HTC HD7 preview (update: video!)

Alright, so by now we all know that HTC's HD7 is mostly a HD2 in imperial new clothes, but let's give the new phone a chance, shall we? We've just gotten to grips with the latest member of HTC's 4.3-inch brigade and predictably enough it feels just as snappy as the rest of the Windows Phone 7 devices introduced today. Navigation is blazingly quick, interrupted only by Microsoft's excessive fascination with animated screen transitions. Clearly, designing the new WP7 OS around hard-set minimum specs has paid off for Microsoft, whose end product exhibits a great deal of polish. T-Mobile, the HD7's exclusive carrier in the US, is keen to point out that it's the largest Windows Phone 7 launch device, so if size is atop your list of priorities, this will be the phone you'll want to start your journey with. We've got some in-depth impressions of the hardware after the break and a video is coming right up as well. Enjoy!

Update: As promised, a lengthy video exhibition of the HD7 awaits your eyeballs just past the break.%Gallery-104772%

Much like the HD2 before it, the sheer size of the HD7 will be the first thing that grabs you. The 4.3-inch screen is again framed by a minimal bezel, lending a feel of efficient, raw, electronic prowess, and it just feels bigger without the HD2's hardware buttons in the way. We were less impressed by the display's viewing angles, however -- maybe the recent spate of AMOLED, IPS, and Super LCD panels has spoiled us, but the color degradation as you move off center is really offputting. We appreciate that a 4.3-inch superscreen is probably beyond any reasonable manufacturing budgets, but the fact remains that the HD7's current screen feels a step behind the competition, both in terms of pixel density and general performance. There was no faulting the capacitive digitizer, though, as every touch was responded to almost instantaneously in our brief tests and WP7's virtual landscape keyboard was a pleasure.

Build quality seems to be on par with HTC's recent efforts, with a metallic band accounting for most of the bezel and firm matte plastic covering the rear. A squeaky battery door left us feeling a little uneasy, however, and the kickstand's a fairly thin and weak affair, even if it does have a nice, solid click. The problem is that while the rounded edge of the stand looks neat, it actually serves to make the hefty device easier to topple. We're again left with the sense that the oversized form factor has limited HTC's budget and, consequently, options.

Flip the phone sideways, however, trust that kickstand to do its job, and the HD7 becomes a multimedia machine. A pair of front-facing stereo speakers, complete with Dolby and SRS Surround for extra branding points, will fire off anything you can magic up with the preloaded Netflix, Slacker Radio and T-Mobile TV apps. In our time with it, Netflix worked about as well here as it does on the iPhone, piping a very watchable framerate (but with considerable artifacting) over T-Mobile's 3G. Speaking of connectivity, we're afraid the HD7 won't feature the carrier's new HSPA+ transfer speeds -- T-Mobile reps said the HD7's silicon doesn't support it, and neither does Microsoft's spec.

The T-Mobile "Family Room" promises to be an interesting piece of software -- a cloud sharing app built on Microsoft Azure that lets individuals leave notes, pictures, calendar events and the like on a Metro UI-ified bulletin board of sorts. Though its appeal would be fairly limited if restricted only to high-end WP7 devices such as those currently on offer from T-Mobile -- which the kiddies aren't exactly liable to own any time soon -- the company stressed its brand is "about value," without letting us in on its plans.

You won't be surprised to hear that the biggest downer we found with the HD7 was its failure to advance the hardware spec (in any meaningful way) from the HD2. Then again, if specs mean less to you than overall user experience and the chance to jump aboard a shiny new bandwagon, the HD7 should tick your boxes quite competently. It certainly promises to fill many an early WP7 adopter's time with happy memories of snappy, oversized smartphone action.

Additional reporting done by Sean Hollister