HTC’s Touch HD2 is the follow-up to Windows Mobile’s most successful son to date, the Touch HD.

It’s also the first WinMo phone with a capacitive screen – a whopping 4.3in, 800x480 affair. Oh, and it has a mighty 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor firing it. All in all, a very tempting gadget.

Cleaning Windows

WinMo phones tend to get lukewarm reviews, mainly because WinMo is a resolutely old-fashioned smartphone operating system with a front-end like a Unix mainframe that demands the use of prodding implements.

So, how to make a Windows Mobile smartphone that can take on the might of the iPhone 3GS, HTC Hero and Palm Pre? Attach a massive screen, skin the interface as much as possible and stick in a super-fast processor so it can handle the extra processing required to make WinMo and the effluvia on top run smoothly.

Sexy slab

From the get-go the HD2 is a very easy phone to like. It’s quite a slab, but that’s a side effect of it having such a large display – and it’s a price worth paying.

It wears its dimensions well, too, with a slim bezel and purposeful, minimalist styling. It seems futuristic next to its smaller-screened chums.

Round the back the 5MP camera protrudes a bit, but it’s shrouded in machined aluminium – and that certainly softens the aesthetic blow. A metal battery cover and soft-touch rubber details finish off a very classy package.

Sense and sensibility

Switch the HD2 on and things only improve. Long-term haters may wince at seeing the Windows load screen, but you’re rapidly escorted to the glorious Sense interface skin. It’s a marvel to behold, unrivalled within the market and made all the better by the HD2’s epic screen.

The customisable homescreens (up to 12 of them) can be used for various operations – looking at pictures, playing music, tweeting with the integrated Peep Twitter client, checking stocks and launching oft-used apps among them. Sliding your finger along the bottom navigation bar is fluid and intuitive, as are navigational gestures.

Social networking isn’t as deeply integrated as it is on handsets such as Moto’s DEXT; contacts can be linked to Facebook status images and birthdays can be pulled down from the cloud. The phone’s gallery also links direct to Facebook galleries, but there’s no unified contacts book.

Musical prince, photographic pauper

The HD2 is one of the best music phones available, taking on the iPhone at its favourite game. Sound is as crisp and dynamic as the Touch HD’s but with a nice new Cover Flow-style artwork browser. Movies love the screen, too, though better format support would be a boon.

Imaging, however, is acceptable at best. The 5MP photos are decent and can be manipulated with a number of arty filters, and there’s a rudimentary LED flash for low light, but video is jerky.

Multitouch master

This is also the first WinMo phone to benefit from multitouch. It’s primarily used for zooming photos and web browsing (the pinching method popularised by the iPhone is borrowed), and makes for a very modern-feeling smartphone experience.

Web browsing benefits, especially; the Opera Mobile browsing experience on the full-website-width screen is super-quick, aided by the 1GHz Snapdragon within.

While zooming is smooth and nippy, the screen is so good it’s easy to read text without doing so. Built-in Flash support would be nice, though it is available to download.

Multitouch also helps when you’re occasionally dumped back in the Soviet-era territory of a skin-free Windows Mobile, or when you fancy using a stylus-friendly legacy app. Spread your fingers apart on screen and those icons increase to finger-friendly proportions. It’s not an elegant fix, but it works.

Flea Marketplace

When it comes to apps in general, the HD2 is a mixed bag. The selection of bundled programs is fantastic, with HTC’s own creations doing the job of standard phone functions (including dialler, calendar and messaging) and the Microsoft Office apps making the HD2 a bona fide productivity device.

There’s also an included (and very, very good) Wi-Fi Router app that turns the HD2 into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot – so you won’t be needing a Mi-Fi, or a dongle for that matter.

However, the Windows Marketplace app store has all the quality of a Woolworth’s bargain bin – but with none of the bargains. Right now it can’t touch iTunes or Android. Better WinMo apps can be found on the web, so let’s hope Marketplace snaffles them up soon.

HD phone home

When it comes to communication – this is, after all, a phone – the HD2 does brilliantly. Grouping all forms of mobile interaction by contact, it makes it dead easy to check through old texts and calls.

Call quality is superb and it holds a signal well. Email setup is similarly top-notch (as is true of most WinMo handsets) and the capacious soft keyboard is the best we’ve used.

Any other issues that crop up are niggles. For example, the intervals between volume stops is too great, so one step can be too quiet and the next too loud.  

And for every niggle there’s an equally small but significant bonus that levels things out, such as the gorgeous weather animations (the shining sun is stunning) and the HD2’s ability to collect missing album artwork off the web.


Stuff says... 

HTC Touch HD2 review

The best Windows Mobile phone we’ve ever seen, and darn close to being the best smartphone full stop