REVIEW: HTC Desire HD – How does this successor stack up?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Let’s just get this part out of the way, the HTC Desire HD is an absolutely stunning phone. HTC has stepped up their game, brought the world yet another piece of great hardware, and optimizing their already great software, making a solid successor to the original Desire. This follow-up to the original HTC Desire packs a more powerful, second-generation Snapdragon processor clocked at 1GHz, an 8-megapixel camera (with dual-LED flash), Android 2.2 Froyo OS, and a completely revamped Sense UI that incorporates all kinds of whiz-bang cloud services (locate, lock, wipe your phone) – all wrapped up in an aluminum unibody package that’s as sexy as anything you’re likely to find in the smartphone arena. It’s clear that the HTC Desire HD is one handy piece of kit.

But is this the phone for you? Read on to find out!

HTC Desire HD

Available for $899.99 from Amazon.com

  • 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen (480 x 800)
  • 1GHz new-gen Snapdragon processor
  • 768MB RAM
  • 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
  • 3G data connectivity
  • WiFi (B/G/N)
  • Bluetooth
  • 1.5 GB internal storage
  • Hot-swappable microSD card slot with a bundled 8 GB MicroSD card (expandable to 32 GB)
  • Android 2.2 with HTC Sense UI
  • Integration with HTCSense.com for cloud services
  • HTC Locations maps app for offline/pre-cached map data
  • Dolby Mobile and SRS wow HD support

The Good

  • HTC Sense UI is still awesome
  • Incredible in-hand feel
  • Gorgeous industrial design
  • Hot-swappable microSD card
  • HTCSense.com is a perfect companion
  • Large display
  • Pre-cache map support with HTC Locations

The Bad

  • No option to turn off the Sense UI
  • Headphone jack is at the bottom of the device (to some this belongs in “The Good” section)
  • No front-facing camera or HDMI port
  • Could use some more internal memory

Hardware

I find it hard to compare this phone to the original Desire, and had to continually reminding myself that it’s not the EVO 2. The handset looks sleek, and is much thinner than the Sprint HTC EVO 4G. The HTC Desire HD sports an asymmetrical industrial design that lends the device more of a “machine look” while still managing to retain a good amount of sexiness. You can thank the aluminum unibody construction for that. Seriously, if you’ve never held a unibody phone (Nexus One, HTC Legend) in your hand, you’re really missing out.

The front of the Desire HD is about as simple as it can get. With such a massive screen on board, you can’t really expect to fit much on the front face of the device. The face is mostly dominated by the display, but is punctuated by capacitive (touch-sensitive) navigation keys along the bottom of the display for the standard Home, Menu, Back, and Search navigation options that Android OS requires. The earpiece is nice and large, and the left side sports an LED notification light that works right out of the box. The out-of-box functionality of the LED notification light is worthy of a mention, since some are used solely for charging purposes (and some can be hacked to display notification).

The top of the handset is home to only the power button, as the 3.5 mm headphone jack is located along the bottom edge of the device. This is somewhat irritating to me, but in no way is it a deal breaker. Some users might actually find the headphone jack’s location beneficial – those of you that put your phone into your pocket with the topside pointed downward will appreciate this feature. You’ll also find the charging port and microphone on the bottom as well. The left side of the DHD houses the volume rocker and the tab to remove the battery, which will automatically power the phone off if removed. I found this annoying when I first popped the battery cover off to find my phone completely powered down. But, I obviously knew better the next time around. Plus, if you’re looking to remove the battery, the phone should be off anyway.

On the back of the device, you’ll find the loud-speaker and the 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash. On the bottom, you’ll find another tab-like piece of plastic that slides off to reveal the SIM card and Micro SD slot. Both tabs are somewhat questionable in their build quality, as they are just plastic and you feel like you’re about to break the phone when you try to remove them, but they’ll likely survive a beating. The plastic is a necessity, because these plastic pieces are where HTC houses its radio antennas – radio signals do not like to penetrate aluminum.

If you were to compare this to the EVO, you’ll be happy to know that the Desire HD is quite slimmed down. In fact, the DHD puts the HTC EVO 4G to shame in the size department. You won’t find a front-facing camera or a HDMI port on the Desire HD, but I’d still take it over an EVO any day of the week.

Software

Usually when we review an Android handset that sports HTC Sense,  the same things are said, and one could just throw in the “software section” from another phone. That’s all changed, as HTC has provided many new features and optimizations to their sexy Android skin.

HTC has really stepped up their game with the Sense UI by offering up some new things into Sense, such as Locations, HTCSense.com, and a handful of new skins, and more.

One of the best new features is HTC Locations, which allows you to download maps ahead of time, so you won’t find yourself waiting for data to load up your map when you’re on the go. You can also purchase turn by turn navigation right from the Locations app. It ties into HTC Footprints, which has been available since the earliest Sense UI for Android. Locations is a mix between Google Earth and Google Maps, yet provides enough options to be reliable on it’s own. I doubt I’d use this over Google Maps, but the option to download maps ahead of time may be enough for some to dump Google Maps. That said, I certainly don’t believe that the option will be left out of Google Maps in later versions, as it’s one of the most frequently updated applications  from Big G themselves.

HTCSense.com is another new addition to the Desire HD and Desire Z. It provides many features to help manage your device, or even track and wipe the phone if it’s stolen.

Upon first setup of the device, you’ll set up your HTCSense.com account, and you can opt for the Phone Finder if you’d like as well, which will let you track the device if lost or stolen, check the most recent call log on the phone, and even lock or remotely wipe the phone right from the site. You’ll also find the option to forward calls and messages.

HTC Hub allows you to send applications, wallpapers, HTC Scenes, skins, ringtones, and other notification sounds straight to your phone. We’re glad to see someone is taking advantage of the Chrome to Phone API introduced into Froyo, and it’s about as seamless as it gets. HTCSense.com also lets you sync your contacts and messages, and you can send texts right from the site itself. We’re not sure if we’d use this much, but the option is definitely nice to have, and it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Other notable enhancements for HTC Sense are a recent apps section of the notification bar, similar to the MyTouch 4G, the email application has received a slight makeover, the amazingly fast boot up time, and status updates are displays from a contact when they call you. Even with bigger features, like Locations, the attention to detail in the upgraded Sense UI is very noticeable, and we really wouldn’t expect anything less from HTC.

Performance

Given the second-generation Snapdragon silicon, clocked at 1GHz, it’s clear that the Desire HD is a high-performance machine. But, there’s a difference between just saying it’s fast and proving that fact. For those of you who love benchmarks, we put the Desire HD through the most common benchmark apps, Quadrant, Linpack, and Neocore. How does the DHD stack up? Well, have a look for yourself.

[click images to enlarge]



As you can see, the Desire HD knocks the socks off of much of the competition, but not by a ridiculous margin. In comparison, putting my G2 through the same tests yielded similar results. The DHD still beats it, but I was expecting it to blow the G2 away. It didn’t. First, the Desire HD’s benchmarks: Neocore: 56.6 FPS, Linpack: 38.158 MFLOPS, Quadrant: 1824. Now the the G2: Neocore: 56 FPS, Linpack 34.031 MFLOPS , Quadrant 1565. The Desire HD beat the G2 out in every category, but I was expecting to be blown away by margins, but that’s certainly not the case here.

This shouldn’t make you think that the Desire HD isn’t a solid performer, as it is. Benchmarks aren’t everything, and soon enough, we’re sure we’ll see this thing overclocked and then it will likely blow away the competition. Hopefully it will even beat out the G2’s jaw-dropping 1.9GHz overclock. That said, the Desire HD’s battery may not like that too much, as it will already drain quite fast as it is under heavy use.

Web Browsing, Multimedia, and Camera.

If you’ve touched a HTC Android phone before, you’re going to know what the Web Browser is like, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The optimizations provided on the Web browser give a nice facelift, while retaining much of the Android browser’s power. Along with the browser, HTC’s camera and music player apps have provided Android users with a functional, yet aesthetically pleasing experience, and we only wish the same would happen for the stock Android phones.

Web Browser

Browsing the web on the Desire HD is buttery smooth as you’d expect, but that’s only if Flash isn’t enabled. While many, including myself, are very excited that Adobe’s Flash is now available for Android, it’s just not there yet. I suggest going into the settings and turning the plug-ins to “on demand” so you can see Flash content only when you choose to. Then again, you don’t have to have Flash installed if you don’t want it.

The screen size of the DHD yields quite a nice web browsing experience, with only the address bar on top of the page. You’ll an option to add the page you’re viewing to your RSS feed reader on the left, and a reload button on the right so you won’t have to dig through the menus to access these frequently used features. Viewing bookmarks is nice, and as with the past version of HTC Sense, you can view them in a thumbnail view or just a plain list if you so choose. These small, but nice additions are more than welcome and bring a much nicer experience than from what we’ve seen on any Android phone before.

Camera

HTC has spruced up the camera app in this version of Sense as well, but nothing that’s drastically different from what you may have seen with previous versions of the HTC camera app. Just like with Android 2.2 Froyo, many camera settings can be found on right side of the screen, but HTC has added some of their own. On the right side, you’ll find the option to  switch to video mode, flash settings, capture button,  effects, and gallery options. On the left side you’ll find an easy to you zoom function that’s large enough to be usable, but small enough not get in the way. Touch to focus is implemented, ensuring that you’ll be taking a photo of exactly where you want in the photo. More settings can be found once you hit the menu button.

Speaking of the camera, it takes some pretty nice shots, and video performs admirably as well. Of course, the camera suffers a bit in low-light shots, and sometimes, given the subject, the dual-LED flash doesn’t help. For the most part, the Desire HD’s camera is mighty fine, but until HTC throws a Xenon flash into their handsets, it likely won’t be replacing your point and shoot anytime soon.

One negative point is that you’ll have to make do with the camera soft key to take pictures, as the there’s no dedicated camera button on the device.

Check out the sample photos below:

Balmy Alley in SF. Picture was taken in the shade with the white balance on auto. While it's not the main focus, and is a result of just that, the sky and trees in the background look somewhat washed out.

HTC Desire HD sample photo - End of Balmy Alley, facing away from the sun

With the sun to my back, and a wider focus subject, the picture looks vibrant and crisp. It was very bright this day, and I was very surprised to see just how well the balance came out.

HTC Desire HD sample photo. Close up of flowers in sunlight. Vibrant, but almost blends the colors together.

Close up on flowers shows the vibrancy rather well, but colors almost bleed together in some places.

evening picture using the Desire HD

Evening approaches, and the camera tries to hang on to some quality. It does, yet the surrounding subjects should have been much more viewable.

Camera quality went along with the setting sun, as you can see the picture above is very grainy.

Here are some video recording samples:

Music Player

The Music player on the Desire HD is somewhat of a mixed bag. That said, there’s no doubt that the HTC music player outperforms the stock Android music player in almost every way. Seriously, the music player that ships with Android is barely acceptable. The Sense UI makes everything better.

One thing HTC didn’t skimp on with the Desire HD, is a nice UI. But at this point, are you surprised? The Desire HD comes with Dolby Mobile, so your songs will come in loud and crystal clear. Another thing HTC decided to add in SRS WOW HD, and when you’re headset is plugged in, you’ll get 13 different equalizer options to choose from.

You’ll also find a small tab above the media controls for featured music on Amazon MP3; we really like the option to see what’s hot right now on Amazon, even if we won’t use it too often. Something we do love about the music player is that a simple tap of the menu button allows you to seamlessly search videos on YouTube for the particular song you’re listening to.

Call Quality and Battery Life

One of the biggest complaints about the EVO that we’ve heard is that the battery life of the device is downright terrible. Luckily, the Desire HD isn’t as bad in terms of battery life, but the battery could stand to last a bit longer. With some light web browsing and music listening, I was pretty surprised to see how fast the battery drained to half way in just a couple of hours. That said, I had WiFi on, GPS on, screen brightness to the max, and other things that would drain the battery regardless of the load I put on the handset.

When I was a little more conscious of what apps I was using and which apps were running in the background, I easily got through a full day with the Desire HD. As with most smartphones today, don’t think you’ll be able to get away without charging the thing at least once in a night/day cycle.

Since this handset won’t be coming to the US anytime soon, I tested the Desire HD on the T-Mobile network, and as expected, it performed great. Calls came in loud and clear with no background noise or static. The speaker phone is like magic, but seems as if super high-frequency noises could overwhelm the speaker. But, keep in mind that this volatility in tone can happen with any speaker phone.

If you’re seriously looking to buy this thing and import it to the US, you need to be ok with dealing with EDGE all the time when you’re not using WiFi. Honestly, seeing as how it’s 2010, you shouldn’t be okay with all-EDGE all the time. More power to you, if you are, though.

Wrap up: Is the Desire HD worth it?

If you’re in the US, and you just need this phone wait until Rogers in Canada gets the device and then go to AT&T for your carrier. You’ll be able to get 3G speeds that way, otherwise, you’ll be stuck on EDGE.

If you’re in a country that will/does sell this thing, I’ve got to say it will probably be one of the best phones available for a long time. You may want to avoid it if you want features like a front-facing camera or HDMI port, as you won’t find them here. Nonetheless, the Desire HD is yet another solid device from HTC, and as long as they continue to deliver devices like this, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

If you want a super fast, large screened, power house of an Android phone, the Desire HD is currently the best choice when it comes to HTC’s selection. Hopefully there will be a white version at some point as well. When it comes to some competition, the Droid X gets a big nod still, and the MyTouch 4G is hard to not admire.

  • scott

    Do you have any proof that Rogers will be releasing the HTC Desire HD in Canada? I would have thought it would head over to TELUS, as they currently offer the Desire A8182.

    • http://twitter.com/OMFCody Cody

      Telus is in fact getting it.

    • http://twitter.com/OMFCody Cody

      Telus is in fact getting it.

  • Jgdhhyg

    I’d never trade my evo for this lesser phone. Some of the coolest features of the evo are stripped out of this phone. I use my kickstand every day, and I value the front having camera,hdmi port, and whatever else they stripped out. No wonder it is (slightly) thinner, there is a lot less to pack under the hood.

    • Noway

      hey ho

      Everyone his phone then. I’ve owned 3 phones with front facing cameras (no, no invention by apple) and I’ve used them each about once: To check, if they were really working! i think I remember using one for the fun of trying on fring (skype).
      For the kickstand: Well, maybe I’d be using it if it were there, but then I’d very probably not remember it was there anyway.
      The HDMi port would be fun, I think it’s ridiculous though to introduce new plugs on every second device. (as fas as I know, it’s no standard HDMI on the EVO? May be wrong on this one though). I really like the DHD’s possibility to view pictures, movies and listen to sound via DLNA. It’s fuss-free and doesn’t even require a cable. Just use wifi and any other DLNA capable device. It even works with any PC with installed Media player. (also on Dreambox ;-) )

      So, maybe less plugs can be more sometimes…

      Best greetings

  • Noway

    Hey
    I’m using the DHD in Switzerland. The network coverage is quite good I have to admit… but anyway, I can get 3 days’ use out of the phone. This would typically involve about 1-2 hours’ calling, browsing the web for a couple of hours (wifi) and some movie watching. I do turn off wifi though, when I’m not using it and I really like the Task Killer widget for the home screen. Keeps memory use low and the same goes for the battery. Currently about 50% of my power use is down to the (from my point of view very good) screen.

    Best greetings

  • http://www.sameerchavan.com/ Sameer Chavan

    The Speaker is pathetic and shameful to #HTC. HTC Desire HD is like a hugh fat man with a voice of cat. I dont understand why HTC put such a horrible low quality and low volume speaker. You cannot hear the ringtone.
    Another problem is the Camera. It is set to take pictures at low shutter speed and 90% time your pictures are blur and shaken. I like iphone camera, its very fast and pictures are never shaken.

Back to top ▴