Zoe-like video editing features
Underpowered WVGA screen;
Higher spec phones at similar price
Mid-level smartphones now pack in so much high-spec goodness that there’s no need to suffer an extortionate payday loan to afford a flagship model. Available online for £199 SIM-free, the HTC Desire 500 hopes to be one such phone. Yet in a market that’s quickly becoming saturated, does it do enough to stand out?
Inserting a SIM into the device to find out proved tougher than expected. The instructions explaining how to remove the back panel make it seem like you might snap the phone in half rather than open it. Amazingly, once this procedure has been successfully carried out you’ll wonder what the fuss was, but it’s incredibly awkward first time out.
SIM finally inserted, the Desire 500 proves to be a good all-rounder. The Taiwanese phone maker’s Sense user interface is as easy to navigate as ever and BlinkFeed makes its first appearance on a Desire phone, meaning you’ll never be stuck for news (or funny posts to waste time on if the sources we scan are anything to go by). The 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chip and 1GB RAM might sound underpowered when compared with the big boys but they handled media and games without a pause. That’s crucial given that phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini boast 1.7GHz chips (albeit it dual-core) and are starting to drop into this price-range.
The device even has a faux-premium look, with the drilled speaker holes at the top reminiscent of the HTC One, while the fake metallic edging adds class. The design even thoughtfully incorporates the volume up and down buttons into this edge, marking them out with a gap in the outer strip so you know where to press. It takes a bit of getting used to in order to hit the right button every time, but practice makes perfect.
Carphone Warehouse has UK exclusivity over the white version that we got to play with, with all other retailers getting their hands on the standard black version. Picking up the plasticky phone diminishes its premium impression somewhat, but in terms of looks you’ll never be embarrassed taking a call on the Desire 500. An 1800 mAh removable battery means you’ll more than likely be able to take that call. It claims 435 hours standby time and more than 12 hours of talk, and in our tests it ran video for a respectable seven hours, a result just above average.
It may lack the impressive Ultrapixel configuration of the HTC One but the Desire 500 combines an 8-megapixel lens, f/2.0 aperture and back-illuminated sensor to good effect. Colour, contrast and dynamic range perform well and images are sharp and clear – results are certainly more than acceptable if all you’re looking to do is populate your social media.
Video recording at 720p follows the same standard, although there’s only a one-step zoom, jumping close in rather than the usual slow move in and out. Worryingly, when you do shoot close up footage, there’s a ton of noise onscreen. However, when you play the video back it’s nowhere near as prominent, although some noise does still exist.
While Zoe mode is not listed in the specs, a similar feature called Automatic Video Highlights does exist. This automatically selects the key moments within a video and creates a 30-second snapshot, no additional software or editing skills required. Six styles are available featuring different music, with the result available to share online or save. Given that the movie it creates signs off with a ‘Filmed with HTC Zoe’ tag, it’s basically Zoe-lite.
Missing in action
With many features holding up well at this price point, savings have had to be made in other areas. That includes the screen, although at 217 pixels per inch the 480 x 800 WVGA does its best with high-def videos streamed from YouTube. It may not be eye-popping but it’s also not eye-gouging, still being very watchable at this size. Problem is, mid-level phones have moved on in this area. When you consider devices such as the Moto G have a 720p resolution and cost less than the Desire 500, that may make your decision for you.
The sound, though, can’t be faulted, with Beats Audio making even the supplied headphones sound sublime – shame it can’t make them feel more comfortable, too. Unfortunately, HTC has decided not to include BoomSound technology, so blasting out your tunes via the speakers isn’t quite as impressive as on high-end models.
Where the cost cutting becomes most noticeable is with the 4GB internal memory. This is a joke – and not a very funny one – given that the Android operating system and those apps you feel are essential will leave almost nothing left to play with. Naturally, HTC has included support for microSD cards, saving the phone from being next to useless for anyone hoping to enjoy films or music on the go. This is expandable up to 64GB, but low-level users could have survived on a minimum of 8GB internal memory, so it feels like a slip.
For the most part, the HTC Desire 500 performs well, squeezing the best out of its mid-range components and looking good while it does it. The WVGA screen will put off buyers looking for the better resolution that now seems to be a staple of other mid-range phones, while those planning to download games or play media need to add the price of a microSD card to the overall cost.