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The aluminium unibody is sleek in the hand, while matt rubber accents and rounded corners give the Desire S a retro look
Android Gingerbread gives performance a bump, with a faster, more responsive touch-screen and virtual keyboard.HTC's Sense interface is charming and accessible
The standard smartphone line up - sat-nav, camera, desktop-like web, email and social networking - though as more and more phones launch with higher-end tech like dual-core processors and high-defintion screens, the Desire S could look dated by year end
Generally smooth and fast, with capable multitasking, though we occasionally found that email alerts didn't come through
A slightly larger battery gives the Desire S longer life than its predecessors, though you'll want to charge it every night
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/7/2011 5:10:32 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Faster touch-screen and keyboard, improved battery life, smoother app processing
Occasional delay in receiving texts and emails, mid-range specs mean the phone may not hold its own by year end
HTC Desire S, fine phone. And if you've been following phones and HTC, that's pretty much all you need to know. Because the Desire S is really the Incredible S, the Desire HD, the Desire, even - except in a different-looking body. Spec-wise it's toe to toe with those first two, and with the Desire's incoming upgrade to the same version of Android Gingerbread, even that year-old dinosaur will feel like the same phone. Sure, it's intended as only an incremental upgrade on the existing Desire range - but with more than one doppelganger in the family, does the Desire S stand out enough to win as many fans as the original Desire?
Let's start with its main distinguishing feature - an aluminium unibody that is available in black, slate or grey. Black matt plastic pads sit at the top and bottom, while rounded corners give it the same retro look pioneered by the HTC Desire. The 3.7-inch touch-screen packs a brighter, sharper S-LCD display that has better visibility in sunlight that the LCD screens of the Desire HD and earlier - though its colours aren't quite as nice as in the new breed of high-resolution displays seen in the likes of the Xperia Arc. Four touch-sensitive areas line the base with the usual Android buttons: home, menu, back and search. We love the search key - it'll launch a web or apps search from the home-screen, and app-relevant searches in most apps. Like the Desire, Desire S packs a 1GHz processor, but comes with more RAM at 1GB. As with all phones running on Android 2.2 and up, the Desire S can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, converting 3G signal into Wi-Fi for other devices to connect to. The 1450mAh battery is a bump from the Desire HD's 1230mAh, so there's a marked improvement in battery life, though you'll definitely need to charge it every night.
The Desire S is the first HTC phone to launch with Android Gingerbread (the Incredible S is upgradeable soon), and most of the differences are beneath the hood. Where the Desire stuttered with Android 2.2 despite its 1GHz chip, Desire S handles Android 2.3 with aplomb - general performance is faster, multitasking smooth, and the virtual keyboard is much improved. If you've used an HTC Android phone, you'll be right at home with the seven-home-screen setup that you can customise with any number of preloaded apps and widgets, including HTC's classic weather-clock that displays an ever-charming animation of current climes when you wake the phone from sleep. A helpful startup screen takes you step-by-step through syncing your email, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter accounts. You'll need a Gmail account to activate the phone - this primary account also syncs contacts with your phonebook, as well as your social network contacts. Incoming with Android 2.2 was the option to back up data with Google - we found this meant every time you signed in to a new Android phone with the associated email address, the phone would automatically download your apps and even saved usernames in apps (not passwords though!). Be sure you leave the option unchecked if that sort of convergence just makes you feel like you're being watched... Just about the only cosmetic differences in Android Gingerbread is the new all-programs menu - instead of a single long scrolling menu, it's now a series of vertically stacked screens - and the notifications menu, which now also features tab for quick-change settings (Wi-Fi, 3G and so on). As before, alerts show up in a toolbar running across the top of the screen, but we often found email alerts, say, came some minutes after the email had actually landed in our inbox. As well, texts often didn't arrive - when this happened, we only received them when we'd sent another one, or made a call, almost as if we were firing up a cold connection.
The five-megapixel camera comes with autofocus and an LED flash. HTC has definitely improved its embedded snappers but the Desire S still wouldn't rank as a 'good' camera-phone. That said, the Desire S's camera comes with a decent number of software features that let you tweak photo settings before taking pictures and some cute effects to add after. We still think providing a better lens and fewer software options would be preferable (a la iPhone 4), but the pictures produced are decent, with truer colours than we saw in the Desire HD. Daylight pictures are reasonably clear, though show over-sharpening when you zoom in. The Desire S fared quite well in lowlight with the flash off. Though pictures are slightly blurry, particularly when zoomed in, snaps we took in a dim club came out all right when we transferred the pictures to a monitor. Where it stomps all over the iPhone 4 is in the sharing options you have after taking a photo - you can send it via any of your loaded email accounts, social network apps or by plain old MMS. There's also an HD video recording feature that records in DVD-quality frame rate. A front-facing VGA camera allows for video calls, though there isn't a native feature on the dialer, and Skype doesn't yet support video calls in its Android app. Other apps exist - Tango and Fring, for example - but you'll need to get your friends to use them too.
Android phones have always included a great browser that supports full HTML for desktop-like web. Pages are automatically fit to the screen so you never have to scroll left and right to view it all, while double tap switches between 100% page view and zoomed-in view. A great little extra is - as with all Android phones - you can download the Chrome to Phone app for your phone and desktop Chrome browser to send links and text you're reading on your main computer to the phone. This is particularly useful for map links and phone numbers, which will open in the requisite program. With 300,000 apps and climbing fast, the Market is now home to almost as many apps as the iOS App Store (350,000) - and they cover almost as wide a remit. But HTC has already preloaded so many different apps on the phone, you almost don't need to hit up the Android Market. There's a Car Panel app that turns the phone into a proper sat-nav for drivers, a Places augmented reality app for nearby POIs, Reader for ebooks, and a Shazam-clone, SoundHound.
HTC is flooding the market with Android phones all priced and specced around the same. When the standard is as high as the Desire S, it's good news for us, really. Though higher-end tech exists (think dual-core, uber-HD superphones to launch in summer), the Desire S has the hardware cojones to handle what the average smartphone user throws at his phone - web, apps, email, social networking and casual photography. As to why you'll buy it - well, it's just like the Incredible S, except smaller.