HTC HD Mini Review: is it worth it?

Announced back in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the HTC HD Mini is the company’s latest (and probably one of the last) Windows Mobile 6.5.3 handset to hit the market. Marketed as a slimmed down version of the HTC HD2 the HD Mini’s announcement was unfortunately overshadowed by Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 unveiling one day earlier. How does it stack up against HTC’s similar priced and speced Android devices especially now that we know that not a single WM 6.X device will ever be upgradable to Windows Phone 7? Time to review the HTC HD Mini.

Hardware

Similar to the HD2 the front of the HTC HD Mini is made of a single capacitive glass panel but HTC has traded the physically plastic buttons with 5 capacitive touch sensitive illuminated icons underneath the glass panel. The screen is 3.2” big and has a resolution of 480×320 (HVGA). Below is a size comparison against the HD2 (click here for more pictures):

As you can see the HTC HD mini is quite a bit smaller but only 0.7mm (0.03 inch) thicker. The device also features all the connectivity options you now commonly find in a modern smartphone: Micro-USB connector,3.5mm jack, micro-sd slot (can accept up to 32gb SDHC cards). The form factor is in my opinion the HD Mini’s biggest selling point. Inside the phone is a Qualcomm MSM7227 SoC clocked @ 600Mhz powering Windows Mobile 6.5.3 coupled with 384Mb of RAM & 512Mb of ROM. The MSM7227 is the new updated version of the much” hated” MSM 722X SoC used in nearly all Windows Mobile and Android handsets since 2006 which means that it’s still an ARM11 CPU. But this time a nFPU is present along with L2 Cache and most importantly it features the same OpenGL ES 2.0 GPU as in the SnapDragon, the AMD Z430. A 1200Mah battery powers the whole thing (the battery life is pretty good, it last well over 24 hours with moderate use).

To take a closer look at the hardware you can check out my video tour below:

On the back of the device is a 5Mpix camera with auto-focus. The sensor used seems to be the same as on the HTC HD2 because pictures and videos still exhibit a slight purple/pink hue but the auto-focus mechanism is definitely faster on the HD Mini. It terms of form factor and build quality the HTC HD Mini is one of the best devices I have ever had the chance to use (the only thing that tops it is the HTC Legend IMO). The HTC HD2’s gigantic 4.3” screen is a really beauty but it makes the device nearly impossible to operate with one hand. The HTC HD Mini is a joy to handle and really fits perfectly in a pocket (especially when you try to pull it out if you are sitting..). The only downside is the quality of the sound coming out of the speaker near the camera. It’s really distorted and my guess is that this is probably caused by the metallic enclosure in which the speaker is located. Last but not least the device also features an FM radio receiver (Click here for more picutres).

The HD Mini is HTC’s second Windows Phone featuring a capacitive touchscreen, unfortunately it looks like they didn’t tweak the driver for the 3.2inch screen and re-used the HD2 drivers instead to save some time. Zooming using the pinch gesture can be a bit tricky on the smaller screen because of how fast the image/page is zoomed. Applying the same gesture (same distance traveled between the two fingers) on the HD2 will result in a higher zoom level (It’s hard to explain; hopefully you got what I was trying to get to). The other downside of the screen is HTC new habit of totally botching the colors by boosting the contrast, making the image look richer but on the other hand giving it a yellowish tint and some colors just look off. Unfortunately this can’t be tweaked by the user. HTC’s AMOLED handsets suffer from the same weird color calibration.

Software

The HD Mini is really similar to HTC latest Windows Mobile offering, the only main difference being the new version of the OS (Windows Mobile 6.5.3) which brings some new visual tweaks like multi-touch zooming in IE Mobile, the end of the Start and Close icon on the top of the screen and a new lock screen (this is an HTC addition though).

You’ll find the same Sense UI with the exclusion of the landscape modes in the Music & Album tabs (Must be a marketing decision given that both handsets feature a similar GPU…) and lack of shortcut icons on the very first home screen (the screen being smaller, HTC decide to replace them with a call log shortcut) you can still access them buy sliding the screen up.

Now let’s talk about the HTC HD Mini biggest letdown: the HVGA resolution. To put it simply: nearly 70% of the applications currently available on Windows Mobile don’t work on this device. Just check out the picture below. I did simple search on the marketplace on the HD2 and HD Mini:

The marketplace detects the devices screen resolution and only shows the applications that are compatible with it. I’ve tried several well known apps and nearly all of them didn’t work correctly (SPB Mobile Shell, SkyFire, Resco Brain Games, several 3D games etc..Opera Mini did work though). If you happen to depend heavily on third party applications then the HD mini is not a device for you. This is really a shame especially when you take into account the fact that the phone will be “stuck” with Windows Mobile 6.5.X and that Windows Phone 7 actually supports the HVGA resolution. I guess that HTC had a boatload of 3.2” HVGA screens ordered for cheap (after the HTC G1,Hero, Magic etc..) and thought that it would be the best fit for the HD Mini.

Browsing

As it has been the case with every HTC Windows Mobile handset since the Diamond Opera (9.7) is the default browser on the HD Mini. There isn’t a lot to say about it; it’s functional, not to slow, but still far from Safari on the iPhone and I still hate text-Reflow. A new version of IEMobile is also available with Multi-Touch pinch zooming. Ironically this features works better in IEMobile than in Opera (even though IE is still nearly unusable).

Peformance

The HTC HD Mini is far from being a sluggish device thanks to the new MSM7227 and the numerous tweaks that HTC made to their Sense UI. Unfortunately the Screen resolution incompatibility problems always creep up so it’s kind of hard to compare it to other devices if you can’t actually run the same apps on both. Like I said earlier the HD Mini is said to feature the same OpenGL ES 2.0 GPU as the SnapDragon (that’s what the drivers report..) so I tried the Tigre OGL ES 2.0 demos. I found out that there’s either a driver problem with the MSM 7227 or the demos because the HD2 is running them quite a bit faster with 2.5X more pixels on the screen (and this can’t only be because of the CortexA8 CPU IMO). Note that I didn’t use any tweaked out driver (Chainfire..). On the other hand GLBenchmark reports better 3D results in some places on the HD Mini than on the HD2:

GLBenchmark Pro 1.1 Result Details : HTC HD Mini HTC HD2
Lights: Omni x 1Lights: Omni x 1 1.1 : 883 kTriangles/s 1048 kTriangles/s
CPU Performance: Float : 876 1893
Lights: Spot x 1 1.1 : 883 kTriangles/s 964 kTriangles/s
GLBenchmark Pro ES 1.1 GPU Skinning : 413 Frames 213 Frames
Triangles: Flat Shaded + Color 1.1 : 2043 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
3D Rendering Quality: Sub Pixel Precision : 100% (Success) 100% (Success)
Texture Size: 256×256 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Texture Filter: NEAREST_MIPMAP_NEAREST 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Texture Filter: NEAREST 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Lights: Ambient x 1 1.1 : 883 kTriangles/s 1308 kTriangles/s
Triangles: Textured 1.1 : 1994 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Fill Rate: Single-textured 1.1 : 69304 kTexels/s 86016 kTexels/s
Texture Filter: LINEAR 1.1 : 1978 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Texture Size: 128×128 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Swapbuffer speed : 184 103
3D Rendering Quality: Perspective Correction : 100% (Success) 100% (Success)
Lights: Parallel x 4 1.1 : 883 kTriangles/s 1259 kTriangles/s
3D Rendering Quality: Bilinear Filter : 100% (Success) 100% (Success)
CPU Performance: Integer : 9078 20020
Lights: Parallel x 8 1.1 : 850 kTriangles/s 1030 kTriangles/s
Fill Rate: Multi-Textured 1.1 : 103219 kTexels/s 127795 kTexels/s
3D Rendering Quality: Z-buffer Precision : 98.7% (Success) 98.7% (Success)
3D Rendering Quality: Trilinear Filter : 100% (Success) 100% (Success)
Texture Filter: LINEAR_MIPMAP_LINEAR 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Texture Size: 512×512 1.1 : 1978 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
GLBenchmark HD ES 1.1 GPU Skinning : 488 Frames 292 Frames
Triangles: Textured + Color 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
GLBenchmark Pro ES 1.1 CPU Skinning : 487 Frames 213 Frames
Texture Size: 1024×1024 1.1 : 1912 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Lights: Parallel x 1 1.1 : 899 kTriangles/s 1291 kTriangles/s
Texture Filter: LINEAR_MIPMAP_NEAREST 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Triangles: Smooth Shaded + Color 1.1 : 2076 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Lights: Parallel x 2 1.1 : 883 kTriangles/s 1291 kTriangles/s
GLBenchmark HD ES 1.1 CPU Skinning : 505 Frames 360 Frames
Texture Filter: NEAREST_MIPMAP_LINEAR 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s
Texture Size: 64×64 1.1 : 2011 kTriangles/s 1226 kTriangles/s

The only conclusion to make out of this is that in my opinion GLBenchmark can’t be a reliable benchmark especially with the mess that is HTC/Qualcomm’s drivers on WM6.X or maybe Qualcomm did something to the AMDZ430 in the MSM7227.

Video performance is really good in the HTC album player and I was actually surprise to see that the device was able to playback 800×400 MP4 videos encoded for the HD2 without any problem . CorePlayer unfortunately doesn’t support the MSM227 so you will be stuck with subpar MP4 decoding and passable Xvid/Divx/Mpg ( slightly better that the older MSM7XXX handsets). The best solution will be to transcode your videos to MP4 and play them back with HTC’s video player.

CorePlayer Benchmark: HTC HD Mini HTC HD2
RL_XQ_648X480_1500_128 Average Speed: 92% 200%

Camera

There isn’t much to say about the device’s 5Mpix camera other than what I’ve said in a previous post dedicated to it. The camera initializes really quickly and has a blazing fast auto-focus. Picture quality is really good (with a bit less purple/pink hue than on the HD2) unfortunately the HD2 tweaks than can be done via the registry to increase the video capture bitrate can’t be applied on the HD Mini (the video captured is corrupted) and there’s no Flash on the phone.

Connectivity

I personally found that the HD Mini had a better 3G radio than on the HTC HD2 (it fluctuated less in the same location but this can also be reated to the carrier’s network). On the other hand the HD2’s Wi-Fi seems more powerful. BT was also working as advertised without any noticeable problem. And some of the best Windows Mobile features (that probably won’t be available in the first release of Windows Phone 7..) are still present: Tethering, Disk Drive Mode, and Wifi router.

Call Quality

The HD Mini sometimes suffers from some weird call quality problems that will hopefully be fixed in an upcoming Radio Rom upgrade. Depending on who was calling there was a weird ”wind” like sound during the whole call (like when you turn your speakers volume up without playing any sound: “weeesssssh”).

Conclusion

The HTC HD Mini isn’t an easy handset to review now that Windows Phone 7 has been announced and alongside HTC’s flood of Android handsets. Windows Mobile 6.5.3 is still going to be supported in the years to come but don’t kid yourself, Windows Phone 7 is where all the developers and potential users are heading in the coming months. Ironically the HD Mini’s biggest con is can also be one of its advantages. WP7’s first release will lack many features that are available of WM6.5.3 so users who want those and don’t want to jump in to the Android bandwagon will have no other choices than to get this device or the more expensive HTC HD2. On the other had the software incompatibilities cause by the HVGA can really be a deal breaker. I didn’t encounter any major bug during the 10 days I used the handset (other than some screen rendering problems in Sense caused by Opera or when changing wall papers), It should be noted that I was using a Review sample with what looks like a pre-release rom. If you are a die-hard Windows Mobile user/fan and find that the HD2 is too big or too expensive then the HD Mini is probably for you. If not, then I would suggest to get the similarly speced HTC Legend.

Pros:

- Form Factor and build quality

- Capacitive touchscreen

- Speedy MSM7227 Chipset with OpenGL ES 2.0 GPU

- Good 5Mpix camera with fast auto-focus

- HTC’s Sense UI

- Windows Mobile 6.5.3’s openness and features

Cons:

- Windows Mobile 6.5.3

- HVGA resolution causing 70%the WinMo applications to be useless

- Call Quality (should be fixed with a new Radio Rom)

- Busted color calibration of the screen

- No Micro-SD card provided (I didn’t have a retail unit so this may depend on your country and carrier)

  • rigo007

    Why do you put in the cons the ‘No Micro-SD card provided’?

  • rigo007

    Why do you put in the cons the ‘No Micro-SD card provided’?

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com/tips-contact/ M. Daou

    Because HTC (or the carrier) isn’t providing a micro-sd card with the device when sold. ex: The HTC HD2 came with a 2Gb Mmcro-sd in EU and 16gb in the US. But this may depend on your local carrier. I asked and got told that it probably won’t though.

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com/tips-contact/ M. Daou

    Because HTC (or the carrier) isn’t providing a micro-sd card with the device when sold. ex: The HTC HD2 came with a 2Gb Mmcro-sd in EU and 16gb in the US. But this may depend on your local carrier. I asked and got told that it probably won’t though.

  • Landy

    I got one, and regret it badly. HVGA; how can they even release something like this? I could as well bought anything else – if it wasn’t for our corporate standards I would probably get a Android.

    I agree to your review and would add that HVGA is a BIG con.

  • Landy

    I got one, and regret it badly. HVGA; how can they even release something like this? I could as well bought anything else – if it wasn’t for our corporate standards I would probably get a Android.

    I agree to your review and would add that HVGA is a BIG con.

  • Pwc

    i have just got the fone and have problms with blue tooh and tomtom on it but in the end sorted it out i di not get any sd crad was expecting one i have loved wm htc for years and want them to keep them going as long as poss as andriod is crap

  • Gghtyydd

    If you don’t want Android but want internal GPS, FM radio and SD card slot how many choices are there. The HVGA is no biggy, just load QVGA apps and its fine. The biggest down side for me is the gorilla glass touch screen, it’s over sensitive when not needed and clumsy when. Got all the applications I need and all works as it should, don’t do gaming, you’ve got android for that.