Review: HTC HD2 on T-Mobile

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Short Version: Pity the poor HD2. It’s one of the most amazing phones I’ve seen all year but like some ultra-evolved dinosaur at the end of the Cretaceous period, it was born just as a cataclysmic asteroid (Windows Phone 7) was about to change the entire ecosystem. Still, for someone looking for a great media phone and one of the best Windows Mobile Phones I’ve ever seen, you could do worse.

Features:

  • Tethering enabled
  • Striking 4.3-inch screen
  • 1GHz processor
  • 5-megapixel camera with flash
  • $199 with 2-year contract

Pros:

  • Amazing screen
  • Great media features
  • Thin and light

Cons:

  • Windows 6.5 with no current upgrade path
  • A bit big
  • Includes two Transformers movies

The Device
The best thing about the HD2 is that it looks nothing like a Windows Mobile device. For years Windows Mobile has popped up in interface and usability elements like herpes at Studio 54 – it’s always been there, you just have to press the right buttons and you’ll see it. For example, viewing emails used to dump you into Windows Mobiles’ sub par email browser and when you hit the “Start” menu you’d see an ugly list of apps. Somewhere in there was a task manager and a few other vestiges of 1990s technology that Microsoft stuffed into the device.

Windows Mobile 6.5 repaired some of these problems by making most menus icon-based and HTC took things to their obvious conclusion by overlaying their excellent Sense UI over the entire thing. Now you get photorealistic weather icons, easy access to media and messaging functions, and a great experience overall.

The device itself is mostly screen. It has a beautiful 4.3-inch 480 X 800 WVGA touchscreen with a set of buttons for calls as well as Windows, Home, and Back keys along the bottom. There is a full sized headphone jack on the bottom and the phone comes with 16GB of storage. It als includes Blockbuster on Demand access as well as free access to mobiTV for a month. As I mentioned above, T-Mobile included Transformers and Transformers 2: Let’s Try to Make More Money. Obviously these movies are easy selling points for those with light brain damage.

The Good
The central metaphor is a taskbar that appears along the bottom of the screen that contains a number of activities including Home – showing a set of icons including camera, Facebook, YouTube, etc. – as well as Messages, Mail, Browser, Photos, Stocks, Twitter, and Search. The Weather screen is actually quite striking and shows the current time and weather appear in a very cool animation across the screen. Cloud days get delightful clouds while sunny days get, obviously, sun. HTC does this sort of thing well. Their design is beautiful and they do an excellent job of mixing photorealism with readable text to make a great UI.

Going past these initial screens you delve deeper into Windows Mobile 6.5 and, ultimately, despair. Everything works as it should and, in theory, this is more an app phone than a smart phone. It has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, Bluetooth stereo support, as well as tethering. Generally it has all the right pieces in all the right places. But then we come to the elephant in the room: Windows Phone 7.

The Bad

The HD2 is a great phone. If you’re in the market for a nice media phone and have to have Windows Mobile for work, get this one. It’s one of the best. If you don’t, then you may want to wait. As far as we know, as of this writing, this phone will not support the new version of Windows Mobile (Windows Phone 7).

Again, if you upgrade every year or eight months, do what you feel. This is a good Windows Mobile Phone and on par with the iPhone in terms of media features. However, the idea that this phone will soon be extinct is disconcerting.

Bottom Line
If you want to future proof your phone investment, you need to rethink the HD2. It’s such a great device – slim, sexy, and plenty of power – but it is like buying the last Palm OS phone just before the Pre is launched. In a few months this phone will be vaguely outdated and in a year it will be obsolete. I do not envy T-Mobile and HTC in their damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t position, but I want to make it clear that buying this phone, while not a gamble per se, puts the owner in an odd position: they will love the phone but will be very jealous of Windows Phone 7 when it drops.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe WP7 will slip onto here like a pat of butter on a good steak. Only time will tell.

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