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This is my second delving into the world of HTC and Android phones, after owning the hugely brilliant HTC Hero. HTC are becoming more recognised as a brand now and this phone has received a lot of advertising space, complete with TV advert plinky plunky alt. folk music to back it up like all phones/networks/cars/things. So how does HTC's latest offering stack up? It's all too easy to compare this phone with its rivals, so I'm going to try and keep comparisons to a minimum until the end, where I will let loose with a big, comparison laden brain fart.
Most immediately noticeable from the outset is the giant 3.7" AMOLED screen (more on this later). The phone is very slim, just over a centimetre thick, so it fits snugly in your pocket without making people thing you're pleased to see them. Buttons are minimal - a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top, and on the front under the screen you have a home key, menu key, optical tracker, back key and a search key which will hook you up to Google. On the left hand side you have a small volume rocker, and the sim card/ micro SD slots are in the phone, behind the battery cover, so you have no unsightly holes or latches.
The display on the phone is incredible - it's bright and clear, and comparing whites on the screen to that on most other phones is akin to those white shirt comparisons they do on washing powder adverts. It's instantly amazing.
In other news, the front half of the phone is made from 2 tone brushed metal (dark plum and dark grey), and the back is made from a matte plastic with the HTC logo in chromed plastic in the upper middle. The camera lens sits at the top next to the LED flash and speaker.
All in all, it is quite the handsome beast. The only slight criticism I would make it having the power key on top of the phone. While the phone is slim, it is also quite wide, and since the power key doubles up as the screen lock, accessing it one handed can be a bit tricky.
The Desire uses Android 2.1 as an operating system and utilises HTC sense in order to physically use the phones. Both are present in their newest guises and build on the success gained from previous handsets.
Those familiar with the first version of Android will be pleased to hear that the Desire supports capacitive touchscreen (basically, being able to accept screen presses in two places at the same time). This means you can pinch screens to zoom in, and stretch it to zoom out.
You get 7 home screens, all of which are completely customisable. You could effectively have different home screens depending on whether you're at work or not, so you could have a works one with access to Office documents, calculators etc, and another for when you're out, with quick access to the camera, Facbook etc.
The touch screen is lightning quick, with absolutely no lag whatsoever,
Pictures of HTC Desire
Sample picture from Desire's camera
no matter what you have running. This is in large part down to the Desire's 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, which effectively gives the phone the same processing power as a small laptop. HTC stick with their tried and trusted text entry method and it is still the best touchscreen texting system going by an embarrassingly huge margin. The auto correct feature to atone for any slipped key presses is frighteningly accurate, and once you've taught your phone all your favourite swearwords, you'll be texting away with no trepidation.
I would say to anybody feeling a little hesitant about moving towards a touchscreen phone to get an Android phone - it is by far and away the easiest to us phone operating system on the market.
The hard keys maintain their usual usage - the menu key is context sensitive and will bring up options pertaining to whatever program you're running. The back key cycles back through various menus, and the home key takes you to your central home screen. The optical tracker replaces the tracker ball found on previous phones, and also clicks for use as an OK button and camera shutter. You can use it to navigate the web and to cycle through home screens but to be honest, the touchscreen is so fluid it's a little bit of overkill. Also, a pedantic point I know, but the transition between home screens was kind of jerky when using the tracker, unlike just using your hand.
The only outright negative thing I would say is when I was trying to Bluetooth my contacts from my old phone (also an Android phone) to this one, it took forever to find out how to do it without the phone trying to send it as an MMS (which wouldn't work when there's no SIM card in the phone).
As is the case with all these smartphones, what you buy is not so much a phone packed with features, but a phone with the capacity and ability to do pretty much whatever you want it to do - namely, apps.
But first, I'll run through what you get as standard. Being a Google phone, you can link your phone with your Gmail account (as well as Flickr, Facebook and Twitter), so it's all integrated into the phone - you tell it when you want to know about any developments on any accounts and it will. You get the feeling that HTC wanted to make this paramount, since it asks you if you want to link your accounts even before you set the date and time when you turn on the phone for the first time. You also get as standard Quick Office, which allows you to open (but not create) office documents, FM radio, a video player, access to Google Maps and a personal organiser.
For hardware, the standout feature is the camera. I will have to break my promise here and do a little comparison, but the improvement on this camera compared to the Hero is immeasurable. Yes, it still has a 5MP camera, but now you get an LED flash, a vastly superior lens, face recognition, one tap focus and the video camera now records at up to 15fps, unlike the glorified low-res slide show you got on the Hero (though recorded video sound quality is still ropey). Sure, there are phones that can outgun it (and if you want a phone for its camera qualities, I implore you to check out the Nokia N8), but as a total package along with all the phone's other features, the Desire is vastly superior.
Internal memory is scant (500MB), but it will take a micro SD card (4GB card comes with it as standard), and you can expand the memory up to 32GB.
As I did in my Hero review, rather than troll through a bajillion different apps you could get, I'll pick out my top 5. Most are available for free from the Android marketplace, which you can access from the handset.
PlaysVideo: While the standard Desire video player is good, I'd advise downloading this free app as it's far more user friendly. While the Desire supports mpeg4 video format, I would suggest using a free program called Videora to convert your films to H.264 format - the end quality is much better and the sound and video don't go out of sync.
PicSay Pro: Now the HTC has produced a phone with a good quality camera, PicSay is a great app for editing your photos, adding frames, captions and after effects. Very easy to use as well.
Shazam: Still my favourite app of them all. Just start the app, hold your phone to any music source and it can tell you what the song is. Very handy if a good song comes on the telly and you want to know what it is.
Layar: Layar has just been improved upon and is borderline revolutionary. Simply tell it what you're looking for (I'll use cash machines as an example), and it will turn on the camera with a grid overlay. It then highlights all cash machines in a radius of your choosing on a radar screen, which moves around with you, so you can find your way to it.
Musical Pro: I'm a musician, so I love this. It turns your phone into a guitar tuner, you can use it as a pitch pipe by blowing into the microphone, it can turn the screen into a mini musical keyboard (with different voice settings), and even has a piano tutor program where you follow lights on the keys.
Once again, I recommend getting an app killer program to shut down the things you don't need, as it will save battery life. These can be downloaded free.
Apps can be downloaded directly onto the phone through Android Marketplace, or if you can find them online (usually as .apk files), you can download them to your computer and install them using the HTC sync software. This is a good option if it's one you've paid for - at least then you have it backed up should it fail on the phone).
WHAT ABOUT...Y'KNOW, PHONE STUFF. CAN IT DO THAT?
It has quad band on it so you should get a signal and good reception pretty much anywhere. It is an improvement on the Hero since the building I work with is not phone signal friendly, yet I can use the Desire in more areas of it than I could the Hero.
Texts send within milliseconds of you pushing send, as do emails, and web browsing speeds are as fast as they are on any everyday laptop, thanks to the improved processor.
The only slightly gammy leg is the battery. With normal, everyday usage (by which I mean a couple of calls, checking your emails, 2 dozen texts and a quick game of Tetris while on the can), you will eat through about half the battery in a day - like it or not you will probably have to charge it every night. But with a phone this powerful it's inevitable it will drink the battery juice faster than other phones. The charger lead can actually come out of the wall plug to act as a USB cable, so if you're out and about you can always pop into an internet cafe and charge your phone via the USB lead.
The only slightly negative point is that with the Hero and its kooky shape, you could actually buy double wide batteries with a specially adapted back. Since the Desire is all svelte and pretty, you don't have the luxury of a giant battery.
VALUE FOR MONEY
This is a bit tricky. The Hero was a good value phone, amazingly good value in fact, at £250. The Desire is £400 on pay as you go, £450 sim free and at least £30 a month on contract at the moment, so it has shuffled into the "bit pricey" school of economics. However, the phone does contain a lot of the absolute latest hardware, and I can say from owning both that the build quality is much better than the Hero.
THE BIT WHERE I CAN COMPARE WITH RIVAL HANDSETS
There's no dramatic build up here - the Desire is by far the best phone on the market right now. I work with IT technicians who specialise in smartphones and the Desire is phone porn to them. A couple of them are even selling their iPhones just to own the older generation of Android phones.
But rather than just gush about the phone and tell apocryphal tales, I'll use two paragraphs - one to say why it's better than the Hero and one to say why it's better than the iPhone.
The Desire has a bigger screen, twice as powerful a processor and a newer, faster operating system than the Hero. The camera is impossibly better, and is easier to use since it never, freezes up.
The Desire is better than the iPhone because again, it has a superior camera. It also has expandable memory, a replaceable battery, more of the apps are free and is still better value for money. It does all this while matching the iPhone for speed, ease of use, battery life and accessibility.
Since the iPhone is widely regarded as "the daddy", the fact the Desire trumps it in every department makes it the granddaddy.
When I reviewed the Hero 6 months ago, I told people to go and buy it as a good, thinking person's alternative to the iPhone. It was half the price of the iPhone, but just as good. The Desire costs as much as an iPhone, but is twice as good. Simple as that.