Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) during the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but the first products to come with the company's latest OS won't be available till the end of 2010. Between now and then, we can expect up to 14 more WM6.5 phones, and the HTC HD mini is one of them. According to the company, this is targeted at those who want the features of the HD2 but need something smaller. We've had the device for about a week. Here's our full evaluation.
The HD mini measures 103.8x57.7x11.7mm and weighs just 110g. This makes it extremely compact for most jeans pockets and small purses without much trouble. On the back, it appears to have four screws holding the chassis in place. This does not actually hold the back cover down but is instead a design element. Nonetheless, it gives the phone a very "industrial" look, something we really like.
When you pry open the back battery cover, instead of drab black innards, this comes in a splash of bright yellow. The hue doesn't add anything to the functionality of the phone, but is very attractive and shows attention to detail, which should bolster HTC's image when it comes to quality.
A single micro-USB port is on the base of the device, while a 3.5mm audio jack and the device's power button are found on the top edge. Volume controls flank the left side. Behind the battery cover is a microSD card slot for memory expansion — you do not need to remove the battery to swap cards.
Like the HD2 before it, this smartphone has a capacitive touchscreen. This makes it more responsive to fingertip taps and allows HTC to implement multi-touch gestures such as pinch to zoom in the browser. In our tests, this feature worked fine, though it wasn't as sensitive as what you may have experienced on the Apple iPhone.
The screen itself is an HVGA-resolution (320x480-pixel) LCD that measures 3.2 inches diagonally. It is sufficiently bright for outdoor use and displays images nicely. Our only issue was that small fonts tended to look strange. This may just be us not used to Windows Mobile displayed in an HVGA format (most devices are either QVGA, VGA or WVGA in resolution). It appeared to us that small fonts, especially those displayed as part of HTC's custom menu interface, have letter strokes that aren't uniformly thick.
Below the screen are five touch-sensitive buttons. On the extreme left and right are the Call and End keys, while the other three are shortcuts for Home, Start and Back. There are two reasons we hate these buttons. First, being touch-sensitive, tapping on the wrong button occurs frequently, especially when it's dark because there's no physical distinction between them. Though they light up when touched, this happens only after your finger comes in contact with them. By then, you may have already hit the wrong key. Secondly, the white LEDs that light up the buttons are way too bright; blinding in a lighted location, and retina burning when it's dark.
Like many of HTC's phones, the HD mini is equipped with the latest connectivity options. This includes HSDPA which supports up to 7.2Mbps downloads over the cellular network, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS for satellite navigation. Like the HD2, you can configure your HD mini to share your data connection using the Wi-Fi Router feature that turns your phone into a wireless hotspot that a notebook can easily take advantage of.
Apart from it's 320x480 resolution, HTC Sense on the HD mini is very similar to the HD2.(Credit: CNET Asia)
One of the best things about using an HTC phone is the custom interface. The Sense UI found in the mini feels very similar to what we've seen in the HD2. This means most of the default WM interface has been hidden, replaced with large finger-friendly icons and lists. Social-networking services including Facebook and Twitter are also tightly woven into the address book, making it simple to keep up-to-date with what your contacts are doing.
For the most part, HTC Sense was reasonably responsive. There were times when it felt laggy, especially when coming out of the browser back to the Home page, but we didn't feel crippled by this. It wasn't as fast as the HD2, but that's expected considering the high-end specs on that device.
We were initially concerned that the smaller screen would mean a less effective keyboard compared with the HD2. This was unfounded as we found ourselves typing away with no problems using the on-screen QWERTY. Even when we tapped on the wrong letter, the auto-correction feature made up for that most of the time. For those who prefer a numeric keypad with T9 prediction, that's also available. One gripe we did have was that with Windows Mobile 6.5.3, the button that toggles the on-screen keypad doesn't allow you to jump to the keyboard settings page. This meant that switching from one text input method to another required us to get out from whatever we were typing to visit the main settings page.
Taken using the automatic mode, the test photo appeared underexposed. (Credit: CNET Asia)
Because the HD mini uses Windows Mobile, you get all the basic features such as Exchange support, Office compatibility and My Phone for online backup of data. Other extras include a fast Opera browser which is preset as the default browser and a YouTube app for watching videos. This is also where you feel the datedness of Microsoft's mobile operating system. Furthermore, browsing the Windows Marketplace for apps made us feel that third-party developers have turned their attention to other platforms.
The camera on the HD mini has a 5-megapixel sensor with autofocus. It doesn't come with a flash, so you'll need steady hands to get a decent shot in dark situations. Image quality is decent as long as you keep your expectations in check.
As mentioned earlier, the HD mini isn't as responsive as the HD2 because of its slower 600MHz processor and smaller RAM at 384MB. Even then, it isn't a slouch and we found most basic tasks to run without lags. When the device did slow down, getting to the Task Manager to close background apps was convenient as it was easily accessible from the notifications page, which appears once you tap on the top edge of the screen.
Battery life was about two days with auto email updates turned off but social-networking and weather update services on auto-sync. This is quite decent for a smartphone though users who make lots of phone calls may still have to recharge daily. Call quality was good but there's no front camera, so those who need a handset with video call capability will have to look elsewhere.
If it isn't clear to you from our review so far, our verdict is that the HD mini is a decent phone. It does what it's supposed to do pretty well, along with a few extras afforded by HTC's custom software.
However, its name is misleading. The HD2 was the company's flagship product and came with the best hardware and a massive 4.3-inch screen — factors that defined the handset. Instead of associating it with the HD2, we felt HTC should have instead positioned the HD mini as a mid-range device and dropped the "HD" moniker. Think about it, this device's feature set is really more like the HTC Hero — the only thing it really shares with the HD2 is Windows Mobile.
That's where our next point comes in. The HD mini feels comparatively unattractive because of its dated underlying OS. By now, it's pretty clear the HD mini won't get the new Windows Phone 7 OS at the end of the year. There aren't many aspects of WM6.5 that give it a distinct advantage over other operating systems such as the iPhone OS and Android, both of which are enjoying the bulk of third-party developers' attention. What's more, at AU$1019, you can purchase the older HTC Hero with change to spare.
Still, those who require mission-critical apps that run only on WM and others who are really taken with the design of the HD mini will find it's a decent smartphone that will fulfil most needs well. But if you can, wait a while for the price to drop or take advantage of operator subsidies because its current full retail price doesn't present excellent value for money.