Big, beautiful mobile
The HD Icon appears like an optical illusion; though its width and length are comparatively similar to other touchscreen phones, the HD seems much larger somehow. Its 3.7-inch screen shares the same diagonal length as the Omnia Icon, but unless the phones are side by side you'd guess the HD was the bigger phone. This illusion isn't helped by the weight of the HD, at 135g it feels noticeably heavier too.
For the "size matters" crowd this is a win, we know there are people who love their phones to feel solid and who feel biggest is best when it comes to screen size. Not only is the screen one of the largest available but it looks stunning. The AMOLED display technology Samsung is using across its Icon range is such an exciting step forward in mobile phones, the colours on screen look rich and vibrant next to deep blacks. Watching videos on the HD Icon is a real treat.
The HD is cased in sleek piano black plastic with a band of silver mechanical keys below the screen. Out of the box the HD carries a certain elegance about it that we soon soiled with a myriad of greasy fingerprints. A 3.5mm on top of the phone means you can bring your own headphones, which is lucky for the disappointing in-ear headphones bundled with the handset. Samsung is embracing the switch to a universal microSD connection for charging and USB transfers rather than using a proprietary connection, which is music to our ears.
Packed to the rafters
That's right, folks, Samsung has packed everything in here. There's the smartphone basics: HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, 8GB internal storage plus a micro SD card slot for expansion. The pre-installed web browser is standard fare, and though it can be slow to load pages, it is easy to navigate. Business users will be pleased to learn that Samsung includes a fully licensed version of RoadSync with the HD, making it possible to connect the phone to your office MS Exchange server and sync your mail, contacts and calendar.
Multimedia playback is far from standard. It supports one of the most complete selections of file types we've seen in a phone including DivX, XviD, H.264, MP4, WMV video and MP3, AAC, WMA audio files. The media players are simple, colourful and easy to use, with the music player featuring an Apple Cover Flow-style album art display when in landscape mode.
Samsung seems to be aware that while you might like watching videos on the bus or train, you probably want to switch to a bigger screen when you get home. As such, you get a TV-out cable in the box with the handset or you can stream media over your home network using the "Connected Home" application. Both are bound to change the way you think about your phone, you will no longer have friends crowded around you to show off a collection of photos or a new movie, instead you can simply plug into the TV at your friend's house.
HD video? Really?
This seems like a big deal, and it's a first as far as we know, but this doesn't make it any more or less useful. If anything, it highlights the megapixel myth more than the fact that the HD Icon also takes average pictures with a whopping 8-megapixel camera sensor. To be fair, we haven't attempted to create any significant video content, leaning more towards everyday use situations, and the results have been as mediocre as you might expect from an HD-shooting camera phone. Even if you think the HD Icon shoots decent, colourful video, the lack of good shake-reduction software means you will need the stillness of a Buddhist monk to shoot steady videos that won't cause motion sickness.
What did impress us was the overwhelming list of options and shooting modes available, both in the video and still photo modes. You can choose to shoot your videos in full 720p HD, or downsize them for MMS, or pick a shooting speed instead — slow-mo or fast motion. Still photographers have access to a macro focus mode, a variety of scene modes, the choice to have the flash on or off, as well as smile detection focus mode. The camera has an LED photolight to assist in low-light situations, but it is pretty weak and not much help. Overall, we found that if we weren't shooting in sunlight the pictures we took were dark and mostly out of focus, though we were impressed with the fast shutter speed, and the speed of processing between photos.
The quality of the photos taken by the HD Icon is a classic example of how camera phones are designed to be used and viewed on the phone only. Photos taken with this 8-megapixel shooter look fantastic on the handset, with the crushed resolution masking the images true flaws, like soft focus and noisy photos. If you intend to transfer the pictures off the phone you'll be disappointed with the results, as the photos tend to look fantastic on the handset, but often look dreadful when viewed on a PC monitor.
It might sound funny, but the HD Icon is a Nokia fanboy's dream come true. Running on the Nokia-owned Symbian Series 60 (S60) touchscreen platform, the HD Icon is just like the Nokia N97, only much better. That's right, we went there. We've seen two Nokia phones running on this platform this year, both of which were quite good, but Samsung manages to make S60 work even better. Lots of the layout of the platform and applications are identical, but there are a few nice touches added that we absolutely love.
The first is Samsung's TouchWiz home screen. Nokia's widget home screen on the N97 was a bit of a mess, but Samsung's take on the idea works much better, giving you three fully customisable screens to work with. The choice of widgets to use is limited though, and some, like YouTube and Facebook, are just colourful web links rather than active widgets. If you dislike Samsung's TouchWiz you can switch it off in the theme's menu, and replace it with a standard shortcuts panel.
Swiping your finger left to right on the home screen brings up "Photo Contacts" which sounds dull, but is actually quite a funky new look at an address book. In concept, Photo Contacts works like tagging photos in Facebook. You choose a pic, then draw a square around the faces of the people in the images then apply a phone number from your address book to that tag. This way you can have group shots of friends with all of their numbers tagged to a single image. Bravo Samsung!
For a phone with a massive 3.7-inch screen and a focus on multimedia, battery life meets our single-day expectations, but struggles to exceed them. It would be possible for someone to draw this battery out to two days with low use of web, push email, etc, but regular users will need to be ready to charge the HD at the end of the day.
The HD is the most expensive in the Icon family of phones, but with the scale of things we believe it is worth the extra money, plus at AU$999 it is a few hundred dollars less than the flagship models from Apple, Nokia and HTC. The HD Icon makes a great everyday phone with good call quality and a decent-sized virtual keyboard, and features class-leading multimedia support. Our only reservations are with the camera and the promise of HD video recording. Both perform as advertised, but the results are fairly mediocre. This is definitely a phone for someone who enjoys consuming media, not for people who love to create it.