HTC Desire S: Review


The original HTC Desire is credited with kickstarting the explosive growth of the Android ecosystem in Australia after it launched through Telstra in April 2010. Now HTC and Telstra are trying the same trick again with the launch of the son of Desire. But in a much more crowded smartphone marketplace can they re-kindle the magic? Read on to find out.

At first glance the HTC Desire S is reminiscent of the original HTC Desire. Most of the same black and matte dark greyish brown colours are here, and the handset has the same curved back as the original Desire, as well as the same solid, weighty feel in your hand.

However there are also differences. The Desire’s original physical buttons at the bottom of its screen have been replaced with touch-sensitive ones, there is no light-sensitive button to scroll, and the speaker grill at the top of the screen is larger. In addition, the back of the Desire S comes in three segmented strips instead of the original Desire’s single panel. In addition, it favours a more unibody style, compared with the more segmented original Desire.

Volume controls are unobtrusively located on the top left-hand side of the Desire S, above its micro-USB port. On its top sits a 3.5mm headphone socket and its power button, while on its back there’s a largish camera and a separate flash. And that’s about it.

If the Desire S had launched in Australia a year ago, its design would have been eye-catching. However, used as we are now to HTC smartphones, it doesn’t stand out. The phone is merely another in a long line of handsets … and to be honest, each of the models which has come before this one — the Desire HD, the Desire Z, the Incredible S and so on — stand out more than the mediocre middle of the road Desire S does.

The Desire S shares most of its features with other models in HTC’s line-up — it has a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, a 3.7″ screen running at a resolution of 480×800, 1.1GB of internal storage and an Adreno 205 GPU. It weighs 130g, which is a nice weight in the pocket, and comes with 768MB of memory.

It supports all of the Australia’s mobile networks, with speeds ranging up to 14.4Mbps down through the HSDPA standard and 5.76Mbps up through HSUPA. You can expand it through adding in a MicroSD card up to 32GB, and it runs the latest version of Google’s Android platform — 2.3, or Gingerbread. Its camera is a 5 megapixel model, and it has a VGA camera on the front.

To be honest, these features are a little lacklustre for a smartphone which is bearing the name ‘Desire’. In an age where dual-core CPUs, 8 megapixels cameras and shrinking thicknesses and weights are becoming easy to obtain from modern smartphones, the Desire S comes across as offering nothing special.

In practice, the HTC was a bit of a mixed bag.

Its speed of access to web pages and the Internet in general was excellent — for some reason, this phone just screamed when accessing Telstra’s network in general. It might be Gingerbread, it might be the phone itself, but the HTC Desire was a dream to use when you’re trying to access something online — much better than our Apple iPhone 4 in the same location.

Similarly, using the phone on an everyday basis, browsing applications and launching things was great. This is a speedily little device. If we had to guess, we’d say much of this comes down to the growing maturity of HTC’s ability to tie its hardware and Google’s software together in a sweet, sweet match made in heaven. The screen was also crisp and clear, the colours brilliant, and the touchscreen highly responsive.

The Desire S’s camera produced photos which were a little bit off-colour when compared with some of the other handsets we’ve used, but it still produced excellent shots, and we’d be extremely happy to carry around this level of photography in our pocked on a daily basis.

However, not everything was as serendipitous.

As shipped, the Desire S’s user interface feels stunted and traditional compared to other HTC handsets such as the Incredible S, because Telstra — as usual — has inflicted its default boring theme and pre-installed applications on the phone. Sure, you can change this, and it was the first thing we did, but it’s still annoying.

In addition, in the hand, the Desire S feels a little too small and easy to drop. The matte black finish that appears on some HTC handsets is only partially applied here; as a result, the Desire S is a bit slippery by default. Given that the phone has a curved exterior (unlike the iPhone 4, for example) and is relatively small for a modern smartphone (unlike the Desire HD and Incredible S, for example) it has a tendency to fall out of your hands. For a moderately sized male, using two hands to type gets a bit finicky. If you have smaller hands, though, this might be a good option for you.

Battery life was similar to other HTC models currently on the market — not as good as the iPhone 4, but still decent. You’ll only need to charge this one every few days, and it charges quickly.

Like the original Desire, the Desire S is available exclusively through Telstra. It is available now, selling with the telco’s new Freedom Connect plans, including an option to buy the phone on a $59 monthly plan, with an additional $5 per month charge over 24 months towards the cost of the handset. The $59 plan comes with 1.5GB of data quota included. The phone is also available on a range of business plans or for purchase outright for the recommended retail price of $648.

An underwhelming follow-up to the original Desire because of a lack of stand-out features, the Desire S is nonetheless a quality, serviceable and worthy smartphone which will get the job done without standing out in the crowd. However, we think there are more stylish, more powerful, more flexible and more eye-catching options out there, if you look a bit more carefully.

The Desire S is available in Australia exclusively through Telstra.

Image credit: HTC