By Joe Levi | April 21, 2011 2:24 PM
The HTC Desire S is the latest in a trio of new devices out of HTC to act as successors to previously successful models–in this case, the HTC Desire. The Desire S ups the ante by offering more RAM, a newer CPU, and improved screen over the previous generation Desire. It also comes loaded with the latest version of Android, and an upgraded version of the HTC Sense interface. Is the Desire S a worthy successor to the original? Read our full review to find out!
BOX CONTENTS AND HARDWARE
Inside the box we have a compact USB wall charger, microUSB cable, and some headphones. The Desire S comes with an 8GB microSD card preinstalled, making for around 9GB of storage when coupled with the 1.1GB of internal storage.
The phone is running with a Qualcomm MSM8255 1GHz Snapdragon CPU supported by a respectable 768MB of RAM and 1.1GB of ROM. The Super LCD display measures 3.7 inches with a WVGA 480×800 resolution. Syncing and charging are done via the microUSB port on the left side. On the top is the 3.5mm headset/headphone jack. It has a proximity and light sensor, plus an accelerometer. For radios you have Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth, FM, quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), and dual-band HSPA/WCDMA (900/2100 MHz), meaning no US 3G.
The rear-facing, auto-focus camera on the back can take 5MP photos and 720p videos, and includes an LED flash for plenty of lighting. The front-facing, fixed-focus camera supports VGA, perfect for video chat. To make sure you don’t run out of juice before the end of the day, HTC opted for a 1450 mAh battery.
Unlike the soft-buttons on the Incredible S, those on the Desire S don’t rotate with the phone’s orientation, but they are always present and don’t suffer the same illumination problems as its bigger brother. These button were bright, responsive, and worked exactly as you’d expect.
Unlike the Incredible S with its unusually contoured backside, the Desire S is sleek and sexy with gentle curves. The aluminum unibody case has forward sloping edges on the front of the phone, providing a wonderfully secure grip. Interestingly, HTC decided to bring back the trademark “chin” on the base of the phone, tilting it gracefully up, providing a more “phone-like” experience when talking on the device. Just below the “chin” on the back of the phone there is a “swollen” battery cover which is a little difficult to get off and back on, but looks and feels fabulous!
The Super LCD screen on the Desire S exhibited top-notch color reproduction, excellent contrast, and acceptable outdoor screen visibility. Pictures and videos looked beautiful, as did day-to-day use swiping around the homescreen.
The Desire S ships with Android Gingerbread 2.3.3, the most current version of Android to-date. In addition to this up-to-date version of the OS, the Desire S also ships with HTC Sense UI 2.1, and while not the new 3.0/3D version shipping on the HTC EVO 3D and HTC Sensation, it’s still got some newer widgets, and a new app or two that continue to add polish and refinement to the Sense UI.
While I’m an Android “purist”, the Sense UI for Android is significantly more advanced and seamless than UIs from other OEMs. The main draw to Sense is HTC’s use of animated and high-resolution widgets for any of up to seven homescreens. This version of Sense adds some 3D “hints” to various widgets that can be seen when swiping between homescreens if you look closely enough.
The Sense interface is present in many of the preloaded apps: email, phone, contacts, calendar, FM radio, navigation, internet, camera, calculator, gallery, news, weather, settings, and more. In most cases, this means that HTC has added the “slider” interface, allowing you to switch between various types of information within an app. If you tap and hold on any of the sliders, you’ll be able to add and subtract elements from it. Additionally, if you apply a skin from the Personalize menu, all apps that have been modified with the Sense UI will also change, which is quite nice should you get bored of the default HTC black and green color scheme.
Another great feature of this version of Sense is that it integrates with the cloud through HTCSense.com, for free. After you make an account, you can remotely manage your phone in many respects: you can track it on a map, you can remotely lock or wipe it, and more. My only complaint about this integration is the almost constant requests for “linking” contacts on your phone with people in your HTCSense.com account.
Generally speaking, I’m a hardware-keyboard kind of guy; the Desire S doesn’t have one. I can get by just fine with an on-screen keyboard, but if I need to hurry and type out a long email, or document, my big fingers don’t fit well on those little on-screen keys and I make typos. Of course devices with larger screens, like the HTC Evo, are much better than their smaller-screened siblings. On the Desire S, for whatever reason, that wasn’t a problem. I could type quickly with very few missed keys, and didn’t feel uncomfortable typing like I do on devices with similarly-sized screens.
The camera on the Desire S shoots stills at 5MP and video up to 720p. Still-image quality wasn’t stellar, but pictures looked very good for a 5MP cellphone camera. HTC has put substantial effort into eliminating the “shutter lag” that many smartphone cameras experience. Their work has paid off very well with pictures being snapped instantly after pressing the on-screen “shutter” button. Video was very good as well, though our viewers on YouTube all seem to agree that the audio wasn’t all that great.
The Desire S won’t break any benchmark speed records, nor does it come with one of the latest-and-greatest processors. But don’t let that fool you!
Smartbench 2011: Productivity 1003, 1288 Games
LinPack Pro: 42 MFLOP, 1.98 Seconds
Benchmarks alone don’t do the Desire S justice. The phone never lagged, not a single time. It was not only fast, but smooth and fluid.
Browsing the web was a solid experience on the Desire S. Even long web pages displayed well with little delay while scrolling. A welcome addition, new to the browser included with the Desire S, was the addition of an RSS button next to the address bar which lights up when an RSS feed is found on a web page.
CALL QUALITY AND NETWORK SPEED
Over T-Mobile’s network here in the U.S.A., the Desire S provided fantastic voice quality with no dropped calls. Since the phone never left the EDGE network I didn’t speed test the data rates of the phone. Speeds of Wi-Fi n were quick and responsive.
SpeedTest (over Wi-Fi n): 15Mb down, 4Mb down, with low ping rates
Battery life on the Desire S was nothing short of noteworthy. When I review a phone, my first few days are generally spent close to a charger to make up for the constant stream of data coming in from my contacts, calendar, and app syncing. Although I bottomed out the battery the first few days, I was able to get through the entire day on these “heavy-use” days without plugging in — a first for me. Subsequent days of moderate to heavy use proved the large battery inside the Desire S was a wonderful choice, finishing each day with plenty of charge to spare. It should be noted that my battery life was probably a little better than it would have been if I’d have been connected to 3G rather than EDGE data.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Desire S is sold unlocked for under $600 over at Negri Electronics, though since it cannot connect faster than EDGE on T-Mobile in the US, its appeal will likely be limited to those using pre-paid plans and Wi-Fi for data, or our European readers.
+ Large 1450 mAh battery provides excellent battery life
+ Gorgeous Super LCD display
+ HTC Sense UI 2.1 enhancements are great
+ Very good camera with no “shutter lag”
+ Status LED is useful
+ Great speakerphone
+ Beautiful design
- Last-generation hardware
- Not as fast as Desire HD or other “current” smartphones
- Ships with a now last-generation version of Sense UI
The HTC Desire S is incredibly well-built, plenty fast enough for even heavy use, and is all-around a fabulous phone. On it’s own, the Desire S easily surpasses 4 stars. However, with phones from other manufacturers including 3D screens, stereoscopic 720p video, standard 1080p video, qHD screens, and multiple cores, the Desire S seems already outdated.
If HTC priced the Desire S as a budget-friendly phone, the specifications would be more fitting. But, with a dual-core, qHD Atrix 4G going for about $100 more, unlocked, you’ll probably want to pass on this phone and either wait for the next HTC phone to come out, or for the price to come down.
That having been said, if price were no object and if the Desire S had 3G/4G T-Mobile bands, I’d trade in my G2 for it today, hands-down. I’ve never held a phone that’s more comfortable and at-home in my hand than the HC Desire S.
I rate the HTC Desire S at 3.5/5.