The polycarbonate chassis is well built and feels reassuringly solid in the hand, while HTC Sense on Android Ice Cream Sandwich make for a streamlined, intuitive interface
Like all HTC’s Android phones, the Desire C is packed with helpful setup menus for synching all your accounts, as well as great integration features
The five-megapixel camera takes mediocre pictures, but Beats Audio means the music player delivers warm, rounded sound with good bass. The touch-screen is responsive and accurate
Unfortunately the 600MHz processor lags when the phone is multitasking or running background apps, and the touch-screen noticeably slows when swiped fast, as in certain games
The Desire C lasts about 24 hours with light music playback, background data sync on, plus Wi-Fi, HSDPA and GPS
The HTC Desire C is a slightly strange phone for HTC to release. After a hat-trick of awesome phones in its One series – including the budget-friendly One V – the Desire C is coming in not so far below the price of the One V, yet with a palpably more pedestrian spec list. Built like a small, squat One X with Beats Audio sound, but lacking the camera cojones of the One series, does the Desire C manage the right balance of cheap with cheerful?
There are of course many great things about being a shorter, fatter One X. The Desire C is made of the same soft-matt polycarbonate casing, with its five-megapixel lens sunk in so it lies flush against the back cover. As with a lot of compact phones, this feels reassuringly sturdy in the hand.
At 107.2x60.6x11.95mm, it’s the size of HTC’s last popular mid-ranger, the Wildfire S – and in fact, it’s this phone that the Desire C is replacing in the HTC portfolio. Pulling off the back cover reveals an easter egg of design – all-red battery and insides.
Set in a durable metal frame, its 3.5-inch screen is larger than that of the Wildfire S. It packs the same HVGA resolution, but the display supports 16 million colours so it looks nice and bright. The clarity is decent, though the screen does lack the overt sharpness of phones like the One X and Samsung Galaxy S III (naturally).
A 600MHz processor manages to run Android Ice Cream Sandwich, making this the cheapest, lowest-spec phone with Google’s latest OS iteration. Like all HTC Android phones, the Desire C sports the HTC Sense skin, which starts with a series of helpful setup menus and extends to tons of useful widgets including the Facebook/Twitter/Flickr aggregator, Friend Stream, and several fun widgets for favourite contacts, sites and weather.
There’s 4GB of storage built in, expandable in the microSD slot, but a real bonus is 25GB of Dropbox online storage, free for two years. This means 25GB of any files stored online, accessable from anywhere with a net connection.
When it comes to the look and feel of its hardware and software both, the Desire C certainly doesn’t feel cheap – but the question of value arises when you consider that its £190 SIM-free price against the dual-core 1GHz Sony Xperia U at the same price, or even the £225, 1GHz-packing HTC One V, which also runs Ice Cream Sandwich.
Yes, you do notice that this phone runs on a markedly slower processor. Though its capacitive touch-screen is responsive and extremely accurate in the virtual keyboard, there’s a miniscule lag when swiping and tapping.
There are also performance lags when the phone is performing background tasks like updates or data synching. When you swipe really fast, say in a heated game of Scramble with Friends, the touch-screen actually can’t keep up.
None of this is so unexpected in a phone pitched at the niche the Desire C is. But that’s where the One V comes in again – it’s hard to see why you would go for a much slower, otherwise identical phone to save £35.
On the interface front though, there’s much to recommend it. Along with the general streamlined intuitiveness of Ice Cream Sandwich, which includes a stylish, capable Gmail app and more comprehensive contact cards, HTC’s Sense interface makes it really easy to sync and post to social networks.
The Multitasking button displays windows into the apps that are running (above). The call log is designed so that your designated favourite contacts are always there, and there’s a frequent contacts widget that automatically populates with your most called peeps. In the SMS inbox, holding down on a name brings up a menu of options including one to call the recipient.
And HTC’s synching process in the Android contacts book is the most intelligent we’ve tried, quietly merging profiles with the same name or email address while making almost nearly all accurate suggestions for profiles that share more tenuous connections. If you’ve used an HTC phone before, signing into your HTC Sense account means that all your apps and settings will also automatically show up on this phone.
A-GPS, Wi-Fi and HSDPA round out the connectivity options – the Desire C is fully loaded internet machine and uses Google Maps for directions as well as sat nav (in beta). Expect the heavier features like Street View or 3D to slow the phone down.
Camera and music
Surprisingly, after a spate of good cameras, including on its under-played Windows Phone range, the five-megapixel snapper here is pretty unimpressive. Daylight and indoor shots were soft and blurry, with overexposure common even on lightly contrasting areas. However, colour reproduction was good.
Low light shots are surprisingly more pleasing, the graininess lending a more romantic quality, particularly as colours are warmly reproduced. There’s no flash – not necessarily a bad thing since lower-end mobile flashes tend to overexpose and discolour anyway. Instead, you can select from Auto, Portrait, Landscape and Lowlight modes to adjust how much light the lens lets in.
Built into the interface is a filter option you can select before you snap, to see what the shot would look like – greyscale is pretty nice, though the others, such as posterise and solerise, don’t tend to deliver the sort of results you’d post on Facebook. It’s no Instagram basically.
There’s a video option too, though results are even less share-worthy. Moving images are also soft and blurred, and the mic doesn’t do a good job of picking up sound that’s more than a foot away.
Beats Audio does add a touch of class though – this sound enhancing software gently plumps out audio, and never overdoes the bass like a lot of similar programs do. Non-bassline-driven music sounds particularly rounded and spacious. Integrated SoundHound lets you do a Shazam on tunes you hear to get the track name and other info. Our only beef with the audio is its volume – it’s curiously low, with maximum setting more like upper-middle on other phones.
The Desire C packs an odd bag of specs – mediocre camera but audio in line with HTC’s high-end honeys; astonishingly slow processor but running Android Ice Cream Sandwich. If having the latest version of Android right now doesn’t bother you, the Sony Xperia U is faster with a better camera. If you want a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich, HTC’s own One V offers that, a better camera and the same Beats Audio. The performance lags in the Desire C are minor and perhaps only noticeable in direct comparison to a higher-end phone – it’s just that these phones are actually available at around the same price.