Smartphone vendors shipped 54.7 million units in the first quarter this year, up 56.7% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Within that same time period, Google’s Android OS surpassed Windows Mobile and Linux to become the fourth most popular operating system on smartphones in the first quarter.

Android, which is on around 10% of smartphones, trails Nokia’s Symbian, Research in Motion (RIM) and Apple. Gartner says Android is due to beat Apple soon, since it is being used by multiple handset manufacturers. Nonetheless, companies such as Taiwanese powerhouse HTC are still rolling out Windows Mobile-based devices.

What is it and who is it for?

HTC’s HD mini (£275 ex. VAT) is a smartphone running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.5.3 operating system?unlike the HTC Legend and the even more impressive HTC Desire which come equipped with Google’s Android 2.1. It’s small and benefits from a ‘skin’ provided by hardware manufacturer HTC. The skin, called the Sense User Interface, gives the software a snazzy and ‘finger friendly’ front end, so that you can pan and sweep around the screen to get around within and between applications.

This kind of smartphone is ideal for one-handed use in business meetings when you want to get to data quickly and want to be seen to be using modern, cool-looking devices. Of course, it has to work well too.

Does it do it well?

The Windows Mobile operating system means that the HTC HD mini should slot nicely into an IT system based around Microsoft software?particularly Exchange. Mobile e-mail and calendar services are supported, and the device will handle personal e-mail accounts too. IT staff should be able to configure the HTC HD mini easily, get staff up and running with minimal fuss, and find support straightforward.

It’s easy to get around many of the various services on the HTC HD mini thanks to a horizontally scrolling bar along the bottom of the main screen. This has tappable icons that take you to home, people, messages, mail, Internet, calendar, stocks, photos and video, music, weather, Twitter, Footprints and settings.

Most of these are self-explanatory. Home is the main screen which displays the time, date, local weather, call history and calendar. Stocks is a stocks and shares ticker. Footprints is an HTC application, allowing you to take a geo-tagged photo courtesy of built-in GPS. You can use this to return to a location at a later date. You can reorder these links, and remove any that you don’t need access to. So the professional user can put their most frequently used applications towards the front of the list, for very fast access.

If you sweep upwards on the main screen you get to a grid of nine application shortcuts which you can configure to your own preferences, making it easy to access all the material you need for everyday business activity quickly.

The HTC HD mini is a slick device. The interface allows for quick access to picture contacts so your most important colleagues and clients can be contacted with just a couple of taps. Messaging, whether it is SMS, e-mail or Twitter (for which HTC provides its own application) is easily managed via an on-screen keyboard.

The screen switches between wide and tall modes as you turn the HTC HD mini in your hands. The capacitive technology used in the screen means it is responsive to light taps and a soft keyboard and good predictive text system helps too. Professionals should find mobile e-mail is straightforward, though the small nature of the device may mean people with larger hands find things a little fiddly.

The device supports ‘pinch to zoom’ so that it is easy to focus in on Web pages? important as the relatively small screen may be tricky to read in some instances. HTC bundles the excellent Opera Web browser as well as providing the Microsoft standard Internet Explorer.

GPS and Wi-Fi are both built in. The former can be used with the pre-installed copy of Google Maps, which the business traveller can use to help them get around. There is also a 15-day trial of the excellent CoPilot point to point navigation software, which may be especially useful for those who drive a lot during the course of their work.
The Wi-Fi is complemented by a pre-installed utility that lets you use the HD mini as a Wi-Fi router.

The HTC HD mini can be set to mute incoming calls when you turn the handset face down. This could be extremely useful in business meetings when you’ve forgotten to mute the loudpseaker. It also lowers the ringer volume as you lift the handset to your ear, potentially meaning that fellow train travellers are not annoyed by loud ringtones.

Where does it disappoint?

The HTC HD mini is small and light for a smartphone so it’s easy to pocket, but it does have a smallish screen at 320 x 240 pixels and 3.2-inches. If your business needs include browsing a lot of Web sites you may want to look for a device with a larger screen.

The overall specifications are a little below par. Screen resolution is low, and the 600MHz processor is behind the fastest 1GHz ‘Snapdragon’ processor that now populates many high-end smartphones. Built in memory is light at 384MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM, but an accessible microSD card slot makes it easy to boost this.

Battery life is disappointing. If you use Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G data, as you would expect to with a handset like this, you’ll be charging the HTC HD mini at least once during every 24-hour period. You may find yourself needing to ask for access to an outlet while meeting colleagues or clients, which could prove embarrassing.

Would we recommend it?

As a component of an enterprise IT structure, HTC’s HD mini should slot in easily with the suite of existing devices. Its small size may appeal to those who don’t like the idea of carrying a large smartphone. However, the trade-off of a small screen needs to be considered carefully. Stubby fingers and poor eyesight are two reasons it may not be practical. And with Windows Phone 7 due to launch before the end of the year, businesses may consider it prudent to wait and see what that has to offer.