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HTC Desire, the phone to beat Apple? A full review

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26.06.2010

Advantages:
Almost everything -  particularly user interface and features

Disadvantages:
Battery life is annoyingly short; the iPhone 4 has been released

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

Look & Feel

Durability & Robustness

Battery standby time

Value for money

Range of features

Battery talktimeSatisfactory

Camera Quality

7 Ciao members have rated this review on average: very helpful See ratings
exceptional by (14%):
  1. MrGump
very helpful by (86%):
  1. TheHairyGodmother
  2. Munchkin2009
  3. Soho_Black
and 3 other members

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Product overview


The HTC Desire is HTC's latest and greatest to-date smartphone to hit European stores.
Running Google's Android operating system, it is essentially a slightly remodeled version of the HTC-made Google Nexus One released around the same time, the main difference being that the Desire uses HTC's personal take on Android- the Sense user interface.
I've owned this phone for over two months, so hopefully my first-hand experience can contribute a few need-to-knows to your knowledge of this phone. Also, the Desire is Google Android's best chance yet at being better than the iPhone, so I'll try to establish whether or not this is the case.

Detailed Review


Now let's break down some of the most important aspects of the Desire.
HTC Sense UI:

By far the most important aspect of a smartphone is the user interface- the software that determines how you interact with the phone. In many ways this is what makes a smartphone 'smart', and I'm pleased to tell you that it's the Desire's trump card.
HTC Sense debuted on the HTC Hero in 2009, and won awards for it's innovation, as well as making the Hero one of the bestselling phones of the year. So now in the Desire we get the latest incarnation of Sense, sitting comfortably on top of Google's latest version of Android- 2.1 Eclair.
It's hard to describe the usability of Sense without showing you firsthand, but I would call it the best use of drag and drop widgets, and also the most effective method of phone navigation on a handset to date. Any feature you want to access, be it contacts, apps, the web, news feeds, or the Android Market (Google's answer to the Apple AppStore), it's all obtainable within a maximum of 3 touches of the screen- plus you can change most if not all settings within 6 touches (I've checked this).
The UI is based around a grand total of 7 home screens that you navigate between by sliding your finger right or left across the screen. You can customise these home screens massively using either HTC or Google-made widgets, or shortcuts to apps and settings. The choice of the size and shape of widgets is great and with a bit of clever arrangement you can operate almost everything you'll ever need exclusively using the home screens. The notifications system is also a stroke of genius, allowing you to either totally ignore or directly navigate to the source of the notification with equal ease.
As for social networking, the Facebook & Twitter integration is really well done and works seamlessly with the contacts list to bring show you each contacts' updates.
All in all, HTC Sense = top notch!
Hardware size & quality:

I think the Desire is a good looking phone, and despite it's huge screen it's very comfortable to hold in the hand. It's thinner than the iPhone 3GS (albeit by just 0.4mm), but comparisons aside it's a nice depth for a phone of this size. As you would imagine the screen ensures
Pictures of HTC Desire
HTC Desire htc-desire_1 - HTC Desire
HTC Desire
that this is no small phone, but its dimensions mean that it's comfortable in the hand and can easily be used one-handed.
I'm picky when it comes to quality- I wouldn't buy a phone that I feel couldn't last a few drops and scrapes, and so far HTC has been a good choice for me. I dropped my previous HTC many times (some onto concrete) and it never showed signs of falling apart outside or in. So far my Desire hasn't been badly dropped, but I don't worry because it feels very well put together and is made of decent materials. The IPhone is the more luxurious choice for quality materials, but that certainly doesn't mean the Desire lacks any reliability.
Power & performance:

When it comes to power the Desire is about as good as you get in a phone today, with a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor backed up by a massive 576mb of ram.
I found the increase in power immediately evident coming from another HTC Sense phone, particularly as before you load it up with memory hungry apps there is literally zero lag! Of course, it's inevitable that as you load it up the performance will suffer, but in my experience it only puts a small dent in the Desire's excellent performance.
Generally, everything happens the moment you want it to, from playing back high def video, right down to typing- it all works smoothly, quickly and efficiently.
The Touchscreen:

No doubt a key area when it comes to choosing a smartphone is its screen. Long have manufacturers tried to engineer a phone who's touchscreen can rival that of the legendary iPhone to no avail, but with the Desire it would seem HTC have cracked it!
To compare stats, the IPhone 3GS boasts a 480 by 320 resolution screen, while the Desire has upped the game considerably with a resolution of 800 by 480. And you can see the difference- the Desire's screen displays photos, web pages and games beautifully and with a great depth of color compared with the screen of, say, last year's Hero (which I owned). The Desire's screen is also bigger than the iPhone's at 3.7 inches to 3.5, and while this doesn't seem much, you can tell the difference when viewing things in landscape.
Like the IPhone and all other new touchscreen phones the Desire uses capacitive touch technology, but unlike former iPhone competitors' it really does match, and perhaps even surpass the Apple's level of accuracy and smoothness. It's almost unheard of that you should have to press twice, pinch zooming is very intuitive and accurate, and typing is on the level of the iPhone too (though I found that a 3rd Party App called Smart Keyboard Pro is a big improvement on the HTC keyboard).
The only place the HTC's screen falls down is that it can be very difficult to see outdoors, and that's something you can't do much about. However when the brightness it turned up full it's generally usable.
Connectivity:

The HTC has all the connectivity you would expect from a smartphone in 2010- for internet there's 3G, GPRS, EDGE, and of course the ever-useful Wi-Fi; for data transfer there's Bluetooth 2.1; and for location there an inbuilt GPS antenna. I've found all these features to work perfectly (the Wi-fi is particularly good), even if the GPS does drain the battery rather quickly. Overall the Desire is a perfect example of modern mobile connectivity working as it should.
Camera:

Increasingly people are using phone cameras to avoid having to carry around a dedicated device, and unfortunately even the highest megapixel models often produce awful photos, especially in bad light. To be honest, after my experience with the camera on the HTC Hero I wasn't expecting much from the Desire, but I was in fact pleasantly surprised!
Now, I'm not suggesting you stick your digital camera on Ebay as soon as your Desire's in the post, but in most not-too demanding situations it copes well, with a fairly instant capture and- on the whole- good adjustment to light levels.
It also has a very bright flash which works well enough, and makes a great torch in those situations when you need one.
There's no real contest from the iPhone 3GS as it's camera is in comparison a non-event.
As a phone?:

As dull as it may be I must address the Desire's abilities as a communication device... However, it's less dull than you might assume because, although HTC's inbuilt messages program isn't the best, it certainly isn't the worst, and the wonders of the Android market give you many other options- mostly for free. I for one use Handcent SMS for my texts and it's certainly not the only good one.
It's very easy to make calls using the Desire, as the phonebook is quick to navigate, and numbers can be found by simply typing the contact's name until they appear- one touch then calls them. The only thing I do miss is the presence of a big hardware button for hanging up. HTC's alternative big red touch icon is effective and obvious, but it requires navigating back to the call page to press, and will never have the satisfaction that a click-able button has for the most frustrating of moments!
That said, posting Facebook status updates and Tweets couldn't be easier than HTC have made it with FriendStream, which is a widget that compiles updates for both sites and allows you to simultaneously leave personal updates for both in seconds. It's definitely one of the best new features on the new version of Sense.
Emailing is also an easy experience. The best way to use email on the Desire is through Google Mail, so one option is to forward other mail to the Gmail account. But if you'd rather set up your Hotmail etc independently then it's equally easy to use. I manage almost all my mail through my HTC, and it couldn't be easier.
Applications:

Apps are without a doubt the cornerstone of the modern smartphone, and Android works on that philosophy. In September 2009 there were just 10'000 apps available, but I'm writing less than 10 months later and there are currently over 50'000. This might not quite compare to the Apple AppStore and it's 200'000 apps, but at the rate it's going that won't be the case for long.
Many of the Android apps are totally free, and you can easily fill your Desire to the brim with fun and useful applications without spending anything. If however you can spend a little, there are some great 3D apps out there to show off the Desire's graphical capabilities- which are impressive.
Google Maps and Navigation gets better every time it's updated, and it's a great experience using it to find your way round a place you don't know. Likewise, if you're bored on a journey then being able to choose any one of thousands of games and download and play within seconds is fantastic. This might not be anything the iPhone doesn't already do, but the Desire does it just as well.
Entertainment:

The HTC Desire is as much about entertainment as it is anything else. It displays video and games fantastically with great frame rates and definition, though you do have to download a third party video player as for some reason HTC forgot that! This is the only phone I've ever used that I would actually consider using to watch films- the wide screen is perfect for the aspect ratio of most movies and color comes out beautifully. The music player is also very good. I personally don't use it much as I have a Walkman with great battery life, but if it wasn't for having a dedicated player, I would definitely enjoy using the HTC. It recognises artwork and track information perfectly, and is a really easy to navigate application. In my opinion it's definitely as good as Apple iPod App (probably better).
Battery life:

Unfortunately this is the Desire's biggest downfall, and is a problem with many smartphones. I find that if I'm using GPS off and on, playing the odd game, and surfing the web for a while I'll be lucky if the battery lasts the day. I certainly wouldn't expect it to last 24 hours. This is unfortunate because it restricts the use of all the other great technology the device offers, and you would expect it to be a priority. If I were to be away from electricity for longer than 12 hours I'd want to have a spare with me, and somehow that doesn't seem good enough.
Fortunately for HTC, the iPhone 3GS has even worse battery life...

Conclusion


The Desire is an amazing phone, and I don't for a second regret my purchase. It is great technology working just about as well as it could. The crowning glory of this device is HTC's Sense UI which in my opinion puts it head and shoulders above the competition for general ease of use and intuitiveness, and has never worked better than it does in the Desire.
As far as the competition goes, I would choose the Desire over the iPhone 3GS every time- HTC have clued in to the iPhone's success and have surpassed it in almost every respect. However that was over 2 months ago, which in the world of tech is a long time, and a day before I'm writing this the iPhone 4 has been released. It would be unfair to compare the Desire to the brand new iPhone because I've not had the chance to see the latter yet, and in pricing terms the 3GS is much closer to the Desire, but looking at the specs it looks like Apple may have reclaimed the title of best phone in the world...for now.
In conclusion though, the HTC Desire is still the best Android phone available in Europe, and if you forget the new iPhone 4 then it's the best phone hands down. What I can say for certain is that if you have £400 to spend on a smartphone you'll get a lot more from HTC than you will from Apple, and you certainly wouldn't be disappointed.

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dynamicnurse 26.06.2010 10:11

Nice work, well written.

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Product Information »

Manufacturer's product description

HTC Desire delivers intense brilliance, sharp contrast, and true colors on the expansive 3.7-inch AMOLED display. T...

General

Width 60 mm
Depth 12 mm
Height 119 mm

Cellular

Mobile Broadband Generation 3G
Phone Navigation Buttons Trackball, Optical trackpad
Input Device(s) Touch screen, Touch screen , capacitive

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Review Ratings »

This review of HTC Desire has been rated:

"exceptional" by (14%):

  1. MrGump

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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