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HTC's big-screen HD2 makes strong first impression

Early but still preliminary reviews of HTC's newest high-end Windows 3G smartphone, the HD2, give high marks for its huge screen and the suppleness of HTC's Sense UI as an overlay for Windows Mobile 6.5.

The HD2 is now shipping in overseas markets and will arrive in the United States in early 2010, on a “major carrier,” according to the manufacturer.

The phone runs Windows 6.5 with HTC's overlay, Sense (formerly dubbed TouchFLO), and has a 4.3-inch diagonal screen with 480×800 pixel resolution. It's the first capacitive touch screen for Windows Mobile, the biggest on the market, and considerably larger than the iPhone’s 3.5-inch, 480×320 pixel display. At the heart of the device is a powerful Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon processor.

The screen forces the HD2 to be slightly larger than the iPhone: 4.7 x 2.6 inches, compared with the iPhone at 4.5 x 2.4. Yet it's slightly thinner: 0.4 inches, vs. 0.48 for the iPhone. It will be a bit heavier, weighing 5.5 ounces compared with the iPhone's 4.8 ounces.

In many respects, the HD2 is an amplified version of the original HD released about a year ago, which has a 3.8-inch screen and lower resolution, a different, less powerful Qualcomm chip, and runs Windows Mobile 6.1.

The Snapdragon processor has a big impact on the HD2's performance, according to Ed Hardy at BrightHand.com, who got to play with a pre-release version of the HD2 for a few hours in October. “The pre-release unit I got to try out had outstanding performance. Microsoft's OS is powerful but not always quick, and the 1 GHz processor will give it a noticeable boost,” he writes.

Qualcomm has been pushing Snapdragon for netbooks and other mobile Internet devices. The 1GHz chip first appeared in a smartphone with the advent of T-Mobile's TG01, the first Android-based smartphone, and also from HTC.

Over the past 18 months, Microsoft has been working closely with a range of handset partners, helping them develop and overlay their graphical user interface on top of Windows Mobile. It's a quiet revolution in Microsoft's approach, in effect surrendering much of the distinctively Windows user interface imported from the desktop OS. For HTC, the newly renamed HTC Sense sports larger icons, often dedicated to a separate function like e-mail or Web surfing, and homepages designed for easy finger use.

The Dutch site WinMo.nl also had a detailed and enthusiastic review (hat tip to HTCpedia.com) in Dutch, but a somewhat awkward English translation is available via Google. The review praised it as a “beautifully designed device” that “feels very solid and pleasant.” The large capacitive touch screen is “like having a window rather than a smartphone in your hands” and the HTC Sense UI effectively brings multi-touch to Windows for the first time.

The site also posted several videos, one showing the HTC Sense UI, the other the phone's Opera Mobile Web browser in action. Both are in Dutch, but you can clearly see the how the user interface and applications work.

Hardy raises an interesting issue for Windows Mobile users: For years, applications for Windows Mobile have relied on a stylus. The HD2 won't have one. Hardy notes that the larger screen will make an application's buttons and menus larger, and so more easily touched with a finger. But how well that will work, until software developers can rework their applications to exploit touch features, is a concern, he notes.

Other features include:

– New windows-based version of HTC's Twitter application, Peep.

– 5 megapixel camera.

– 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.

– Light sensor automatically adjusts display brightness.

– Proximity sensor that blocks false screen touches when the phone is picked up to answer or make a call.

– GPS

– Microsoft ActiveSync to connect to Exchange servers.

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