HTC Desire S 4 Stars

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The HTC Desire S is an excellent handset. And if you’re up to date with all that’s been happening in the mobile phone arena and are familiar with HTC’s handsets, we need say no more. That’s because the Desire S is similar to the Desire HD, the Desire and the Incredible S – it just comes in a different body. Its features are on a par with the HD and the Incredible – and with the Desire slated for an Android Gingerbread upgrade, it will be very much alike too. The Desire S is really just an incremental upgrade on the Desire – so is there space for another one and is there enough on offer from the Desire S?

First impressions

The first thing you notice about the Desire S is its aluminium unibody – which is available in a choice of grey, slate or black. There are matt black plastic pads situated on the top and base of the phone, and its rounded edges give the retro feel HTC is so well known for. The screen – a 3.7in touch-display – is of the SLCD type, so is sharper and brighter than the Desire HD’s LCD display. However, don’t expect the kind of colours you see on handsets such as the Xperia Arc. You’ll see the usual Android keys for menu, home, search and back are four touch-sensitive areas along the base.

We really like the search key, which can be used in three ways – to conduct an apps search from the home-screen, for app-relevant searches in most apps, or to fire up the internet.

Under the bonnet sits a 1GHz chip, and 1GB RAM – an improvement on the Desire. Like other handsets sporting Android 2.2 and above, the phone can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot – it is able to convert its 3G signal into Wi-Fi, to which other devices can connect. The Desire S also sports a larger batter than the Desire HD (1450mAh, rather than 1230mAh), so you’ll notice improved battery life. But you’ll still be charging every night.

Back to basics

This is the first HTC phone to run on Android Gingerbread from the off (the Incredible S is expecting an upgrade soon), and it’s under the hood that you’ll find most of the improvements. The Desire suffered from somewhat sluggish performance, despite its 1GHz chip, but there’s a smooth user experience on offer from the Desire S – not only is it speedier but it benefits from excellent multitasking and an improved virtual keyboard.

If you have used HTC’s Android phone before, you’ll recognise the seven home-screens, which are customisable – pre-loaded apps and widgets can be added – we’ve always been big fans of the HTC weather-clock, which shows animations related to the current climate when the phone is woken from sleep mode.

The useful start-up screen makes it simple to sync and set up email. It also guides you through the set up of Twitter, Flickr and Facebook in a series of steps. A Gmail account is needed to activate the phone – it will sync your phone book and social network contacts. You are also able to back up data with Google – this means that when you sign in to a new Android device with the email address, all your saved usernames apps and so on will automatically download. You can leave that option unticked if you’d rather.

On the face of it, the only thing that appears different in Gingerbread is its all-programs menu, which is shown as a vertically stacked series of screens, rather a single scrolling menu. A feature tab lets you quickly alter settings such as Wi-Fi and 3G. Alerts will show up in a toolbar at the top of the display – but our experience proved unreliable. Sometimes alerts appeared some time after the email actually dropped into the inbox. Texts also didn’t always appear automatically – sometimes they would only show up if we went to make a call or send a new text.

Camera

The five-megapixel camera boasts an LED flash and autofocus. HTC has been trying to improve its snappers, but we’d hardly call it a decent camera phone. But on the bright side there’s a good selection of options to change settings before you take a photo, and there are some neat effects to add to the resulting images. But we would rather see an improved lens and less in the way of software, like the iPhone 4 experience. Having said that, the photos were reasonable and offered better colour reproduction than photos from the Desire HD camera. Daylight snaps were reasonably clear, although if we zoomed in some over-sharpening was evident.

In low-light settings, with no flash on, pictures proved rather blurry, particularly if we zoomed in, but we managed to take some photos in a dimly lit club, which appeared all right when we looked at them on a monitor. Where it does do well, in comparison with the iPhone 4, is in terms of sharing. Your pictures can be sent via MMS and email or via social network apps.

The camera also records HD video at DVD-quality frame rate. The front VGA snapper can be used to make video calls, but be aware there is no native video calling feature and Android handsets don’t support Skype. There are other apps such as Tango and Fring, as long as your contacts have the same software.

Apps and web

Android phones have always featured a top browser offering HTML for a desktop-like internet experience. Web pages fit automatically on the screen, so you don’t need to do much scrolling, and you can zoom in and see 100% page views with a simple double-tap. A handy extra is being able to download the Chrome to Phone app, which lets you send links and texts that you have on your computer over to your handset. Useful if you’re looking up phone number of map links.

There are 300,000 apps included in Android Market, so it’s not far behind the iPhone apps on offer (around 350,000) However, HTC has also seen fit to preload quite a few apps on the Desire S to get you started. Drivers get a proper sat-nav offering in the shape of the Car Panel app, for nearby POIs check out the Places augmented reality app, plus there’s Soundhound (which is like Shazam) and an ebook reader.


The verdict

HTC has launched quite a number of Android phones with similar prices and features. The new generations of superphones will be launched soon, offering ultra-HD displays and dual-core processors, but the Desire S still manages to offer plenty of goodies for the average smartphone user, with options for social networking, web, email, apps and photography. So is there one reason why you would buy it? Well, we’d say that it’s pretty much the Incredible S, but wrapped in a smaller body.

Pros:
Faster keyboard and touch-display, improved battery life, smoother app processing.
Cons:
Email and text alerts didn’t always appear; features may seem old hat by the year-end.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice