HTC Desire HD: Review


review The Desire HD is Taiwanese corporation HTC’s current top dog, and it shows. With a screen size that’s out of this world, gorgeous graphics, large speakers and a fast CPU, this is a mobile phone which has some serious props. But in a market which is about to be saturated with similar devices from HTC’s rivals Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola, can the Desire HD continue to hold its own?

The HTC Desire HD is available in Australia exclusively through Vodafone.

With its 4.3” capacitive touchscreen running at a resolution of 480×800, the Desire HD feels in the hand like a mobile phone that has dreams of being a small tablet. Its display is bigger than that of the
original Desire (at 3.7”) and the iPhone 4 (at 3.5”). Your writer has large hands, but it’s a little difficult to hold the phone flat in one hand without stretching the tendons a bit.

As the phone faces you, above the screen is a horizontal speaker grill line, which — like the screen — is larger than we have seen on other phones. Undoubtedly it helps contribute to the HD’s stellar audio
quality. The phone boasts Dolby Mobile and SRS virtual surround sound.

On the bottom of the screen are the usual four standard buttons which most phones based on Google’s Android operating system use — home, menu, return and search. However, unlike the physical buttons on the original Desire, the Desire HD’s buttons are touch-sensitive. You don’t press them in — you just touch them. It’s an effect we’ve grown to love while testing the handset, and we’d find it hard to go back to physical buttons now.

On the left-hand side of the phone are volume buttons, which emit cute ‘pink, ponk’ sounds when pressed, and on the top is the standard on/off/sleep button. There is nothing at all on the phone’s right-hand side, and on the bottom the options are similarly minimised — just a 3.5mm audio jack and a micro-USB port for charging and connecting the phone to a PC.

On the back of the phone you can find its (very large) camera and flash, as well as another audio grill. This area is also where we fell in love with the Desire HD’s case. The aluminium unibody, combined with plastic inserts which allow access to the SIM card, MicroSD and battery slots, is just fantastic on the fingers and — wonder of wonders — doesn’t hold fingerprints. It also grips fairly well, meaning that it will likely be hard to drop the device. And the actual material looks quite futuristic — part metal, part plastic, and all class.

Overall the Desire HD’s design is stellar, although a bit big for small hands.

If you can name the features that you want in a high-end Android handset, odds are the Desire HD has them.

The phone comes with version 2.2 of the Android operating system (Froyo), although we’re sure it wouldn’t be too hard to upgrade it to 2.3 (Gingerbread), and the 1GHz Qualcomm CPU can definitely handle any current or future needs. The device has 768MB of RAM and 1.5GB of flash storage on-board. In addition, you can add a microSD card with up to 32GB of storage to help you cart around your complete music library.

The included camera is a 8 megapixel monster with dual LED flash and autofocus, and the Desire HD will happily interface with the network of your choice, with support for all of Australia’s popular mobile
phone networks; although the phone exclusively sells in Australia through Vodafone (which doesn’t have the greatest network performance in the world), you can get an unlocked version through online retailers like Mobicity and use with your Telstra or Optus SIM. Then there’s a heap of extras … a FM radio tuner, A-GPS support and so on — and all of this is packed into a package which weighs just 164 grams. Pretty phenomenal stuff.

Increasingly, mobile phones are becoming like laptops. Many are based on the same CPU or similar CPUs or chipsets, but the vendors can innovate through little things like better sound, innovative form factors, larger and brighter screens and so on. When seen in this light, most of HTC’s current models, including the Desire HD, are up to the fundamental spec the modern smartphone user needs. But the Desire HD just seems to kick things up a notch higher.

If you really want to see the power of Google’s Android platform in action, pick up a Desire HD and spend some time with it. You probably won’t want to go back to Apple’s iOS afterwards.

The Desire HD is one of the first Android phones we’ve seen where the power of the phone’s hardware matches the power of its software. Menus snap into place, everything you click loads instantly, swiping has satisfying little bouncing animations that don’t lose frames even when the constantly moving and changing HTC desktop background is shifting around simultaneously. This is how Android ought to be.

Video played online and from the device itself played fine without any delays or jittering, and we watched half an hour of a StarCraft II match on YouTube before we realised we had gotten that far into it. This is truly a screen which you can consume some serious multimedia on.

One area which should be particularly singled out for praise is the Desire HD’s camera. A lot has been said about the iPhone 4’s stellar photography capabilities, but the Desire HD would definitely give the Apple camp a run for its money — the handset is great for taking both stills as well as 720p videos.

However, as with all products, there were some caveats to the Desire HD’s performance.

For starters, we found it a little weird when watching video that much of the audio seemed to be directed away from the viewer, emanating out of the Desire HD’s rear speaker instead of the front one. We’re not sure if this was just the fault of the videos we were watching (standard YouTube, mainly), but much of the audio seemed to end up being directed in the opposite direction to our ears.

Secondly, the Desire HD’s battery life is not spectacular. We tended to pick it up and tinker with it for a while, then leave it on our desk for half a day or so, then tinker some more — and even this
light use left the handset beeping for a power refresh after only a couple of days. We don’t need to charge our current main handset, an iPhone 4, more than once or sometimes twice a week, if we’re using it heavily, but it’s easy to envisage a situation where the Desire HD would need to be charged almost every day.

Most Android handset vendors like to customise their software interface a little for the end user, and HTC is no exception to this rule, with its Sense interface dominating the experience for the end
user on its Desire range. In addition, the company has implemented an online service — — which allows users to back up their data online, make the phone ring if it’s lost, or even erase data remotely if they believe it has been stolen.

While many of these features are fantastic additions to the Android experience, seeing them as vendor-specific add-ons smacks a bit of lock-in to us. We’d like to see them become more generic Android features through Google, so that customers don’t lose software functionality when sticking with the Android platform but changing phone hardware vendors.

There is no doubt that the HTC Desire HD is about to face some stiff competition in the Australian market for smartphones. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, the Motorola Atrix and the Samsung Galaxy S II are all expected to hit Australia shortly, and Apple’s iPhone 4 is also believed to have been selling well since it launched locally in mid-2010.

However, there is no doubt that the Desire HD has a featureset and design which makes it a strong competitor to all of these high-end handsets. And to boot, it’s been available for some time already in
Australia; the possibility exists that its price will come down a little when the competition gets fierce.

With its powerful CPU, massive screen size, top-end amount of RAM and a major manufacturer behind it, the Desire HD is a future-proof phone. As Android marches on, expect to see its functionality extended through software upgrades. If you can stand the battery life and have big enough hands, this is a handset worth investing in. The HTC Desire HD is available in Australia exclusively through Vodafone.

Image credits: HTC, Kate LeMay (Delimiter)


  1. Interesting review. I like the angle you approached the review from. It sounds like a very decent handset too. It would have been top of the line only a couple of months ago. However given the ridiculous speed at which Android phones are being churned out, it’s specs already sound dated. Particularly when compared to some of the awesome new dual core phones being released in the states.

    The main thing that I can’t deal with on these giant 4.3″ screens is such a low resolution. You can easily make out the pixel structure, and after being spoilt by the iPhone 4’s amazing pixel density, screens like this look terrible in comparison.

    It looks like QHD (960×540) is going to be become the new reference resolution for top end Android phones, which on a 4″/4.3″ screen should look a lot better. Not quite up to Apple’s standards, but still a big improvement.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the Atrix when it hits. Not only because it sports a a dual core CPU and a QHD screen, but obviously because of it’s unique ability to be docked and turned into a Firefox powered netbook. A pretty laggy one from what I’ve read, but still an amazing feature.

    It’s going to be another exciting year for phones, that’s for sure. Imagine how much things will have changed by December once the iPhone 5 and next round of Android & WP7 phones appear :)

    • I’m usually not a fan of powerpacks for phones, but have to say for a giant 8200mAh battery that one does look very slim and stylish. 233g is a nice light weight too.

    • Wifi is an extremely ‘chatty’ wireless protocol so when you’re not using an app that needs a data connection turn off the WiFi. I do this now and my battery lasts a LOT longer than it used to compared with leaving the WiFI on all day.

  2. I believe the Desire HD has a smaller battery than the Desire…

    Desire = Li-Ion 1400 mAh,
    Desire HD = Li-Ion 1230 mAh

  3. A friend at work has a Desire HD and it is indeed a beautiful phone iwht an awesome display. His number one complaint though is that the battery life is very poor which is a similar complaint with most smartphones iPhone included.

  4. I love this phone. My wife has one (I like to think it’s mine sometimes). The battery life is pretty poor but if you’re game enough to root the phone and load a custom ROM, the Android Revolution HD ROM is outstandingly fast and has improved the battery life by a mile.

  5. I purchased three of these a couple of months back – one for me, one for my wife and one for one of my daughters. One of them failed within a few weeks (the phone not the wife or daughter), but it has been fixed under warranty (the phone …).

    It is great for small multimedia purposes and I have taken some good photos on it. It feels just a little big in my hand especially with the OtterBox protective casing I have it in. (still talking about the phone)

    I certainly haven’t fallen in love with it, (definitely talking about the phone) but I think that is partly due to the fact that I carry around an iPad as well. My daughter (17) and my wife both love it.

  6. I have ordered an unlocked unit of these from ShoppingSquare on special. I should receive it early next week. I will review it after a week or so. The published reviews look good, apart from the battery life. I wonder if they have up-graded the battery yet? Seem the only downer with this phone…

  7. Great phone, but shit battery life that the even shitter Vodafail know about (according to HTC).
    Vodafone’s coverage is still a disgrace – I go days at a time in Sydney CBD with no voicemail access and calls going straight to voicemail without the phone ringing… and I have clear line of sight to the transmitters and sit by a window.

  8. To TheRiddick,
    If you are on a contract, you probably have no choice, but see if you can get an un-locked unit and jump ship.

  9. I am hoping to buy my first Android phone and it seems to be the HTC Desire HD. After reading the above info. I can’t see any reason not to. Can anyone see why I shouldn’t. I am disabled and have problems with a normal phone. The touch type is great for my painful fingers. So here comes my Pay as you go HTC Desire HD.

    • Nice one Dave. I’d never considered the advantages of a larger screen and things like Swype (is that what you were referring to?) for someone with disabilities.

      On that note what is Android like in general for people with disabilities? Although my iPhone’s screen is small, and devoid of hard buttons, one thing it does offer is a ton of different useful display/voice options to enhance accessibility. I guess because Android is open source it probably does better in that department with all the different add-ons you can download to change the various input mechanisms of the phone. Swype is something I wish would come to iOS actually, but Job will probably never allow it.

  10. I read yesterday that Vodafail are “reviewing” the ROM upgrade to 2.3 and it will be released in the next few months… according to my sources at HTC, VF have had the new operating system since January and have done nothing with, They also told me that Australia is the only country with reported battery issues with the Desire HD, as Vodafail’s version of the ROM is not optimised to use the battery properly and have known about it since before the product shippped.

    FYI – I manually turn Wi-Fi off when not in use and all other radios such as GPS are only used when turned on manually. When I commented on poor battery life, I am referring to just having essential services running, reading (not replying) a couple of emails on the way to work and checking out the main news headlines and maybe a couple of turn on WordWithFriends (Scrabble) – minimal usage. By noon I am on less than half battery life. I really do like this device and if it were not for the piss-poor Vodafone and battery life, I would be a very happy punter.

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