I’ve spent the last week using the HTC Desire HD on loan from Vodafone UK. I switched to use it as my primary phone instead of the iPhone I normally use my to see how the latest HTC device performs. Having had a regular Desire in the past I was also interested in the improvements made beyond the larger screen.

Desire HD Overview

The Desire HD is a capacitive touchscreen phone with a 1GHz QSD8255 chip, running Android 2.2 OS with HTC Sense overlaid as the main UI. It has the latest 802.11n WiFi to support the fastest connections to enabled routers.

Form Factor and Screen

The size of this phone on paper, 123mm H x 68mm W x 11.8mm D, is only slightly bigger all round than the iPhone (115.2mm H x 58.6mm W x 9.3mm D) or the HTC Desire (119mm H x 60mm W x 11.9mm D) but they add up – in the hand this feels like a big phone! This size is required for the larger 4.3″ screen at 480 x 800px which is glorious to look at and use.

iPhone 3GS, Desire HD, Desire
iPhone 3GS, Desire HD, Desire

Read on for more…The Capacitive screen is very responsive, and visually stunning to look at – possibly not quite as good as the iPhone’s Retina Display, but the best non-Apple device I’ve used. The case feels extremely solid, again HTC are using their new form factor of a solid casing and covered slots at the bottom for the SIM and MicroSD cards and the side for the battery. The side cover is difficult to get on and off and I can see this breaking or becoming lose over time.

Also, compared to the regular Desire, the optical trackball has gone completely and the hardware buttons have been replaced with touch sensitive ones with haptic feedback.

Text selection on the screen is more difficult without the optical trackball, Android has the ability to press+hold to bring up a magnifier with Cut and Copy options similar to the iPhone, however this doesn’t seem to work ‘anywhere’  – trying to copy an address from a Calendar appointment for example simply wouldn’t work without opening the event for editing first.

Sense Interface

Like the Desire, the Desire HD had the HTC Sense interface, which is an excellent user interface for Android. There is a nice wizard that runs automatically, walking  you through configuring your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Google accounts. This not only bring this information into the FriendStream homescreen, but also optionally integrates online information into your contacts. Once the initially sync is done a wizard then appears giving you the option to link any contact information from social networks with matching contacts in your Contact list. Once configured any calls or texts will show the Facebook or Twitter picture, and browsing your contacts will now show their latest Facebook or Twitter status update too!

The phone also features a connection to the new HTCSense.com website for allowing remote management, backup, locking or wiping the phone and other features. We have covered this in a separate review here.

Battery

The Battery is rated at 1230 mAh which for powering such a large display seems a little weak. Using the Desire HD for a full day in London with few calls but frequent use of the on-board Android 2.2 Navigation app and Google Maps using the GPS the battery didn’t manage the day, with the low battery message appearing about 4pm. There is however a ‘power saving’ mode that automatically popped up to be activated doing things like reducing screen brightness, turning off haptic feedback, and disabling the camera flash so at least you can squeeze the most time from your final 15%. HTC quote 9 hours talk time but this figure is largely meaningless nowadays, with data and GPS being used more that talk time – and this battery definitely won’t manage 9 hours of that type of usage.

Camera

The 8 mega-pixel auto-focus camera takes great photos, and the dual LED flash works well in low-light. There is no hardware shutter button which I prefer, but I’m just about used to poking the screen to take a photo as seems to be the current trend. All photos are geo-tagged (where possible) which together with Footprints provides a nice way to see your photos by location.

The physical camera lens does protrude noticeably from the back of the device, raising the profile of the phone when laid flat, and making you worry about scratching or damaging the lens when in day to day use.

General Use

The browser is excellent as usual, and the added size and resolution of the 4.3″ screen make this a great viewing experience. The additional real estate over the iPhone or Desire makes a noticable difference, and of course the Android browser supports Flash so there are no gaping holes in webpages. Testing numerous sites with Flash embedded proved no problem, and the page load was fast.

As a phone the Desire HD is much the same as the regular Desire. It’s larger in your hand but still feels ok to hold up to your ear and talk. Call volume was good and loud enough even in noisy environments, however, with no active noise cancelling speaking from that noisy environment can make it hard for the person at the other end to hear you. Testing on the Vodafone network provided great signal all day, only dropping out on the London Underground (which may also be solved in the next few years!) and it was a nice change to have no dropped calls which I have somehow got used to with the iPhone.

The Android notification bar has been improved to now include a list of recently used applications, so swiping down the notification bar allows you to immediately jump back to a recent app – a nice addition which makes multi-tasking easier. The only drawback to this is that Apps never close, so more and more get ‘state saved’ using more and more resources and therefore battery. Stay on top of Apps with a Task Manager (of which there are plenty) and close them down if you don’t need them! Having said this, even with several Apps all held in suspension, the Desire HD never showed any sign of straining – memory and processor coped without any trouble.

The Wireless HotSpot feature is an excellent feature now standard on Android 2.2, allowing you to wirelessly tether several devices and share the HD’s 3G connection, you can also tether over a USB cable to one device. Several USB modes are supported – Charge Only, HTC Sync, Mass Storage, USB Tethering and Internet Passthrough.

Email setup is up to the usual we’ve come to expect from HTC Android devices, with quick and easy configuration for Exchange Server or regular POP/IMAP accounts. A nice new feature in email is the Favourites view which will filter your emails to only show those from people on your Sense favourite contacts tab.

Desire HD Favourite Contacts in Sense

In Summary

The Desire HD is definitely the most powerful feature-packed Android handset available at the moment. Everything you could want is included and the screen and resolution make browsing and social networking activites an absolute dream. You pay for this mobile powerhouse by it’s size in your pocket which is by no means uncomfortable, but you won’t forget its there. And if you will be taking advantage of the social integration and amazing browsing experience the average battery life will also be an issue, however, accessory manufacturers providing cases with integrated batteries will most probably help you out there too.

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Written By: Rob Gordon

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk