It’s not just the hardware on the new HTC HD7 that is pretty exciting, but the fact that it is running the new Windows Phone 7 operating system. I myself go way back with Windows on mobile devices. My first “PDA” was a monochrome Compaq Aero running Windows CE. To put that in perspective – back then Palm Pilots were just starting to get some attention. As Windows CE became Windows Pocket PC, and eventually Windows Mobile, I grew with it too. Moving from a monochrome PDA, to a color one, to a color PDA with WiFi, to eventually smartphones. Windows for mobile devices improved over the years but even as recently as Windows Mobile 6.5, the OS still showed its original roots from the 90′s. It was time for a change and Windows Phone 7 is so fresh and different than its predecessors, and anything else on the market for that matter too, that it blew me away. I’ve been using the HTC HD7 for a week and a half now, so I feel confident enough to say I’ve put its through its paces.
The HD7 measures 122mm x 68mm, its 11mm thick and weighs 162g. The width is definitely bigger than most of the phones we’re used too but not so much so that it becomes uncomfortable to hold in your hand. The device’s display takes up most of the front face of the device and is surrounded by a black border. At the top of the black frame you can find the HTC logo on the left and T-Mobile’s logo on the right. Beneath the display are three touch sensitive buttons – a back button, home (start) button and a search button which are standard to all Windows Phone 7 devices. At the bottom and top is are thin grills for the speakers, even though the “real” mono speaker is actually located on its backside. Along the right side of the device are the volume controls and a dedicated camera key. Having the volume controls on the right side of the device took a bit of getting used too for me, since most phones we’ve used have volume keys on the top left side. At the bottom of the device there is a 3.5mm jack along side a microUSB port for charging and syncing.
The backside of the device sports a slim kickstand that surrounds the camera. Having a kickstand on the back makes a lot of sense since the display is so large, it’d be a sin not to watch videos on it. The kickstand doesn’t add significant bulk to the device and is wafer thin. It also kind of makes you wonder why all smartphones don’t come with one. Overall, build quality is solid, and our only concern is that you’ll need to be careful not to break off the kickstand.
The HTC HD7 sports a 4.3″ 800×480 capacitive touchscreen. That resolution is actually required by Windows Phone 7 in order to keep the U.I. look and feel consistent across all its devices. The display is large, with crisp sharp visuals and good color reproduction. But it’s a little dimmer with a little less vibrant colors than the display on the HTC Surround. Overall, it’s an excellent display, with pretty good viewing angles, but it’s just not the best display out there. The kickstand on the HD7′s back of-course helps takes advantage of this generous screen real estate when watching videos. The display is also big enough to provide a truly mobile cinematic experience.
Windows Phone 7′s on-screen keyboard is nothing short of fantastic. It is so much better than any onscreen Android keyboards we’ve used as it really allows you to comfortably, and speedily type out messages. On the HD7 in particular, the on-screen keyboard is so big that you can comfortably use two hands while typing. Personally, I’m in love with the keyboard. But my some of my colleagues weren’t quite as taken with it. One, whom is an iPhone user still preferred the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard, and the other whom is a T-Mobile G2 user, preferred a dedicated keyboard. I guess to each their own. Still, you can’t deny that this is a superior onscreen keyboard experience.
The device runs on a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 processor with 16GB built-in of memory. Unfortunately the memory cant be expanded via a microSD slot, but 16GB should be enough for most folks. In general the system performed speedily with plenty of pep. Videos play back beautifully on the device and so do graphically intensive games. I’ve been using the HD7 for almost two weeks and not once have I experienced a frozen app or have I needed to restart the device because it froze. That said, I have been reading about people experiencing some freezes and issues caused by third party apps.
The OS / U.I.
Microsoft really thought out of the box here. The interface is polished, as a matter of fact it’s so slick, that it is a contender for the nicest smartphone U.I. design on the market right now. The apps and software in Windows Phone 7 are navigated through from swiping to the left or the right. To Microsoft’s credit it generally very responsive and we haven’t experienced any lags with it. That said, even though it is pretty intuitive, Windows Phone 7 does take some getting used too because our brains are so used to the icon based U.I.’s on today’s other competing smartphones.
You’ll need a Windows Live ID to get set-up with the phone. Fortunately you can make it so that your Windows Live account emails don’t get pulled into the phone under settings – I don’t know about you but my Hotmail account is full of spam and I haven’t used it in years, so I certainly don’t want my battery wasted on pulling emails from that account all day long.
The Start Screen (or homescreen) in Windows Phone 7 has been designed so that you can see everything you need with a quick glance, and without having to take any extra steps. This is accomplished through animated ‘Live Tiles’ that allow you to see status updates from your apps. For example, the ‘Mail Tile’ gets updated with the number of unread messages you have waiting. The Live Tiles also show calendar appointments, news updates, weather or game and friend statuses. You can also ‘pin’ contacts, pictures, playlists and other apps to the Start Screen. You can arrange the order of these tiles on your home-screen so that your homescreen is customized to your taste. You can also set the color scheme for some of the tiles and choose from a white or black background for the menu system.
If you swipe the top part of the start screen you’ll be able to see a set of icons for battery strength, reception and WiFi. It’s odd to have to swipe in order to get info that is visible on any other smartphone OS’s, but our guess is that it was left off because they wanted to keep the menu clean with a minimalist look.
Windows Phone 7 also introduces Hubs which lets you group different aspects of the operating system. For example – your music, radio, and videos are all grouped into the Music + Videos Hub. The Pictures Hub is where you can view your photos and share them – viewing photos includes being able to see pictures that your friends recently posted on Facebook and Windows Live. Inside the People Hub you can get updates from Facebook and Windows Live Feeds. Here the ‘Me Card’ allows you to quickly update your status or change your profile picture on multiple social networking services at once.
Some of the software that comes standard in Windows Phone 7 includes Bing for searching the web, mapping an address or getting directions – this all similar to Google Maps on other phones. You can bring up Bing Search at anytime by pressing the dedicated search button at the bottom of the display. Bing includes voice search, powered by Tell Me and is pretty accurate, but it sometimes can take a few tries to accurately recognize what you’re searching for.
You can scroll and flick, zoom with a pinch, just like you do on Android and iOS. You can also select phone numbers and addresses and you’ll be brought into the Map app. Again, this is similar to how iOS and Android function. Browsing speeds were pretty good using Internet Explorer on T-Mobile’s network in New York City, but it’s definitely not T-Mobile’s fastest phone for browsing the web.
Reading emails in Window Phone 7 is nice and easy on the eyes. The OS provides seamless “Outlook” integration with support for multiple Exchange accounts at once, along with Gmail integration – including calendar and contacts integration, Yahoo!, Windows Live and other accounts. Email set-up is easy and automatic for most popular services. The E-mail app has support for landscape and portrait views, and also supports pinch to zoom. You can view emails by all, unread, flagged or urgent. You can use the Search button to search through emails. The interface also provides you with a system for selecting and deleting multiple messages at once.
Microsoft Office Integration is strong, and heck, it should be since this is Microsoft’s own OS after all. When it comes to Word, editing features are somewhat limited – you cant change fonts or use that many colors. Powerpoint docs cant be created on the device but they produce great slideshows. OneNote and Excel are also there. You can optionally have all of your docs sync to the cloud with a Windows Live SkyDrive account.
Video Gaming / Xbox Live
The Xbox Live integration is certainly enticing- it’s the closest thing you can get to a mobile experience of Xbox 360. You can sign in with your gamer profile and your avatar will show up. You can earn points to add to your gamer score and even send messages to your Xbox 360 buddies and play some multiplayer games. Games play fantastically on the HTC HD7, especially on such beautifully large display. The current available game selection is small but includes a nice selection of graphically rich titles including Sims 3, Need for Speed Undercover, Guitar Hero 5, Assassin’s Creed, Guitar Hero 5, Tetris, and Earthworm Jim HD. We love, love, love that most of the games offer free trials. We wish other app stores offered more free trials too! Unfortunately there is a catch, and that is that many of these games require you to connect to WiFi or a PC to download, even to download the trial version.
Windows Phone 7 comes with a Find My Phone service. Apple offers a similar service for the iPad and iPhone but you have to pony up $99 for a yearly MobileMe membership to take advantage of it. The Find My Phone service on Windows Phone 7 however is free, but you’ll need to use your Windows Live account to take advantage of it. The way it works is that in a situation where your phone has been lost or stolen, you can log into your Windows Live account to remotely erase your personal information, lock the phone, remotely ring it, and also locate your phone’s location on a map. You can even post a “please return” note on the device remotely.
Other cool features include how calendar app lets you send a pre-written “I’m running late message” if you’re running late. Also, the device’s Lockscreen shows time, date what’s next on you calendar agenda, how many new mails you have, and if you have any new voicemails. Speaking of the calendar - when calendar notifications pop up and you dismiss them, they flip over to the next one. It’s a simple animation, but a neat effect. Also, no matter what app you’re using, if you press the volume button while listening to your music, a set of music player controls will pop up. Unfortunately this is the most multitasking you’ll get out of the device. Windows Phone 7′s lack of multitasking means that once you leave an app you won’t be able to resume where you left off.
Also, wireless sync is available which is very neat, and it works over a network, but it’s limited to working only with a PC at this time and the phone’s content will only sync back with a PC if it’s plugged in to a charger.
And finally, when you’re around WiFi networks, a bar will pop up on top to let you know what WiFi networks are available.
Overall, Windows Phone 7 is a super impressive effort but still has lots of room for improvement. For starters, there is no copy and paste or internet tethering option available, at-least not yet.
The HD7 comes preloaded with T-Mobile TV, Netflix, Slacker, Xbox Live and Music + Videos Hub with Zune with Zune Marketplace. Zune Marketplace is a strong competitor for Apple’s iTunes and offers a rich library of artists. On Windows Phone 7, the Zune Interface is super slick and actually knocks the socks off of iTunes’s interface on the iPhone. To use Zune, you’ll first need to sign up online at Zune.net and set up a Zune Pass subscription. Unfortunately, the actual Zune software is PC only. But that doesn’t mean you cant take advantage of a Zune Pass monthly streaming membership on your phone. The phone comes with a 14 day free trial. A monthly pass not only allows you stream unlimited music, but you also get 10 free credits each month so that you can download 10 songs which you can keep forever, even if you decide to cancel your Zune subscription. Alternatively you can also stream your Zune Pass on your Xbox 360.
The device also as a built-in FM Radio, but you’ll need to connect your headphones for it to work as an antenna, which is typical of phones with FM Radios. The HD7′s built-in mono speaker is also very powerful. But it’s also pretty tinny, to the point that playing music back on it literally hurt my ears.
The HTC HD7 in particular also comes preloaded with Netflix, T-Mobile TV, T-Mobile Family Room, Slacker, Netflix, HTC Hub, TeleNav GPS Nav, and T-Mobile TV with a free 30 day trial – after that it costs $9.99 a month. T-Mobile TV on Windows Phone 7 is the same as its Android counterpart. The device also comes preloaded with the HTC Hub which contains apps like the HTC sense driven 3D weather “widget”.
Staple apps like a calculator, lists and stocks aren’t preloaded on the device, but HTC has free versions of these apps available for download and they are pretty slick. So it’s definitely worth downloading some of the free HTC apps which includes a photo enhancer, a stocks app, a flashlight app, and a Sound Enhancer app that helps control the device’s Dolby Mobile and SRS surround sound settings.
Regarding the Windows Phone 7 marketplace, there is not a massive selection available yet for apps, but most of the big players are already there - including Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, Seesmic, and ebay to name a few.
The HTC HD7 sports a 5MP camera with dual LED flash and a 720p HD Video Recorder. The flash is very strong, too strong actually. To that effect, the camera isn’t very good and the flash creates washed out pictures. We often had a difficult time focusing with the camera and indoor shots often came out blurry, and grainy with the colors washed out. Video on the other hand, especially outdoors, filmed very nicely. The camera app defaults though to 480p, so you need to remember to keep switching it back to 720p if you want to film in HD. Windows Phone 7 does however offer the ability to automatically upload pictures as they are taken to your SkyDrive account.
Making phone calls on the HTC HD7 has been a superior experience on T-Mobile’s network. Callers have consistently sounded loud and clear and they have said the same about myself. I’ve also yet to experience a dropped call.
Mac Users Welcome
Mac Users can use Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac, which is currently in beta. It syncs the phone’s music and playlists with iTunes and imports its photos with iPhoto automatically, so that Mac users aren’t left in the dust.
Battery is on average with most of today’s smartphones, and it will get you through the day with moderate use.
Unlike Android, iOS, and the BlackBerry OS etc which do sport many similarities between one another, Windows Phone 7 really offers a breath of fresh air when it comes to its user interface’s style and overall design. It’s a totally different way of interacting with your smartphone. And to that effect, sometimes it works and feels intuitive, and sometimes it doesn’t. That said, the OS feels clean, modern, and polished. In terms of pure modern design it is ahead of its peers. Performance on the device is really good too. But in terms of usability the OS still has some holes – the biggest of which is the lack of multitasking, which is really a let down. But no matter which way you look at it, Windows 7 has made leaps and bounds since Windows Mobile 6.5, and they really are two different beasts altogether.
That said, the HTC HD7 running the new Windows Phone 7 certainly offers something for everyone – it’s suitable for social media addicts and hard core gamers, the Zune integration makes it enticing for multimedia enthusiasts, while strong Exchange and Office integration makes it suitable for businessmen. Overall, it’s a well rounded device. We’re very impressed with the slickness and freshness of the new Windows Phone 7 OS, and it’s certainly light-years ahead of its predecessor Windows Mobile 6.5. Also, while the live tiles and tight social feed integration will certainly make social media addicts happy, we would like to see more social networking integration with Twitter, just the way the OS is so heavily integrated with Windows Live and Facebook. The generous large 4.3″ display on the HD7 helps it stand apart from the other Windows Phone 7 handsets on the market and helps assist in making Windows Phone 7 shine, as well as helping transform the device into a serious multimedia and gaming device.
The HTC HD7 retails for $199 with a new contract at T-Mobile. If you’re looking for a case for the device, Speck already has a PixelSkin HD case available for the HTC HD7 in pink or black for $29.99.
The Good: Excellent performance with a responsive touchscreen, beautiful and fresh interface design, strong multimedia features, 4.3″ display transforms the system into a mobile theater, Find my Phone feature is built-in and free, with its great performance and growing library of graphically rich games it makes sense that serious Xbox gamers will want this phone, Wireless Sync, strong social networking integration, excellent onscreen keyboard, seamless Zune integration.
The Bad: Doesn’t take advantage of T-Mobile’s 4G network, no cut and paste or internet tethering available yet for Windows Phone 7, dedicated social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter need to be downloaded separately, lacks multitasking capabilities, no option to expand storage, camera shots are hit or miss – camera pictures are not consistent and the camera often takes a while to focus.
Update 11/22/10: Apple’s Find My iPhone feature is now free.