HTC HD Mini review: HTC HD Mini

The HD Mini is the smaller successor to last year's HD2, one of the best Windows Mobile smart phones we've ever clapped eyes on. Despite its pint-sized dimensions, it's just as usable, sporting an excellent virtual keyboard, HTC's shiny Sense user interface and a responsive capacitive touchscreen

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The HTC HD Mini is a jaunty wee smart phone that manages to pull off the seemingly impossible -- it runs the Windows Mobile operating system and still manages to be excellent. HTC has injected some life into the old dog that is Windows Mobile 6.5 with a snazzy user interface and sexy hardware. As far as pocket-friendly smart phones go, the Mini is a surprise success.



The Good

Looks good; small dimensions; fun, user-friendly interface; good apps out there if you can find them; choice of built-in Web browsers; responsive capacitive touchscreen; great virtual keyboard; speedy Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity; multi-touch support in many apps; useful My Phone back-up service.

The Bad

Windows Mobile is ugly and confusing when it bursts through the Sense user interface; apps are hard to find and install; less choice of apps than with the iPhone or Android handsets; some features need polishing; Windows Mobile is on its way out, so expect updates and apps to dry up.

The Bottom Line

HTC has made another great Windows Mobile smart phone with the HD Mini, the smaller follow-up to the huge HTC HD2. The Mini packs a capacitive touchscreen, heaps of fantastic features and HTC's shiny Sense user interface into a pint-sized handset. But it's slow at times and even Microsoft has pretty much given up on Windows Mobile

The Mini is available for free on a two-year, £25-per-month contract, or for about £320 SIM-free.

HD2's little bro
The Mini is the pint-sized follow-up to the HTC HD2, our favourite-ever Windows Mobile phone. The HD2's touchscreen was huge, measuring 109mm (4.3 inches), and it was also the first Windows Mobile phone with a capacitive touchscreen. The large display helped to make Windows Mobile's tiny icons big enough to poke with a finger, and the capacitive touchscreen made the HD2 feel more finger-friendly than phones with traditional resistive touchscreens, which require you to interact with them using a stylus or fingernail.

The Mini has a much less insane 81mm (3.2-inch) screen. That's the same size as the HTC Legend's screen, but the Mini's display has a smaller bezel around it, making the handset about 10mm shorter than the Legend. That makes the Mini feel quite trim. We thought the Mini's smaller stature could make it less usable than the HD2, but we were wrong. Like the HD2, the Mini gets the best out of Windows Mobile.

The diminutive Mini houses a video-capable 5-megapixel camera on its posterior

The reason why the Mini is so good is that HTC has almost obliterated the Windows Mobile operating system, covering it up almost everywhere with its own Sense user interface. The home screen, for example, has a fun, sliding menu bar along the bottom, for navigating to key areas of the phone, like your contacts list and messages.

The Mini even improves on the HD2 by removing some of the duplication whereby an HTC app and Windows Mobile app handled the same task. There are still some examples of this -- you can read your email in HTC's email client or in a separate Outlook client, for example -- but HTC has wisely removed most of the Windows Apps that aren't as good-looking or easy to use as its own offerings.

There's still room for improvement when it comes to some aspects of the user interface, though. The email widget on the home screen looks great, with a fun interface that lets you flip through emails with a swipe of a finger, as if you're flicking through a stack of pages. But it doesn't render special characters very well. Also, it only shows the first few lines of an email, so you'll have to tap on a message to open the full email and really take a look. Although the email client does a better job of rendering emails, it doesn't look as good.

Windows Mobile doesn't measure up to the iPhone OS or Google's Android operating system in terms of usability -- after all, it wasn't designed for modern touchscreen phones -- but it does give you a huge amount of power. For example, you can set up your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and tether your laptop to your phone so that you can surf the Web using the Mini's 3G connection.

Windows Mobile is also good at connecting to Microsoft Exchange, which many people use for their work email, and it syncs with your desktop computer via USB fairly easily too. The Mini also includes a free online service called Microsoft My Phone, which backs up your contacts and files wirelessly over the cloud.

Browse the menu
The Mini offers a choice of two built-in Web browsers. HTC has gone with the speedy Opera Mobile as its default choice, but Internet Explorer is also on-board. Although Internet Explorer is slower, it supports Flash, so you can see more Web sites as their designers intended. The small text on Web pages sometimes looks rather blurry on the Mini's screen, although we still had no trouble reading it.

There are plenty of other browsers you can install, like Firefox Mobile and Skyfire, and there are heaps more excellent apps of all kinds out there for this platform. You can find them online, or get them from the Windows Marketplace for Mobile. There aren't as many apps available as there are in the iPhone's App Store or the Android Market, though.

Feature fiesta

HTC has also stuffed multi-touch capability into the Mini, so you can zoom into Web pages, maps and photos with a pinch of your fingers. This functionality is available in even more applications than was the case with the HD2. You can use it in both the default Opera Web browser and in Internet Explorer, for example.

The Mini has great connectivity, with Wi-Fi and HSDPA for faster downloads over 3G. The 5-megapixel camera also shoots video, and there's even a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can use your own headphones.

With so much going on, the Mini struggles to keep up at times -- we sometimes found it sluggish, with long pauses before an app launched, for instance. But it's not terrible and, thankfully, the on-screen keyboard is fast and responsive. In fact, we were amazed at how usable the keyboard proved on the smaller screen. The default Windows Mobile keyboard is probably the worst virtual keyboard out there, but we found HTC's version to be painless to use.

The HTC HD Mini succeeds as a smart phone despite its aging operating system. Indeed, it's actually hard to tell what lurks beneath HTC's gleaming Sense user interface. But, with Microsoft launching its new Windows Phone 7 operating system this year, it's hard to recommend the Mini, especially since its small screen means it will never get upgraded to the latest OS.

If you're looking for a smart phone that's not too huge, the Legend is speedier, with a fresher OS and a better app store, all wrapped up in a gorgeous aluminium case, for about the same price. But, if you have to get a Windows Mobile phone for work purposes, for example, the Mini is an impressive option that manages to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Edited by Charles Kloet