The HTC HD7 is T-Mobile's first Windows Phone 7 device and makes its debut on November 8, along with the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround for AT&T. The HD7, however, holds the distinction of having the largest display of any Windows Phone 7 handset in the U.S., and certainly the extra screen real estate plays well with the platform's multimedia and gaming abilities. That said, it doesn't have the crispness and vibrancy of some of the latest smartphone displays, and in general, we would have liked to see more improvements or upgrades to the HD7 in comparison to its predecessor, the HTC HD2, as the two phones share the same screen, processor, and battery. Still, the HD7 performs well and as we discussed in our review of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's revamped mobile operating system is solid, so if you crave a big display, the HD7 is the way to go. The HTC HD7 will cost $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.
Of the Windows Phone 7 devices we've reviewed so far--the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround--the HTC HD7 is certainly the most eye-catching. For one, it's the largest of the group, taking after its predecessor, the HTC HD2. The smartphone measures 4.8 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick and weighs 5.7 ounces. The size won't appeal to everyone, as it is a handful, but to HTC's credit, the company kept the handset pretty thin so you can still manage to slip it into a pants pocket. The build quality of the phone is solid, and the soft-touch finish on the back prevents it from feeling too plasticky and slick.
Of course, the whole reason for the HD7's bigger size is the 4.3-inch touch screen. It's currently the largest display offered on a Windows Phone 7 device here in the U.S. There are several benefits to that. The extra screen real estate makes it great for multimedia, playing games, and Web browsing--features which are well-implemented on Windows Phone 7. When the Amazon Kindle app for Windows Phone 7 is released, you'll also be able to read e-books right on the phone.
Another advantage is that you get a larger keyboard. Windows Phone 7 already offers a pretty great and accurate keyboard, and we had no problems using it on the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround, but we did find we were able to type much faster using the HD7. One thing that doesn't change, however, is the number of tiles and apps that are viewable from the Start screen and apps menu list. They're simply enlarged on the HD7, so you're seeing the same amount that you would on the Focus or Surround.
The touch screen is responsive. Apps and hubs launched as soon as we tapped on the tiles or shortcuts, and we were able to quickly move through the hubs. Scrolling and pinch-to-zoom were also smooth. Overall, the display is bright and clear, showing off 480x800 pixels, but we definitely noticed a difference in quality compared with some of the higher-resolution displays on some of the today's latest smartphones. It just wasn't as sharp or crisp as some of the latest smartphones, and colors looked a bit dull compared with the Super AMOLED screen on the Focus. It's not a deal breaker, and the touch screen works well with Windows Phone 7; we just think the experience could have been that much better with a sharper display.
Below the display, you will find the back, start, and search buttons, which are required by Microsoft. They're of the touch-sensitive variety, but there are also several physical buttons on the device, including a volume rocker and a camera key on the right side, and a power button on top of the phone.
Rounding out things is a Micro-USB port and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the bottom, and the camera and dual-LED flash on back. HTC cleverly incorporated a metal kickstand around the latter. There's a small gap where you can use your finger to pop the kickstand open and lay the phone on a flat surface so you can enjoy videos and music hands-free. The phone's speakers are visible just above and below the touch screen.
The HTC HD7 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
We won't dive into every feature of Windows Phone 7 here; you can read more about the operating system in our in-depth review here. Instead, for this review, we'll focus more on the features that are specific to the HTC HD7.
The phone features are pretty much what you would expect: quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. The HD7 doesn't support T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, but it is 3G-capable and has Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1, and GPS. As a limitation of Windows Phone 7, there is no tethering support right now.
Though customization is limited on Windows Phone 7, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and carrier partners can still put their own spin on the devices, and T-Mobile and HTC have done so. On the HTC side, the company has added its own HTC Hub (also available as a live tile) where you will find some old HTC favorites like its animated clock and weather widget, as well as HTC apps.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile has preloaded the smartphone with a number of extras, including Slacker, Netflix, TeleNav GPS Navigator, and T-Mobile TV. The latter lets you stream live and on-demand content from channels such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, ESPN, and VH1. You get a 30-day complimentary trial of the service, but afterward you will need to pay a $9.99-per-month subscription fee. The HD7 is also the first device to come with T-Mobile's Family Room app. Here you can share calendar events, notes, and photos with a user-defined group of family members.
Of course, you can download more apps from the Windows Phone Marketplace. At launch, Microsoft estimates that there will be 1,000 apps in the store, with several hundred apps planned for release each week until the end of the year. You can check out some of the available titles in our hands-on gallery of Windows Phone 7 apps.
Be aware that the HTC HD7 has 16GB of internal memory but no expansion slot. This should be enough for most people, but if you've got a huge multimedia library or like to load up your phone with apps and games, keep an eye on your available memory. One tip for freeing up storage while still being able to enjoy tunes is to stream music from services, such as Zune Pass, Slacker, and I Heart Radio, or use the Zune's built-in radio.
The minimum camera requirement for Windows Phone 7 is 5 megapixels, and that's exactly what you get with the HTC HD7. The camera has various settings, including six different resolutions, effects, scenes, and flicker adjustment. HTC also offers a free Photo Enhancer app--available as a free download from the HTC Hub or Windows Phone Marketplace--that allows you to touch up photos and add effects.
It certainly came in handy; the picture quality on our standard camera phone shot didn't turn out all that great. With the autoflash setting, images came out pinkish and soft, but when we turned the flash on, it was too harsh. That's when we turned to the "Auto enhance" option in Photo Enhancer app. Though it didn't improve the sharpness all that much, it did do away with some of the pinkish hue and brightened up the photo overall. The camera did much better with outdoor shots, producing clear shots with more accurate colors. It's also capable of HD video capture. Video quality was decent but also could have a slightly hazy effect to it.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) HTC HD7 in New York using T-Mobile service, and call quality was good. On our end of the conversation, the audio was rich without any type of voice distortion. We detected some slight background hissing but nothing that interrupted or distracted us from the conversation. Meanwhile, friends had mostly positive things to say, though one caller did mention that our voice occasionally sounded muffled, but again, not enough to disrupt the call.
HTC HD7 call quality sample Listen now:
Unfortunately, speakerphone quality wasn't all that great. Even with the volume cranked up to the highest level, we had a hard time hearing our callers in a room with an open window, and voices sounded tinny. Our callers also reported that we sounded far away. On the bright side, we had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
As we mentioned earlier, the HTC HD7 doesn't support T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, but we still had good data speeds over its regular 3G network. CNET's full site loaded in 16 seconds, while CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 8 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos took a few seconds to load but played back without interruption and with synchronized audio and video. T-Mobile TV episodes also took several seconds to load, but looked great on the HD7's large screen. As you would expect, video quality was better over a strong Wi-Fi network than over a 3G connection.
The HTC HD7 is equipped with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 512MB ROM/576MB RAM. The processor isn't the next-gen Snapdragon processor found in the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G; in fact, it's the same processor found in the HD2. It would have been nice if there had been more hardware upgrades, including the processor and display, but the smartphone was generally responsive during our review period. Applications launched almost immediately, and we didn't experience any major delays or crashes. However, as on the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround, it took a little while for Xbox Live games to load, but once going, the gameplay was smooth and fun.
The HTC HD7 ships with a 1,230mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.5 hours and up to 14.5 days of standby time. It's a smaller battery for a device of its stature, so that's a bit disappointing. We certainly noticed an effect on battery life when we played games and watched video. However, the smartphone did meet its rated talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the HD7 has a digital SAR rating of 1.15 watts per kilogram.