HTC Touch HD (Unlocked) review:

Photo gallery: HTC Touch HD (unlocked)
Photo gallery:
HTC Touch HD (unlocked)

Back in October 2008, we received the unfortunate news (through Twitter, of all things) that HTC would not bring its HTC Touch HD smartphone to the United States. The company wrote “… by the time we could bring Touch HD to the States, it would be old news. We do have other cool stuff coming.” Fair enough, but we couldn’t help but wonder if we were missing out on something great. Mostly, we couldn’t take our eyes off the Touch HD’s extra-large, 3.8-inch WVGA touch screen.

Well, thanks to our friends at eXpansys USA, we were able to get an unlocked version of the HTC Touch HD to take for a test drive, and in short, HTC was right. The smartphone’s display is impressive, but beyond that, its features and performance are nothing extraordinary. In fact, we think the Touch HD doesn’t quite live up to its name with disappointing video support and performance. Plus, it doesn’t support U.S. 3G bands and with an unlocked price of $700, we want it all. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’d get more with the or one of Nokia’s N series devices. For now, we’ll pass and look forward to HTC’s upcoming products.

Boasting a 3.8-inch WVGA (480×800 pixels) touch screen, the HTC Touch HD features one of the largest displays (if not the largest display) on a smartphone, beating out other touch-screen devices like the Apple iPhone (3.5 inches), RIM BlackBerry Storm (3.25 inches), and Samsung Omnia (3.2 inches). Though it may seem like a couple tenths of an inch wouldn’t make such a big difference, it’s definitely noticeable when viewing messages, documents, and Web pages, since it’s easier to read text and you can see more. The Touch HD’s spacious screen certainly doesn’t hurt in the photo and video department either. The high-resolution display makes images extra-sharp and colors pop that much more.

The HTC Touch HD beats out other touch-screen smartphones, including the Samsung Omnia, in terms of display size.

Given the larger screen, the Touch HD is slightly bulky. The handset measures 4.3 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick and weighs 5.1 ounces, so it won’t make the most comfortable fit in a pants pocket. The phone has a solid construction, however, and features a soft-touch finish on the back to gives it a nice, grippable texture.

Like the company’s other Touch series devices, including the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro, the Touch HD features HTC’s TouchFlo 3D interface, which consists of a tabbed toolbar along the bottom of the screen where you can scroll through various applications and information. Without having to go into the Start menu, you can easily access your messages, the Internet, multimedia, weather forecasts, and more. There’s also a Programs tab where you can assign up to 24 buttons for one-touch access to your favorite apps.

The TouchFlo UI definitely goes a long way to make the Windows Mobile more user friendly. It’s better organized than Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, but it’s still not intuitive as the iPhone’s. Also, while you can scroll through lists easily with the finger swipes and zoom in on a Web site by double-tapping the screen, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the multitouch capabilities of the iPhone. The Touch HD’s touch screen was mostly responsive, though there were a couple of occasions where the transition between menu tabs wasn’t the smoothest (more on this in the Performance section). Another complaint is that the built-in accelerometer only works in a couple of applications, such as the Web browser and photos.

The Touch HD’s onscreen QWERTY keyboard is similar in size to the iPhone’s. The keys are marginally smaller, but it didn’t pose a problem as we were able to compose text messages and e-mails with minimal errors. There is a landscape keyboard when the screen is in that mode, and the smartphone also provides other input methods as well, including a compact QWERTY, phone keypad, letter recognizer, and more. There are also options for auto correct, T9 word completion, and spell correction.

While you’ll use the touch screen for most actions, there are four touch-sensitive controls below the display.

Since you’ll be using the touch screen for most tasks, there aren’t a ton of physical buttons on the HTC Touch HD. Below the display, you do get several of the standard phone controls, including Talk and End keys, a Home shortcut, and a back button. They are touch-sensitive controls and provide a vibrating tactile feedback. On the left side, there is a volume rocker, while the right side only has a stylus holder. You’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power button on top of the unit, and a mini USB port on the bottom. Finally, the camera and speaker are located on the back, and the SIM card holder and microSD expansion slot are behind the battery cover.

Behind the battery cover, you’ll find the Touch HD’s SIM card and microSD expansion slots.

The accessories that come with the HTC Touch HD may vary depending on where you purchase the smartphone. Our review unit came with a charger, a USB cable, an 8GB microSD card, an extra stylus, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.

Once you get beyond the spacious display, you’ll find that the HTC Touch HD is largely like other Windows Mobile devices. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition and comes with the standard Microsoft Office Mobile Suite for viewing and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, and Direct Push Technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. The Touch HD also supports HTML-formatted e-mail and you can access POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, which, in most cases, is a simple process of inputting your username and password. In addition to Internet Explorer Mobile, the handset also ships with the Opera Mobile Web browser out of the box, which allows for tabbed browsing, but, sadly, no Flash support. Like the Touch Diamond, however, there is a dedicated YouTube application.

Other reloaded PIM tools include Adobe Reader LE, a Zip Manager, WorldCard Mobile business card reader, a voice recorder, a task list, a task manager and switcher, and a calculator. You can, of course, add more applications to the smartphone based on your personal and business needs. There’s no shortage of third-party apps for the Windows Mobile operating system; for title suggestions, check out

The one area where non-U.S. support hurts the HTC Touch HD is connectivity. Operating on Europe’s 900/2100Mhz HSDPA/WCDMA bands, the smartphone doesn’t work with either of AT&T (850/1900MHz) or T-Mobile’s (1700/2100MHz) 3G network, so you’ll be surfing on EDGE speeds. The good news is that there is integrated Wi-Fi, so you’re not limited to just EDGE.

As far as phone features, the quad-band Touch HD offers world roaming, a speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) and you can store multiple numbers for a single entry, as well as home and work addresses, e-mail, IM screen name, birthday, spouse’s name, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or a customized ring tone. The smartphone also has Bluetooth 2.0 that supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, file sharing, dial-up networking, and more.

The Touch HD has an integrated GPS and comes with a utility called QuickGPS that is supposed to speed up the time it takes to find your position by downloading the latest satellite information via an Internet connection. For real-time navigation with voice-guided directions, you’ll need to add a location-based service like TeleNav GPS Navigator, but you can also use Google Maps for Mobile for positioning and text-based navigation, traffic data, and more. The smartphone should come with Google Maps on the device, though this wasn’t the case with our review unit. Not a big deal, however, since it’s just a simple, free download to the phone.

With its large display, the HTC Touch HD would seemingly be a good candidate for multimedia functions, particularly video. However, it doesn’t quite achieve its full potential in that department due to spotty video playback (more on this in the Performance section). The smartphone supports multiple file formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMV, and MPEG-4. The multimedia player is the standard Windows Media player with support for album art (if available), shuffle, repeat, on-the-fly playlist creation, and full-screen video. There are also a handful of extras on the smartphone, including an Audio Booster utility, an MP3 Trimmer program that lets you cut and trim MP3 files and make them into ringtones, and the aforementioned YouTube app.

On back of the HTC Touch HD, you’ll find the 5-megapixel camera, but no flash.

The Touch HD also comes equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with video-recording capabilities. The camera includes other shooting modes as well, including a cool panorama option that lets you take three consecutive pictures and then stitches them together into a panorama shot. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t have a flash, though there are white balance and brightness controls. For still images, you can choose from six resolutions and four quality settings. Video can be recorded in either H.263 or MPEG4 format in one of four resolutions.

We were disappointed by the camera’s performance, as picture quality was subpar.

We weren’t very impressed with the picture quality. It was difficult to get a clean shot indoors. Even after adjusting the white balance and backlighting, there was still a hazy and orange look to images. Outdoor pictures were slightly better, but bright sunshine proved to be a challenge. We also missed having a dedicated capture key on the exterior of the phone. The Touch HD only includes an onscreen button, which is fine, but requires a bit of a steady hand. Recorded video clips weren’t terribly sharp, either, and were a bit choppy. All in all, disappointing for a 5-megapixel camera.

Once done with your photos and videos, you can save them to a contact, as your background image, share them with friends and family via e-mail or multimedia message, or simply enjoy them in a slide show. Compared to some of the other smartphones available, the HTC Touch HD has a rather paltry amount of built-in memory (512MB ROM/288MB RAM), but it does have a microSD expansion slots and ships with an 8GB card.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSDPA 900/2100MHz) HTC Touch HD in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was decent. On our end, sound was mostly clear; there were a couple of occasions when the audio broke up or was crackly, but we never experienced any dropped calls. We were also able to use an airline’s voice-automated response system with no problem. Meanwhile, friends reported good results with no major complaints, but they did say the volume dropped somewhat when we activated the speakerphone. Speakerphone conversations on our side were loud and clear. We successfully paired the Touch HD with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

The Touch HD is equipped with a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor, but the smartphone felt underpowered at times. We experienced some lag and hiccups as we navigated through the TouchFlo menu and launched applications, most notably with the camera and photo gallery. As we noted in the Features section, the smartphone also had problems with video playback. We checked out a high-definition 720p WMV clip, and the Touch HD simply couldn’t handle it. The picture would come in spurts and audio was also broken up. In addition, the video wouldn’t expand to full-screen mode. A 320×240 clip fared much better, with smooth playback and synchronized media, and YouTube videos were watchable, though they took forever to load. All that said, for a product with HD in its name, you’d think the smartphone would be optimized for this sort of thing, but not so much.

The smartphone’s GPS receiver took its sweet time finding our location the first time we used it, but thankfully, subsequent starts were faster. Using Google Maps, we plotted a course from the Marina District of San Francisco to CNET’s downtown headquarters. The list of text-based directions was accurate, but we found that the Touch HD’s GPS was about a half-block behind us in real-time tracking.

The Touch HD comes with a 1,350mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8 hours and up to 18 days of standby time. We were able to get 9.5 hours of talk time from the smartphone in our battery drain tests. The smartphone has a digital SAR rating of 0.72 watt per kilogram.