There's no doubt about it, Windows Mobile is a tough sell in a world of iPhones and Androids. HTC has stood out as the one company focused on designing sleek, usable WinMo handsets, but even then it has struggled to really land a winner. The Diamond2 and Touch Pro2 were fair efforts but they were pulled back by the resource-hungry Windows Mobile monster. Can the HD2 overcome the OS burden and deliver a consumer-friendly Windows phone?
The HD2 is a solid, beautifully designed handset, not that we expect any less from the Taiwanese manufacturer. Its 4.3-inch screen may seem unwieldy, but in person it feels like the perfect size for a touchscreen, and its 157-gram weight helps give this impression too. The screen's 800x480 resolution display is sharp and colourful and makes for a very responsive input panel with loads of screen real estate to play with.
Most impressive is HTC's minimalist approach to external buttons and inputs. Around the edges you'll find a volume rocker on the left-hand side, and a 3.5mm headphone socket and a microUSB charging port on the bottom. Under the screen there are five mechanical keys, calling buttons, home and back keys plus a dedicated Windows button for opening the program menu. Outside of these options everything else is controlled using the capacitive touchscreen.
Owners of HTC's Windows phones will be familiar with the HTC TouchFlo 3D user interface, a custom shell for Windows designed by HTC to add usability and some extra functionality to the otherwise bland WinMo user experience. TouchFlo 3D has itself had a facelift since the last HTC Windows phone release, and it now goes by a new name: HTC Sense. Sense has more options but the same basic design as TouchFlo 3D (both use a horizontal list of tools at the bottom of the screen).
The other significant difference is the ability to customise the workspace beyond just changing the wallpaper image. Now users can re-order the layout of home screen menus, placing Twitter and weather before stocks and settings, or they can choose to turn off entire home screen tabs altogether — handy for hiding those pesky Telstra service tabs that otherwise clutter the home screen.
Speaking of Telstra services, as a Telstra exclusive the HD2 comes with a whole swag of the telco's web links and apps pre-installed; some are shameless attempts to open your wallet, while others are truly excellent additions to the phone. Foxtel, for example, has received a major overhaul since the last time we saw it and is now delivered via a slick dedicated app complete with touchscreen controls. In this new Foxtel app you can watch the program in the top half of the screen while you scroll through the other channels on the bottom of the display.
Sense also brings a few key social networking features, including the Twitter app Peep and Facebook syncing with contacts in your address book. Peep is an excellent Twitter client for checking your feed on the run; it has its own home screen tab so you don't have to go fishing around in programs to open it, and though you can't control all aspects of Twitter with Peep (you can't view a list of a contact's followers, for example) it has enough functionality for most everyday use.
But it's not all Foxtel TV and Twitter, the HD2 is a business phone after all. There are mobile versions of Office, Excel and PowerPoint (with a free beta trial version of Office 2010 available on the Windows Marketplace too), there's VPN access, high-speed uploads for transferring files from the phone to clients and colleagues, and full syncing with Microsoft Outlook via ActiveSync. Windows Mobile 6.5 also brings Microsoft's MyPhone software, allowing you to backup your phone's data to a web server, post photos to online services and blogs, and protects your phone in the event that it gets lost or stolen.