While HTC’s Android cell phones have stolen the show, the company originally made its name here in the United States on deluxe, full-featured Windows Mobile phones. The HTC 7 Pro on U.S. Cellular continues that tradition, albeit with Microsoft’s vastly improved Windows Phone 7 OS. The HTC 7 Pro is a solid smartphone, and a good choice if you text or email more than the average person, although it lacks the battery life and third-party app catalog of other models.
Design, Call Quality, and Apps
The HTC 7 Pro measures 4.6 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs a substantial 6.5 ounces. It’s made of a complex mix of matte plastic, glass, soft touch rubber, and aluminum surfaces; the effect is bulky, but handsome. The front panel slides back and tilts up at a 45-degree angle, which is great for watching movies or using the phone as a very tiny laptop computer.
The 3.6-inch capacitive touch screen is on the small side for such a bulky phone, but its 480-by-800-pixel resolution looks sharp. The display lacks the vibrancy of HTC and Samsung’s newer panels, though. The slide-out, five-row QWERTY keyboard is an absolute gem. It features large rectangular keys that are well-raised and separated. They exhibit just the right texture and resistance for fast, near-silent typing.
The HTC 7 Pro is a dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (850/1900MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi; the phone connected to my WPA2-encrypted network without a problem in tests. There’s no Wi-Fi hotspot mode, though. Voice quality was fine overall, with a clear if somewhat brittle tone in the earpiece, and plenty of available gain. Callers uniformly said I sounded good through the microphone. Reception seemed about average. Thankfully, the HTC 7 Pro doesn’t suffer from the same horrid background hiss as the HD7S ($199.99, 2.5 stars), even though the wide earpiece speaker looks identical on both handsets.
Calls sounded clear through an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars) and the TellMe-powered voice dialing worked flawlessly over Bluetooth. The speakerphone was excellent, with plenty of gain for use outdoors, albeit with a touch of distortion at the highest volume setting. Battery life was short, though, at just over four hours of talk time.
By now it’s clear that Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful smartphone OS that’s fun to use. It features smoothly sliding home screen tiles; tight integration with Microsoft Office, Exchange, and Outlook; XBox Live compatibility; and it works just like a standalone Zune for music and video playback. Regardless of the task, the 7 Pro’s 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU keeps things moving at a good clip. That said, while the Windows Marketplace offers a decent selection of apps and games, it’s nowhere near what’s available for Android and iOS devices. Keep an eye out for news on the upcoming “Mango” version of Windows Phone 7, which adds many new features to the OS.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
There is a standard size 3.5mm headphone jack, plus 16GB of internal storage for media files, with about 13.7GB free. There’s no microSD card slot or USB mass storage mode, though; you must sync the phone with a PC or Mac using dedicated Microsoft apps in each case.
Music tracks sounded clear and full through Samsung Modus HM6450 Bluetooth headphones ($99, 4 stars). The Zune-like music app was fun to use, with large album art, clear fonts, and smooth animations and responses—much like the rest of the OS. There’s also an FM radio that uses the bundled, tinny-sounding wired stereo earbuds as an antenna. Standalone videos played smoothly in full screen mode, but audio only played through the phone’s speaker, not over stereo Bluetooth.
The 5-megapixel auto-focus camera has an LED flash. Test photos were okay but not great, with well balanced in bright outdoor sunlight but only modest detail and muted colors. Indoors, some shots exhibited slight graininess and a softer focus, but they weren’t too bad. The HTC 7 Pro’s auto-focus works before you press the button, not after; let the phone focus automatically first, then snap the photo, and you’re golden. The camcorder recorded crisp 640-by-480-pixel videos at a smooth 27 frames per second. But 720p files (1280 by 720 pixel) looked soft and not as detailed, with a more uneven frame rate that averaged 19 frames per second.
U.S. Cellular still trails the four major U.S. carriers in terms of network coverage and high-end smartphones, but it’s beginning to rectify the latter problem in earnest. The HTC 7 Pro is a fine choice if you like Microsoft’s clean slate, Zune HD-influenced mobile OS. But with a paucity of third-party apps, it’s still a niche player next to Android phones like the HTC Merge ($149, 4 stars), our current Editors’ Choice smartphone on U.S. Cellular, and the LG Genesis ($149, 3 stars). Both of those handsets are $50 less expensive up front, offer more features like free, Google-powered GPS navigation and a mobile hotspot mode, and work with a vast selection of third-party apps in the Android market.