It’s HTC in the lead, bringing us yet another Windows Phone 7 handset – enter the HTC HD 7. I wasn't altogether too pleased with their initial offering, i.e. The HTC 7 Mozart. While the handset proved to be mediocre at best, the new look and feel of the Windows Mobile UI didn't really do it for me either. Having said that, their latest offering had the community wanting more and I was hoping that that's just what HD7 would offer. Here’s a closer look.

Form Factor
Taking its cue form big brother HTC HD2, the HD7 is pretty much just an upgrade in some instances and a downgrade in others. For instance, while the HD7 is a classier, more elegant and refined looking handset, it’s a tad heavier than the HD2 but not enough to hamper portability or usage. Like the Mozart, the HD7 doesn’t have support for external memory. It’ll be available with 8GB or 16GB internal storage. It’s big phone to say the least, with display size and resolution almost identical to the HD2 – 4.3-inches, 480 x 800 pixels, only the HD7 features 16million colors while the HD2 could only handle 65,000.

Large as heck, but what a looker

Large as heck, but what a looker

The physical keys under the display of the HD2 have been replaced with 3 simple touch sensitive options – return, a Windows key to get to the Home Page and search. A micro USB connectivity/charging port is located at the bottom right next to the 3.5mm handsfree socket with the volume/zoom keys on the right side above the camera activation/shutter release key.

At the rear of the handset is a neatly engineered kickstand to prop the handset up in landscape making it really easy to view while watching videos. The bundled handsfree, while extremely comfortable and able to provide excellent quality audio, has the microphone built into the control pad which is situated too far. This makes it harder for the person on the other side of a call to hear you too well.

Features and Performance
Interface

There’s really no difference or changes made to the HD7’s UI as compared to the Mozart’s. It’s still as smooth as ever thanks to the 1 GHz Scorpion processor, Adreno 200 GPU and Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset which incidentally was also available on the HD2. At least with HTC’s Windows Mobile version of Sense UI, functionality was a lot better even if the layout wasn’t so simple. The little drop down menu from the top of the screen doesn’t any more information other than battery power, time and signal strength. A few more details would have helped. New messages and a small music player UI shows up when necessary but doesn’t stay there too long. 

The older Windows Mobile edition looked cluttered and too much like most other smartphone UIs at the time, WP7 is far more refined. From accessing menus to animations that happen while the accelerometer is in use and even pinch zooming, it’s all very iPhone-esque. It’s a fluid UI and the large virtual QWERTY keypad even in portrait mode makes for quick and comfortable typing. Multi-tasking on the WP7 platform isn’t very well thought out since there’s really no way you can access apps running in the background other than the music player.

WP7, smooth as silk but far from complete

WP7, smooth as silk but far from complete

The Tile system and side scrolling for most menus is easy to navigate but the lack of an actual ‘homescreen’ could take a little getting used to. There’s no way to adjust the background except with a light or dark (white or black) theme and tile color options. Almost anything can be pinned to the desktop making it somewhat easy to access. However, with platform like iOS or Android with their smaller icons and widgets, you have slightly more options per screen. Nevertheless, the Tiles are large and clear for viewing and access. Sadly though, the entire menu system does not switch to landscape, so if your handset’s neatly propped up on your desk, you’ll have to manage viewing the desktop, menus page and a few others in a sideways angle. Settings are minimalistic and that’s not a bad thing.

Media
There’s just one thing wrong with the handset’s media set up – Zune! The fact that I have so much space to play around with but restricted to using a proprietary system of data transfer is just annoying, pure and simple. There’s absolutely no issue whatsoever with the audio quality or decibel level in this device. With Dolby Mobile and SRS sound enhancement technology for both audio and video, the HD7 handles audio out put really well. EQ presets are not available from within the players interface. A separate app has been provided (Sound enhancer) for it and that includes a few preset options. The FM radio worked out quite well providing a decent amount of reception in most places even while on my daily commute and that’s something to be a little impressed about.

Dolby takes quality up a notch but Zune has got to go!

Dolby takes quality up a notch but Zune has got to go!

Unlike iTunes that has issues with conversion of all kinds of files for the ‘i’ products, Zune manages to accept all formats but takes an insanely long time to convert them to the appropriate size and resolution for the device. My advice is, convert them to iPhone size MP4 files using any converter software available and then transfer them through Zune. The process is much faster. It’s a pity a device with such a fabulously large and clear display has no support for DivX or XviD codecs.

There’s also no option for stretching videos to fit the screen or viewing them in their actual resolution. Sometimes videos that I converted from a 16:9 aspect ratio got unexpectedly stretched to the size of the HD7’s screen. While clarity was not an issue, it did bother me to see Bruce Willis’  bald head look more egg shaped than usual.  A photo enhancer app is also available for adding a few choice flavors to your photos.

Connectivity
The WP7 platform seems to be the only one that automatically captures and stores my Loop Mobile EDGE settings without any manual intervention. The HD7 supports 3G, EDGE and Wi-Fi with no frills. At least the HD2 and its much older Windows Mobile system allowed you to use the handset as a Wi-Fi router. The platform also doesn’t allow for tethering. Bluetooth connectivity is still limited to just A2DP with no file transfer options. Images can be shared only via Wi-Fi/EDGE by uploading them to Facebook, or Microsoft’s SkyDrive server for storage. They can also be emailed or sent via MMS of course.

No Flash but not even Sliverlight? C'mon!

No Flash but not even Sliverlight? C'mon!

Setting up email accounts is as simple as it is in any new Smartphone platform. Basic details are required, a verification protocol is run and that’s it. The UI for emails is neat and designed for comfortable viewing. WP7 also comes with a preloaded Stock market app which, once again, is oddly similar to what Apple used to do for iPhone customers. HTC’s Hub interface is more like an immersive weather application where you can also add a few shortcuts to various apps. It could have been an option for a secondary desktop but instead it’s an additional app that you’ll need to activate each time you want in.

The IE browser, as brilliantly as it performed while browsing, does not support Flash or Silverlight making the over experience a little underwhelming, all things considered. The App market is not yet available for India so it’s quite an offset for HTC to have launched two WP7 handsets in the country without app support. There are work-around methods of accessing the store via a PC but apps are a little pricey and the ones that are free just didn’t seem all to impressive. App development for WP7 is still a work in progress, as is the platform itself. Good luck Nokia.

Bing could be big

Bing could be big

One of the perks to the WP7 platform is Xbox Live integration. Though the Windows Phone 7 Games Hub you can access titles from Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Game Studios and other publishers as well as your stats and other account related information. It even allows you to play online. Facebook, Google, Windows Live and Twitter account integration with your contacts is quite well fashioned. The absence of any preloaded chat applications and the extremely limited availability of the same on the App Market is another peeve one has to deal with on the WP7 platform for now.

Bing is the native browser of course and Bing Maps handle the handsets GPS (with A-GPS support) capabilities. They’re no match for Google Maps just yet but you never know. As is though, they’re not a bad option even when it comes to navigation (no voice guided option).

Misc. Features
With some mobile standard apps like a unit converter, calendar (that does not sync with your Facebook account), alarm, calculator you’re good to go as far as basic features are concerned. What’s missing is a Notes application and Facebook or Google integration with the calendar. Then again, this is a Microsoft enabled handset so Google really isn’t given too much priority. The suite of Microsoft Office functions with OneNote and SharePoint adds quite a bit of value to the device but still not enough to cover all that's missing from the OS.

Good stuff but we want more...

Good stuff but we want more…

Camera
The HD7’s 5 megapixel autofocus camera is provided with a dual LED flash and features a few scene modes. Effects, flicker adjustment, metering and of course geo-tagging. Image quality isn’t as sharp as some of HTC’s previous offerings and does appear a bit on the dull side with colors looking just a tad washed out. In native resolution details are not really as clear as you’d expect either.

Click to see what this looks like up-close

Not the most clear of them all

Battery
Battery life proved to be a big drawback. With silly Tiles being unnecessarily animated, FB and emails on Push and the large LCD sucking up power, I found the HD7 doesn’t offer too much usage without needing to be charged each and every day. On an average talk time ran into the 3 hours 30 minutes span which is not really too great.

The Bottom Line

With a price tag of Rs. 28,990 (MOP), the HTC HD7 might seem like a great handset but do keep in mind handsets with far superior capabilities and operating systems that provide you with more functionality exist. The HD7, while a classy piece of hardware is saddled with an OS that is not yet full functional and, like I said before, a work in progress. For the record, the HTC HD7 is a handset to keep your eyes on.  It’s quite future-proofed, however there’s no telling just how frequently the updates will come though. This means you’ll be stuck with a handset with tremendous potential that’s just waiting to be unlocked to its optimized capability.

Prop it up and sit back

Prop it up and sit back

If you’ve got the patience, I say go for it, but we’ve been though this before with the iPhone and even the Android OS. Let’s not forget handsets like the Hero were seriously flawed but new age handsets like the Desire models have unlocked a whole new realm of mobile usability. It might be better to simply wait and see what the next update brings to the table and then decide. The only big hurdle you’ll have to conquer is the poor battery life.

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