T-Mobile HTC HD2: Noah's hands-on impressions

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| Published: April 6, 2010

The first time I picked up the HTC HD2, I felt like I was holding an object from the future. This phone's display is so large, and yet its body is so relatively thin and light, it was more like holding a "communicator" than a phone. So alluring was the form factor that I used the unlocked device as my daily phone for several weeks, despite its lack of American 3G and reliance on the aged Windows Mobile 6.5 OS beneath HTC's glorious Sense user interface.

Now the HD2 has come to the US in a branded, locked to T-Mobile form. Gone is the silver exterior, traded in for a sleek matte black with copper/grey trim, but added is compatibility with T-Mo's HSDPA 3G data network. The phone retains its massive 4.3" capacitive touch display, multitouch enabled version of Opera Mobile 9.7 for Web browsing, and 5 megapixel camera with VGA video capture. T-Mobile has added some multimedia goodies to the mix, including a Barnes and Noble-branded e-Reader, mobiTV live television and Blockbuster streaming video services, and full-length copies of both Transformers movies pre-loaded into the phone's 16GB of internal storage. 

We all know that sometimes beauty is only skin-deep. Does HD2's allure hold up once you get past that big, beautiful visage? Here are some thoughts after a week or so using the phone on T-Mobile in the San Francisco Bay Area:

- Voice calls have been good on HD2. Not great, but not bad. Signal strength has generally been good, though the phone regularly hops from 3G to EDGE and back (more on that in the next point below). Call quality has been generally fine - this isn't the best sounding HTC handset ever, but it's certainly passable.

- Data connectivity has been an issue. When I first turned the phone on and started setting it up, it couldn't get data via 3G or EDGE; only after I connected to a WiFi network could I set up my Email and social networking accounts. Since then, performance has been better but still erratic. The phone regularly switches back and forth between 3G and EDGE service. WiFi, on the other hand, has worked just fine.

- HD2's form factor is stunning, but also may be too much for some people. 4.3" is a lot of screen, and results in a device with a very large footprint. The phone is easily pocketable, and the large display makes for nice, big finger-friendly buttons, Web links, and other UI elements. But some would-be buyers will no doubt be put off by such a large phone. Despite my initial exuberance over the new wave of smartphones with 4" + displays, HTC's Nexus One and Desire, with their 3.7" screens, may in fact have hit the ideal sweet spot between big screen and ergonomic comfort.

- HTC Sense continues to be awesome. Sense will keep you away from Windows Mobile 6.5 a lot of the time, which is great because Sense is as modern and smooth as WinMo is old and clunky. Peep (HTC's Twitter app) and the animated weather backgrounds are two of Sense on HD2's highlights for me thus far.

- This thing is a multimedia monster. Photos and videos - including the two Transformers flicks that come pre-loaded - look spectacular provided I'm using HD2 in decent lighting conditions. 16GB of internal memory makes it easy to load the thing up with music, photos, and videos and multitouch-enabled photo browsing is great. The 5 megapixel camera is good but not great, though the dual-LED flash system is one of the more useful cameraphone flashes you'll find (it's still no match for a real camera flash, but better than most of the anemic faux-flashes found on cell phones these days).

- While the 4.3", 800 x 480, capacitive multitouch display is ideal for viewing Websites, the actual Web browsing experience has been just a bit disappointing. Opera Mobile on HD2 is still way better than Internet Explorer on any other WinMo device, but occasional performance lags and the outdated feel of the browser's menus and display fonts make me wish I was using an Android or iPhone browser instead. Not to mention those data issues I've already complained about. When pages load and render, they look great - and I love Opera's hidden menu bars that free up the entire display for content. But loading, rendering, and scrolling just aren't as smooth as they should be.

- Speaking of performance lags, having recently tried the forthcoming HTC Evo 4G for Sprint I'm all the more convinced that Microsoft is doing the right thing in totally killing off WinMo 6.5. Both Evo 4G and HD2 are powered by a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and HD2 actually has a bit more RAM than EVO (576 MB vs 512 MB). And yet the pre-production Evo I messed with at CTIA is miles faster, smoother, and all-around nicer to use than the HD2 that T-Mobile sent me. Performance on HD2 isn't a deal breaker, but it certainly has been frustrating at times in terms of general responsiveness.

- Typing on a virtual QWERTY board is made easier by HD2's giant screen. But some touchscreen responsiveness and accuracy issues hampered the experience to some extent for me. Hopefully an OTA update can stomp some of the bugs that had me tapping keys multiple times in order to get a response, or erasing mis-typed letters more than I expected to.

More on HD2 coming soon ... Maybe I'll send it off to one of our other editors for a second opinion. In the meantime, HD2 owners, chime in! What say you about your new smartphones?


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