Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
1/7/2011 5:23:09 PM
Excellent web, great keyboard, intuitive features and interface, ability to act as Wi-Fi hotspot, improved camera
Occasional lags in touch-screen, no native task manager app
With its pedigree in Windows-powered business phones, it was only a matter of time before HTC popped out an Android powered one. The Desire Z adds an air of respectability via a QWERTY keyboard, but still packs plenty of fun media features.
The Desire Z runs on the latest Android 2.2 OS, which has a few big new features, and is skinned with HTC’s Sense interface, also refreshed with some new apps and widgets – but otherwise providing the same simple, intuitive navigation interface for its users. This gives you seven home screens that you can add apps, shortcuts, widgets and wallpapers to. The ‘home’ home screen is in the middle with a default arrangement of widgets and shortcuts - HTC calls these arrangements ‘Scenes’, and you can pick from several preselected Scenes to modify or use, or simply start with a blank canvas. A dock sits at the base of every screen with a nice big swatch for ‘Phone’, and two smaller tabs for programs and personalisation. There's a new, super organised personalisation menu that has tabs for customising display and sound, plus adding shortcuts to the home screens, showing you exactly what you need to do with your phone, and how to do it. Upon firing up the Desire Z for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a straightforward setup process that prompts you for all the email and social network accounts you want to feed to the phone. It’s one of HTC’s touches that make a powerful and – let’s face it – rather geeky device incredibly easy to get to grips with.The browser is a full HTML browser that supports Flash, so you’ll be able to view pages as they look like on a computer, including embedded video – which Windows phones and iPhones don’t support.
At 180g the Desire Z is pretty weighty with a substantial girth. The battery cover is an industrial-chic stainless steel released via a spring-loaded button. The 3.7-inch S-LCD display is brighter than the Super AMOLED screens, while a slim black bezel runs around the edges with four touch-sensitive areas for home, menu, back and the universal search key. A black optical trackpad acts as the OK button.Along its sides are a long volume rocker and microUSB port, with a 3.5mm audio jack at the top. There’s a microSD slot to expand its 1.5GB of memory by up to 32GB. Annoyingly, a few apps, including the camera, don’t work unless there’s a microSD card inside – and the phone doesn’t ship with one. Unlike other QWERTY touch-screen phones, it opens on a three-piece hinge instead of a simple slider mechanism. This maximises space for the excellent four-line QWERTY, which is backlit during use for those night time texts, with intuitive extras including a dedicated ‘@’ key, and two customisable keys that can be assigned to any app. We found the hinge opens and shuts snappily – but it doesn’t feel as smooth or controlled as the mechanism on HTC’s Touch Pro2 (which admittedly is a fair bit chunkier).
Humming along on a 1GHz processor with a not unreasonable 512MB of RAM to keep multitasking smooth, the phone should be faster. Instead, we found a noticeable lag between tapping the screen, and input being registered. Though the screen is still responsive and accurate, scrolling was sometimes slow, and pinch to zoom took about a second to work. This could be due to the power-sucking new Android 2.2 OS, as we had similar issues on the Desire when we upgraded it from its native Android 2.1.We also had to force-close many times, often when RAM-intensive applications such as the browser and maps were running. There's still no native ability to shut down open apps without delving deep into the Settings menus (though there are dozens of task manager apps available on the Android Market).
As an Android 2.2 phone, the Desire Z is able to act as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot by converting its 3G signal into a Wi-Fi network that you can connect other Wi-Fi devices to. It’s easy to set up and you can add a password so only trusted devices can connect. This does suck up the already mediocre battery power though, which we had to charge up daily. With Wi-Fi, 3G and some light sat-nav, the Desire Z copped out before the day was out.
Sense.com is HTC’s brand new server to back up all your data – and we do mean all. Your Sense.com account won’t just have backups of your contacts and photos, it’ll also store all text messages, searches done on the device, and map links. The most interesting thing though is that all this transfers between phones. So the contacts and messages that have been backed up from one device will download to the next Sense-Android phone you use. Sense.com also allows you to control your phone remotely – at least if it can access the web.There are several different things you can do if you’ve lost or left your phone somewhere. There are the call and text forwarding options, the lock-phone option and the most severe – the remote wipe. You can also make it ring at full volume – super useful for anyone like us who keeps their phone on vibrate and can never find it via ringing. However, in our review period, we weren’t able to get this to work, and according to an HTC spokesperson, the service is currently patchy.
One of the touted highlights of the Desire Z is the ‘universal’ inbox – which does indeed stream together emails from several accounts, but not the Gmail account you link the phone too. As on all other Android devices, Gmail is its own app, with a different interface and feature set.In the other mail app (called simply ‘Mail’), you can add Microsoft Exchange accounts and any other webmail. (In fact, if you wanted to stream your Gmail here, you could simply add it again – but then you’d get double notifications of the same mail.) Notifications of new mail - along with other alerts - appear at the very top of the screen, where you can drag down to view full details. You can view one account at a time, or all of them together, and sort mail by date, priority, subject, sender and size. You can also view other folders like sent, drafts or trash, but unlike the native Gmail app which syncs fully with your account so you can read everything you’ve ever written, read or trashed, this app only displays mails that have been created or downloaded on the device. Email from each account is tagged a different colour, and at the base of the screen are options to filter by mail from favourites, unread mail, and mail with attachments. There’s also a conversations option that collects emails in the same thread, but it’s not like Gmail where you can view your responses too. Microsoft Exchange accounts – as well as the all accounts view – have the added ability to view emails with meeting requests from other Microsoft Exchange accounts, as well as to flag emails for priority. Funnily, it doesn’t work with invites sent from standalone Outlook accounts, nor Google Calendar ones – though of course we were able to open them, and click through to the Calendar app.
Though HTC’s Android phones have always been usable as sat navs, thanks to Google Maps and A-GPS, the Desire Z packs a new Car Panel app that turns the home screen into a proper sat nav dashboard with links to your destination, nearby points of interest, a history of places you’ve been, plus a shortcut to the dialer so you can still easily use it as a phone. The app comes with a 30-day license for free voice navigation (in pleasingly dulcet feminine tones), but there’s no voice command feature. A cool feature is that if you pop the phone into a car mount and it's not connected to a car kit or headset, its speakerphone automatically turns on when you make or receive a call. The five-megapixel camera is also a marked improvement on the camera found in the Desire, especially daylight shots, where colours are warm and bright with good clarity. It can also record video in 720p.
The Desire Z has a few features that make it a great business phone, but more than enough knowhow with social networking, web and media that make it an equally good all-rounder for an Android fan. If you compare it to other QWERTY smartphones, it easily comes out on top for its excellent touch-screen, customisability and of course, access to Android apps.