The HTC HD7 packs Windows Phone 7, a totally revamped version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, into a gorgeously oversized case with a huge 4.3-inch screen. The OS still has plenty of room to grow, especially with apps and games, but we're impressed with the HD7's fresh approach and wonderfully responsive, swoopy feel.
Because we reviewed the HD7 before it hits the shelves on 21 October, some important online services, such asand the app Marketplace, were not fully up and running for our tests. Because of that, we'll be updating this review and re-scoring the phone when we can give them a full run-through. We'd advise you to wait until then before ordering the phone based on our review.
The HD7 will be sold exclusively by O2, and you'll be able to pick up a free phone on a £40 per month deal. It will also be for sale on pay as you go for £379.
Acres of fun
There's alaunching with Windows Phone 7, and they're almost identical. Microsoft's strict minimum specs mean the six slabs of smart phone goodness all have at least 8GB of memory, 1GHz processors, at least 5-megapixel cameras and large screens.
The HD7 separates itself from the WinPho crowd with an epic 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen. This is edging into tablet territory, and we love it. If you tend to sport a small pocket, beware, but we think bigger is better when it comes to screens. Surfing the Web, watching videos and using maps are just some of the features made that much better on the pure acreage of the HD7.
The screen is also one of the most responsive touchscreens we've ever had the pleasure of using. Its face is going up right next to theon the Mount Rushmore of touchscreen phones we're building. Both the HTC hardware and the Windows Phone software get the credit for the buttery-smooth sliding transitions between screens and the snappy on-screen keyboard. The multitouch zoom, which lets you expand a map or photo with the pinch of your fingers, is another example of pure touch perfection.
We wish, however, that Windows Phone took better advantage of the HD7 in landscape mode. HTC has built in a little kick-stand in the back for chilling out in front of it long-ways, but most of the user interface doesn't play well with this orientation. It's not uncommon for smart phones to not support landscape in the home screen and the main menus, and it works fine in many places, but we missed it in maps.
The phone is also slightly uncomfortable to make calls on. Holding a huge slab against your face doesn't make you crave a long chat, and the ridge along the top of the large top speaker digs into your ear. In our tests, calls connected fine and sounded clear from both ends, but we think a phone this big is better as a mobile computer and media centre, rather than a comfy handset for those long calls to mum and dad. And it's worth noting that our sister site ZDNet UK has spotted a proximity sensor bug that could lead to your face messing with your calls, although we didn't have the problem with our test phone.
It's almost a pity that Microsoft chose to keep the Windows name on its new operating system, because Windows Phone is a total reboot compared to Windows Mobile. Gone are the tiny icons and reams of confusing menus -- Windows Phone is the complete opposite of its predecessor.
The user interface is finger friendly to a fault -- we actually find the tiles on the home screen too huge, especially on the HD7's epic screen. But there's no doubt they're easy to press with a fingertip. And everything slides, swoops and bounces with enthusiasm as you touch it.
The endless animated transitions could become tedious after you've been using the phone for months, and you just want to move around quickly. But they're slick and playful, and they draw you into interacting with the phone, which helps you discover features quickly and without any stress.
Menus and options have been stripped down to the bare minimum. Your options are to swipe to the left or right to reveal more stuff, the occasional menu that slides up from the bottom, and perhaps a couple of on-screen buttons in applications such as email. You can also press and hold in places to bring up a context menu. This stripped-down look is smart, and in general, we like the intuitive feeling of swiping, poking and prodding when we're trying to do something.
But occasionally, we found it hard to find how to do what we wanted. It took us ages, for example, to figure out that to delete a user account, we had to press and hold it on a list of accounts. We think it would be simpler to add a delete option next to the save and cancel buttons when you're actually looking at the account settings. It's a tiny quibble, but it's just one example of how such a simple-looking UI can have its pitfalls.
The simplicity extends to the HD7's home screen. Here, you can place widgets, known as tiles, that link to your favourite things, whether as shortcuts to apps or to specific items such as a music playlist or contact in your address book. Some of the tiles show animations -- your friend's Facebook photo peeking out under their name, for exmaple. And they can display live data, so the tile that opens your email displays how many unread you have, for example.
You can change the tiles' colour, and the background can be black or white, but that's it for changing the look -- you can't even have a wallpaper picture. If you love tweaking and customising, an Android phone is a better option, but we think the massive icons of the HD7 strike a good balance between elegance and customisability.
The HD7 also connects to a whole heap of online services, including Windows Live. That's the online suite that includes Hotmail, online Office docs, and cloud-based storage called SkyDrive. There's also Xbox Live for games,and the Marketplace for apps.