Reviews

HTC Desire Review (U.S. Cellular Edition): Classic phone, new country

August 26, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Phones and Devices, Carriers, HTC

htc-desire-uscellular

In an era where consumers want mega-screens, dual-core processors, the latest version of Android, and features as gaudy as kickstands and HDMI connectivity, is there any place for devices that are just at the edge of “super phone”? Will people still have room in their hearts and pockets for a phone that was released several months ago, which translates to years in Android’s rapidly expanding legacy?

The short answer is yes.

The HTC Desire has finally jumped from the UK to the United States through a deal with regional carrier U.S. Cellular. Commonly referred to as “the Nexus One running Sense,” the Desire doesn’t have the phone-on-steroids specs that have made the HTC EVO and Motorola Droid X two of the hottest phones on the market. However, the Desire does have the core features that make it able to rest proudly with those phones: an eye-catching 3.7-inch screen, zippy 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, and 512 MB of RAM to handle all of the apps that your heart de…no, I will not make that pun. Let’s take a look at the device.

HARDWARE

The Temptations famously sang that beauty is only skin deep, but boy does this phone have beautiful skin. The Desire has a smooth finish that feels incredibly comforting and more durable than the hard plastic you may have seen on some devices. And while other popular phones have the feedback buttons on the glass part of the screen, the Desire has a more than capable optical trackpad and physical buttons that decrease the likelihood of accidental pressing. This setup isn’t perfect since the back and search functions share one button accessible by tapping the left or right side. Maybe this was intended to be an innovative space saver, but it’s initially irksome.

The phone is an otherwise physically pleasing specimen. I’ve held 30-40 Android devices over the past two years, and the Desire ranks among my favorites to touch. While the Hero may be too feeble for some and the EVO obscenely large to others, the Desire rests in the middle ground that’s just right. Goldilocks would be happy with this phone that has a warm TFT LCD screen ideal for gaming, watching videos, and browsing the web. Those activities are also aided by the 1 GHz processor that is becoming ubiquitous among Android devices.

Call quality is excellent on the Desire as both the microphone and receiver operated well during testing. However, the speaker doesn’t perform as well during music playback or in speaker mode. The sound quality tends to be downgraded and muffled when set to its maximum level, so I’d advise keeping it one or two clicks below max capacity. That will provide better sound quality and still make music or your contact’s voice audible.

CAMERA/CAMCORDER

Less is more in many places, including pixels. Despite having only 5 megapixels to snap photos to that of the 8 megapixel-sporting phones like the EVO 4G, the Desire takes decent photos and videos. On a sunny Florida afternoon, photos came out in great shape and top-notch detail. In dimly lit night clubs, things were less fruitful, even with LED flash; however, the resulting photos were still passable.

The camera software allows for adjusting brightness or contrast, and there’s also an LED flash to help capture images just the way you want. As for video, users can shoot up to 720p video that doesn’t suffer compression woes as bad as the EVO initially offered, but still offers quality video. Here’s a look.

SOFTWARE

HTC has done well for itself with the customized version of Android known as Sense. It enhances the overall experience of the device with major visual tweaks, custom widgets, and a more graphic-intensive interface. But those virtues are trailed by several faults, chief among them being the out-dated software launching on the Desire. Yes Android 2.1 will still provide a great experience, but it’s disappointing that the Desire doesn’t yet have the many new features and improvements added to the Android 2.2 version of Sense. We’ve covered Sense many times, but take our word for it; it’s great.

The Desire comes with a mature interface and eye-catching live wallpapers that enhance the experience.  It also offers several applications pre-loaded by U.S. Cellular and partners.

  • City ID can lookup number locations or show the city of incoming calls. This is a free trial of the monthly subscription service that costs $1.99. It is rather unnecessary unless you frequently get calls from random people you’ve never heard.
  • My Contacts Backup is an alternative to Google Contacts sync. U.S. Cellular offers a backup at uscellular.com/mycontactsbackup so you have an extra place to store phone numbers.
  • MySpace is pre-loaded. Yeah, that MySpace.
  • QuickOffice reads Microsoft Office documents on the go. People who need to read and edit documents can upgrade to the pro version.
  • ToneRoom Deluxe - A launcher shortcut to a mobile website for purchasing ringtones and Callback tones.
  • Your Navigator is the carrier branded version of TeleNav (similar to ATT or Sprint Navigator)

VERDICT

The Desire is a redux of a device which you are familiar. It is physically similar to the Nexus One but internally more akin to the range of HTC-produced phones that you’ve probably lusted for when seeing friends sport their EVO’s or Incredible’s in your presence. Finally available in the United States, the Desire remains a very viable option for American consumers.

Until the Samsung Galaxy S comes out, the Desire is unquestionably the best phone available on U.S. Cellular. People who have opted for U.S. Cellular may find it difficult to grab a non-roaming signal when traveling outside of the confines of the regional carrier’s coverage zones, but they will rarely find it difficult to enjoy using an HTC Desire. The combination of quality hardware and enjoyable software makes this a desir….nope, won’t make that pun either.