Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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February 13, 2011 • Reviews

Review: HTC Desire HD / AT&T Inspire 4G

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Mitchell

Back in early 2010 I reviewed the HTC Desire, and I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I actually bought one the day that it was launched here (which lined up well with the day the review unit went back).

Unfortunately the love affair ended about 2 months later, and I returned to my iPhone. Why? Apps. Not just the selection of apps, but the polish that so many iOS apps display that other platforms didn’t at the time. My iPhone also had the major advantage of being jailbroken so it was even better. As it stands my iPhone 4 sits on 4.1 because I cannot do without the jailbreak.

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However, the one area that the iPhone is a disappointment is display size. The new iPhone 4 display is magnificent, with its 960×640 resolution and IPS panel, it is absolutely brilliant, but for web surfing and watching videos, bigger is better.

Bring on the Desire HD, a 4.3” Android 2.2 device with all the bells and whistles under the bonnet, and a sleek profile to boot.

Dan

When I was offered the opportunity to review the upcoming AT&T Inspire 4G, the American cousin of the HTC Desire HD, I jumped at the chance. I figured it would be like coming home. After all, most of my early smartphones came from HTC, although at the time they were rebranded as Imate. I was hoping that the combination of HTC hardware and Android 2.2 would finally move me into the “I really like Android” camp.

So I said- Bring on the AT&T Inspire 4G with its 4.3” screen, Android 2.2 device and all the bells and whistles under the bonnet I could ask for.

Mitchell

On the face of it there is a lot to like about the Desire HD. The 4.3” display is massive, and dominates the front of the phone.

Dan

Yup, When I first unboxed the Inspire 4G I was impressed. I had recently seen the HD2 up close and this seemed to have many of the same features that has so impressed me.

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Mitchell

Top and side bezels are kept to a minimum, which the bottom is slightly longer to cater for the usual four Android buttons. The sleek earpiece spans most of the top, and incorporates a notification LED, ambient light and proximity sensor.

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Dan

Two days ago I got an HTC HD7 (thanks Judie). It has the earpiece running the full length of the device. I much prefer the way the Inspire handles it.

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Mitchell

The right side of the phone is bare, while the left side holds the volume buttons and battery cover (more on this disgrace later). Up top is the sleep/power button.

Dan

The Volume controls are flush with the device. This is great for the phone’s lines but makes it all but impossible to adjust the volume without looking at the device.

Mitchell

Too true! They have no feedback either, they just mush slightly and have no click to them. They were quite easy to push accidently when sliding the phone out of a jeans pocket too.

Dan

I really found myself getting frustrated with them.

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Mitchell

The bottom houses the microUSB and headphone jacks. Personally, I much prefer the headphone jack on the top of the phone, the main reason being if I use it with the aux jack in my car, the phone sits in my cup holder upside down.

Dan

I really didn’t like this design choice and was sad to see that it also made it into the HD7. I’m good with the micro-USB on the bottom but the headphone jack? Makes me more likely to use a Bluetooth solution.

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Mitchell

The back has a 8 megapixel lens, dual LED flash and tiny speaker grill. The camera unfortunately isn’t flush with the back of the phone, protruding just over a millimetre.

Dan

The Inspire 4G has the same 8 megapixel sensor. The lens portruding the way it does gives some visual interest to the back of the phone but is very noticeable. Fortunately there is a ring around the lens that makes the glass (plastic?) lens itself a bit recessed so it does not sit directly on the table when the phone is placed down.

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Mitchell

It has a whiff of the iPhone 3GS and iPad to me, where it will not sit flat and still when using it lying on a table. Wobbling about when I’m trying to type is not cool!

Dan

I had not noticed that but… Too true!

Mitchell

Press the power button and the same 800×480 resolution that smaller Android devices include greets you. The original Desire had a 3.7” display at the same resolution, so it’s disappointing that the “HD” version didn’t bump that up. Wouldn’t 1024×600 have been sweet?

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The screen isn’t a fancy OMGLED or IPS panel, but a rather pedestrian Super LCD that is more adequate than amazing.

There is nothing wrong with it in isolation, but if you accidentally lay it next to an iPhone 4, you will see the yellow tinge, you’ll see the soft blacks, and you’ll see the pixels. In late 2010 that’s no longer good enough, and now that we’re in 2011, it is a disappointment.

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Dan

Mitchell, you ruined the Inspire 4G’s screen for me. I WAS using it in isolation and I really like the big, vibrant screen. I read “if you accidentally lay it next to an iPhone 4, you will see the yellow tinge, you’ll see the soft blacks, and you’ll see the pixels”, did just that, and it was over for me. Thanks a bunch. 🙂

Mitchell

Heh, sorry Dan, but I had to say it. The iPhone 4’s display has spoiled a lot of phones I think.

Dan

It kinda spoiled the iPad too… 🙁

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Mitchell

The Desire HD ships with Android 2.2, as well as HTC’s usual customisations including HTC Sense. Back in the days of Windows Mobile, Sense was a godsend for a dreary OS that could be visually traced back to 2000 and before.

Here it’s good, but not great. While it does look good, on my unit it wasn’t very stable, crashing at least once a day, every day. It also added questionable value considering the issues it seems to have. Load up some widgets and you can get similar info, without the “Force Close” box.

Dan

This was my first experience with HTC Sense and I liked it a lot. After a few days though I started using Launcher Pro due to the added customization it offered.

Mitchell

I resisted the temptation for most of the time I had my review unit, but eventually tried a few other launchers from the Market and they all worked better.

There also appears to be some performance issues with the Google sync features. Whenever I had the sync icon appear in the notification bar, the unit would be almost unusable. I was chatting with Judie when I was first setting up the unit, and she can attest to my frustration.

Dan

I thought it was just me expecting too much from the device.

Mitchell

1Ghz Snapdragon should prevent this sort of thing, I mean it’s a background sync for goodness sake! I’m sure this is an issue that could be sorted in an software update (or sprinkled on Gingerbread HTC?), but this is how it was for me out of the box, and it doesn’t impress. Other Android phones I’ve used haven’t exhibited this.

Dan

The ones I have tried did so I guess that’s why I really didn’t take too much notice of this. It will be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming dual-core Android handsets.

Mitchell

The rest of Android though is quite good, and is showing up some of its competitors in terms of features.

Dan

I have to admit that this was the first Android device that made me really start appreciating some of what Android can do.

Mitchell

The addition of Navigation must have the likes of TomTom and Navman scared of what’s to come. Taking advantage of Google Maps, Navigation offers turn-by-turn voice guidance, with spoken street names and Street View imagery, for the cost of the kilobytes on your data plan.

The crisp mapping display shows you exactly where you need to go, whilst speaking it aloud in the language of your choice, all for free. Also, Point of Interest databases don’t get bigger than Google’s. A simple search, and you can be on the way very quickly. You can even add the location to your contacts, with address and phone numbers for future reference.

It’s brilliant, and a sign of where GPS navigation is heading. As more and more people pickup smartphones, the market for dedicated units will dwindle, and with free options like this available, paid apps are going to have trouble competing. I use Navigon on my iPhone, but this Google offering is just as good.

It all looks great on a big 4.3” display too.

Dan

Navigation systems are only one of the many stand-alone device types that need to be scared as more and more people pick up devices like the Inspire 4G. Other devices with their heads on the virtual chopping block- low end point and shoot cameras, pocket camcorders, mp3 players, alarm clocks and the list goes on.

This is especially the case since, on contract, this phone will be $99 US which makes it quite attractive to people who might never have considered a smartphone.

Mitchell

Agreed, less and less is there a need for all those separate devices, I know I finally gave up my iPod touch a few months ago because even it wasn’t getting used.

Multimedia is another area than smartphones have stepped on the shoes of dedicated devices, and it’s rather a stumbling block.

The music player included with the Desire HD is good, but it feels sluggish to use, and seemed to have issues on more than one occasion. At times, it would start fast forwarding through tracks for no apparent reason, and only a reboot of the phone would return it to normal. From some digging through forums online it would appear to be an issue with the headset jack, but whatever the cause, the result is annoying!

Dan

iOS has spoiled me in this area. Period. Had I not used an iPhone/touch for three years the experience would be “great” but I have used an iPhone and the result is that it is “fine”

Mitchell

The lack of control through the headset bugged me, again as you said because of the iPhones and iPods of the world. A click here, a few double clicks there, it’s all controllable from the headphone cord. Here you can play/pause and that’s it.

Web browsing on the Desire HD is excellent, with pages loading and rendering as quickly as the internet connection would allow, with excellent reflowing of text when zooming in. Despite the resolution not being what it could have been, reading websites on a 4.3” display is a pleasure. Having grown used to the extra size over the last few weeks, the 3.5” display on the iPhone is tiny in comparison.

Dan

The iPhone’s screen does suddenly seem a bit small. The only thing keeping it in the game for me is the actual quality of the screen. It is small but it is gorgeous! 4.3″ is pretty darn nice though. 🙂

Mitchell

The 5 megapixel camera takes nice, sharp photos, though they often could use a little more contrast and saturation. A quick trip through Photoshop makes the colours pop. Video quality is good as well. I see phones like this replacing the handycam for a lot of people, since their quality is more than adequate for home movies, and they have the benefit of always being on your person.

Dan

I had no real complaints here. I’m pretty amazed at having an 8MP camera on a phone. Yes, I know, Nokia did it a while back but this is MY first experience with it and I like it!

Mitchell

While I like the Desire HD a lot, its battery life leaves a lot to be desired. From a full charge, the Desire was flashing battery warnings (15%) by early afternoon. I don’t go easy on my phones, I use them a lot for multimedia and web browsing, but with the makers constantly touting these features I’d expect people to be using them.

On a recent day business trip I left the microUSB cord at home, and unlike the almost ubiquitous iPhone cords today, I was unable to find someone with one that I could use to top up the phone. With the phone at 65% after watching a video for about an hour, I switched off 3G and used it very sparingly. It was dead before I got in my car, and it takes several hours to recharge, even longer if you are using it while charging.

Keep in mind I had few apps installed/running, and killed off many using Advanced Task Manager.

For me this kind of battery life is unacceptable in a smartphone that will likely be used the way I use my smartphones. Why buy a 4.3” monsterphone if you’re only going to make the occasional phone call and nothing else? Its saving grace is the battery is removable, but that’s no excuse to release a product with such poor battery life.

Dan

My experience was similar to this but I so used to having this issue that I just chalk it up as par for the course right now. Apple talks about the iPhone 4’s battery life with pride but that isn’t my experience with it. Since the Inspire has a bigger screen and more running in the background I wasn’t expecting great battery life in the first place.

Mitchell

I certainly wouldn’t say the iPhone 4 battery life is amazing, but it was definitely better than this. There are other Android phones that are as fast (or faster), same res screen, similar features, that get MUCH better battery life so I know it can be done.

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I was left with mixed feelings about the HTC Desire HD. I’m a fan of the front design; it’s understated without being boring. The build quality needs some work, however, as flimsy ill-fitting covers for the battery and SIM/card slots don’t mix with the solid unibody frame of the rest of the phone. Get rid of the plastic, and fit snug metal covers if you must have them.

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Dan

I like the phone a lot and would be happy with it if the review unit were mine to keep (it is not) but I have some real issues with some design choices that were made. Three back panels stand out because they are colored differently than the main body. That may bring some interest but to me it is just ugly and unnesseccery.

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Add in the fact that within two or three days the two panels that are removable were slightly warped and off-center and I have to agree with you completely “Get rid of the plastic, and fit snug metal covers if you must have them.”

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Interestingly the HD7 doesn’t suffer these issues. The sides of the device feel a bit like cheap plastic but the back is consistent and all the pieces fit snuggly. And let’s face it, HTC knows how to do homerun build-quality, just look at the HD2!!

Mitchell

HD2 was a champ for build quality, was really impressed with it. Pretty versatile phone too, since you can get ROMS for Windows Mobile, Android and Windows Phone 7! But that’s for another article.

Android is nice to use, and the selection of apps is definitely improving. Aside from some slow downs when syncing, the Desire HD was smooth to use.

The Desire HD is mislabeled though, as the HD in its name would seem to suggest that it’s picked up a high res display when it hasn’t. The original Desire has the same resolution, the HD needs a better one.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of using a Motorola Defy, which runs the same version of Android, and is much more compact; the 3.7” display is sharper and brighter, and its battery life is outstanding. This is how Android should be.

Dan

I played with a similar US device and really liked it. Still… That 4.3″ screen is WOW!

Mitchell

If I was shopping for an Android phone, the Desire HD’s shortcomings would strike it off my list. The apps are coming along nicely, so it’s not such an issue for an iPhone user anymore. Bring on a proper HD version with excellent battery life, and it would be a shoo-in.

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Dan

I’ve enjoyed the Inspire 4G. I should note that Nuance’s FlexT9 Text Input is a home run on this device. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tab I had for a time the microphone on the Inspire 4G is excellent. The clarity it must create thanks to the noise cancellation technology makes using it fast and accurate. The result is that I found myself using voice recognition CONSTANTLY to reply to emails and Tweet.

Mitchell

I used the speech-to-text feature a fair bit, and I was stunned at how good it was! I couldn’t get a lot of the commands to work that well, but the actual conversion of words into text was very impressive. I loaded up Swype for most of my input needs and it’s great on the large display.

Dan

That brings me to my final comment on the device- the speakerphone. My HTC (iMate) Jam’s speaker was horrid. When I upgraded to the next generation Jam I found that the speaker functionality was… HORRID. Fast forward a few years and the speakerphone on the Inspire 4G is still pretty lousy. I tried to use it for a number of phone calls and ended up putting my headset every time. It really is the weak link in an otherwise good device.

Mitchell

HTC have rarely done speakers well, and as you say this one joins that list. My car doesn’t have a bluetooth kit fitted yet so I tried to use it on speakerphone on more than one occasion, and it was unusable. As you say, headset was the only answer.

Dan

It may sound like I didn’t like the Inspire 4G but that is not the case. There is a ton to like on this device and at a price of $99 US on contract this is a truly attractive option for people looking for a solid Android handset. It is far from perfect but, then again, I’ve yet to come across a device that is.

Mitchell

Here in Australia the Desire HD can be had on Vodafone for free on a $69/mth cap or $65/mth unlimited plan, with a lot of calls/sms/data included. $5-10/mth more will net you an iPhone 4 16GB, which I personally think is a better device.

I think HTC have missed the mark with this phone. In a lot of ways it doesn’t feel like a particularly new device, since a lot of it is parts from devices that came months before. A 4.3″ display is awesome for browsing, but back it up with a better resolution and screen tech. Hopefully the Desire HD2 will take these things on board!

What We Like: Large screen; priced well when on contract; speech recognition with Nuance Flex T9 keyboard; front design; 8MP camera

What Needs Improvement: Screen resolution; speaker; build-quality with back panels; battery life

6 Responses to " Review: HTC Desire HD / AT&T Inspire 4G "

  1. Via @SkyGrid – Review: HTC Desire HD / AT&T Inspire 4G
    http://skygrid.me/dQt1B4

  2. _HTCdesire_ says:

    RT @Pugtrades Via @SkyGrid – Review: HTC Desire HD / AT&T Inspire 4G
    http://skygrid.me/dQt1B4: Via @SkyGrid – Review: HTC Desire HD…

  3. Christopher Gavula says:

    Excellent review! A couple of thoughts:

    Although the Google navigation is excellent on Android devices these days – I disagree with your assessment that stand slimed have to worry – why? Because Google Navigation cannot function without a data connection. This simple fact means that it is incapable of being as dependable and reliable as a stand alone unit or as an iPhone running Navigon which always has the entire map available onboard (or nay nav app which keeps it’s entire map onboard. Guys you have to remember that the cloud is NOT ubiquitous and in rural areas the last thing you want is to suddenly lose your navigation! But is exactly what can and does happen with cloud-based only solutions. It’s really better to have a solution with onboard maps available as well. Especially on long trips!

    Second – I am curious how pictures taken with these devices compare to those of the iPhone 4. Although the iPhone 4 only has a 5 mp camera, I’ve read it’s sensor is actually superior to many of the sensorsmin phones with 8mp cameras. Is this your experience as well?

    Again – nice job!

    • Mitchell Oke says:

      Hi Chris,

      I agree, running an app like Navigon is more reliable due to the stored maps, but for many they many be able to get away with mapping from the cloud. I guess it all depends on your usage scenario, but I’d expect most journeys where a nav device is used it’s in an area with phone coverage.

      Here in Australia, I can see a lot of people being able to rely on Google Navigation, especially if you’re on Telstras network (excellent coverage and speeds). I use Navigon on my iPhone 4 and it is brilliant, but I can’t help thinking if I had an Android device with Google Nav I’d save the money and take the free option.

      As for the camera, it is good (especially for an HTC), but I don’t think it is a sharp as the iPhone’s 5 megapixel shooter.

      Cheers, Mitch

  4. @cesargoulart1 it's close, but i just like the hd2 body better – http://bit.ly/f3NFLs

  5. […] reviewing the Inspire HD for the AT&T network a few weeks ago, I was a bit concerned about the build quality of products being put out by HTC. Some of the back […]

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