HTC Desire HD vs iPhone 4 vs Nokia N8

Three smart phones: the iPhone 4, the Nokia N8 and the HTC Desire HD. But which one deserves to wear the mobile crown? Read our head-to-head-to-head to find out.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
6 min read

The HTC Desire HD, the iPhone 4 and the Nokia N8. We love the ones we own, and we badly want the ones we don't. But which is best? In this three-way mobile mash-up we'll be determining which of these smart phone behemoths deserves to wear the Imperial Sash of Victory. (Note: Imperial Sash of Victory not a real award, nor a real sash.)

The iPhone 4

Possibly the single most divisive device in tech history. To some, the iPhone 4 represents the pinnacle of beautifully implemented technology meshing seamlessly with everyday life. To others it shows only that the owner is a fool and a charlatan, forever destined to empty their wallets in the direction of the nearest shiny new toy. Like it or lump it, the iconic iPhone 4 is top of the heap. But does it deserve to hold its position?

The HTC Desire HD

Brand new from the Taiwanese mobile giant, the HTC Desire HD takes everything we loved about the Desire and makes it bigger. Literally. The Desire HD rocks a vast 4.3-inch touchscreen, an 8-megapixel camera and most importantly, the Android 2.2 operating system.

The Nokia N8

Meet Nokia's Symbian 3-toting N8. Nokia has had some hard times recently, but it's banking on the N8 reversing its ailing fortunes. Will it be the phone to change the mobile landscape? Or could it sound the death knell of a once-dominant manufacturer?

We're breaking this battle down into four categories: design, display, camera and operating system. There are a tonne of other things to consider when choosing a mobile, but we reckon these are probably the most important elements to consider.

It might not be the be-all and end-all, but a phone's design is important. After all, you're going to be staring at this thing for hours on end, you don't want it to be a horrible heifer of a thing. So which looks best?

We have to say we're not terribly impressed by the N8's style. Sure it looks pretty fine, but we're running with the big dogs here -- we expect something special. It's the thickest of the three contenders at 12.9mm deep, and the industrial stylings on the back don't do a great deal for it.

The iPhone 4 bowled us over when we first saw its steely, edgy curves and sheer glass finish. At 9.3mm deep it's slender, and features that iconic home button and the shiny Apple logo smack bang on the device's rear. It truly is a thing of beauty.

Pick the thing up, however, and you might change your mind. As was rather well publicised post-launch, the iPhone 4's external antenna drops signal as soon as it's gripped in a human's meaty embrace. It looks the business, but we can't in good conscience call this a winner with a design flaw that massive.

Never mind though, because the HTC Desire HD looks sweet indeed. Glossy and sturdily built with aluminium construction, and only 11.8mm thick, this phone is a delight to behold.

Design winner: HTC Desire HD

The display is arguably the most important part of a mobile. But which of our contenders has the best-looking screen?

The obvious choice would be the HTC Desire HD, with its super-clear and bright 4.3-inch screen. The iPhone 4's 'retina display', however, looks absolutely stonking -- with a 960x640-pixel resolution at 326 dots per inch, it's easily the sharpest display we've ever seen on a smart phone.

The Desire HD's resolution is a little lower, even though the screen is bigger. We didn't notice any fuzziness or much pixellation during our hands-on time, but perhaps that more ordinary resolution makes the iPhone's display that bit more impressive.

The Nokia N8's 3.5-inch 640x360-pixel screen sadly doesn't compete. It's a fine display in its own right, but up against the other two giants, it falls far behind.

Display winner: iPhone 4

A smart phone needs to be adept at taking lovely snaps -- how else are you going to share photos of your breakfast with all your Twitter followers? When it comes to camera tech, our three smart phone bigwigs are very different beasts.

The iPhone 4 takes some natty shots, but its 5-megapixel camera with LED flash is easily topped by the whopping 8-megapixel snapper inside the HTC Desire HD. That particular beast comes with a dual flash for added, er, flashery and should help out any photographers struggling with low light conditions.

The Nokia N8, however, really comes into its own when it comes to camera tech. This Finnish badboy sports a 12-megapixel -- count 'em -- camera, with a tasty-lookin' xenon flash for taking photos, and a secondary LED flash that helps the autofocus. Sorry Apple. Sorry HTC. Nokia sweeps this one.

Camera winner: Nokia N8

Alright, let's preface this section by saying we know everyone has their preferences, and there certainly isn't one mobile OS that's better or more worthy than any other.

Apple's iOS certainly has its upsides and downsides. On the one hand, Apple has done a famous job of simplifying the mobile experience. The iPhone interface is undeniably intuitive, easy to use, and Apple keep things speedy and efficient by fiercely regulating what kind of tasks apps are able to perform, and even what kind of apps users can install.

That said, when you wall up the garden in the way Apple has, you sacrifice freedom. Android 2.2, the operating system favoured by HTC, gives users far more freedom as to what they put on their devices. The Android Market doesn't have anywhere near the same ease of use or sensible structuring as the Apple App Store, but it does allow pretty much any developer to get their app out into the public arena, quickly and cheaply.

Symbian 3 is certainly looking very promising, though visually and structurally it borrows a good deal from Android. From what we've seen it's looking like a fine OS, but perhaps it's not especially original or different.

The HTC Desire HD adds some extra features on top of the vanilla Android stuff with HTC Sense, HTC's front-end UI. That adds a bunch of extra features, such as the ability to make your phone ring even when it's on silent via HTCSense.com -- the browser-based version of the software. Useful if you lose your mobile. Features like this give the HTC Desire HD an edge over other smart phones running pure Android.

We frequently see manufacturer-made UIs interfering or slowing down an otherwise efficient OS though, so take all our praise with a pinch of salt. For now we're going to plump for iOS as the winner -- it's consistent and reliable, frequently updated, and many millions of customers are happy to use it, even if there are some things Apple doesn't allow them to do with their devices.

Operating System winner: iPhone 4

We're really hoping the N8 will impress us when it finally launches later in the year, and all our hands-on experiences tell us it's going to be a fine smart phone in its own right. But we don't think it's likely to beat devices like the Desire HD and the iPhone 4 in terms of popularity, or ease of use.

The Desire HD is looking absolutely sublime. We're not yet ready to say it's better than the iPhone 4, however. We're putting the Desire HD in second place, with the hope that upon its launch next month, it's able to change our minds, and take the top spot.

The iPhone 4 though is an iconic mobile, and a pleasure to use in almost every respect. That it's been able to weather the PR storm that was Antennagate demonstrates that despite its flaws  it deserves to keep its crown as current king of the smart phone realm.

Overall winner: iPhone 4