I’ve now had my HTC Desire for almost a month, and as the ‘new shiney’ feeling wears off I’ve had a chance to gather some more objective thoughts on the device and how it works for me at least.
Inside the Box
The Desire ships in a mostly white box three or so inches (7cm) longer than the actual phone. There’s a life size picture of the Desire on the front, and yes, I did check it for size by placing mine over the picture. The box opens in drawer fashion, with the drawer holding the goodies inside sliding out of the base of the box, to reveal the phone itself on a insert tray, nicely protected with a wrap around clear foil protector. The rest of the contents are underneath this tray insert, and there were no real surprises. Aside from the phone, the box contains the usual manuals, an HTC headset, the battery (which was not already fitted), a micro USB cable and a power adapter which you plug the USB cable into. The latter combination is a good idea as the cable doubles as a data cable as well as a power cable, and the adaptor in theory can take other USB cables as well. The supplied SD card was already fitted into the phone, and I was a little disappointed to see it was only a 4GB card. Previous reports and reviews varied as to what size the card was, with some outlets reporting an 8GB card being shipped. My iPod Nano bought in September 2005 has 4GB memory, and so to only have that as standard some 5 years later seems a little odd. I’m sure the intent is to keep the cost of the actual unit down, and from a user perspective that means you still have to spend on more storage, pretty much right away.
I won’t delve too deeply into the look of the phone as you can see that from a whole host of pictures on the web, but one small concern I had before it arrived was the description of the colour as ‘brown’ which doesn’t really inspire images of a slick, modern consumer device. As it happens though ‘brown’ is a bit of a misleading statement. I can see while they call it brown, and it’s not a brown in any traditional sense and actually looks really nice in real life, as it had in the pictures I saw. That worry out of the way, it was time to plug every thing in, fire it up and see what was what.
The first thing of course was fitting the sim card and the battery, which involved taking the back of the phone off. At this point I should say that in hand, with the battery in place and the back firmly clipped in, the Desire feels and quite well put together. It’s a different story when it comes to taking the back off though, as it seems to be ‘clipped’ into place with small plastic lugs. You open it by pulling at the back cover from the top and there is a little groove for inserting something like a fingernail for exactly this purpose. As you pull, the case ‘unclips’ from top to bottom, almost like a hinge. It’s quite difficult to work out how much force to exert, and once it starts coming off, it becomes apparent that the back cover is quite thin, and the lugs that hold it in place are quite small, and to be honest, I wonder how many times you can remove and replace the back cover before those lugs start to wear and break. I certainly wouldn’t want to be changing memory cards or sim cards a lot as both require the cover to be removed. It’s worth thinking about if you travel frequently and have to use different sim cards in different countries, or use a bunch of smaller memory cards which you swap over. If you plan on using the phone for media playback, you’ll need a much bigger card, I’d suggest a 16Gb at the moment as the best price point, as the 32Gb MicroSD cards are still quite expensive at time of writing.
It was then time to switch it on…
The first thing you will notice when the Desire has finished booting, which doesn’t take long, is the quality of the display. It really is nice – bright and colourful, and an absolute pleasure to use. After ordering the phone, but before it had arrived, I read a couple of forums and reviewed that raised a couple of criticisms of the display, one in particular causing a bit of a ruckus on the HTC Desire forum at XDA developers. Basically some people have complained that the colour reproduction in some circumstances is quite poor, and this is highlighted by viewing HTCs own website, where the grey background would appear to be pink, or at least have a distinct pinkish tinge. The other common review comment was that in bright direct sunlight, the display was difficult to see.
Dealing with the pink problem first, my experience is as follows. If I go to the HTC website, and compare the display on my phone with my (calibrated) LCD display on my PC, it does look like the version on the phone has a slight pink tinge. It is certainly no more than that. In normal everyday use, including watching videos on YouTube and mp4 encoded files using the media player, I haven’t noticed any problems at all. As far as I’m concerned the display is absolutely fine. If you want to really quibble over a slight pink tinge, then this might not be the device for you, and I really would suggest just using it for a while and seeing if you really notice anything during normal use – I certainly haven’t.
With respect to the display in bright sunlight, I can understand the reason for those comments – I’m not sure I’ve had a phone yet which copes well with direct sunlight, or perhaps I haven’t been buying the right phones. That said, my experience over the last few weeks hasn’t really thrown up a many situations where direct bright sunlight has been a problem. I might have to revise my views after the summer, and so far it’s been just fine when I have used it outside.
I use the ‘power’ widget for controlling what features of the phone are active, and this has a 3 level brightness control. I usually have this set to the middle option, as for most situations that’s absolutely fine. In fact in normal light I find the top brightness level a bit much – the colours are very saturated and a bit overdone. I have used maximum brightness when I’ve been outside a couple of times, and think its actually good to have a more flexible solution rather than a one size fits all, because it doesn’t. On the flip side I’ve also turned the brightness to the low level when in a darkened room.
In summary, I have to say I really like the display, the high resolution makes everything look nice whether it be the standard screens, photos from the web or Facebook, and even watching MP4 videos. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with the latter and have taken to keeping a few MP4 encoded TV shows handy on the phone just in case. For example I was able to catch up with three episodes of ‘CarPool’ on my last short haul flight which kept me entertained.
While I could have covered the touchscreen as part of the display, I wanted to talk about it separately I didn’t want my experiences with it to get lost in the noise of talking about the quality of images displayed. Putting my comments into some perspective, my previous phone was an HTC TyTn II, or Kaiser as it was also called. This had a resistive touch screen, quite a bit smaller than the Desires, and also came with a stylus which I tried with difficulty to avoid using. Needless to say it wasn’t the best touchscreen experience in the world.
The first thing to say about the touchscreen on the Desire is that it is very, very sensitive. On my unit anyway. It is very easy to accidentally brush it or to select the wrong thing if your finger is hovering over the screen. If the screen is not locked, I often find the home screen jumping, or something being selected when I’m putting the phone down, or changing my grip. I have gotten more used to it over the last 4 weeks, and its still something I notice so I’m sure it’s not just my lack of familiarity with using a capacitive touchscreen.
Related to the above, my initial experience of actually using the touchscreen keyboard was a little hit and miss. Although better in landscape mode rather than portrait, even then I managed to keep hitting the wrong letters – typically hitting the key ‘below’ the one I had thought I had touched. This also seemed to be the case with selecting links in the browser – more than once I’ve gotten frustrated when touching a link only to have the one below it activated. I had started to wonder if my unit wasn’t calibrated correctly, and over the last week I’ve noticed that my ‘accuracy’ is much improved. I think I’ve slightly altered the way I select items, using more of the tip of the finger than the pad, and I wonder if this might be a hold over from using the old resistive touchscreen of the TyTn II. In fact I’ve found using the keyboard much easier even in portrait mode recently.
The two points above aside, in general the touchscreen is nice and easy to use, swiping left and right to change home screens, and up and down to change the pages of an ebook for example. It’s also fast and responsive as you would expect.
I’m not going to delve into benchmarks and specs because, again, they are available elsewhere if you want them. What I’m more interested in is whether the phone actually delivers on the potential to not just handle phone calls, but to do all the other kinds of things one might want from a mobile device. I had hoped that my old TyTN II would be more of a ‘converged’ device, but the combination of slow processor speed, slow (Windows Mobile) interface, and the failure of HTC to exploit (for whatever reason) the high performance video drivers the hardware supported ended up making the device much less useful – even trying to play MP3s using a Bluetooth headset was beyond it.
The Desire is a whole different kettle of fish though – if you are reading this you probably already know it has a 1GHz processor, and as a result, it’s fast. Very Fast. I haven’t actually tried to make it go slow, but I have had a quite significant number of applications open at once, and the phone remains as responsive as when I first turn it on. I do use an app periodically which kills things I’m not using, and that’s more a matter of good housekeeping than because I need to. In more normal usage, I frequently play a few games all of which run smoothly with no problems, and it now doubles up as my iPod and plays music and videos. In both the latter cases, every thing plays smoothly even when using a bluetooth stereo headset. It also means that browsing the web is a breeze – the webkit based browser is able to render pages quickly and you can zoom in and scroll round with any noticeable lag.
There isn’t really a whole lot more to say about performance, it ‘just works’ with no hassle and no fuss, and that is really what you want from a device like this. In fact let’s face it, it’s what you want from pretty much any device or tool.
In all the reviews of the HTC Desire that I read before deciding to purchase, the biggest negative was always the battery life. The point most often made was that if you used your phone for a significant duration during the day, you would need a top up charge at some point, and at the very least nightly charging would be required. In all honesty, this isn’t far from the reality – this phone can be very heavy on the battery. That said, the way I’ve ended up using my phone over the last 4 weeks, it hasn’t been a huge issue. I do tend to charge it overnight, but on a couple of occasions I’ve forgotten but still had enough juice to last the following day without changing my usage pattern, and that includes leaving wireless on during the day, with syncing enabled as well.
Recently I’ve taken to watching a TV show episode or two before going to sleep, and even after a full days use, I’ve been able to watch up to 2 hours of video with room to spare battery wise. If a larger battery was to be made available, I would certainly be interested (assuming the price was right), and I do think that the factory supplied battery could have been a bit bigger. At the same time, I accept that there is a price, battery wise, to be paid for that clear bright display, and the fast responsive feel of the phone, and so far that price has certainly not been too high.
It’s probably worth talking about some of the features of the phone, more from a practical perspective of what they are like to use that what the technical specifications are. The most important feature of a phone is, well, the phone bit, and as far as I can tell, in the case of the Desire, it does exactly what it says on the tin. I don’t actually use my phone for calls that much, and on the few occasions I have, it’s all worked just fine with no problems and surprises. I could hear the other party clearly , they could hear me, Dialling and ending calls was simple enough, as was answering them. The phone does have a neat feature where if you physically pick up the handset after it has started ringing, it slowly lowers the ring volume, but another related feature which HTC mention on the specifications page doesn’t seem to work. I’m talking about flipping the phone face down to mute the ringer, which would be a brilliant idea, if it worked. I have tested this a couple of times, most recently about 5 minutes ago at the time of writing, and it doesn’t seem to work. If there is a setting or option to enable it, I’ve not found it yet, and I have looked.
As you would expect from a high end smartphone, the Desire has all the usual accessories – WiFi, Bluetooth, a camera with LED flash, A-GPS, G-senor, and an electronic compass. The measure of these is not really in the specification, but in how they work when you come to applications which use them. On that front, the WiFi works pretty much as you would expect. I’ve had no issues with connecting it to new access points, and it remembers and connects to access points previously configured. I’ve not experienced any issues with signal strength or dropouts – it all ‘just works’.
In fact, that’s pretty much the best thing about all the features I have just mentioned – they all seem to just work. Location aware apps are able to use rough cell-tower location when GPS is not enabled, and when it is enabled, the GPS receiver seems to acquire a lock reasonably quickly. The G-sensor can bit a little over zealous in changing the screen from portrait to landscape, although that might be more me holding it at an angle than the phone , and I’ve had no problems switching to landscape mode and holding it there when watching video files. The electronic compass works well enough in tandem with the location based services, and there’s not much more say about it.
Bluetooth too seems to ‘just work’. I connected up my A2DP bluetooth headset quite effortlessly, and was able to listen to MPs3 with the phone tucked safely in my pocket with worrying about any cables. All the controls on the headset worked too which was good.
The only other feature worth mentioning is HTC Sense, which is a custom layer that HTC add to the standard Android platform. The problem is that unless you know what Sense actually adds, it’s hard to comment on it specifically. I can say that it ups the number of ‘home screens’ to seven, which is a good thing especially if you have a couple of ‘full page’ widgets. I believe it also replaces the standard audio player, and adds the small ‘phone’ bar to the main home screen. In both cases the changes work well and I suspect you would miss both if you had an Android phone without them, or at least, something similar.
Applications and Android
I don’t intend spending much time talking about applications or Android itself, partly as that would be a whole new review and partly because the applications people are interested in will vary according to their own personal use. Having said that, I intend to write about the applications I consider to be ‘must have’ apps in a separate post. What I will say is that as a platform, Android seems to have enabled the Desire to meet and possibly exceed expectations. The standard capabilities you expect of a smartphone work, and work well, and Android must be a big part of that success. Given the same hardware, I’m not convinced that Windows Mobile would have produced a phone which feels as slick as this, even with the heavy customisations that HTC apply to that platform as well.
Apple make a big deal about the huge number of applications in the Apple App Store, and while the Android Marketplace doesn’t compete in sheer numbers, there are a huge number of really useful applications that are worth a look, and the number of high quality applications is only going to increase.
You can probably tell from the tone of the review that I like the HTC Desire – it’s not perfect, the (expectedly) poor battery life and somewhat sensitive touchscreen are minor quibbles, but still quibbles. It is fast, responsive (the two are not always the same) and so far has been pretty reliable. The interface is nice to use, the phone has all the features and function I need, and the apps that I can now run really unleash the value for me. There is no doubt that this phone competes squarely with the iPhone, and from the few chances I’ve had to play with an iPhone, my initial view is that in many respects the Desire is a much better fit for my needs. It does pretty much everything the iPhone does, and a bit more. Of course the landscape might change again when the next gen iPhone arrives later this year, but we can only judge that when it arrives.
In the meantime, if you are considering a new smartphone, I would seriously recommend taking a closer look at the HTC Desire.