HTC HD7 Review

78/100

WhistleOut
03 August 2011

At first glance the HTC HD7 is an elegant, but not unique looking device. Its 4.3 inch screen has a remarkably thin bezel surrounding it, the speaker and microphone are concealed stylishly between the bezel and frame of the handset and the dark yet shiny edge definitely adds an element of class. However, the effect was diminished when we realized that the framed sticks in to your ear when making a call. This was uncomfortable and only became more annoying with time.

Both the volume rocker and camera button are on the right, making it much easier to handle when taking photos as you won’t find yourself accidentally adjusting your phone’s volume when lining up a shot.

One physical aspect we must take issue with is HTC’s decision to go with capacitive buttons on the HD7. While this is definitely a subjective topic, we find capacitive buttons nothing but annoying. Too often when using the HD7 for browsing, typing a message or just about anything at all we found it easy to accidentally brush a thumb or finger across the Back or Start buttons and find ourselves suddenly and rudely switching screens. Capacitive buttons do add to the visual appeal of the device, it’s true. But the negatives by far outweigh the positives in our humble, but professional opinion.

The back plate is made of a thin soft-touch material which not only looks good and will be resistant to scratching but also makes for a better grip. The 5MP camera is surrounded by titanium tinted stainless steel which is in turn bordered by yellow, adding an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise quite stark look. The final effect is definitely a positive one, but the actual overall shape and form of the device is what we’ve come to expect from slate-style smartphones. Basically HTC hasn’t done much new, but what they’ve definitely done a good job with the traditional look.

Getting Started on the HD7

Once you actually switch the device on setup is nice and simple, just a few short prompts and we were away. It's a good idea to connect it to a computer first up, as Microsoft recently released a small patch that adds Copy & Paste and fixes a few other minor problems.

The quality of the 4.3 inch screen is immediately noticeable. Very importantly, due to the color scheme of the WP7 User Interface (UI), blacks are extremely sharp. This contrasts well with the bright live-tiles of the menu, which also enjoy a crisp quality that we really appreciated. However, as far as touch capability goes the accuracy of the multi-touch appears a little off. We’re sure it’s something we’d get used to with time, but it seems that when trying to tap on something small, like a link in the browser, we had to tap just slightly above our target.

As is standard across all Windows Phone 7 devices the display resolution is 480 x 800, CPU is a single-core 1GHz processor, and the 5MP camera, while good, is the minimum required by Microsoft. One thing we do love about HTC’s approach to the hardware is a tiny modification to the frame surrounding the camera. The titanium tinted stainless steel border surrounding the lens flips out, creating a stand by which one can prop the phone up to watch videos. This is a simple but brilliant idea and we hope it catches on across more areas of the market.

The Windows Phone 7 UI

Microsoft put a lot of time and effort in to its new WP7 “Metro” UI and it shows. The home screen is simple, elegant and, despite the HD7’s large screen, easily used with just one hand. Customization is simple, just tap and hold on a tile to move it, or if in the menu off to the right employ the same method and then select “pin to start”. If you're after a change of color scheme that's easy enough as well. Just select the Themes option and you can change the color of the live tiles, as well as switch the background from black to white.

The software keyboard is snappy and easy to type on. However, we did experience a problem when trying to edit text. Once a message is typed, if you look back and spot a spelling mistake or misplaced bit of punctuation you’re going to have trouble changing it. Unlike the Android or iOS operating systems, on WP7 it seems you cannot tap the middle of a message in order to move the cursor there. Instead we found that the only way to edit already typed text was to highlight the word closest to the error and go from there. Unfortunately this deletes the entire word the moment you start typing. It’s not a huge problem but we did encounter minor inconveniences like this throughout the WP7 UI. This is the kind of stuff that will be ironed out in time and it’s important to remember that this is the first iteration of the WP7 OS. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying at the present.

As far as battery life goes it was absolutely stellar, lasting a full 2 days of heavy and medium use. Compared to the usual 1 or 1 and a half we’re accustomed to this was a great surprise, especially from a device with such a large and bright screen.

Navigation

The navigator gave the impression of a half-finished piece of software. During my lunch break I needed to buy a book. I decided this would be the perfect time to test out WP7’s navigation software. Knowing that there was a Dymocks somewhere near the office I put “Dymocks” in to the search bar. Imagine my shock as the view suddenly zoomed out of North Sydney, scrolled the globe and settled on a remote part of Africa. Somewhat perplexed, I tried again, with exactly the same spelling. This time there was no scrolling. The screen simply changed and I was greeted with a lovely overhead view of Dymock, a suburb just north of Gloucester in the United Kingdom.

If looking for a specific address the Navigator worked fine every time. However, being so used to just typing the name of a business or restaurant in the Android and iPhone OSs it was definitely a frustrating experience having to first look up the address of a store online before typing it in to the search bar. This is definitely an issue we hope Microsoft addresses in the upcoming patch.

Camera Integration With the HD7

Camera integration on the HTC HD7 is fantastic. The dedicated camera button on the side of the device was a stroke of genius for Microsoft. While it’s definitely not the first time we’ve seen something like this on a device, it’s the first time it’s been made mandatory by an OS developer.

Whether you are locked or not, one click of the camera button takes you straight in to the camera, ready to shoot. We were dubious about this at first and worried that this is the kind of thing that would be activated in the pocket. However, the camera button on the HD7 has been excellently designed by HTC so that it is easy to press when actually using the camera, but not so easily clicked that it would go off accidentally. As a result of this ease of access I actually found myself pulling my phone out to take photos with much more regularity than with my regular handset.

The quality of the photos themselves isn’t anything particularly special. They’re clear enough and the dual-LED flash makes for good shots in low light, but it’s no more than we expected from a 5MP camera. Shots taken with flash tend to come out with a bluish tinge, but that’s easily fixed with the UI’s easily accessed Photo Enhancer software. Simply click photo options after taking a pic, go in to the enhancer and select “warm”. This switches the color balance from decidedly blue to slightly orange and normal-looking for an indoor shot in low light.

The auto-focus on the HD7 is a little off, taking a few seconds to acquire the target every time you move your hand. There also appears to be no option to manually focus, making it difficult to take pictures in the same room as a bright light. However, ultimately most photos came out well and without issue.

Video capture is much the same story. The 720p filming is good but unamazing, offering a similar quality to other handsets. That being said it still takes films well enough for all but the more serious film takers of the world.

Gaming and Media Support

Game support was pretty cool if a little over-priced. The games from Windows Marketplace have a depth of graphics we’re not used to seeing in mobile games. However, as far as cost goes they tend to sit at around the $6.50 mark, rather than the $1 and $2 we’re familiar with.

The media player looks and feels great. We had no real problems with the in-phone operation of music and video except for one minor hiccup. When playing an album with multiple artists like a movie or TV soundtrack the player will play just one artist on repeat, rather than cycling through the entire album. This is kind of weird and we don’t see how Microsoft could have missed this. But it’s a problem not too many people are bound to encounter, as personal playlists still work fine, as do albums made by just one artist.

We did encounter a few issues with the Zune media player on our desktop, however. When attempting to transfer music and videos from a PC to the handset we discovered that Zune doesn’t recognize media files that aren’t held directly on the computer you’re syncing with. Not an issue for most, but for anyone that keeps their media on an external drive or a networked server it’s going to be a big problem, as Zune won’t even recognize the existence of said media, let alone play it. As a result we had to transfer media files from our external drive to the desktop before being able to then once again transfer them to the phone.

Email and Office

Email integration is simple and easy, as is the syncing your calendar with Outlook.

Microsoft Office support is nice, but we can’t see ourselves using it for anything much other than the calendar and transporting Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents like we would with a USB stick.

Social Media

Facebook and Social Media interaction is done pretty seamlessly. It’s very easy to check your Facebook updates, change your status and view photos without ever actually leaving your phone’s UI. You can even upload photos straight from the camera to Facebook.

However, Microsoft got a bit too excited when it came to making their “People” function. Instead of a normal contacts list all your friends from all your social media services and dumped in to the same list as your phone contacts. This definitely becomes annoying when trying to make a call. Filtering through hundreds of contacts in order to find just one is a frustrating experience. You can always fall back on the search function, but the entire idea of eliminating the phone contacts list does seem somewhat pointless. There is also an intermittent glitch where roughly 100 contacts, all called “<Unknown>” are added to the beginning of the list. We have no idea what causes this or how to fix it. All we know is that it only happens sometimes but when it does it’s definitely noticeable.

The WhistleOut Opinion

That’s just about it for the HTC HD7. It’s a solid piece of hardware running what should eventually be a fantastic OS. The phone handled its UI with awesome speed, while still delivering a smooth and responsive experience. The UI was, frankly, beautiful at every level of its implementation. The visual effect of the Metro UI was almost enough to make us forget the minor glitches and unfinished bits of software like the Navigator. However, for the moment WP7 really does have a few too many issues for us to recommend it too highly. If you want a phone that’s stylish and will get the job done then the HD7 might be the phone for you, but if multiple small inconveniences don’t sound like your cup of tea then we suggest you look elsewhere. We’re sure WP7 it will get there one day, but for now we’ll be staying with our iPhones and Android handsets.

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