HTC HD7 01 home

The HTC HD7 is one of the best from the first batch of Windows Phone 7 smartphones to arrive on the US market and it features a large 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen LCD display. We have reviewed two WP7 phones previously, the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround and the HD7 can be compared to the Samsung Focus (4-inch Super AMOLED display) when it comes to overall quality because the Surround (3.8-inch LCD display) falls a bit short in terms of performance and build quality. The HD7 feels a bit heavier than the Focus, but some people would prefer its square form factor and metal-like look and feel to the curvy plastic look of the Focus. My personal preference goes to the latter but I wish that the Focus would feature a similar back side to the Nexus S though.

Context

People use mobile devices very differently depending on their lifestyle and needs. That’s why it is important to give a short overview of my personal usage patterns first so that you can figure out what will be useful for yourself.

Usually, I check emails often but reply moderately since I am not a fan of virtual keyboards, and I browse the web only occasionally. I search for locations on the maps quite often, but do not place that many phone calls and I use Facebook and Foursquare regularly. I used the HTC HD7 for a week. My usage pattern will affect the battery life and my (and your) perception of which features are important or not.

Tech specs

Windows Phone 7
Touch screen with pinch-to-zoom capability
4.3 inches – 480 x 800 WVGA
Snapdragon QSD 8250 1 Ghz
576MB RAM
512 MB ROM
8GB (Europe)-32GB(Asia)
5 Megapixel camera dual LED flash
720p HD video recording
Wifi b/g/n, aGPS, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
4.8”(122mm)x2.68”(68mm)x0.44”(11.2mm) 162 grams with battery

More features on the product page

External design

Body
The HTC HD7 is one of the largest smartphones we’ve had to review, with a size similar to the Verizon 4G smartphones that we saw at CES, and it is heavier than the Samsung Focus and the iPhone 4. The chassis is rectangular and built with a mix of plastic and metallic materials, making it feel like a quality product although nothing beats the iPhone 4 on the construction, for now. The large display is great for watching videos comfortably and for typing, however, it is a bit too big and too squarish for my hand (on the contrary, the Focus’ size and form factor is perfect for me: it has a curved back side that offers a good grip.) The power button placed at the top right of the handset is not easy to reach when you hold it with one hand, especially for right-handed people like me, and it is a bit hard to press. The mini USB connector is placed at the bottom which is nice, it allows you to hold the phone comfortably while recharging.

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HTC HD7 4.3 inch capacitive LCD 400x800 WVGA

Display
The HD7’s large 4-inch LCD display has less contrast than the iPhone’s Retina Display and is less saturated than the Samsung’s Super AMOLED. I compared the three displays (using the Samsung Nexus S instead of the Focus,  as it has a similar display) with the same landscape picture taken from my collection: the HD7 and the iPhone 4 have similar color tones, the iPhone 4 is slightly better contrasted, and, as we know, the Super AMOLED displays the colors with higher saturation than most LCDs, an effect that I personally like because the photos look bright and vivid, however, it might not reflect the reality of a scene. Similar to the Samsung Focus, the display is very sensitive to light touches like most phones that have been launched in Q4 2010. The touchscreen is super-responsive, which is probably due to the phone’s hardware coupled with the operating system’s (OS) graphics optimization.

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iPhone4 3.5" Retina, HTC HD7 4.3" LCD, Nexus S 4.0" Super AMOLED

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HTC HD7, iPhone 4, Nexus S in direct sunlight

Direct Sunlight
In direct sunlight the HD7 is too reflective, in comparison, the Nexus S and the iPhone are better (see picture). We also suspect that the Super AMOLED consumes more battery when displaying bright images than the regular LCDs, which could be the reason why the email interface is black in the Nexus S.

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Nexus S, iPhone4, HTC HD7 in direct sunlight

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Windows Phone 7 buttons

Windows Phone 7 buttons
All Windows Phone 7 devices come with three hardware buttons: Back/Home/Search. Back, really brings you to whatever screen you were on before, it is the equivalent of the “Done” icon on iOS. The operating system (OS) keeps a fairly long history, so you are able to go back  through several apps. The Search button will display a search box that allows you to activate a search query that is (mostly) relevant to the context i.e. when you are in the contacts section it will search in your contact list, and if you are on the home page it will go to Bing. Unlike Android and the iPhone, there is no universal search, for now.

Basics (very good)

HTC HD7 12 dialing

Dialing (excellent – two taps minimum)
By default, the phone app goes to the call history instead of the dialer which is unexpected, and from the phone app, you’re one tap away from the contacts, dialing pad and voice messages. Thanks to the large display, the keys are big and dialing a number is easy, although it is less convenient to hold this big handset and dial with one hand than it is using the iPhone, the Samsung Focus or the Nexus S. The virtual numeric pad is similar to what you can find in other WP7 phones, it is accessible in two clicks from the home screen, and the tactile feedback is good.

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HTC HD7 Contact list in the People Hub

Searching for a contact (very good)
You have to go to the People screen to search for a contact: simply press the Search button and type a name, it is fast and easy. If you have few contacts, you might get away with going into the People screen and scrolling a little. You can also add (“pin”) contact thumbnails to the home screen for fast access.

HTC HD7 14 wireless

HTC HD7 Wireless Settings

Wireless (standard)
The HD7 doesn’t support any form of 4G. Instead, it can reach 3.5G speeds (a *theoretical* 7.2Mbps download speed, and up to 2 Mbps upload). There’s WiFi-N, which is the fastest version of WiFi available today and for short-range communications, there’s Bluetooth 2.1.+EDR.
Regarding the network quality, I would say that it mostly depends on where you live. If you’re close enough of a cell tower, life is good (ok, maybe not if you’re too close – “radiations”). Anyhow, check with your friends. If you travel often, average network quality starts to matter more as you want to increase your odds of getting a decent coverage.

Call audio quality (regular)
I called several people and the audio quality was ok, in a noisy environment I had to pump the volume to almost the maximum.

Video Calls (no front camera)
Windows Phone does not support video calls yet, but recent rumors indicated that Microsoft is working on a Facetime-like application that will be available in the next WP7 firmware update. Additionally the HD7 does not feature a front camera, though it has been rumored that upcoming WP7 devices will get front and back cameras.

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HTC HD7 Virtual keyboard compared with the iPhone 4

Virtual Keyboard (excellent)
Thanks to the large screen, the virtual keyboard is a treat to use considering that I am not a fan of virtual keyboards at all. Combined with the greatly designed Windows Phone 7’s word suggestion feature, it enables “typo eradication on-the-go” icon smile The virtual keyboard is also very responsive, similar to the iPhone and the Nexus S.

Copy/paste (still waiting to get it)
There is still no copy/paste in Windows Phone 7… it was supposed to be released by now but because Microsoft is late with this, we’ll keep waiting. Android has a basic copy/paste that does not work that well, but the HTC Android phones with HTC Sense, such as the HTC EVO Shift 4G, have a decent copy/paste.

Windows Live ID
WP7 is a Microsoft product that is connected to many Microsoft web services. Because of that, you will need to create a Windows Live ID. Note that you don’t have to get a new email on live.com or hotmail.com. I’ve created a Live ID using an existing email.

Windows Phone 7 User Interface (very good)

In this paragraph, I am going to summarize my opinion and observations about WP7 user interface, if you would like to see more pictures, go to the Samsung Focus review, in the WP7 UI paragraph. My background in design is probably the reason why I love the Windows Phone 7 user interface so much, the Microsoft Mobile team did a brilliant job on the OS’ aesthetics across all its different applications, leveraging the great work that was done on the Zune interface a few years ago, they maintained the design consistency with a beautiful usage of the typography.

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Typography usage with tiles in the Zune app

Font usage
The font used is the Segoe UI Light (font history), it is a highly readable elegant sans serif with a unique personality. The large 4-inch display allowed the designers to often use the font in larger sizes than the standard size that we see in current smart phones, which provides readability (for older people too) and gives a great look and feel.  According to Wikipedia, “the Segoe UI family of fonts are utilized by numerous Microsoft applications”, enabling branding consistency across all Microsoft products.

Customization
I love the color customization feature accessible from the the application list: you can change the tiles color scheme and select a dark or light background from the Theme section, in the settings app.

HTC HD7 22 custom

Customization of the colors theme

Home screen
The “Live” Tiles is the core concept of WP7 user interface and the visual result is great: sleek, clean, elegant, and relaxing compared to the overused “shiny icons” style created by Apple and poorly replicated by Android. The tiles are present across many Windows Phone 7 features and applications such as the People Hub, the settings, the Pictures Hub and some parts of Zune and the Market Place (album covers and apps “tiles”). The word “Live” refers to the Tiles’ ability to display dynamic information such as the number of new emails you have received or the picture and name (pulled from Facebook or Windows Live) of the contacts pinned on your home screen. It’s up to the developers to find compelling usages for those and for now, they are more like fancy icons that mostly display thumbnails. However, they are big enough to hold real information, and have true potential.

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Buy or downlaod apps for free from the MarketPlace - font and tiles here as well

Apps (good)
You will find the apps in the second screen, accessible by clicking the arrow placed at the top right on the home screen, and they are sorted by alphabetical order in a long list. You can “pin” the apps that you use often to your home screen by tapping and holding its tile then select “pin” in the pop up menu. If the app list becomes really big, I am not sure if the alphabetical list would be the best organization structure. Microsoft might be counting on the fact that regular users do not download that many apps. To find more apps, go to the MarketPlace tile that is accessible from the home screen.

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People Hub with Facebook feed integration (excellent!)
One of my favorite feature in WP7 is the People Hub and its brilliant integration of the Facebook news feed where you can check your friends’ status updates in a beautiful layout that is much more readable and more enjoyable to use than the Facebook app itself!

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Facebook news feed integration in the People Hub

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HTC HD7 the same news feed in the Facebook app

Pin geo-location to the home screen (great)
The same way you do with the apps or your favorite contacts, you will be able to pin a location to your start screen, if it is a restaurant you have direct access to ratings, website and phone number from there.

Cursor (well done)
If you want to place the cursor precisely in between two letters, you just have to press and hold while editing text: a text cursor will appear, then you can to place it easily where you want in the text. It’s pretty accurate and a good substitute to the “lens” used by Apple.

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Calendar app - the colors can be customized

Calendar
I really like the look of the Calendar app and it would be almost perfect, except for its lack of arrows to navigate from previous to next day without having to go to the month page. It is possible to directly access a meeting location on the map from the meeting details page by clicking the address written in the event title, something you can’t do with the iPhone – unless you write the address in the Notes section of the meeting page, the title is not clickable.

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Calendar:fourth button "I'm late"

One-tap “I’m late”
An important feature for me, when I have back-to-back meetings, I am often running late. With the “late” button I can send a message to all meeting attendees with an “I’m late” message using only 2 taps.

Bing Search
The integration of Bing Search on the small screen is well done and provides a compelling visual experience, thanks to the random photos displayed around the search box. To switch the type of search from Web to News, you can swipe to the left or the right. Unfortunately, it is not possible to select a different search engine to use, so if, like me, you prefer the efficiency of Google, you will be disappointed. To access Google search, you can go to the browser, but it is not as convenient as a native application.

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Bing: very good looking but if you prefer google you have to go to the browser

Wish list

  1. Copy and paste
  2. Refresh icon in the People Hub
  3. More icons to navigate and access sections faster especially in Zune and MarketPlace
  4. Offer the ability to remove the transition animations in between screens. Windows has the option for a reason: it’s more productive without the animations.
  5. A universal search, or at least, a quick search for my contacts
  6. Arrows or swipe to navigate previous and next day in the calendar
  7. Consistent Search command in Bing Maps
  8. A better physical button for the camera

Bing Maps (very good)

Location Search, not so fast
Tested against Google Maps on the iPhone and the Nexus S, it got a current location fix at the same speed with a similar accuracy (number 77 instead of 99 and number 42 instead of 99 in the right street), the Nexus S displayed the icon on the right spot on the map but the application did not provide the street number at all. When I searched for directions to a restaurant, I tried 3 different ones that I never tried in my iPhone 4, both the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S returned instant results (one or two second) but the HD7 needed 45 seconds to display the directions, I tested it several times with restaurant names or full addresses, and the HD7 was consistently the slowest to return results compared to the other two phones. Note that the Samsung Focus running WP7 returned the results faster than the iPhone 4 when I tested the feature on both devices  three months ago.  I was indoors (at my desk, in my office) when I performed this test both times, and all devices were connected to WiFi – I have no clue as of why the HD7 is slower to return directions over WiFi, since it features the same OS and has the same SoC (hardware platform) as the Focus.

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Directions and map on the same screen

Search command is not consistent
The “Search” button mostly does the right thing, but it’s not consistent. The Map application has its own “Search” icon, and if you use the physical Search button, you will end up in Bing.

Street names need to be more visible
There’s one thing that Google Maps does clearly better: display street names. When you zoom out a little, Bing quickly removes the names of the “small” streets. It looks like a good idea on the paper, but it’s not: people will need to look for small streets, so my advice is to fix this. However, the HD7 large screen allows to display more streets of the same location than the Nexus S or the iPhone at the same zoom level, on a pure user experience prospective, it is more comfortable to use Bing maps on the HD7 than Google maps on the Nexus S or the iPhone 4.

Directions and Map on the same large screen (excellent)
I love the ability to have the directions and the map displayed on the same screen, it lets users easily click on each direction using one hand and the thumb to navigate the map – with Google maps, you need to flip from one page to the other to switch from directions to the map and vice versa! You just have to tap on the screen to expand the map to full screen and hit the back button to go back to the directions with the partial map. Overall, the user interface is very fluid and responsive, and the only wait time is caused by the map tiles or directions download.

Computer Connectivity (files/content/internet sharing)

Connect via USB and sync with your computer
You will be able to sync your phone with your computer by connecting them via USB, then you will have to download and install the Zune software (the equivalent of iTunes for Apple), after creating a Live ID account, Zune will start synchronizing your media files. Contacts and emails will be now synchronized only over the air, unlike previous Windows Phone 6.x with Active Sync. People using offline email clients such as Outlook Express with no cloud-based email service will not be able to synchronize emails and contacts between the PC and the phone.
I was able to synchronize the HD7 very easily with the Zune software that i had to install on my new computer, the whole process took me only a few minutes. Once plugged, the few pictures and videos stored on my phone were transferred to the computer in a about 30 seconds. As you may know, Zune is also a subscription-based music service (unlike iTunes) where you can “rent” your music. Searching for new artists and songs to listen to is easy, either from the phone or the computer. The Zune interface is aesthetically appealing and I personally love the design, however, it could be more intuitive, the navigation can get a bit confusing at times.

No USB mass-storage
The phone will not appear as a USB Flash drive, unlike Android phones including the Nexus S or the iPhone. It’s a bummer, USB mass storage is very convenient and I do not understand why it would be difficult for the Zune software to give access to files in read-only mode and be able to copy them without removing them from the phone?

Photo and Video Capture

HTC HD7 39 camera

The camera button that operate the shutter should be closer to the edge

Camera user interface
The WP7 user interface of the camera app is well done, with the ability to browse the pictures stored in the camera roll directly from the capture screen. For easier access to the camera, you have to pin the camera icon to the home screen, then settings are accessible from the “Gear” icon. There is no anti-shaking option in the HD7 unlike the Samsung Focus, and it would be better to have it since the physical button that operates the shutter is a bit hard to press and not conveniently placed (too far from the edge), making it difficult to avoid shaking.

Camera photo quality
The HD7 has a good 5 MP camera but the auto-focus speed is not as good as the iPhone’s. I have tested it against  the iPhone 4 and the Sony Xperia Arc in low light conditions. The Xperia arc features the Exmor R sensor that Sony developed for its Cybershot camera line, it has very good performances in low light conditions (see photos below). The HTC HD7  is good in regular conditions but the iPhone 4 camera is slightly better in low light conditions, the HD7 needs its dual LED flash for sure. See comparison shots below, to check them in high resolution go to our Flickr page.

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Photo taken with the HTC HD7 - this photo is good, I like the contrast and the sky keep its details

iPhone4 city

Photo taken with the iPhone 4 - the street looks a bit better than the one above, but the city is over exposed

Nexus S city

Photo taken with the Nexus S - the city is too over exposed

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Low light photo taken with the HTC HD7 - too dark and blurry

iPhone4 glasses

Low light photo taken with the iPhone4 - a bit better than the one above

Sony Ericsson Xperia ARC

Low light photo taken with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - good

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Photo taken with the HTC HD7 - good

iPhone4 tree

Photo taken with the iPhone 4 - good

Nexus S tree

Photo taken with the Nexus S - not as contrasted as the two pictures above

Video capture
The HTC HD7 captures 720 p videos. I tested it against the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S, and the result is quite good. The Nexus S shoots in standard resolution 720×480. Check the video sampls on Flickr: HTC HD7 video @ 720p, iPhone 4 video @ 720p, Nexus S Video @ 720×480.

Performance

To tell you the truth, there aren’t enough decent WP7 benchmarks out there to properly compare performance between phones. They also mostly use the same hardware platform anyway, but I’d like to point out two things:

1/ “perceived performance” is much more important than “synthetic” performance because Perceived Performance defines the user experience.

2/ “measured performance” comes from benchmarks that might or might not be representative of the reality. Often, they can be good indicators of the strengths or weaknesses of the device’s hardware or OS. We had to wait a decade to get decent benchmarks on the Windows platform, and although I fully expect to have good suites at some point on smartphones, we’re not there yet. However, it is still much better than walking in the dark. Please note: peak performance is becoming more and more important because the ability to execute tasks fast -and go back to sleep- has direct consequences on battery life.

Perceived UI speed
As with all the first batch of WP7 smartphones to hit the market, the HTC HD7 runs on a Snapdragon  QSD8250 system on chip (SoC) featuring the ARM-based Scorpion 1Ghz CPU and integrated GPU. The performance is very good, (except for returning directions results over WiFi), but it’s not the fastest on the planet. More recent hardware like NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 in the LG Optimus 2X can easily challenge Samsung’s SoC as well as the Snapdragon third generation aka MSM8x60 chipset running a Scorpion 1.2GHz dual-CPU cores, that has not been officially announced for any phones yet.

When I tried to run the Web benchmark Javascript Sunspider, it did not work in IE mobile… so no numbers to crunch in this paragraph, and there is no other benchmark for Windows Phone 7.

Entertainment

Photo gallery and syncing pictures
The photo gallery is great, you can easily access your photos taken with the phone’s camera and your photo galleries in Facebook. Even over 3G, the Facebook photo gallery downloaded and decompressed rapidly. It was easy and fast to download the pictures taken from the phone into my computer using the Zune software. The downside of Windows Phone 7: it does not allow the phone to be recognized by the computer as a regular USB drive, it forces you to use Zune for downloading media files.

Online Videos and video playback (MP4)
Watching videos on the huge 4.3 inch is a treat, some people primarily use their smartphones to watch mobile TV or videos, and they might consider buying the HD7.
Installing the YouTube app was super fast: I just had to click a link to Youtube from my Facebook feed in the people hub. Over 3G, the YouTube app displays the video in low resolution, in a smaller size than the screen and it is really pixelated; over Wifi, you get a good resolution and the video is automatically displayed in full screen. The HD7 speaker is not great, the iPhone’s speaker delivers a better sound for the same video – I wonder why HTC did not implement the speaker quality of the HTC Surround in this model, the video experience would have been really awesome!

Music player – beautiful, UI sometimes confusing
Windows Phone 7 music player inherited the same name and user interface as the Zune HD. Basically, the Zune HD user interface was the inspiration for Windows Phone 7, the design is beautiful, and consistent across the OS and its applications, the music player included. However, the navigation is sometimes not very intuitive, some controls are hidden: you have to tap onto the album photo to see the Repeat, Like and Shuffle icons. While playing are songs from an album, you have to tap what looks like a Fast Forward icon to go to the next song, and press on it to actually fast forward within the soundtrack. Changing song is done  by flicking your finger horizontally on the album cover, since this gesture is used in many instances across WP7, it might be obvious to figure out for a first time user. When listening to an album, there is no quick access back to the main menu to browse other albums, the physical back button seems to be the only way to do it. There is enough real estate on the screen to display a few more icons for better navigation, hopefully Microsoft’s design team will improve it. A great function: you can go to the next/previous song and fast forward/backward directly from the phone lock screen, without unlocking the phone.

Buy music – Zune Pass $15/month
With Zune pass you will be able to access all the Zune library (download or streaming) for $15/month with a two weeks free trial option.

Battery Life (regular)

The battery lasted 24 hours with my usage, I did not place a lot of phone calls, Wifi was activated half of the time, email checking and getting directions on the map was my main activities, and I checked in Foursquare and Facebook a few times. Recharging the phone took about one and a half hours, which is good.

Things that could be better

Display and speaker quality could be better: The HTC HD7 is the first WP7 with such a large display (4.3 inch), however, the screen quality is not that great compared to the iPhone’s Retina Display or Samsung’s AMOLED. The audio quality delivered by the speaker is not very good, watching videos with a headphone is recommended or you can  try to use the compact Bluetooth speaker Jawbone Jambox.

Conclusion

The HTC HD7 is currently the Windows Phone 7’s flagship device and it delivers a great performance with its large display; whether it is emailing, browsing the web, getting directions on Bing maps, reading and editing a document or watching videos, it is highly enjoyable. A few features could have been better: the display and the speaker quality, web browsing was overall slightly slower than expected.
As you may know, I am a big fan of Windows Phone 7 since I highly appreciate the aesthetics and the performance of the user interface, although a few things need to be improved (look at the “Wish list” in the Windows Phone 7 User Interface paragraph.)

Links

Windows Phone 7 Reviews: Samsung Focus Review, HTC Surround Review and… don’t miss our iPhone 4 Review

Even more reviews:
Android Smartphones Reviews: Nexus S ReviewHTC EVO Shift 4G Review, EVO 4G Review, Epic 4G Review, Droid X Review, Droid 2 Review, HTC Hero Review
Apple: MacBook Air Review, iPad Review
BlackBerry: BlackBerry Torch Review, Blackberry 9700 Review

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