Bloody typical! You wait ages for a handset that reimagines a long-established operating system and then seven of 'em come along at once. Microsoft has rebuilt its unloved Windows Mobile platform from the ground up and launched it as Windows Phone 7 with seven (geddit?) premium handsets, the first of which is HTC’s HD7.
Like the rest of the first batch of WinPho 7 devices, the HTC HD7 is quite the high-ender, and it feels like quality from the second you pick it up. From its metallic frame to its rubberised plastic casing, it feels the business and even though it's barely pocket-sized at 122 x 68mm, that slimline 11mm profile helps it slip in just about anywhere.
The Windows menu, search and back buttons are on a touch sensitive strip beneath the screen, on the sides are a volume rocker and camera button, plus there's a micro USB sync/power plug and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom.
On the top edge is a power button while on the back is the 5-megapixel camera lens with dual LED flash. Usefully, these last two are surrounded by an oblong metal plate which flicks out to form a little kick stand, so you can stand the phone on a table for watching video – nice idea.
The 4.3in capacitive touch screen offers 480 x 800-pixel resolution – maybe not quite as pin-sharp as you’ll find on some of those AMOLED screens from Samsung, but perfectly fine. Perhaps even more importantly for a working phone, it’s sensitive and responsive, so it’s absolutely no chore to find your way through the menus or flick pages around while browsing the web. It’s multi-touch too, so it can do the pinch-to-zoom thing like the iPhone.
Interface and operating system
Microsoft had been getting stick for its mobile platform for years, and whether the software giant took it personally or not, just about the only thing the old version has in common with the new one is the Windows name.
Gone are the fiddly menus and complex navigation, replaced with an almost ridiculously simple tile-based interface. But while it looks simple, there’s actually lots of fancy stuff going on beneath the surface. Many of those plain-looking 2D tiles are configurable, for instance – the People tile will automatically populate itself with ever-changing pictures of your contacts.
A simple brush to the left brings you deeper into each section and the big background images which are automatically pulled from your photo library give a refreshingly new look to everything. It’s very easy and intuitive to use, and looks great, but it’s still got a few mountains to climb. There’s no cut and paste ability, for example (that's the headline feature on the first WP7 update, due next month) and while the scrollable menus work just fine when they’re not too clogged up with features, they could get a bit much as you add more and more functionality from the Windows Marketplace.
Microsoft hasn’t allowed HTC to stamp much of its personality on the OS (such as the well-liked Sense system on the company's Android handsets). Instead, you have the HTC Hub, a section which offers a few HTC-only apps (photo and sound enhancers, stocks info and a few others) and some thoroughly over-designed (but lovely) weather graphics.
Not that there’s too much danger of adding too many apps just yet, as the Marketplace is looking distinctly understocked at the moment. It’s not particularly easy to browse either, though the search function does a good job of rooting out stuff that’s similar to what you’ve asked for, and is set for a boost in the aforementioned update.
You’ll need a Windows Live account to make the most of the HTC HD7’s networking smarts and it leans heavily on Facebook for its social networking (though you can also add Twitter from the Marketplace). It will automatically pull your Facebook contacts and pics into your contacts book and display your updates, though as yet there’s no equivalent to Android HTC’s FriendStream widget, which brings together all of your comms from social networking, email and text in a single stream.
Microsoft’s Zune software is used for syncing with your PC and is fine for matching music, videos and pics. Weirdly, though, syncing with Outlook is a bit of a palaver and you need to jump through a few extra configuration hoops to get it to work.
There’s quick access to the web via HSDPA or full-on broadband via Wi-Fi. Pages render well for the most part and if you turn it on its side, the onboard accelerometer instantly flips pages into landscape mode, all the better for taking full advantage of that big screen. Another quirk of the WinPho 7 OS is that you can’t navigate pages in landscape mode – you’ll have to hold it in portrait to get anywhere, then back to landscape to read, which is a bit of a pain. There’s no Flash video support either, which seems like a trick missed, especially when you’re trying to compete with the Flash-less iPhone.
Cameras have never been HTC’s strong suit, and many a good handset has been let down by a poor-quality, underpowered snapper. Finally though, the company seems to be getting the message, and this 5 megapixel model isn’t half bad. It’s not festooned with features (that dual flash, autofocus and a few shooting modes, including macro, is about your lot) but picture quality is easily better than HTC has previously settled for and it can record HD video in 720p resolution too.
Watching video on the HTC HD7 is where that big 4.3in screen really comes into its own and even letterboxed movies still look good, though it would have been nice to have the option to stretch films to fit the screen.
The music player is easy to use and HTC’s sound enhancer app works as an equaliser so you can adjust the sound to suit your ears (something you won’t find on non-HTC Windows handsets). As with more phones, the supplied headphones are barely on speaking terms with bass, but fortunately it’s easy to upgrade them to a decent pair using the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Like the rest of the WinPho 7 handsets available, you can’t expand the memory via microSD card (the system has issues with them apparently, though future incarnations may be able to accept them) but there’s a choice of 16GB or 8GB versions, which iPhone users will be familiar with.
Battery life is okay but the OS is busy behind the scenes and there’s a lot to power – you’ll be lucky to get more than a day on a single charge, though you can stretch it a bit by dimming the screen or restricting your network access.
Summary: It’s an HTC handset but the hype is all about Windows, and if Microsoft is going to stay in the smartphone game this new OS really has to work. On this evidence, it certainly does, and WinPho 7 deserves its own place battling against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, even if there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
The HTC HD7 handset basics all hit the mark too, with a strong 4.3in screen, decent camera, good social networking aspects and a whole hatful of extras. Overall, HTC's first Windows Phone 7 handset is a bit of a gem.
- Windows Phone 7 OS
- 4.3in capacitive touchscreen
- Decent camera for an HTC
- No cut and paste
- Marketplace lacking in options
- Locked down OS means little HTC personalisation
More info: HTC HD7 specs