Review: HTC Desire HD

Our score: 3/5
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December 2, 2010 12:19 PM
 
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Published: December 1, 2010 11:00 PM
By Romain Thuret
HTC is continuing its voyage of discovery in the Android universe with a second Desire. This time round it's 'HD', but there's also a third version, the Desire Z, that we're also testing.

The recipe is simple enough: the manufacturer has taken the original Desire, added the dimensions of the huge HD2 (which ran Windows Mobile 6.5), shaken it all together and sprinkled its Sense software layer on top. The result is the Desire HD, a handset whose 4.3'' screen has a bulky, rather masculine, form factor.



Add to that a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, an 8 Meagpixel camera with two LEDs providing the flash and a new graphics chipset and you'll be able to see why so many people are keen to try the Desire HD. But will it live up to their expectations?


You'll be big one day ...

One thing's for sure: you can certainly feel the weight of the Desire HD's 164 grams when you pick it up. This is definitely a big phone, and that impression is reinforced by the body, which is almost entirely made up of a single aluminium frame. HTC has made an unusual decision about where to put the battery, SIM and microSD card slots. The former slides into the side of the phone like a cartridge in a games console or a digital camera battery, but without a solid clip to hold it in place. At the back, there's a second flap which covers the slots for the SIM card and the microSD card (which offers an expansion of the phone's memory of up to 32 GB.) The finish on these slots is clearly not up to the high standards of the rest of the phone and somewhat tarnished its reputation as a top-of-the-range handset.


Everything else is in its place, apart from the 8 Megapixel camera which sticks out, meaning the Desire HD doesn't lie flat when you put it down on a table. The four buttons at the bottom of that huge screen—the Desire HD is the biggest Android phone so far—are touch-sensitive, and only the volume button and power switch use physical controls. One thing it's worth remembering is that although the Desire HD has an extra large screen, the handset isn't actually much bigger than any of its rivals because the border around the edge has been deliberately trimmed down to show off the display.

... but not necessarily beautiful

HTC clearly wanted to go large for the Desire HD: it's got a big processor, loads of memory, a powerful camera, Android 2.2 ... It's just a shame that didn't stretch to more powerful technology for the screen. While competitors like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, the Samsung Galaxy S and the iPhone 4 boast Super LCD, AMOLED or Retina displays respectively, the Desire HD has a plain old TFT-LCD screen. That means you get a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, drab colours with a green tinge (deltaE score of 8, and that's uneven across the whole screen) and not much detail. Overall, the results are less good than the screen on the last HTC handset that we looked at, the 7 Trophy, which runs Windows Phone 7.


The only area where the Desire HD takes the lead is its contrast ratio, which is 566:1 compared to 511:1 for the Trophy. That would have been fine on a 3.5'' display, but here, with over four inches, we think HTC has missed a chance to give our eyeballs a real treat.

The touchscreen isn't lightning fast, but the phone itself is easily at the top end of the table. The Desire HD does what you ask without quibbling, even if that means launching dozens of apps at once, flipping from one heavy Sense homescreen to another or running more than one game in the background. The combination of a Snapdragon processor and HTC's software and hardware optimisation provide very impressive results.

There's Sense in it

The Sense interface has now been adapted for several different handsets and mobile OS, and HTC has taken the launch of the Desire HD as an opportunity to tweak it yet again. There's even more room to customise the look and feel of your phone, with menus and themes you can choose yourself, and countless new widgets and backgrounds. The Desire HD is one of the few smartphones that you really can make your own. You also get access to HTCSense.com, allowing you to control your phone remotely over the Internet.


 
It offers lots of clever services, including the ability to send an SMS from your phone, wipe your personal data if it's been lost or stolen, find its location, import your favorite places into its mapping app or just ensure a perfect sync between your computer and your smartphone.

More than ever before, Android itself is hidden by the Sense layer and only rears its head in the Market and third-party apps. And even then, HTC has created the HTC Hub, which brings together apps that have been adapted for the Desire HD's display, along with themes, backgrounds and icons. It's a great addition to the 'basic' version of Android.  
 
A touch of Desire

Avec un tel gabarit, l'envie d'user les touches du clavier se fait pressante. Il faut toutefois un bon temps d'adaptation car si le clavier compte parmi les plus réactifs du marché des smartphones, les imprécisions sont assez nombreuses au début lorsque l'on tape vite. La faute incombe sûrement au demi-millimètre qui sépare chaque touche, même en mode paysage. Un comble sur un espace d'expression plus grand que la concurrence !
 

With such a big phone, we were keen to try out sending a message. It's one of the most responsive touchscreen keyboards we've ever seen, which means it takes some getting used to, especially if you type fast. At first, we found ourselves making plenty of mistakes. That might also be because the gap between each key is incredibly tiny, even in landscape mode, which is a real shame given how much room there is.

One annoying thing is that the arrow keys are too close to the letters in portrait mode, meaning it's easy to touch them and move around your text without realizing it. Apart from that, though, writing a message on the Desire HD is still an enjoyable experience once you get used to it, even if you do start off by teaching the dictionary more words than it actually corrects for you.
 
Multimedia
Designed with multimedia in mind, the Desire HD is super-fast when it comes to browsing the web or working with photos and video. Surfing the web can quickly become addictive on a phone like this: you jump from one page to the other almost without waiting. Android 2.2 does offer support for Flash 10.1, but it really slows things down. The Desire HD really begins to look tired if you have five or six Flash-heavy pages open at once.
 

 
The low resolution of the screen compared to its physical size means it can't hope to show HD video, but if you have DivX or Xvid video at a decent resolution and the right file format, it can do the job. We found something strange with the sound, though (whether it's come from a music track or as the background to a video): the speaker, which is only mono, sounds nothing like what comes out of the headphone jack.
 

The 8 Megapixel camera is bolstered by several filters of varying quality, which nevertheless make looking at your photos on a screen that isn't quite up to the job a slightly more palatable experience. The headphone jack is intelligently integrated ... into the bottom of the phone. Maybe we're being picky, but we always thing it's easier and more sensible to have it at the top of the handset? 

Compare the HTC Desire HD to other cameras and camera phones in our Product Face-Off

If you're disappointed by the Desire HD's photos, we suggest you look at them again on your computer, where some of the faded colouring and lack of detail apparent on the phone's screen might not be visible. The 720p video can keep up the pace and limits jerkiness as much as possible for a device of this size.

I just can't get enough

We're wondering who at HTC thought it was a good idea to include a 1230 mAh battery in the Desire HD, a phone that is, as we've said, designed with multimedia in mind. The large display and the Sense interface both encourage the user to keep checking the phone to keep up with all of their widgets. You soon learn to make compromises though, because if you use all of the Desire HD's features coupled with HTC's exciting additions, you'll drain the battery in no time at all. On several occasions we had to recharge it in the middle of the day. To improve the battery life and last a whole day without needing your charger, you're better off without too many of the dynamic widgets.
 

We don't recommend you learn that it's raining by watching HTC's visual of raindrops falling on your screen or use a Friend Stream page to update your social networks in real time. Give it a go at first to see just what the Desire HD is capable of, but you'll soon learn that it won't help your battery life. At least HTC has managed to produce an impeccably stable handset, with crashes only occurring very rarely and apps that don't always launch automatically and run in the background, which helps preserve just a little of that precious battery life.

When you learn that HTC has been selling the Evo 4G in the US for several months now with a bigger battery, mini HDMI port and front-facing webcam, you might think that the manufacturer is being a little stingy with its customers on this side of the Atlantic. It's a shame, because it could have made the Desire HD absolutely perfect, but instead left us with a very good phone that is just a little short of the mark in a few areas.

3/5 HTC Desire HD DigitalVersus 2010-12-02 00:00:00

Pros

  • Redesigned HTC Sense interface
  • Design and choice of materials
  • Powerful hardware and general responsiveness
  • Great camera with double LED flash
  • Web browsing

Cons

  • Screen very clearly not up to the same standards
  • Poor battery life if you use everything
  • Keyboard could be more accurate
  • Headphone jack in the wrong place
  • Finish on battery and SIM slots

Conclusion

The Desire HD's super-charged hardware, show-off screen and updated HTC Sense interface make it a great super-smartphone. So why does it have such appalling battery life?

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