Date: February 28, 2011
Author(s): Richard Searle
If you’re on the prowl for a quality Windows Phone 7 smartphone, HTC might have what you’re looking for with its HD7. It features a large 4.3″ WVGA display, dual-LED camera flashes, a kickstand for improved media viewing, solid application and game performance, a responsive on-screen keyboard and fantastic call quality.
With its HD7, HTC is taking a stand with its first-ever entry into the Windows Phone marketplace. The HD7 sports the recently released Windows Phone 7 OS and boasts the largest display available for any such device. This is definitely not your father’s Windows mobile device. HTC combines the HD7’s gigantic display with Windows Phone 7’s media and gaming capabilities, and it aims to deliver a user friendly experience.
Visually, Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful OS. Moving away from the traditional PC-like format, Windows Phone uses customizable tiles to help users gain the ultimate in personalization and convenience.
In using the HD7, I’ve found the OS to be smooth and very easy to navigate – especially for a novice smartphone user. There are some areas that need some attention, however, such as multi-tasking and a lacking universal inbox. We will touch on these later.
In the box, the HD7 includes a USB cable, an AC power adapter, and a stereo headset featuring a standard ear bud design. The device comes with a half-charged battery which has plastic in the housing that needs to be removed before the phone can be used.
With the phone out of the box, the plastic removed from the screen, and the hidden plastic in the battery housing taken out, we get our first opportunity to take a look at the HTC HD7 and its Windows Phone 7 OS.
Weighing in at 162 grams, the HD7 is a heavyweight in the smartphone market. The 4.3″ WVGA display has a screen resolution of 480 x 800 pixels and is ready to show off games, movies, and photos in rich detail. Pushing this heavyweight smartphone is a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
Having a large display does have the potential to make the phone awkward for users with smaller hands and may require the use of both hands for much of the phone’s operations.
The plastic device features a chrome ring that goes around the phone and has a durable feel; this ring does love fingerprints though. One weak point in design appears to be the back panel cover for the battery. This is constructed of very thin plastic and users have complained of this panel breaking or cracking.
To add to your media viewing pleasure, the HD7 includes a rear kickstand. This kickstand, combined with the large screen, makes the HD7 a great device for viewing a movie or slideshow. Speaking of which, the HD7 will play most popular file formats; however, it did lack the capability to play MKV files. This will force some users to convert the file format into a compatible one in order to view their media. Also, DLNA is not supported on the HD7 for media viewing on a TV or similar device.
Like most phones today there is no physical keyboard present. Instead, the large display allows for a clear easy-to-use keyboard, and after much testing, we found both the landscape and portrait mode to be a responsive delight to use.
The buttons on the front of the phone have little movement and are smaller than most devices. They do respond well to touch, but if you are not looking at the screen, it is difficult to be sure if you are pressing the correct one. On the side of the phone lies the camera and volume buttons with a power/lock button at the top. These buttons are quite recessed making volume adjustment awkward during a call.
Bordered by the kickstand lies a 5MP camera featuring dual LED flashes for low light situations. Video can be captured in VGA mode (640 x 480) or 720p. Launching the camera is made easy by pressing the camera button for 3 seconds; something you can do even while the phone is locked. This is one area where the recessed camera button is helpful as it prevents those lovely pocket photos that love to kill our battery.
Although a great device for capturing and viewing media, the HD7 lacks storage space. With no expandable memory, the 16GB internal storage fills up fast when snapping photos or storing other media. For charging and connectivity purposes, the HD7 uses a micro USB cable.
In our testing, the HD7 did not require a restart during use for weeks at a time. This shocked me since I’ve used Windows Mobile versions in the past and have had to restart daily. There was little-to-no delay when launching everyday applications and the OS was very stable no matter what application was running. Unfortunately, this could be in part to the Windows Phone 7 not having multi-tasking capabilities.
As for the phone’s reception, the HD7 performed well tested at three different locations. In the local HSPA+ coverage area, the device had all bars on the indicator and data services were working without any issues. Data still worked in the outlying 3G areas although not nearly as fast as a downtown area. In our remote testing area the phone did deliver one bar of reception and allowed some reliable but slow Internet browsing. Bluetooth and WiFi are both on board with no dropped connections through testing.
The earpiece delivered clear sound, and users calling from landlines had no interference or crackling even at full volume. The rear speaker did not deliver the same results, often crackling and vibrating even at medium volume during a call. In media playback the rear speaker worked good at a medium volume; however pushing the volume to 3/4 definitely put stress on the speaker. Outgoing calls were clear without any complaint from people on the other line.
The battery is on par with most Smartphones today; it will get you through the workday just fine with approximately five hours of talk time. Most users will find themselves charging the HD7 overnight.
At its first launch, the HD7 has a simple setup menu. Setup will integrate your Windows Live account with your phone (optional). If done, this will sync your e-mail, contacts, calendar, photos, and feeds.
Not only limited to Windows Live, you can also sync your Facebook and Xbox Live as well as other e-mails easily once you are out of the setup menu. For media sync, the Zune software is recommended.
Syncing your Windows Live ID allows you to integrate your Xbox Live account with the HD7. Xbox Live mobile allows you to customize your avatar, track your achievements, and of course, challenge your friends to games online.
Some titles include popular EA games Need for Speed: Undercover, The Sims 3 as well as many others. Load times for games were far from impressive, but once launched, the games do play like any other native application on the HD7â€¦ smooth.
Windows Phone 7 uses live tiles on the main display of the phone, as mentioned in the intro. You can make almost anything on the device a tile including shortcuts to individual contacts, your favourite websites, or your favourite applications. For your e-mail, there is no universal inbox feature so each e-mail account must be individually checked. Because the OS does not support multi-tasking, you must switch back to the home screen to swap between accounts.
No operating system would be complete without an Application Store. Windows Marketplace is growing daily and includes some of the most popular apps and games available. Some of the top free apps include: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix. Some popular paid apps are: Fruit Ninja, Pac-Man, and Tetris. One notable game that has been missing from the line-up is Angry Birds, but Rovio has recently announced plans to bring the title to Windows Marketplace, so readers need not panic if planning on switching to the Windows Phone!
Windows Phone 7 has a powerful search tool that will not only gather results from the phone but also straight from the Internet.
The HD7 we tested was on Bell’s HSPA+ network. One key feature was Bell’s Mobile TV, but US carriers offer this also, under many different names. After some initial buffering, live TV did play via the app; however this was with a 30-second delay from the live broadcast on television. There was some expected freezing and the picture quality was pixelated at times; however this is a great solution for anyone looking to watch a sports game on the fly. Bell is currently partnered with the NHL and NFL so fans can watch their favourite team while mobile.
Office Mobile includes Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint making viewing documents easy while on the run. Using Office Mobile to edit Word and Excel files has proven useful in everyday business use. The only obstacle we experienced with Office was the inability to edit a PowerPoint file, although PowerPoint viewing works well.
Overall, the HD7 proved to be a solid, easy-to-use device. Watching a movie on the smartphone is unlike any other Windows Phone device, provided you are prepared to use headphones or a third party external speaker. The kickstand is solid in construction and tilts the phone at a comfortable viewing angle.
Most people who pick up this phone will find it easy to navigate its games and features and, of course, use the phone for its most important purpose: make phone calls. Windows Phone 7 has a lot of work ahead to help us forget about some bad Windows Mobile experiences, but the HTC HD7 with Windows Phone 7 is a step in the right direction.
The HTC HD7 was launched late last year in the US and was available on T-Mobile ($99 on 2 year term). The HD7 recently hit shelves north of the border on Bell Mobility ($99.95 on a 3 year term).
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