at maximum for me but that is my preference as I love my music loud and always have to up the gain in iTunes before synching to my iPhone so I can get some extra volume. All in all very nice sound quality.

     

    Video Playback

    The screen on Touch HD should be amazing for watching videos on the go, I tested it with Core Player and a VGA resolution DivX file and it played well without any noticeable stutter, WMV files of higher resolution were not so successful and HD content in WMV format was a non starter, now why is this device called HD? More testing is required here but I am not a big video watcher on the go so I will leave that for others to try out.

     

    Signal Strength and Call Quality

    Well this is where I was very pleasantly surprised after using the Xperia X1 a few days earlier and being very disappointed with it’s ability to hold a consistent signal and even losing the signal in my home regularly. The HD proved to be more than capable where I live with its patchy signal strength. Not one dropped call, no signal jumping around just a solid 4 bars at all times, great sound quality in a call and switching between 3G and 2.5G areas again no dropped calls, very pleased with this result. The best phone radio signal of any device I have used. The phone application is the standard HTC keypad we have seen before but again we have no proximity sensor so the phone screen switches off during a call so you have to physically switch it on again to check anything during a call.

    Bluetooth connectivity options cover everything I can think of, handsfree and headset profiles, A2DP, AVRCP, DUN and many others, something Android and the iPhone could learn from.

     

    Camera

    The camera on the Touch HD is a 5 megapixel camera and should produce great results, again I am no expert when it comes to quality s
    o I have taken a few shots at different light conditions and close ups so you can judge for yourself. Unfortunately no flash so night time shooting is a no go. The camera also shoots video in MPEG4 or H.263 format with unlimited recording as long as you have spare storage.

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    Battery Life

    This device has a 1350mAh battery, it’s not that big and that worried me as the screen is so large, now having used it I am not so worried, with the same usage pattern as my iPhone, voice calls, push email and two other half hour automatic Gmail accounts, web browsing etc the Touch HD was much stronger than the iPhone and with casual use I am sure you could manage two days without a charge.

     

    Conclusion

    The HTC Touch HD is without doubt the best Windows Mobile experience I have ever had, the screen is simply stunning, TouchFlo 3D works for what it does, the sensitivity of the screen is excellent and the most sensitive that I have used. The form factor of the device is big but not too big and the build quality is good but it is very plasticy and lacks the quality of the first generation iPhone or the recently reviewed Xperia X1.

    Now to the crunch, the same old problems still remain in my opinion and it’s not HTC’s fault but Microsoft’s. HTC have pushed the boundary’s as far as possible with this device and given Windows Mobile diehards a device that they will no doubt love, but I don’t think it is going to be enough for me. If you want this device as a business phone, the Outlook integration is unmatched on any other platform no question and the telephony is brilliant, but if your after a device to access your media easily then that is a whole different ball game. Windows Mobile just does not do a good enough job at organising and synching your media or allowing easy access to it at this moment in time in my opinion. Compared to the iPhone’s excellent iPod interface with easy one handed usage it is too far ahead for me to consider changing to this device unless a third party application can deliver that experience. From what I have tried third party developers have failed to deliver anything like what Apple have produced either, with the iTunes media synching capabilities and organisation. Sure by choosing Apple over Windows Mobile you lose a lot of features and that is the question you have to answer. Are you a media lover or a power user?

    If you want the freedom that Windows Mobile gives you and can live with the interface then no question you will like this device, in fact I would go as far as to say you will love it. If however you want something that is easier to use but comes with a lot of restrictions then the iPhone may be a better alternative for it’s media prowess, it is for me for now anyway, until Windows Mobile 7 comes out and hopefully delivers the media experience matched to the already great business features with an easy interface, unless of course Microsoft surprise us all and embed the Zune software in the Windows Mobile 6.5 upgrade, now that would make this decision one to revisit if a ROM upgrade would be available. Final verdict is the HTC Touch HD is a brilliant device let down by the same old Windows Mobile problems, if you can overcome them this is a fantastic device, make no mistake.

     

    Pros

    3.8″ 800 x 480 Sensitive screen

    Email and messaging

    Opera Browser

    Form Factor

    5 megapixel Camera

    TouchFlo 3D

    Battery life

    Proper GPS with ability to use turn by turn software

     

    Cons

    Access and use of media

    Depth of TouchFlo 3D exposing Windows Mobile non finger friendly interface

     

    Specs

    Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional

    Qualcomm MSM 7201A 528 MHz

    RAM – 288 MB

    ROM – 512 MB

    3.8-inch (480x800WVGA) TFT-LCD flat touch-sensitive screen

    HSDPA/WCDMA – Europe/Asia: 900/2100 MHz. Up to 2 Mbps up-link and 7.2 Mbps down-link speeds.

    Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

    Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g

    Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate and A2DP for wireless stereo headsets

    HTC ExtUSB

    3.5 mm audio jack

    GPS and A-GPS ready

    microSD™ memory card (SDHC capable)

    FM Radio

    Touch sensitive front panel buttons

    5 megapixel colour camera with auto focus.

    Front facing VGA CMOS color camera.

    Rechargeable Lithium-ion or. Lithium-ion polymer battery with a capacity of 1350 mAh

    115 mm x 62.8 mm x 12 mm

    146g

    Warranty 2 Years

    Thanks to Clove for supplying the review device so quickly

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  • Posted in: Phones

    About the Author:

    Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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