Big, beautiful smartphone
Size matters when you're speaking about smartphones, and its neither one way or the other. Some like smaller screens and will say Apple hit the sweet spot with it's 3.5-inch iPhone screen design, but many other would prefer a little more screen real estate. Dell's 5-inch Streak has been dubbed a tablet rather than a phone by many, so where does this leave the Desire HD with its 4.3-inch screen falling somewhere inbetween?
For us, the Desire HD is spot on. The extra screen size makes text onscreen more legible, helps to display images in the gallery, and makes controlling games easier than it might otherwise be with less room for your fingers. Does it look silly when you hold to your face to take a call? We don't think so, if anything it lets you show off the attractively designed uni-body chassis.
HTC has unfortunately needed to move away from using AMOLED screen technology in its handsets due, we believe, to a shortage of AMOLED screens available. Instead it opts for a an LCD display with an 800 x 480 resolution. Next to an original Desire you can see the difference in the colour contrast, with the HD appearing more washed-out look in comparison. Taken on its own merits though, the Desire HD's display is superb, with sharp, crisp rendering of words and images displayed.
The HD sports an 8-megapixel camera with its lens position at the top and in the centre of the rear casing, dual LED photolights sit just to the side. The camera lens protrudes considerably from the back of the phone but luckily the glass is recessed to prevent it from scratching from day-to-day knocking around.
A Sense for smartphones
To talk about the features of an HTC Android phone is primarily to talk about its Sense custom software. In its beginnings Sense was a user-interface shell, a layer that sat on top of Windows Mobile and acted as a series of sexy shortcuts to different aspects of your phone. Today Sense is so much more, integrating into most of the core aspects of Google's Android system and delivering a range of usability enhancements well beyond what you can expect from rivals Samsung and Motorola.
New to Sense in the Desire HD is a enhanced focus on personalisation, evident in the new shortcut on the homescreen to this list of UI adjustments. From the Personalisation menu you can change wallpapers, scenes, ringtones and widgets, but you can also apply new Sense UI skins and notifications sound packs. Both of these new settings apply changes across the system as a whole, with the notification sound packs applying a themed selection of tones to the ringtone and the accompanying message tones.
There is also a few new HTC-built apps, the HTC Hub (for downloading free new skins, wallpapers and ringtones) and HTC Likes, a portal of Android Market apps that have achieved the HTC tick of approval. There's also new Car Panel and the Locations mapping service built-in to Sense, with pre-loaded maps for Australia and New Zealand so you won't have to wait for data to download before you can see where you're standing. Locations also offer turn-by-turn navigation for AU$8.99 for 30-days, and while this is not as attractive as the free navigation on all Nokia phones, it's still a very handy addition.
One of the key new feature in the Desire HD is the introduction of DLNA media sharing to the HTC family of phones. Sadly, this is the only part of our review where the HD fell well short of expectations. Unlike other media serving apps which establish a server and allow a compatible device, like a PS3, to browse and stream media from the phone, HTC's implementation has the user select each piece of media separately and search for a server each time. We tested this software on six or seven DLNA devices and it didn't work once. Rubbing salt in the wound, we downloaded the Twonky Media Server app from the Android Market and this worked every time bar one. This is a great idea for HTC to pursue, but it's a long way off getting it right at this point in time.
The Sense experience now extends passed the phone, with a new online web service accessible from any PC with a web browser. HTCSense.com lets users backup some of their valuable data: contacts, SMS messages, geo-tagged Footprints photos; but it also includes some important security enhancements too. Using the portal users can lock their phone down, stopping unauthorised use, or erase all data on a handset you are confident you will never have returned. You can also force the phone to ring, even if its set to silent, which is very handy for people who tell to lose their phone between the cushions on the sofa.
The only limitation to the Sense security is that the phone needs to be set to "Auto Sync" in the "Accounts and Sync" menu in Settings. If you leave this setting unchecked, and many would to extend battery life, then you are left without any way of communicating with your handset remotely.
The new benchmark
HTC combine a mean bunch of computing hardware under the glass of the Desire HD, and the results can be seen in its outstanding performance. Its 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 768MB RAM and 1.5GB of phone memory (our review unit also came with an 8GB microSD card) work together to set a new benchmark in out-of-the-box performance, clocking benchmark results three-times those we saw on the original Desire, and an impressive 57.7 frames-per-second in Neocore.
In the real world these benchmark results equate to seamless navigation of the homescreens and menu, and swift loading all apps, even 3D games. Video plays back nicely, we tested a 720p XviD file using Rockplayer and the results were really exciting. The 8-megapixel camera is hit-and-miss depending on the environment, it's fine in good light with a steady hand, but we had comparatively little luck shooting in low-light with the flash.
If all of these features — the big screen, the fast processor and the suite of connectivity available — sound like a recipe for poor battery life you'll be pleased to know the Desire HD is at least on par with the vast majority of smartphones. We saw a day-and-a-half between charges with a push email account active plus web browsing and moderate calls and messages. HTC has also built a new "power saver" feature into the HD, allowing you to configure services which will automatically switch off at a pre-determined battery level, a level which is set to 15-percent remaining charge by default.
We looked long and hard for flaws in the Desire HD, and with the exception of the media server, we struggled to find anything significant. This handset checks all the right boxes, regardless of whether you put business before pleasure, consider gaming a top priority or are looking for a strong handset to create and consume media. Social networkers will find the Friendstream app handy, and if you don't like it you have a dozen alternatives to choose from on the Android Market, including the excellent Tweetdeck app. If you want a reliable smartphone, one that excels at everyday use and offers a swell of extras, and one that offers an unparallelled range of customisation, the Desire HD should be at the top of your list.