HTC Desire Review

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While it may seem that the HTC Desire is basically a Nexus One, I’d like to challenge that notion. It’s got more RAM, better hardware, and a completely different interface. At the end of the day, the HTC Desire is the most powerful Android device that HTC has ever brought to market. This power goes a long way in providing a smooth experience for HTC’s widget-packed Sense UI, much more so than found on the Hero and Legend. In this review we’ll cover the Desire from top to bottom, so that you can determine if it’s a smartphone that you….desire (had to!).

BOX CONTENTS

Here’s the unboxing for the Desire. Included are the usual HTC accessories, plus a nice 4GB microSD card. Not included is a case.

HARDWARE

Let’s talk specs. The HTC Desire is running with a 1GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon CPU with 576MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. Included is a 4GB microSD card for storage, though you can get a card up to 32GB for more expansion. Continuing on, the Desire has WiFi, Bluetooth, aGPS, and an FM radio. The AMOLED capacitive touchscreen is 3.7″ and has a resolution of 800×480 (WVGA). The camera on the rear is 5.0MP and has autofocus plus a flash. It’s a quadband GSM phone (850/900/1800/1900) with dualband UMTS (900/2100), meaning you won’t get 3G in the US. Powering everything is a 1400mAh battery. For audio, the Desire has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and for charging and syncing, it uses the standard microUSB. For full specs, check out PDAdb.net.

Alternatively, you can also see a spec-to-spec comparison of the Desire with the Nexus One.

side2

From a quick glance, the Desire looks like the Nexus One. Looking more closely, we see that the Desire adds a different button configuration and replaces the mechanical D-Pad with a more precise optical unit. The Desire comes in two colors (which changes the area around the screen)…silver and bronze. My unit is bronze, though it’s hard to pick up on the brownish-tint through this image. Overall, the Desire is a pleasant and somewhat conservative looking device that lacks the flash of some other devices like the HD2.

side

The Desire is 11.9mm thick, which is about .5mm thicker than the Nexus One. You probably won’t tell the difference. It’s a thin device.

buttons

Zooming in closer to the buttons, we see that there is one for Home, Menu, Back and Search. Like the Legend, the Desire has no buttons for Call Start and End, which is a bit of an inconvenience. Though it’s tough to tell, the Desire has a slight “chin”, meaning the button pad is angeled a bit which provides better ergonomics.

headphone

Here on the top of the device you can see the 5.0MP camera (which has an interesting texture surrounding the lens) plus the flash, speaker, standby button, and 3.5mm headphone jack.

back

The battery cover is made from a large piece of rubbery plastic, which gives the Desire a solid in-hand feel (and also deters fingerprints). What you won’t find on the Desire that the Nexus One DOES have is the extra microphone used for noise cancellation. I must say that that feature never seemed to be a big selling point on the Nexus One; in my experience with the device, it didn’t work very well to cut down on noise.

backopen

Taking off the back battery cover is super easy. Back here we see the 1400mAh battery (more on battery life later), SIM card slot, and microSD slot.

screen

The screen of the Desire uses AMOLED technology, which works differently than the standard LCD found on most other devices. It’s clear that HTC sees a big future in AMOLED displays because they’ve been using the technology on their latest devices. While you can learn more from a technical standpoint on Wikipedia about AMOLED technology, know that for the end-user, AMOLED screens produce very high contrast and thus very vivid colors and rich blacks. It also saves on power consumption. In this screenshot we compare the screen on the Desire with that of the iPhone 3GS and HTC HD2, all on maximum screen brightness. Note the blues and blacks on all three devices…on the Desire, these two colors are deepest. Also, note how white the whites are on the Desire. The screen on the Desire is one of the best viewing experiences you can get on a mobile. Also, it seems that a thicker piece of glass is used on the Desire than the Nexus One, which allows for a better on-screen typing experience. In fact, I found typing on the Desire to be easier than on the iPhone and HD2.

SOFTWARE

HTC’s Sense interface for Android has always been a winner ever since the Hero was released. It’s comprised of not only a different home screen design than is found on other Android devices, but of many other elements of the operating system. Nearly every native program found on the Desire is skinned in the Sense-look with easy-to-use sliders, colorful menu items, and smooth screen animations.

When HTC announced the Legend and Desire at Mobile World Congress, they also announced a newer version of Sense that brought improvements to the widget interface, plus a fantastic new feature called Leap that lets you quickly zoom out to see all of your seven home screens. This solves the problem of having to swipe your finger (or move the D-Pad) many times to get from screen one to seven.

I have to say that while using the Desire, it’s seldom that I have to open the application tray to dig into an application. I’ve got my home screens set up so that almost all of my tasks are done through the (very functional) widgets. While is this good? Because it provides a fluid experience where you’re not jumping in and out of applications on a regular basis.

The Desire comes with an extremely capable web browser that can even beat the iPhone in page load times. The high-res AMOLED multitouch screen plus speedy hardware means that panning and zooming around pages is a fantastic experience.

CAMERA

The camera on Desire is modiocre, but not amazing. I still haven’t seen a mobile camera take pictures as good as the Samsung Omnia II. You can see some sample images here (indoor close up), and here (indoor low light with flash), here (outdoor) . The Desire has touch to focus, which helps with close-up shots. But the lack of flash makes low-light photos come out very noisy. The Desire can take video in WVGA resolution, which is pretty high. You can see a sample in 3GP format here.

PERFORMANCE

Across the board, the Desire exhibits fantastic performance. I was able to run seven homescreens on a live wallpaper, packed with widgets while multitasking in email, Twitter, the web, and the music player without any stutters from the device. I think that the Snapdragon and high RAM combination really helps here. There was one time that I had to force a reset during my week of testing. This was likely caused by a third party app I was running that was using far too many resources.

I should also note that immediately upon powering my device, I got a pop-up saying that there was a new software update available for the device, which came directly from HTC. Nice! A few minutes later, I was running the latest software.

CALL QUALITY

Call quality and reception on the Desire was great. Sadly, the speakerphone was poor…even at a medium volume, the speaker would distort. Why is it so difficult for OEMs to build good speakers? The HTC Legend has it right!

BATTERY LIFE

With a 1400mAh battery and a power-sipping AMOLED screen, the Desire does quite well in the battery life department. With very heavy use, you’ll get through a day (and perhaps a tad more). With moderate use, expect up to two days of use.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

Currently you can only buy an HTC Desire from Europe, though you can import it into the US like I did and use it on T-Mobile or AT&T and get EDGE data. Over at Clove Technology, you can grab one for £330 or $510 unlocked. While this is $20 less than the Nexus One, once you add shipping, you’re about to the same price.

Many are probably wondering if it’s best to spring for the Desire or Nexus One. I should tell you that many users have successfully ported the Desire software to the Nexus One, so the software shouldn’t be an issue. And because the prices are about the same, cost shouldn’t be an issue. And while the optical D-Pad on the Desire is cool, it’s not a hundred times better than what you get on the Nexus One…so, you guessed it…button layout shouldn’t be an issue.

What’s left is 3G: you can get the Nexus One in many US 3G flavors (for T-Mobile, AT&T, and soon Verizon), while the Desire cannot be had with US 3G. If you’re in the US, unless you’re craving more RAM (the Desire has 64MB of RAM more than the Nexus One) and don’t care about 3G, go with the Nexus One. If you’re in Europe, you should absolutely go with the Desire.

PROS

+ Fantastic AMOLED display

+ Terrific performance

+ Updated Android Sense UI is outstanding

+ Records video in WVGA resolution

+ More RAM than Nexus One

+ Excellent build quality and in-hand feel

+ Comes with a 4GB microSD card

CONS

– Camera isn’t great

– Hardware design is conservative (and a bit bland)

– Speakerphone distorts at times

– No case included

– No US 3G version

Conclusion

The HTC Desire is the best Android phone that you can buy right now, and it closely rivals (and sometimes beats) the iPhone and HD2 in terms of web browsing fidelity, performance, and more. It has a perfect interplay between hardware and software: the HTC Sense UI is beautiful, intituive, and smooth, but it is also demanding on the hardware, but the Snapdragon CPU and copious amount of RAM on the Desire strikes a perfect balance. It’s just unfortunate that the Desire will skip the US.

I give the HTC Desire a 4.5/5.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.