TELUS has thrown down the gauntlet for smartphone users with the HTC Desire HD. You wanted a bigger, better, beefier smartphone? You’ve got it.

The natural comparison out there will be with the iPhone. HTC has anticipated those comparisons and equipped the HTC Desire HD with a whole host of features that compare quite nicely. But how well does the phone integrate those features, and does it offer a better user experience? Read on to find out.


How does it look?

The HTC Desire HD strikes a cutting silhouette. The large screen dwarfs the competition,  it starts up fast, and the screen is bright and clear. Holding it side by side with smaller phones (like the one mentioned earlier) is almost a little embarrassing. The 4.3” display is just positively huge.

The 480×800 WVGA display isn’t “Retina” but it’s still gorgeous. I think Apple’s commitment to “more pixels than the eye can see” is great, but it does mean that the screen size needs to remain relatively small (it’s why the iPad 2 won’t rock a Retina display either).

When it comes to browsing you can go fullscreen with full Adobe® Flash® support. That means that you totally get to mute that guy on the Future Shop home page on your phone, an experience I’ve sorely been missing on the iPhone. It also means that you can access countless Flash apps that haven’t been ported to HTML yet (and may never be). Games, apps, productivity tools… there’s a proofing tool that I use called ConceptShare that I ignore on my iOS devices that works just fine on the HTC Desire HD. It doesn’t just work; with the 4.3” screen it’s actually usable in a productive way!


So what’s under the hood?

HTC has started off with a 1GHz processor (good), 768MB of RAM (great!), and 1.5GB of on-board storage (meh). I added a 32GB MicroSDHC card (sold separately) so I’ve actually got more space on this device than I do on my iPhone; it’s nice to have the choice of adding and swapping memory cards, but it’s not something I’d do often. That card is in there now, and it’s staying in there! Still, if you appreciate the ability to swap cards (and batteries, for that matter) it’s a pretty simple thing on the HTC Desire HD.

The HSPA Radio is capable of 14.4Mbps. I clocked faster downloads on the HTC Desire HD than I did on my iPhone, but the difference was negligible. I may have been holding the iPhone the wrong way (ahem). I was able to connect the HTC Desire HD to my home network on 2.4GHz 802.11N. Downloads were lightning fast at that point.

You’ll find other great bells and whistles like a compass, a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor. These are all pretty standard gear, as is the built-in GPS, the 3.5mm stereo audio/mic jack, and the standard micro-USB connector. Without passing any judgements I will say it’s great that this phone, my bluetooth speakerphone, and several other devices all share the same charger.


How does it run?

The HTC Desire HD is fast. Everything feels incredibly tight, there’s a huge level of polish that has gone into making the interface run smoothly. The lag and momentary pauses of older Android handsets is just flat out gone. Running Android 2.2 Froyo, the HTC Desire HD is a speed demon.

I’ve also found that it seems to be more intelligent about what I’m trying to do. I used to find myself activating apps accidentally on old Android hardware; the Desire HD seems more tolerant of actually using the phone and it doesn’t pick up errant presses that I don’t want it to. It could be my imagination, but I didn’t have any trouble getting around inside the handset.


Talk to me about software.

Well, like I said earlier, it comes with Android 2.2 Froyo and all the openy goodness that comes with it. Naturally you can install Android Marketplace Apps, but you can also grab individual packages and install them directly. The first thing I did was add Skype and give it a whirl. Voice quality was fantastic, and I was able to converse just as easily as I would on a 3G+ phonecall.

The HTC Desire HD comes with HTC Sense UI, HTC’s customized UI implementation. While Sense UI does have its naysayers, I found it to be a really handy way to handle my interaction with the phone. The different “Scenes” that I could choose from helped customize the interface for what I was doing at a given time; it’s not a terribly natural thing to do multiple times per day, but switching out of “work” mode and into “play” mode was a welcome change from the rigid interfaces you’ll find on some other phones.

That interface is most obviously useful when it comes to the social aspect of your phone. Twitter and Facebook are well integrated (for those who are so inclined) with FriendStream. It parses your social network traffic into a one-stop shop where you can digest things easily. It takes the difficulty out of trying to keep track of what everyone is doing in their lives, so you can go about living yours instead of making that a part time job.

The HTC Desire HD has a piece of software called Locations. It leverages the hardware with on-board map data, meaning that you don’t need to have a data connection to use GPS. That’s great for cross-border trips: no roaming fees!

One incredibly cool thing: the Desire HD is DLNA compliant, so I was able to stream a movie right off the phone’s storage (that’s the 32GB card I mentioned earlier) to my PS3, and I was able to do it without any proprietary software or new hardware. Handy.

Finally, I was pleased with the one touch implementation of Wi-Fi hotspot. I hear this is a feature that’s coming in a future iOS release, but it’s a reality right now for HTC Desire HD owners, and I think that’s saying a lot. Sharing your high speed connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot is great for anyone that has a mobile device that doesn’t have 3G, like a laptop or a Wi-Fi tablet. You can also tether your phone to your computer over USB for a more secure, private connection.


So, about that HD thing…

The screen itself is high res, but you’ll also find that the cameras HD too. The HTC Desire HD is rocking an 8MP still camera with dual LED flash, and it does 720p HD as well. The photo app is pretty darned cool: it can pull off neat features like face detection, and includes geotagging, depth of field, and vignetting. It was nice to not have to buy an app for that last one!

The HTC Desire HD is pretty awesome as far as mobile media devices go. It plays back a ton of audio and video formats, including mp4 .avi and .xvid. That meant a whole lot less video conversion had to be done to get some of my video collection on there. I was also really happy to be able to just drag and drop my video onto my phone. You have the choice of opening it up as a USB hard drive and copying data over. Not being constricted by a library program was refreshing.


After two weeks of use, what do you think?

The HTC Desire HD is a worthy competitor to the iPhone, presenting an equal on many levels and besting it on others. It’s bigger, faster, and offers more options for customization, making the Desire HD feel like your version of the phone, rather than just a phone you own where someone else decides how it looks. It’s incredibly functional, and adds a layer of interactivity that’s both fun and simple.

The HTC Desire HD feels powerful because it is powerful. If you’re looking to upgrade your old Android handset, or you want to break out of Apple’s walled garden, or even if you’re looking to get an awesome start with your very first smartphone, the HTC Desire HD is a phenomenal choice.



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