Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the unlocked HTC HD2 since the two devices are similar.
It's been a long wait but the HTC HD2 is now officially available from T-Mobile. Much like the unlocked version of the smartphone, which we reviewed in February, the T-Mobile version has awesome features, such as a luxurious 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and a 5-megapixel camera. T-Mobile even sweetens the deal by preloading the device with a ton of entertainment apps. However, the question is not so much whether the HD2 is awesome--because it is--but whether it's worth getting, now that Windows Phone 7 Series has been announced.
That's always the problem with tech though, isn't it? There's always something newer and better around the corner. However, by waiting and waiting for the next big thing, sometimes you miss out on some really great devices. That's sort of how we feel about the HD2. (Clearly, some of you feel the same way, as the HD2 sold out in many retail channels and were in short supply at T-Mobile stores on launch day.) Obviously, the size and older Windows Mobile 6.5 will turn off some people, but we think the HD2's power and the fact that it can legitimately double as a multimedia device makes it one of, if not the best smartphone in T-Mobile's lineup. The T-Mobile HTC HD2 is available for $199.99 with a two-year contract or $449.99 with an Even More Plus Plan, which doesn't require an annual contract.
Whether you have an allegiance to a particular brand or operating system, you have to admit that the HTC HD2's design is pretty impressive. At 4.74 inches tall by 2.64 inches wide and 5.54 ounces, the smartphone demands your attention and we don't deny it's a beast. In fact, we suspect its size will turn some people off; it's not exactly the most pocketable device and it's quite a handful to hold while on a call. That said, we have to give credit where credit is due. For the HD2 to pack in a massive 4.3-inch touch screen and all of its features and remain just 0.43 inch thick is no small feat. In addition, the hardware feels solid with a mix of stainless steel and soft-touch finish.
Of course, what really makes the HD2 stand apart from the sea of touch-screen smartphones is its display. The HD2's 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen is the largest we've seen on a smartphone to date. Couple the size with the sharp WVGA 480x800-pixel resolution, and you have one gorgeous mug. It's vibrant, sharp, and readable in various lighting conditions. Photos, videos, Web sites, and messages are all that much easier to see, thanks to the extra real estate. Clearly, T-Mobile saw the benefits of such a display and thus packed the HD2 with a ton of entertainment features that would take full advantage of the screen.
The virtual keyboard also benefits from the larger screen; both the portrait and landscape are spacious and quite easy to use. As a person who prefers physical keyboards and has a hard time adjusting to virtual ones, the HD2's roomy layout definitely made for an easier transition and allowed me to type faster compared with other onscreen keyboards. Even better, the T-Mobile HD2 offers Swype as an option.
Swype has quickly become one of our favorite options in terms of onscreen keyboards. It lets you input text by dragging your finger on the keyboard from letter to letter instead of pecking at each key individually. It also automatically enters a space after you complete a word and includes certain tricks, such as circling a key to input a letter twice. We know it sounds a bit crazy, and we were definitely skeptical but we've been pleasantly surprised by Swype's accuracy and efficiency every time we use it. It often takes less time to compose a message with Swype and the mistakes are minimal. It's a little tricky when you're spelling out longer words but overall, we're sold and even if you're not, you have your choice of other keyboard options.
As you might have guessed from the aforementioned portrait and landscape modes, the display has a built-in accelerometer. It was fairly responsive during our review period, changing the screen orientation within a second or two of rotating the phone. It also has a proximity sensor so the display will be inactive when you're on a phone call to prevent any accidental "mispresses" from your cheek. One other feature of note is the HD2's multitouch support. Yes, you can use the coveted pinch-to-zoom gesture in various apps, including the browser, photos, and e-mail.
Below the screen, there are a handful of quick-access buttons, including Talk and End keys, a Home button, a Start menu shortcut, and a back button. You also get a volume rocker on the left side, and you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. The camera and flash are on back as one would expect, and the microSD expansion slot is located behind the battery door.
T-Mobile packages the HTC HD2 with a charger, a USB cable, a 16GB microSD card preloaded with both "Transformers" movies, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Given the HTC HD2's screen and 1GHz processor, T-Mobile chose to play up the multimedia capabilities of the smartphone over anything else and packed it with extra entertainment apps. To start, the HD2 is the first handset to support Blockbuster's On Demand video download application that lets you preview and download movies--to rent or to own--on the go. Once purchased, you can watch the video on another other connected device, such as a TV, a Blu-ray player, or a PC, using Blockbuster software.
However, you don't have to look far to experience movies on the smartphone. T-Mobile ships the HD2 with a 16GB memory card preloaded with the "Transformers" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" movies, both of which have been optimized for viewing on the smartphone's display. In addition, you get a complimentary 30-day trial to MobiTV, which provides access to live and on-demand TV from channels such as MTV, NBC, Comedy Central, ESPN, and CBS Sports. There's also a dedicated YouTube app and the standard Windows Media Player that supports WMV, MPEG4, AVI, and 3GP video codecs, as well as MP3, AAC, WAV, and WMA music files, among others.
For a little more intellectual stimulation, the smartphone includes Barnes & Noble's e-book reader app with access to more than a million e-books, newspapers, magazines, as well as any content you've downloaded as a previous Barnes & Noble account holder. We downloaded a free copy of "Pride and Prejudice" and found the apps reading experience to be decent. The text was big enough to read in portrait mode, and you can swipe your finger across the screen to "turn the page." CNET editor Nicole Lee, who has written about and reviewed e-books apps like the Kindle for iPhone app, said the overall experience felt smoother on the HD2 than it did on the iPhone. She also said that the bigger display definitely made a difference in making the HD2 feel more like a small book.
Extras aside, the HD2 is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera and dual LED flash, autofocus, and editing options. The camera delivered great photo quality but what impressed us the most was the sharpness of images. The lines were incredibly crisp without any trace softness or haziness. For the most part, we were happy with the colors, though they could have been just a tad brighter for indoor shots. Recorded video looked better than on most camera phones with minimal blurriness, even during action shots.
The one downfall of the HD2 is that it runs Windows Mobile 6.5, an aging and clunky operating system, which is compounded by the fact that Windows Phone 7 Series devices are scheduled to hit store shelves by the holiday season and it's been confirmed that the HD2 won't be upgradeable to Microsoft's new mobile operating system. Clearly, this puts you in a predicament of deciding whether to just wait for WP7 or go with an older OS. Though we can't speak to WP7 just yet (since we haven't seen final product), we'll say that the HTC Sense user experience definitely makes a difference as far as Windows Mobile 6.5 is concerned. It brings various elements to the home screen that make it more customizable and easier to use, and it brings enhancements to other aspects of the phone, which you can read more about in our full review of the unlocked HTC HD2.
The HTC Sense does a lot to make Windows Mobile 6.5 easier to use; and does a good job of it, but it's not a cure-all. You get all the core apps, such as the Microsoft Office Suite and Exchange support, but you still have to deal with some of the notorious usability issues, such as clunky menus and poor task management. Plus, with Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile 6.5 just seems like a dead end, though Microsoft has said that it will continue to support Windows Mobile 6.5 for years to come, so you won't be left high and dry should you decide to go with the HD2.
The phone's features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The HD2 does a nice job of integrating the communication features. On a contact page, you can see all your interactions with that person, whether it be a phone call or text message, as well as any updates they've posted to social networking sites. From an e-mail, you can call the sender or recipient of the message with a single tap of the phone icon provided there is a number associated with that contact, and if there are multiple people in an e-mail thread, you can quickly make a conference call to all using a similar method.
The HD2 also offers Bluetooth, 3G support, and integrated Wi-Fi with a choice of both the Opera Web browser and Internet Explorer Mobile 6. Other extras include TeleNav GPS Navigator for turn-by-turn directions, HTC's Twitter app, Peep, six months free of in-flight Wi-Fi courtesy of Gogo Inflight Internet, Slacker Radio, and Activision's Guitar Hero 5.
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The HD2 had no issues finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi network, but T-Mobile's 3G coverage was a bit spotty here in San Francisco. About half of the time the phone could only connect to the carrier's EDGE network, which was frustrating, and there was one occasion where we couldn't get a data connection at all. Once connected, however, we got pretty decent speeds. Using the Opera browser, CNET's full site loaded in 27 seconds; CNN and ESPN's mobile Web sites loaded in 7 seconds and 8 seconds, respectively. Though we prefer the Opera browser in general, Internet Explorer Mobile 6 has the advantage of offering Flash Lite support, and of course, the large display and multitouch capabilities certainly make Web browsing a pleasant experience on the smartphone.
Of course, the screen also benefits the multimedia experience. The "Transformers" movies looked amazing on the HD2, and MP4 videos also played back beautifully. MobiTV and YouTube clips took a minute or so to buffer but the quality wasn't the best, so we could only watch those in short increments. Music playback sounded rich and balanced through our Bose On-Ear Headphones, though we wish the T-Mobile HD2 had the same enhanced music player found on the unlocked version instead of just the standard Windows Media player. All that said, the HD2 is most definitely a worthy travel companion, whether you need entertaining on a short commute or a long trip.
The HTC HD2 is equipped with the same 1GHz Snapdragon processor as the unlocked version, but we found the T-Mobile model to be slightly more sluggish, perhaps because of the extra apps on the device. We could navigate through the menus with ease and speed, but we noticed a few more delays on this phone when opening apps and such. Generally speaking, however, it's definitely one of the faster Windows Mobile phones we've seen.
The HTC HD2 features a 1,230mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.33 hours and up to 20 days of standby time. The HD2 delivered 6.25 hours of continuous talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the HD2 has a digital SAR rating of 1.09 watts per kilogram.