HTC Desire HD review: Most wanted

Most wanted

GSMArena team, 11 November 2010.

Desire HD unboxed

The retail box of the HTC Desire HD has pretty standard contents: a USB charger, standard microUSB data cable and the usual paperwork.

There’s a one-piece headset with music controls (play/pause/skip) and a CD with HTC Sync. The supplied headphones aren't your only option though, since the Desire HD has a 3.5mm audio jack.

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The HTC Desire HD unboxed

Also enclosed is an 8GB microSD card. The only thing we miss is a carrying pouch.

HTC Desire HD 360-degree spin

With a 4.3” screen, the Desire HD is one massive Snapdroid. Just the sound of this is enough to frighten, impress, excite and entice. On a more sober note, the enormous screen has its consequences. The overall size of the phone has crossed some usability lines for sure.

The Desire HD isn’t the first phone with a screen this size though. And in fairness, the use of space is quite good. Next to the Samsung Galaxy S, the Desire HD doesn’t look all that huge – and the difference in screen estate is meaningful. Anyway, at 123 x 68 x 11.8 mm, we still find the Desire HD perfectly manageable. The thin waistline does reasonably well to make the height and width of the handset acceptable.

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The HTC Desire HD to the Samsung Wave II, Samsung Galaxy S and Apple iPhone 4: call me big

The weight of 164 grams is something to definitely consider. It is a heavy phone – hardly a surprise for this size. But it’s a phone that feels very solid and durable.

Design and construction

It’s all in the name really. We’re looking at a phone we’ve already seen: the unibody design and finish of the original Desire, and the proportions and screen size of the HTC HD2. It’s a mix that works we think.

The unibody design does make the whole thing a little more subtle and manageable. The finish is fingerprint resistant and provides a great grip. The build is good – we’d call it great, was it not for some minor details that seem to adversely affect both the usability and aesthetics of the device.

The battery cover on the side of the phone and the lid of the SIM/memory card compartment at the bottom don’t seem to firmly fit in place. Not to mention they’re both quite difficult to open. That’s probably OK – we don’t want a loose battery cover that will pop open at will. But we don’t wanna see unpleasant gaps in the body of a premium gadget either. And that includes the patch of plastic around the LED flash too.

Almost the entire front is occupied by the 4.3” capacitive touchscreen. We’ll say it again: well done HTC for not making the bezel too wide. It’s nearly all screen up front and it looks great. HTC dropped AMOLED in favor of LCD and honestly, we’re not impressed – but more on that a little later.

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HTC Desire HD makes a great first impression

The LCD screen is supposed to be one of the highlights of the HTC Desire HD. We have no issues with sensitivity – the capacitive unit has great response and silky smooth, precise performance.

And we don’t mind the image quality either. Watching videos and browsing, and reading text, are all nice and comfortable on a screen that size and resolution. The viewing angles and sunlight legibility are above average too.

However the depth of blacks and the overall contrast falls obviously short of Super AMOLEDs and Retina displays. When you put the handset next to a phone using a superior display technology, it really does make a difference. The viewing angles are not that spectacular either.

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The Desire HD screen is no match for Retina or Super AMOLED

Above the display you will only find the earpiece, a status LED, as well as ambient light and proximity sensors embedded within it.

The typical Android buttons (Home, Context menu, Back and search) are right below the display. They’re capacitive controls – and the transition to and from the touchscreen is seamless. You can’t help but notice the absence of a trackpad. It would’ve only made sense in landscape mode anyway. There’s no way to comfortably hold such a heavy phone in portrait and use a trackpad squeezed at the very bottom.

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The earpiece at the top and the typical Android controls at the bottom

The left-hand side of the device hosts the volume rocker only. It’s a thin button that’s quite stiff and with such low stroke there’s almost no confirmation of a press being registered.

The patch of plastic around the volume rocker is the battery cover. Inside there’s nothing to lock the battery in place, and it will simply fall off when you open the lid. That’s the reason why the phone will immediately turn off when you release the cover.

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The volume rocker is on the left along with the small battery cover

The thing we miss on the right-hand side is a dedicated camera button. It doesn’t make sense really – the Desire HD is the closest to a cameraphone we’ve seen HTC get and that’s not enough to warrant a proper shutter key. The Desire Z, for instance, has one.

The only thing to note at the top is the Power/Lock key.

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The bare right-hand side of the Desire HD • Power/Lock key on top

The bottom part of the phone features the microUSB port, the mouthpiece and the 3.5mm audio jack.

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The 3.5mm standard audio jack, the microUSB port and the microphone pinhole are all at the bottom

At the back of the HTC Desire HD is the 8 megapixel camera lens, stuck between the loudspeaker grill and the dual LED flash.

The camera lens sticks out the same way the HTC HD2 camera did and it’s still the natural place for your index finger to rest when holding the phone during calls. There’s no lens protection – except for a slight embedding – even carrying it in your pocket you risk getting it scratched. HTC did nothing in the Desire HD’s defense. The HD2 for instance did have a carrying pouch in the retail box. There’s no such thing in the Desire HD package.

For the time of the review, we managed to scratch the dark-painted metallic edge around the lens just by putting the phone down on the desk and picking it up back again. So we guess, in real-life usage, that will be the most vulnerable spot on the phone’s paint finish.

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The camera lens between the loudspeaker grill and the dual LED flash

Removing the battery cover reveals the 1230 mAh battery. It is quoted at 420 hours of stand-by and 5 and a half hours of talks in a 3G network.

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The 1230 mAh Li-Ion battery

The plastic lid at the bottom covers the SIM compartment and the microSD card slot. Releasing it won’t cause the phone to power off – as opposed to the battery cover. You can hot-swap the memory card when needed.

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The SIM bed and the microSD card slot

The Desire HD is a solid and generally well-built phone. The unibody has good ergonomics and makes the otherwise big set more comfortable to handle. We like the finish too for both its smudge-resistance and secure grip. Our only concern are the patches of plastic at the rear (battery and SIM lids, LED flash casing). They don’t seem to fit tightly and the resulting gaps are particularly unpleasant.

Otherwise, it’s a big but manageable handset – the big screen is an obvious advantage and HTC couldn’t have done a better job of building the phone around it. Perhaps, we’re getting used to big screens, are we?

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The HTC Desire HD is a handful

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