HTC HD7S Review: Does this handset deserve the S in its name?

HD7S_Stand

Windows Phone 7 has a long road ahead of it if it’s looking to dethrone the likes of Android and iOS, and so far, even with the great hardware that’s landed on now every carrier in the United States, it has yet to make a big splash. Enter theHTC HD7S on AT&T, which is essentially a repackaged HD7 for T-Mobile, but comes with a few upgrades along the way. In this review, we’ll see if this is the upgrade we were hoping to see or if it’s just more of the same.

Read on for the full review.

The Good
  • Beautifully designed handset: HTC knows how to make a handset with function and style, and it shows with the HD7S.
  • Windows Phone 7 is simple and elegant: The OS is one of the most beautiful around and it's impossible to get lost.
  • Super LCD display is a plus: This is probably one of the most significant differences between the HD7S and original HD7.
The Bad
  • Not much of an upgrade from the original: While the new additions are welcomed, this updated handset is a little underwhelming.
  • Windows Phone 7 still hasn't captures a solid following: The OS is going through its infancy and can't compete with the likes of Android and iOS yet.
  • Specs can't compete with the dual-core crowd: Handset is sub-par when you look at all of the upcoming hardware shipping with dual-core processors.

Hardware

The HD7S can be summed up pretty quickly, especially if you've seen the original. It's simple design is a great reflection of the software running on the device, and we're sure that isn't a coincidence.

The face of the device is covered mostly by the 4.3 inch Super LCD display, a nice upgrade to see from the standard LCD found on the original. That said, the screen suffers quite a bit in direct sunlight. Above the display you'll find the HTC and AT&T logos, as well as the ambient light and proximity sensors. Below the screen lies the three Windows Phone buttons for back, home, and search. On the top and bottom of the face you'll find two speaker grills that you may not notice them at first. Well, there actually not speaker grills at all, but that's the best way to describe them, we suppose.

The right side of the device is where the volume rocker is found as well as a camera shutter button that seems a little too far up the spine of the device and we wish that it had better feedback when pressed. The feedback factor is due to the fact that the camera button, as well as the volume rocker above it are almost flush to the handset.

There's nothing on the left side of the device, and the top only houses the power/lock button. On the bottom is where you'll find the charging port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. While it won't bother everyone, I really can't stand the headphone jack being at the bottom of a device.

The back of the HD7S looks exactly like its predecessor and the only difference between the two hides behind the kickstand. Unlike the original HD7, the HD7S' kickstand hides a golden section that adds a little pop to the device and a nice contrast to boot. The metal kickstand itself has holes in it to accommodate the dual-LED Flash and 5 megapixel camera. Below the camera you'll find HTC's logo smack dab in the middle.

The battery cover is easy enough to pull off, and only about three quarters of the backside is removable. The cover itself is rather thin but its hardly flimsy. Below there's a small metal strip that looks to serve no purpose whatsoever besides adding a little flare.  Below that is where you'll find the Windows Phone branding.

Powered by a 1GHz processor, which is hardly slow, the HD7S may leave some underwhelmed. The new rage is dual-core and the spec junkies out there may just pass this handset up. Then again, we won't be seeing any Windows Phone 7 devices lands with dual-core CPUs until later this year. So if you're looking for a WP7 phone with the guts to take on the handful of powerful Android phones available today, you're going to have to wait.

 

 

 

Design

While it's the same design of the original, that certainly doesn't mean we don't love the overall design of the HD7S. This is a phone that HTC is surely proud of, as it's a very well designed and solid device.

The weight of the device is surprisingly light and we love that HTC managed to keep the handset so thin. It's not Galaxy S 2 thin but you'll likely have no issues with the device in tight jeans.

All of the sides are trimmed in a metallic grey trim that looks somewhat like hematite and all buttons along the device share the same finish, only slightly lighter in color. However, we do wish there was some consistency between the trim and the metal pieces on the back of the device.

The back of the HD7S is simply beautiful. The matte black finish gives a nice contrast to the metallic kickstand and we don't even mind seeing the HTC and Windows Phone logos on the back. The gold section that peaks out of the side of the kickstand and underneath is another story, though. Sure, it's a nice touch but it still seems like a bad color combination that reminds us of a bad fashion faux pas.

Build Quality

The HD7S is a handset that feels solid in the hand screams quality. If you've held a HTC phone before, then this shouldn't come as a surprise at all. The manufacturer is known to make some of the best handsets of our day, all of which can usually take quite a beating and you'll find that durability within the HD7S as well.

While we firmly believe that the handset itself could take a beating, we wouldn't be surprised if you dropped it that the trim on the edges would scuff up. Given the color of the trim, a scuff on it would continue to mock you since it's so shiny.

 

Software

Shipping with the NoDo update, the HD7S has the latest version of the Windows Phone 7 operating system and it brings a couple of new features to the table. While the update everyone is interested in is Mango, it won’t be hitting handsets for months, so you’ll have to make do with NoDo.

Windows Phone 7 is one of the slickest operating systems around that makes Android look like a huge mess and iOS look ancient. That said, Microsoft’s mobile operating system, while much better than Windows Mobile, trails Android and iOS in handfuls of ways. The OS is still going through the growing pains of a new platform and should be quite the contender by year’s end.

Windows Phone 7 features “live tiles” that will show you relevant information about your phone without having to open the application. This information is limited, however, and most of the time you’ll have to go into the application to get the information you actually want. Still, this is a novel approach to how one navigates through an OS. Live tiles are similar to Android’s widgets but widgets on Android can be customized much more, ensuring the information you want is at a glance. That said, most of the time there’s enough information shown on the live tile. Still, something as simple as seeing who the message or missed call was from would be nice.

Pre-installed Windows Phone 7 applications are really a joy to use. Applications have an infinite looping feature that will allow you to go back to the first panel just by swiping and all have the same look and feel as the rest of the OS. Featuring tight integration with Xbox Live and Zune, Windows Phone 7 is the go-to OS for those who use these services frequently, with no other competitor coming close.

NoDo comes with welcomed features like copy and paste, application state saving (app freezing for “multitasking”), and a handful of enhancements throughout the OS. While competing operating systems already have most of the features that NoDo brings to Windows Phone 7 in place, Microsoft has put a lot of detail into its OS and makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

As a primary Android user going to Windows Phone 7, the OS seems somewhat limited. It is in some respects, but one just needs to find out how WP7 does things opposed to other operating systems out there, obviously. Still, it’s going to take Microsoft a while to bring the fight against Android and iOS, even if it looks better than both.

One major annoyance we have with Windows Phone 7 is that to get content from the phone to a computer, you must have the Zune software installed. The over-bloated media player looks nice but it's hardly something we'd want to use on a daily basis. If Windows Phones were allows to act as USB storage devices we'd be happy campers.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

Windows Phone 7 features Internet Explorer, which comes to no surprise. As with the rest of the operating system, the web browser is very simple, gets the job done, but ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.

All of your options are laid out in front of you when you open the browser, with a quick settings menu at the bottom. You’re given the option to add a bookmark, view bookmarks, and see the open windows at the bottom. To the right of these options lie three dots that will reveal more options to share the page, find something on the page, pin to your homescreen, or the real settings menu.

With no flash support at the moment, nothing really beats the Android browser today but Windows Phone 7 will eventually support Flash in the future. The web browser works well, but small things like not being able to access the address bar in landscape are small peeves that we wish would be addressed. Still, the web browser is more than capable and does its job with the elegance you’d expect from the OS.

Multimedia

Since this is Windows Phone 7, you can expect a great media experience through Zune. Just like the rest of the OS, the look and feel of the music player is streamlined, simple, and sexy. You’ll have to manually sync the handset through a computer, but it requires little to no effort. You can sync all of your music, videos, and podcasts to the phone, as well as listen to the radio (with headphones plugged in) and purchase music from the Marketplace. Slacker Radio is also pre-installed and you can listen right from the music application.

Camera

The HD7S comes with a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and is capable of recording 720p HD video. Overall, the camera performs well but the camera button is simply too flush to the device. It's also rather rigid, and you'll have to press down fairly hard to actually get a shot out.

The camera software is simple and to the point, and offers up a couple of options for you to play around with. The standard photo effects like grey scale, sepia, and negative are all present, and you can also adjust the scene that best suits the environment.

Taking pictures is simple enough and after you snap a photo it slides to the left for easy access. However, when you go to look at your pictures a pop-up will ask you if you want to automatically share your photos online. You can disable it, but we wish that the option would be tucked away in the settings somewhere and not in your face.

When we reviewed the HTC Arrive for Sprint, we were pretty surprised to see how poor the camera quality was and we’re happy to say that the HD7S takes much better shots. The HD7S can also shoot HD video admirably.

Outdoors, sunny, default settings

Outdoors, sunny, default settings

Outdoors, sunny, default settings

Outdoors, sunny, default settings

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality for the HD7S was acceptable enough but as always, your experience will vary depending on coverage. AT&T's network here in San Francisco is notorious for dropped calls and while I never did get a dropped call, some calls cut out for a second or two. This wasn't every time, however, and for the most part the call quality was just fine.

Battery life was more than acceptable for the handset and you'll likely be able to squeeze out a full day with little trouble.

The Final Take

The HD7S may not be the most powerful handset around but it's still a perfectly solid handset that will please fans of Windows Phone 7. While we wish that the handset would have seen a bigger update from the original the handset is one of quality and is one of HTC's more solid handsets.

WP7 is a beautiful operating system and may have ousted WebOS in terms of elegance and simplicity. When we actually do see Windows 8 tablets come to market, having a WP7 handset should only make the experience more seamless. The app ecosystem is still not quite where it needs to be, though.

As far as the HD7S goes, it should make many happy but buyer's remorse may set in when more competitive handsets running the OS become available. Still, even if it may not deserve the S in its name, we like the HD7S a lot. HTC nailed the design and build quality of the device is stellar. If you're in the market for a Windows Phone for AT&T sooner rather than later, then grab this phone now.

Back to top ▴

  • SKp

    Absolutely love this phone.  Slick, easy to operate, and stable.  This coming from a recovering android addict.

  • SKp

    Absolutely love this phone.  Slick, easy to operate, and stable.  This coming from a recovering android addict.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RQLOIADQIKNSW5U5HFAJ4QQ4VA Paul

    Wickedly sexy – now running Mango. Love Zune Pass too! Oh… and my aftermarket 3600 Mah battery – I don’t know if I’ll ever have to charge it again!

    The only thing I don’t like is that the power button is designed for a left hander – it should be on the opposite side of the top.

Back to top ▴