HTC HD Mini
15th Apr 2010 | 16:00
HTC proves that Windows Mobile isn't dead yet
Overview, design and feel
Hot on the heels of the excellent HTC Legend and the even more impressive HTC Desire, is the HTC HD Mini. But whereas the Legend and Desire both come equipped with Android 2.1, the HD Mini has to make do with Windows Mobile 6.5.3.
Don't be put off by the less-than-trendy operating system though, because if anyone knows how to make a Windows Mobile phone usable, it's HTC, and the HD Mini is a fine example of just that.
With HTC Sense UI thrown on top of Windows Mobile, the HD Mini is not just easy to use, but actually quite enjoyable.
So, has HTC managed to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? (Sorry Microsoft.) In a word, yes. But there's far more to the success of the HD Mini than the slick masking of Windows Mobile.
HTC has created a phone that is simply packed with features, while also being far more compact and pocketable than its direct competitors.
At 57.7mm wide and 11.7mm thick, the HD Mini is also extremely comfortable to hold – in fact it feels far more like a traditional phone than, say, the Desire or iPhone. It's not too heavy either, coming in at 110g, which is 23g lighter than both the Desire and the iPhone 3GS.
HTC has gone down the industrial chic route for the design of the HD Mini and the results are pretty successful. The bevelled back has a tactile, rubberised finish that ensures you always have a good grip on the device.
A design highlight comes in the shape of the four visible screws in each corner, which remain in place when the back is removed.
And when that back is removed, you realise that HTC's designers aren't just about those clean industrial lines, because the whole inside of the phone is finished in bright yellow, with the bottom half translucent, no less!
It's a great design juxtaposition, like the glove box in the new Jaguar XJ Supersport being trimmed in bright purple velvet – you won't see it very often, but whenever you do, it will bring a smile to your face.
Another nice touch is that the microSDHC card slot is mounted sideways, so you don't have to remove the battery in order to access it.
There was no card included with our review sample, but if you're serious about music and video on your phone, it's worth investing in a 16GB card, which will set you back around £35 online.
The phone will support cards up to 32GB and although these are now available, you'll be looking at over £150 for the privilege.
The front of the phone is as sleek as you can get, with a single glass sheet covering its entirety. HTC has achieved this look by making the HD Mini devoid of any physical buttons.
Instead there are touch-sensitive controls for Call, End, Home, Windows Menu and Back. Although touch sensitive buttons can be a pain, the ones on the HD Mini are both responsive and accurate.
The 3.2-inch capacitive screen is bright, vivid and viewable under pretty much any lighting condition. It can be a struggle to see under very bright, direct sunlight, but then that could be said about almost any phone.
The screen feels larger than it actually is, simply because the handset itself is comparatively small. Although HTC doesn't state that the screen uses AMOLED technology, it does appear to be identical to the 3.2-inch example seen in the Legend.
PC connection comes via the microUSB port mounted in the base of the unit. It's worth noting that the port juts through a hole in the rear cover, which means that you can't take the back off while the phone is connected, unless you want to unceremoniously rip your USB cable out as well.
On the very top edge is a metal strip that houses the power button, while the 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the bevelled edge of the rear casing.
The only other control is a volume rocker on the left edge, which is again a solid metal strip, adding to the industrial design statement as well as the phone's overall quality feel.
The traditional HTC oblong box is used once again for the HD Mini, and it houses the usual array of kit – which is to say, not much.
As well as the handset itself, you get a mains charger with a USB port, a USB to microUSB cable for charging and connecting to your PC, and finally a stereo headset.
The latter isn't as bad as some bundled headsets we've seen, but if you have any real interest in listening to music on the HD Mini it's worth investing in a decent set of noise-isolating earphones.
HTC HD Mini:Interface
Let's not beat around the bush here, Windows Mobile, even in its latest 6.5.3 build, isn't the most user friendly mobile phone interface.
In fact, compared to Android, Palm's WebOS and, of course, the iPhone, it's positively archaic. To make matters worse, we've seen what the future holds in the form of Windows Phone 7, and it looks very good indeed.
Unfortunately all that proves is that even Microsoft realises how far behind the curve its mobile OS currently is.
However, as we've already mentioned, HTC has moved mountains to ensure that the HD Mini offers a good user experience, regardless of the underlying OS.
We've seen before that HTC Sense can improve an already good user interface, on the Desire, but what it does for the HD Mini is nothing short of a revelation.
The key to HTC Sense is that it tries to keep a buffer between the user and the Windows Mobile OS, and for the most part it achieves this goal with aplomb. But good as the HTC Sense wrapper is, it still can't make the HD Mini as slick as its Android-based brethren.
That's not to say that the user experience is bad, because it's not, but you can just feel Windows Mobile grinding away underneath.
The home screen is typical HTC, with a large clock dominating proceedings. Integrated into the clock is the weather widget, which gives you an animated indication of the weather, along with temperature and your current location. Below this you'll find shortcuts to your call history and calendar.
Although you don't get pages of app shortcuts to the left and right of the home screen, as you do with Android mobiles and the iPhone, you can swipe the home screen upwards to reveal a page of user-definable shortcuts. You can add programs, contacts or even browser bookmarks here – whatever you feel you may need quick access to regularly.
The main navigation is done horizontally though, via the home screen tabs that run along the bottom. Here you'll find essentials like SMS, email, contacts and calendar, along with less important fodder like stocks, music and weather.
The good news is that you can choose which home screen tabs you want, so you can streamline the interface to suit your personal needs.
Flicking through each home screen tab isn't quite as smooth as we'd like it to be, although if you set up your tabs so that what you need is generally on the horizontal list at the bottom of the screen, you won't need to do much swiping left or right.
Although the HD Mini is fully multi-touch enabled, the user interface doesn't always show this functionality off to best effect.
HTC HD Mini:Calling and contacts
There was a time when Windows Mobile smartphones were the de facto choice for anyone that wanted to sync their email, calendar and contacts quickly and easily.
The integration with Microsoft Outlook worked brilliantly, so every time you hooked your device up to your PC, it would synchronise everything and you'd be good to go. These days however, things are very different.
Let's face it, who wants to sync their data by hooking up to a PC? If you can't do it over the air, it's simply not worth doing.
Modern smartphone users need to know that any changes they make on their home PC, work computer or mobile phone, will be instantly rolled out to every device they use.
For most non-corporate users, that usually means synchronising a Google Mail account.
Syncing the HTC HD Mini with your Google data isn't quite as easy as on an Android phone, but that's hardly surprising since Android is a Google product.
That said, it's not difficult either – in fact, it's a slightly simpler procedure on the HD Mini than it is on an iPhone.
Once configured, Active Sync will automatically synchronise the HD Mini with all the data on your Google Mail account, filling your inbox, your calendar and your contact list in a matter of minutes.
One slight annoyance is that the HTC HD Mini defaults your contacts to Last Name, First Name, regardless of how you have it configured in Google, whereas Android handsets will carry over your data in the format it was found.
You're not limited to using Google mail, and you can configure the HD Mini to access any email account.
Obviously if you're using POP for your email, you're not going to get the benefit of syncing your contacts and calendar, but if you're using any other type of Exchange service, you'll reap all the benefits therein.
If you're a social networking junkie, you'll probably lament the absence of HTC's Friend Stream, which amalgamates all your contact and friend lists, creating a method of seeing everything that someone has been up to, via any medium.
You still get Peep, HTC's Twitter app thrown in though, so if you simply have to tell the world what you had for breakfast, you'll be well catered for.
Hitting the People tab on the home screen is slightly annoying, since it defaults to a list of Favorites (that's Favourites for anyone who has a proper command of English).
The problem with the default Favorite list is that it needs to be populated manually, so if you're relying on Google, or any other Exchange service to populate your contacts, it's a slightly laborious process to then drag out the ones you think you'll need the most.
If you want to see your full contact list, you simply hit the All People button, which will then display a traditional scrolling list of names.
To make navigation quicker and easier, the alphabet is pasted vertically down the right-hand edge, so you can jump straight to the letter you need, iPhone style.
The HD Mini had no signal strength issues during testing, not once dropping below three bars.
Of course signal strength is as much to do with the network operator and location as the device itself, but using a Vodafone SIM, the HD Mini was always ready for voice and data duties.
Call quality was also first rate, and there was no hint of echo or interference of any kind. The sound quality at both ends of the call was clear and loud – even when talking outside in relatively noisy environments, the other person had no problem hearing every word.
Making a call is also quick and simple on the HD Mini. If you want to call someone you've spoken to recently, the Call History button on the home screen will do the trick.
Or if you want to phone someone that you call regularly, you can just make a shortcut to them, so it's just a matter of flicking down from the main home screen.
HTC HD Mini:Messaging
Here the HD Mini puts in a strong performance with multiple options to keep in touch with friends and colleagues.
However, this is also where HTC Sense and the underlying Windows Mobile OS occasionally clash.
As already mentioned, HTC has done a great job of making the HD Mini more usable and more polished, but ultimately what's underneath isn't quite so pretty and slick.
Take email for example. When you tap the email tab you're greeted with a snazzy, Cover Flow-like email reader, where each message looks like a sheet of paper that can be flicked off the screen to reveal the next message.
However, when you select a specific email for closer inspection, you're presented with a traditional page layout with a scroll bar down the side.
And if you want to go back to your inbox, you'll see a bog standard list of emails, which is functional, but nowhere near as pretty as HTC's reader.
As already mentioned, setting up your email on the HD Mini is a simple procedure, and shouldn't take you more than a few minutes. If you've opted for Active Sync, your email will be sent to the phone as soon as it arrives in your inbox.
If you choose to use a POP account, you can define how often you want the HD Mini to check for new mail. The email client does appear to have issues with special characters, as can be seen from the screen shot, where the apostrophes have not made it through unscathed.
You get text messages in a threaded view, but again HTC has tried to make things a little more interesting. When you select the messages tab it will display the latest SMS that you have received, then you can flick upwards to reveal each one of your received messages, regardless of sender.
If you then select a particular message, the display will then change to the full conversation trail between you and that contact.
When we had an early play with the HD Mini back in February, we commented that the keyboard wasn't quite as accurate as we would have liked, especially compared to the Legend.
Whether that sample was dodgy, or HTC has simply improved the screen accuracy since then is unclear, but typing on this particular HD Mini is a joy.
Not only are the keystrokes accurately registered, but the autocorrect function is very intuitive. Yes, the keyboard on the Desire is better, but more by virtue of the screen, and therefore the keys being slightly bigger.
Sending an MMS instead of a plain text couldn't be easier. You simply tap the paperclip icon, then choose the type of media you'd like to send.
If the picture is too big, the phone will offer to resize it for you before sending, something Windows Mobile has always been great at.
Being a Windows Mobile phone, you also get Windows Live integration. This is particularly useful if you're a Windows Live Messenger user, since you'll be able to chat with all of your friends and colleagues in real time without having to resort to some kind of third-party app.
Having used various third-party MSN/Windows Live Messenger apps on other phones, we can say that the integrated Windows Live support in the HD Mini is considerably better, and far more stable.
If all that isn't enough, the aforementioned Peep app will satisfy your Twitter needs and ensure that everyone who knows you is fully aware of what you're up to 24 hours a day.
HTC HD Mini:Internet
As with the HTC HD2, the HD Mini has two internet browsers built into it – Opera and Internet Explorer.
HTC would clearly prefer you to use Opera, since that is set as the default browser out of the box, but if you delve into the Windows Mobile menu, you'll find IE pretty much near the top of the list.
When we reviewed the HD2 we noted two major differentiations between Opera and IE – Opera allowed multi-touch control, while IE didn't, and IE gave you Flash video playback while Opera didn't.
Things are slightly different with the HD Mini, since both Opera and IE sport multi-touch control, while neither browser seemed happy to playback any form of embedded Flash video.
That said, we'd still agree with HTC and recommend Opera as the browser of choice, simply because it seems to render pages faster, and more accurately.
When pinching to zoom we often found that it took several attempts to get the job done, although double tap zooming proved far more reliable.
A good old double-tap on text will produce a column view, providing larger text that's far easier to read, and will keep zooming the more you pinch and zoom inwards, much like the Desire.
The biggest annoyance, though, is clicking hyperlinks. Sometimes hitting a link simply doesn't work, regardless of how accurate you try to be or how zoomed in you are. You just end up stabbing at the screen until the browser gives in and takes you where you want to go.
This hyperlink problem afflicts both Opera and IE, so it's clearly a firmware issue of some kind. But the fact that it doesn't seem to rear its head in any situation other than web browsing is somewhat confusing to say the least.
As long as the HTC HD Mini has a 3G connection (which was all of the time in our experience), browsing is very fast indeed.
Obviously it depends on how efficient the page you're browsing is, but on the whole you won't be waiting too long for pages to load.
Like the HTC Desire, the HD Mini lets you store your bookmarks with thumbnails, so you can tell what they are via the briefest of glances.
You can then add your favourite bookmarks to your home screen shortcut list, making it even easier to get to your most visited websites.
HTC HD Mini:Camera
The HTC HD Mini comes equipped with a 5MP camera that can shoot both stills and video. Unfortunately there's no integrated flash, which is a shame when you consider that the Desire benefits greatly from just such a feature.
Operating the camera isn't quite as easy as it could be, due mainly to the complete lack of physical buttons on the HD Mini - it's simply not as easy to hit the "touch button" on the screen, as it would be to press a real button mounted on the chassis.
The camera has auto-focus, which reacts quickly, making it easier to get those impromptu shots that make a good camera phone a worthwhile investment.
You can also manually select the AF point, so your subject doesn't have to be at the centre of the frame – ideal for a rule of thirds composition.
THE CAT SAT ON THE MAT:Here the colours of the cat and the rug he's sitting on are completely washed out
The results from the still camera are fair, but not wonderful. As is invariably the case, images taken with the integrated camera look far better on the phone's screen than they do when you transfer them to your computer and study them more closely.
Colours have a tendency to look slightly pale and washed out, which results in pictures losing a degree of impact.
PREPARE FOR TAKE-OFF:Again the grass looks pale and washed out, while the reds and blues on the helicopter also lack vibrancy
GREEN, GREEN GRASS:That's exactly the same lawn that the helicopter is sitting on, but this time it looks vivid and lush
In strong sunlight, detail can be lost in high intensity areas of the scene that become overexposed.
Subsequently, darker areas also lose most of their detail as the camera struggles to deal with an overly wide dynamic range. This can be seen in the picture of the two white cars, where creases in the bodywork on the left-hand car are lost in the oversaturated whiteness, while detail in the shadowed area of the car on the right is also conspicuous by its absence.
WHITEOUT:The camera struggles with scenes of high dynamic range. Detail is lost on the brightly lit panels on the car on the left, while the shadowed area of the car on the right also suffers
The issues above can be improved upon in some instances by experimenting with the various white balance settings, but in reality there isn't enough manual control to make a significant difference. But this is a phone after all, not a dedicated camera.
You can throw a few preset effects at your photos for fun, like making them greyscale, sepia or even negative.
Far more useful is a setting specifically for labelling your contacts, and the ability to GPS tag your pictures, so you know exactly where you were when you took them.
Video resolution is limited to 640 x 480 at 30fps. The results aren't bad at all, and the integrated microphone manages to pick up a surprising amount of sound with good directionality. A nice touch is the ability to shoot video specifically for an MMS, which will save you having to do any conversion in order to send it over the ether.
HTC HD Mini:Media
But the downside of both the iPhone and the iPod touch is that you have to use iTunes to get anything on or off your device.
Consequently, although other phones may offer less stylish media playback functionality, the fact that media can simply be dragged and dropped, goes a long way to redressing the balance.
The HTC HD Mini is just such a phone – all the media playback features are there, but they're not the most sleek and stylish examples.
That's not to say that HTC hasn't done its best to improve upon the Windows Mobile basics of course.
And let's not forget that if you want to put a new song on the HD Mini, you simply drag it over from your computer, transfer it via Bluetooth or even copy it straight to your microSDHC card – life without iTunes is just much less complicated.
The music playback application is decent enough. You can browse by cover art in both portrait and landscape modes, and the phone will even grab cover art for you if you don't already have it assigned to your music.
Strangely though, despite contacting the Gracenote database directly, and allegedly downloading the images over the air, the artwork didn't actually appear until after the device had been connected to a PC.
Music can be filtered by Artist, Album, Genre, Song Title or Composer – the latter is particularly useful if you happen to listen to classical music, where the composer is far more pertinent than the artist.
You can create playlists, or shuffle your tracks to keep you guessing as to what's coming next.
Sound quality is very good, especially if you marry the HD Mini with a decent set of headphones. We plugged in a set of Shure SE530 triple driver earphones and the results were very pleasing.
The HD Mini managed to playback Ronny Jordan's Blues Grinder as well as any phone we've used, including the iPhone.
Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones was equally impressive, and the HD Mini offers no shortage of volume, although with good, noise-isolating earphones, you don't have to crank things up too high.
You can also assign any MP3 file as your ringtone, and there's an MP3 trimming application preloaded, so that you can hear your favourite bit of your favourite song when someone calls you.
Video playback is smooth and suffers from little in the way of dropped frames or audio syncing issues. Video shot using the phone itself looks particularly good, but then you'd kind of hope it would.
The selection of MP4 content that we downloaded to the phone also played flawlessly, and the screen is definitely good enough to watch an entire programme or film while on a plane or a train.
Unfortunately there's no DivX support out of the box, but there's no shortage of free Windows Mobile apps that will add that functionality.
Despite being unable to make embedded Flash video play in either browser, the integrated YouTube app worked perfectly.
Playback is, assuming you have a decent data connection, excellent. Although there's the ever present "garbage in, garbage out" caveat with YouTube content, so how good it looks and sounds will depend entirely on how good the source material is.
The photo gallery is good, and may well have been ripped off by the PlayStation 3.
Flicking through what appears to be a bundle of real photographs enhances the whole experience, and when you want to look more closely at a particular picture, the multi-touch interface works beautifully.
The built-in FM tuner struggled to get any kind of signal lock while we were testing the HD Mini, but that's probably down to the general poor radio reception in our area than any failing of the device itself.
As always, the headphones act as an antenna for the radio, so if you're using Bluetooth headphones, you're out of luck.
HTC HD Mini:Battery life and programs
The HD Mini comes equipped with a 1200mAh battery, which is very slightly smaller (capacity wise) than the battery in the HTC Legend.
It's always hard to accurately gauge battery life, because it really depends on what kind of user you are and how much you leave running and activated. That said, we got a good few days out of the HD Mini, with everything switched on and push email active.
That's significantly better than the HTC Desire, which struggles to manage a day and a half, despite having a larger 1400mAh battery.
If you require better battery life, it's fairly simple to improve things by limiting what you have switched on. If you don't need Wi-Fi on all the time, only activate it when you do. The same goes for Bluetooth.
You can limit how often the weather updates, or have your email fetched periodically rather than having it pushed. Ultimately though, it will be media playback and web browsing that will do the most damage to battery life on any phone.
Google Maps is well integrated and the integrated GPS locks onto your location quickly and accurately. Again, the multi-touch support works well here, and we experienced none of the issues that we saw with the web browser interface.
Zooming in and out of maps is smooth and responsive, while Street View works, but only in a portrait orientation.
ALK CoPilot Live 8 also comes pre-installed, but before you get too excited, you only get a 15-day free trial. That said, CoPilot is a very good turn-by-turn navigation system for Windows Mobile, so you may well find that you like it when you do give it a go.
If that's the case you can simply purchase an activation code and carry on using it.
Being a Windows Mobile phone, productivity is high on the agenda, which means that you get the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite thrown in.
So not only can you view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, but you can create and edit them too. This can be particularly useful when someone sends you an attached document in an email and you want to edit it before you get back home or to the office.
It also gives you the option of giving a PowerPoint presentation without the need for a computer at all. OK, so these benefits are aimed more at the corporate user, but that's where Windows Mobile's roots lie.
HTC HD Mini:Connection and applications
HTC has stuffed the HD Mini with just about every connection option you can think of, and it does a pretty good job with all of them.
As already mentioned, the signal strength with this phone is particularly good, and data speeds over the 3G/HSDPA connection are as fast as we've seen anywhere.
Just remember that even though a phone can support HSDPA speeds up to 7.2mbps, it doesn't necessarily follow that your network operator does.
The phone prompts you to create a Wi-Fi connection during initial setup, making the process as simple as possible. Even if you don't set up your Wi-Fi at the beginning, the Wireless Controls are second on the Settings menu, so it's easy to find and a breeze to configure.
Once the HD Mini grabs hold of a Wi-Fi connection, it will hold onto it with all its might, offering a surprisingly expansive range.
You also get Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, so there are plenty of communication and streaming options.
One nice feature is that the HD Mini supports the SIM Access Profile (SAP), which means that if you have an in-car system that also supports SAP, you'll get the best possible hands free performance.
The difference between SAP and the standard Hands-Free Profile is that your in-car system accesses the SIM directly, then uses its own electronics, and antenna, resulting in much improved reception and call quality on the move.
The icing on the connection front though, is the inclusion of the wireless router technology that we first saw in the HTC HD2.
Basically you can configure the HD Mini to be a Wi-Fi hotspot, so that you can connect to it via any Wi-Fi enabled device and share its data connection.
Of course it can also do standard internet tethering over Bluetooth or USB, but the Wi-Fi router option allows more than one device to connect simultaneously.
Like it or not, Apple started a revolution with its App Store, and any mobile OS needs to offer a plethora of downloadable content for its users, even if most of it is totally useless.
Unfortunately the Marketplace on Windows Mobile is woefully inadequate. Not only is there very little on offer, but what is there is simply too expensive.
By comparison, Apple's App Store and Android's Market are stuffed full of free apps, so you can get your downloading fix without paying a penny.
On the flip side, given the long history that Windows Mobile has behind it, the internet is awash with free applications for pretty much every need.
OK, so you can't download and install them through the Marketplace, but it's easy enough to download them to your PC and install them to the HD Mini over USB. In fact, that's exactly what we had to do in order to get the screen grabs you see on these pages.
HTC HD Mini:Hands-on gallery
HTC HD Mini:Official gallery
HTC HD Mini:Verdict
The 600MHz Qualcomm processor keeps things zipping along nicely, and the traditional Windows Mobile slowdown failed to rear its head.
Battery life is particularly strong for such a feature-packed handset, which is one area that the HD Mini puts some distance between itself and the more, er, desirable, HTC Desire.
The form factor of the HD Mini is the perfect compromise between size and usability. The screen is still large enough to do everything you want, but the physical dimensions of the phone itself make it easy to hold and pocket.
HTC shows once more that its Sense user interface really can make all the difference, literally papering over Windows Mobile and creating a truly user friendly environment.
The screen is excellent and the multi-touch interaction works very well in the vast majority of situations. Connectivity is also first rate, with the Wi-Fi router option being genuinely useful.
The class leading battery life will endear the HD Mini to road warriors and those who don't want to carry a charger for weekends away.
Even with HTC Sense on top, it's still Windows Mobile 6.5 chugging along underneath, and it simply can't compete in a landscape dominated by Android and Apple.
The Marketplace is woefully under populated and the lack of free apps is disturbing. This needs to be seriously addressed before the launch of Windows Phone 7.
Browser navigation is tricky, with clicks not always registered and multi-touch gestures not always as smooth as they should be.
We liked the HTC HD Mini far more than we expected to, and it has proved that Windows Mobile can't be written off just yet. After using the HD Mini for a while, devices like the Apple iPhone 3GS and HTC Desire just feel huge in the hand, and for many, size does matter.
The overall design of the phone is sleek, stylish and minimalist, with the yellow internals bringing some colour to the equation. Basically, it feels like a well designed, well built, high quality phone, in the same way that the Nokia X6 doesn't.
But is the HD Mini good enough to sway buyers from an Android or Apple handset? We're not so sure. However, if you were a fan of the HTC HD2 but felt that it was just too big, the HD Mini is the answer to your prayers.
This phone has all the features of its big brother (large screen aside), packed into a far smaller chassis.
Put simply, this is the best Windows Mobile handset currently available, and it makes us think that HTC will have something very special for us when Windows Phone 7 finally hits the street.
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