HTC Desire HD review: Most wanted
8MP camera has its highs and lows
The HTC Desire HD packs a camera with specs to match the best the Android world has to offer. It snaps 8MP stills with resolution 3264x2448 pixels and 720p@25fps video and there’s a dual-LED flash / video light.
The camera interface is novel and has some fun options. Most of the controls are on the right side of the viewfinder, with the virtual shutter in the center. There’s a virtual zoom slider on the left. By default the viewfinder image is cropped so that it fills the entire screen, but you can switch that off.
The HTC Desire HD features touch focus and face detection; geo-tagging is enabled too.
The camera features continuous autofocus, which automatically adjusts the focus when you move the phone. This is very useful, since the Desire HD doesn’t really have a hardware shutter key to trigger the autofocus (you can’t do that with the virtual shutter key either). This way you just point the camera in the direction you want and take the photo – the HD will take care of the rest.
The effects button brings out a panel on the left with the usual set of color effects (sepia, solarize and so on).
There are other kinds of effects too. For example, Warp places a control point on the screen, which you can drag with your finger and see the result in real time.
Depth of field is another such effect – it adds a radius slider besides the control point and will blur everything in the photo that falls outside the circle.
Camera supports face detection too. It’s enabled in self-portrait mode too – you can set it to focus on 1 or 2 faces.
Our Desire HD unit (an off-the-shelf phone) did have an obvious lens issue, which smudges the left side of the photos. This issue aside, the amount of captured detail is decent and the noise reduction algorithms are well-tuned but there are some visible artifacts resulting from the aggressive sharpening stage (oversharpened noise).
Even without the lens issues, the Desire HD camera wouldn’t rank among the top 8MP Android shooters (or 8MP cameras in general).
You can judge the camera by the samples below.
We also snapped our resolution chart with the Desire HD. You can check out what that test is all about here.
Unimpressive HD video
Unlike the previous HTC phones tagged “HD”, the Desire HD actually shoots HD video this time around – though we’re guessing that’s not what has been behind the HD moniker in the first place.
The interface of the camcorder is similar to the still camera’s and there are lots of customizable options with this one. You can set the video resolution, recording limit and add effects.
Autofocus works here too, but only before you start shooting – then the focus is locked and won’t change even if you get closer or move back. Still, the Desire HD had no problems focusing at even very close distances.
The reality of image quality however is hardly flattering. The videos are recorded as 3GP files (not the best option) and the results are actually slightly worse than what the Desire Z put up.
There are noise and compression artifacts visible (especially in the sky) and what seems to be the fingerprints of image interpolation. The frame rate wasn’t smooth either – there’s a noticeable stutter.
The reality is much less impressive than the specs look on paper – we were rather disappointed. Here goes a sample 720p@25fps video clip.
Connectivity is well-geared
The HTC Desire HD is a connectivity master. Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE is a given, and the dual-band 3G is blazing fast – 14.4Mbps downlink and 5.76Mbps uplink thanks to HSPA.
The local wireless connectivity has Wi-Fi b/g/n and full DLNA support (both client and server, for images, videos and music) and Bluetooth 2.1.
When you plug in the microUSB cable you’re presented with a long list of options. The basics are Charge only, Disk drive (connects the microSD card as a mass storage drive) and HTC Sync for connecting to HTC’s PC suite.
There are two more options however – USB tethering, which shares the phone’s data connection (and that fast HSPA makes it a great modem for a laptop), while the other option – Internet pass-through – does just the opposite.
Last but not least is the HTC Portable Hotspot – Android 2.2 Froyo has Wi-Fi tethering built-in, but this app is actually more powerful. It can connect 1 to 8 devices (default app maxes out at 5) and you can set the maximum.
You can encrypt the hotspot with WEP, WPA or WPA2 and you can enable only “allowed users” to connect or leave it open for anything (unsecure, but the quickest setup). You can set the app to power off automatically after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, saving your battery if you forget to switch it off manually.
A great Flash-enabled web browser
Solid web browsing has been an inherent part of the Android deal since day one. And version 2.2 Froyo is the fastest yet – and then there’s the Flash 10.1 capability, which really opens up the Web (which for better or for worse still relies heavily on Flash for video streaming and navigation).
The user interface is pretty much nonexistent at first sight. Once the page loads, all you see is the URL bar and the refresh button on a line at the top of the screen. Once you zoom in and pan around though even that line disappears (scroll to the top or press menu to bring it back).
This leaves the entire screen to the web page – and what a screen. It surely isn’t the first of its kind but the 4.3” WVGA screen gets as close as you can possibly get to desktop-level browsing on a mobile phone. A 5” tablet does fare a little better, but you’d never be able to put it in your pocket.
The Desire HD browser also supports double tap zooming and text reflow, which make it extremely easy to read even longer texts on the phone display. Without text reflow you will either have to zoom out until the text fits (but then it’s too small to read comfortably) or scroll sideways to read each line.
The minimalist UI is still quite powerful – hit the menu key and six keys pop up. There are back and forward buttons, adding and viewing bookmarks and managing the open tabs. Finally, the More button brings out yet more options – anything from finding on page and text selection (which works just like in the messaging app).
Once you select some text, you can launch the Quick lookup app (which offers Google Translate among other things) or share the text over a message or social networking.
The bookmark list shows a thumbnail view of the bookmarked pages and you get a “most visited” list in addition to the regular history. Tabs are displayed as 3D cards too – a really neat trick is that if you pinch zoom out beyond the minimum zoom level you go straight into the tab selector.
And to further sweeten the deal, HTC Desire HD has Flash support in its web browser. YouTube videos played quite smoothly so we decided to try out a few games from the mobile section of Kongregate. Quite a few Flash games worked very well in the browser (and are optimized for touch control).
Say what you will about Flash, but still most video streaming and game sites use it – so it’s a major advantage for a browser.
You could use the YouTube app if you find navigating YouTube in the browser hard.
Mind you, the Android 2.2 browser has support for HTML5 and its video tag but that is a few years (at best) away from becoming the norm.