07
Sep
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Introduction

Well, well, well. I never thought the day would come: the HTC Desire, first announced at Mobile World Congress in February, has finally landed in the States! Of course, six months is a long time in the world of technology, so when I first started reviewing the Desire, my expectations weren't nearly as high as those of, say, my colleague Ian Douglas when he began reviewing the Samsung Epic 4G.

Nonetheless, the carrier HTC decided to bless - US Cellular - was in desperate need of a decent Android phone, and, if nothing else, the Desire absolutely beats the pants off its only other Android offering - the Samsung Acclaim.

Before I begin, I want to thank US Cellular for sending a review unit to the Android Police offices and making this review possible.

Hardware Overview

Specs

Before the fun begins, there are indeed some specs to go over:

  • 3.7" 800x480 Super LCD display
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
  • 5MP camera with 720p video capture and a single LED flash
  • EVDO Rev. A, Wifi 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1
  • 8GB microSD card pre-installed, can be replaced by a microSD card of up to 32GB in capacity for a total of 32GB of storage
  • 512MB of ROM, 512MB of RAM
  • 3.5mm headset jack

Design

Now that we've got the specs out of the way, I can go ahead and put it out there: the Desire is one of the sexiest smartphones I've ever laid my eyes on.

The Buttons And The Joystick

It all starts with with the buttons at the bottom of the device:

As you can see, the layout is the same one HTC uses on the EVO 4G and the Droid Incredible - overall, a good thing, though coming from some quality time spent testing the Droid 2, they did take a little getting used to.

The layout isn't all I have to say about the buttons; while their brushed metal felt as good as it looked, blending the "Back" and the "Search" buttons together without doing the same to the "Home" and "Menu" buttons was a questionable decision to say the least.

Meanwhile, the optical joystick that comes between the separated and the unseparated buttons is a huge improvement over the trackballs found on devices such as the Nexus One and Droid Eris. For one, it doesn't stick out of the device, thus avoiding the creation of a huge (and awkward) bulge in one's pocket. For another, I found it much easier to use, especially since it allows users to aggressively swipe over it to rapidly scroll down, up, left, or right, or gently swipe over it to do so in a more gradual manner.

The Sides

 

Speaking of what lies above, the 3.7" display is topped by an HTC logo, an earpiece, and a light indicator. The left side of the device also contains the volume rocker, while the right side is empty, the bottom contains nothing but a microUSB port, and the top side contains the power buttons and a 3.5mm headset jack.

In addition, the smartphone is amazingly thin, thinner than any of HTC's other offerings (save for the Nexus One, which is no longer on sale and was the same thickness - 11.9mm). It also gives the impression of being made of aluminum, despite the fact that the cover of the device, both front and rear, is made entirely out of plastic. Still, it looks great, feels great, fits great in the pocket, and, at least to me, that's what matters.

The Chin

One last design note: those four buttons at the bottom that I spent so much time describing - it turns out they sit on an ever-so-slight chin. While it doesn't jut out from the device like it did on several previous HTC-made devices, such as the original Hero and the G1, it certainly gave us nostalgia!

The Display

The 3.7", 800x480, Super LCD display is the one thing about the Desire that's not ripped straight off the version of the phone that HTC launched six months back. Originally, I was worried that the Super LCD display wouldn't be able to stand up to the likes of Samsung's new Super AMOLED screens or even the older AMOLED version used in the original Desire, but after putting it through its paces, I am happy to say that I was wrong.

As you can see, the Desire's 3.7-inch, 800x480, Super LCD display tends to fall right in between the Droid 2's standard LCD and the Epic 4G's Super AMOLED panels. Here's how it all pans out:

  • The Droid 2 and its superb 16:9 854x480 resolution took the lead in sharpness, closely followed by the Desire, which in turn was followed by the Epic 4G.
  • In terms of color, contrast, and brightness, the Epic 4G was the king, with the Desire hot on its heels and the Droid 2 left straggling behind (except for deep blacks, where both the Epic and the Droid 2 surpassed the Desire).
  • When it came to performance in direct sunlight, the Desire's Super LCD panel turned out to be practically useless, while the Epic 4G was just barely visible and the Droid 2's standard LCD was actually surprisingly detectable.

Does the Desire have the best display out there? No, that title is reserved for the Galaxy S line of phones, with their amazing Super AMOLED jewels. Is its display an improvement over standard LCD? It depends what you want; Super LCD screens tend to be a bit brighter, have more vibrant colors, and have an overall better contrast, but their performance in sunlight is decidedly inferior to say the least. Plus, despite the fact that the colors are more vibrant, blacks feel more like dark blues, and pale when put side-by-side with standard LCDs or especially Super AMOLEDs.

Still, I wouldn't consider the Desire's display to be a con, even though it's not a pro in my book either.

The Camera

Unfortunately, HTC has seen fit to carry over the 5MP camera from the original Desire, save for the black border, which is now red. To say it's one of the worst cameras to disgrace an Android phone this year would be a drastic understatement. I know, I complained about the Droid 2's as well, but if the Droid 2's is mediocre, this is catastrophic.

As the above image shows, photos taken in average lighting conditions came out extremely blurry and details were illegible.

Even photos taken with light streaming in like nobody's business looked like they'd been pulled straight out of a nightmare.

Low light? Don't even think about it.

Video quality is equally bad: although the Desire is capable of capturing 720p video, it looked to be about 10 or so frames per second, and audio quality sounded like something out of a cheap 1980s horror movie.

Software Overview

Despite the fact that Android 2.2 FroYo was announced in May of 2010, which is now about five months, and the fact that even devices running the same Sense UI as the Desire are now getting the update to FroYo, this particular smartphone in the US still runs 2.1 Eclair. In fact, when asked to comment on the issue, US Cellular told me that while the Desire will be getting updated to FroYo, they have no timeline for it, only that it will be later this year.

In the meantime, you'll just have to stick with the long-in-the-tooth Android 2.1, with only HTC's Sense UI to relieve you. That's not to say Sense is a bad thing - in fact, it's the best Android skin I've seen so far, but perhaps scrapping it altogether and just loading stock FroYo on the phone would have been a better decision.

In case you aren't familiar with Android 2.1, you do get access to almost all of the applications in the Market (except for a few, such as Adobe Flash Player), a couple of widgets, several live wallpapers, and speech-to-text. After that, you get the HTC customizations, such as more (and much hotter!) widgets, an improved camera app, and the app drawer. After that, you also get US Cellular's customizations, although they've been relatively kind here and included very few (which is a good thing, just look at what AT&T does to their Android phones). In fact, the only ones included here are a single static wallpaper, an app called "My Contacts Backup," a MySpace app, "Tone Room Deluxe," and "Your Navigator." Yes, "Your Navigator" essentially duplicates Google Navigation's functionality, and I don't know anyone who hasn't ditched MySpace in favor of FaceBook, but at least US Cellular didn't cripple the phone's ability to download non-Market apps (I'm looking at you again, AT&T).

Performance Overview

Linpack benchmarked the Desire at 6.831 MFLOPS, which is almost exactly what I'd expect from a 1GHz Snapdragon-packing device running Eclair but still nowhere near what I'd expect from a FroYo device, which would be something more akin to 30 MFLOPS. In daily usage, however, the device practically screamed. After the FroYo update comes along, the speed should improve even more drastically.

Battery life was a different story: the Desire fell far behind the competition in this area. In my standard battery test, where the phone was forced to play a YouTube video of Google I/O 2010 repeatedly with brightness turned all the way up and WiFi turned off, the Desire lasted a mere three hours, a full hour and a half behind the Droid 2 and even fifteen minutes less than the infamously poor-battery-packing Droid Incredible. Not good.

Call quality was yet another story: calls sounded decent, if not phenomenal...when in US Cellular coverage, which is not available everywhere. For example, Boston, one of America's largest cities, generally receives only one or two bars. Where you don't get it (which happens more often than not), you're forced to roam on other CDMA networks, such as Verizon's or Sprint's, who, for obvious reasons, prioritize traffic coming from devices built for their networks over devices from other networks, providing for an end result of slow data and call quality below that of what I'd deem "desirable" (yes, I went there). Still, for a regional carrier that charges $69.99 per month, it's acceptable.

The Verdict

What's To Love

  • Gorgeous styling
  • Device feels nice in the hand and fits well in the pocket
  • Responsive and speedy UI
  • Minimal bloatware
  • Sharp display resolution

What's To Hate

  • Android 2.2 FroYo isn't here yet
  • Camera is a nightmare
  • No front-facing camera or microHDMI port
  • Poor battery life
  • US Cellular doesn't provide the coverage of the larger and similarly priced national carriers

The HTC Desire is not a perfect phone; it runs an outdated version of Android, its battery life is something I wouldn't wish upon anyone, and its camera is one of the worst I've seen on an Android device this year, but overall, I feel that its pros greatly outweigh its cons. It feels great, looks great, comes with minimal bloatware, and zips along at paces faster than most other Android 2.1 phones. Besides, the update to FroYo is coming, even if we don't know when. There's no beating around the bush here, folks; HTC and US Cellular have themselves a mighty fine device, certainly the best the carrier has to offer and also one that's passed the test of time, which is more than can be said for certain other devices.

Our Rating: 7/10

Jaroslav Stekl
Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

  • http://www.geniosity.co.za James

    Hmmm, I've had my desire for about 4 months now here in South Africa and it seriously its the best phone I've ever had.

    My battery life, with a fair amount of use, is about 36 hours. Is that really bad? Its about 20 hours longer than my previous piece of rubbish, so I can't be sure

    • Jaroslav Stekl

      Depends what you've been doing those 36 hours.
      Keep in mind that this was a stress test in which the phone was forced to play a YouTube video repeatedly over 3G with brightness cranked all the way up, so it won't last anywhere near 36 hours, even if it's a great battery (which it's not).

  • Vandergrift

    Just a quick sidenote.. I'm not that familiar with the phonecompanies in the states and how the phones are only available through one specific carrier, but you may want to add (in case you're reviewing the phone, and not a specific carriers phone) that the 2.2 software has been out for a good month or two in europe.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Great review, Jaroslav. Very thorough and well written.

  • Nick

    I agree with everything apart from a couple of points:

    Froyo 2.2 is available for the Desire. I have it installed on my UK Desire. If you're that desperate to have it you can root the phone and do a manual upgrade if you dont want to wait for an official OTA upgrade.

    Battery life isn't that bad. Its not as good as my old Nokia N95 which would run for almost a week without a charge, but my Desire will last for 36 hours or nearly two days without a charge. I have an extended capacity battery for times when I'm away from a charger for long periods of time, and having both batteries which can simply be swapped allows me to use the phone for almost a week without charging it up.

    I agree that the camera is terrible, but otherwise I'm very happy with my Desire.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      I'm not sure the US version can accept UK's Froyo update (in fact, I'm pretty sure it won't, as US Cellular is CDMA and UK is GSM).

  • Matt

    I didn't think the camera was all that catastrophic, but maybe I've just never had a phone with a decent one...

    Battery life also seems perfectly acceptable to me given how slim the phone is and the physical size of the battery, and knowing the power level likely being demanded by the screen and CPU. Although I've got the European variant with an AMOLED display - I wonder what the power consumption difference is?

    Mine needs charging quite often, but then I'm not parsimonious with background services.

  • http://twitter.com/Dennis_Sak Dennis Sakellaropoulos

    Great review Jaroslav!
    Nice work there!
    Since i got the GSM version of the Desire:
    1) Froyo is out there for more than 3 weeks now.
    3) I get around 32-36 MFLOPS on Linpack and around a 1250 score on Quadrant.
    3) I have to charge every day since i use it a lot! A lot of wifi browsing/downloading, games, some videos/music and radio from time to time. Ok, a 1400 mAh battery is not enough for a smartphone of such calibre. Companies should use new technologies (aka Nanowire battery) to get the size down and the electric charge up!
    4) Camera isn't that good, but ok not catastrophic. Just decent. FYI it's a smartphone, not a camera phone.
    5) The SLCD in my opinion is an upgrade over the previous AMOLED display. Colors look more or less the same, sunlight legibility readable, if you get the brightness up and resolution freaking great!
    Anyway, again great review, very thorough and well written as Artem said above.
    Just needed to make a few points.That's what commenting is after all, right? :)

    • Jaroslav Stekl

      Thanks, Dennis!
      1.) First off, that's for the GSM version not the CDMA model, so as Artem said below, it might not install well.
      2.) Is that with FroYo or Eclair?
      3.) I totally agree!
      4.) Yeah, but in my testing, other phones like the EVO or the Droid X have proven to have much better cameras.
      5.) That's debatable, but OK :)

      • Dennis Sak

        Yeah i know. I was talking about the GSM version.
        It is Froyo.
        On Eclair my Quadrant score was like 550 or something.

  • http://teamyokomo.blogspot.com Eric

    Have a Desire in Malaysia for 3 weeks. Just updated to Froyo a few days ago. It is running great. Depending on the usage, battery can run as short as few hours to a few days. Serious! It all depends on how often you use it and what kind of background services are on. But JuiceDefender will help with the battery life if you don't want to fiddle with all the settings. But it will NEVER compete with my previous Blackberry Bold2 when it comes to battery life. But the new and bigger screen estate does come in handy and I really like the new found capability of Desire to fit my lifestyle better.

  • Chris

    Got an HTC Desire on US Cellular over the weekend. For the record, its "My Contacts Backup," not "My Contacts Book." It's US Cellular's "cloud" based contacts backup program which retains your contacts online for when switching phones. I used it on my old non-Android phone quite often to back up. I never restored until I got this phone and incidentally, My Contacts Backup quite sucks as it appears to be cumulative, meaning that it retains contacts that you have deleted from your phone. When I restored my contacts, I had a ton of contacts return from the dead which had long been deleted from my old phone. Not to mention that it goes not responding quite often.

    Still a great phone so far!

    • Jaroslav Stekl

      Thanks for pointing that out, Chris, I've updated the review accordingly.

    • http://twitter.com/menoats Menoats

      Yes I agree with Chris. They give you no option of deleting contacts you no longer need. It should be simple download contacts from server and then when you are done editing upload contacts and maybe confirm that you want to delete 4-5 or whatever number contacts. Not to mention My Contacts always has to be force closed.

  • http://twitter.com/menoats Menoats

    Great all around review. I agree with everything you mentioned especially the camera portion. However, you forgot they also include another annoying application called City ID. The application is suppose to ID where your calls come from but its nowhere near close sometimes its off by 5 cities. Also when the free trial of this horrible application expires you are not able to remove it because we don't have superuser privileges. Any news on the Froyo update? The phone doesn't really have much room for apps to be installed to that is why I'm desperately waiting for Froyo so I can install to SD card. At this point though US Cellular should just wait for Gingerbread...although I don't even know if the Desire will be capable of running Gingerbread.

  • Martin

    It has 576MB of RAM.

  • Lon

    We are discussing the US Cellular version of the Desire, correct? :D
    I was waiting for the store to open on Aug 27 to get my Desire and I have not been disappointed. I previously owned a Nexus One, with froyo, on T Mobile and unhappy wouldn't begin to describe my mindset. Spotty coverage, freeze-ups, crashes, were the order of the day. I became a master of the "one handed soft reset" as the phone would tank at least 3 times a week. Have I mentioned the horrid customer disservice I received from Google/HTC and their pass the buck way of handling problems?

    US Cellular's coverage is king in this area and the "big boys" rent towers from them. Their customer service is also top notch. Quite frankly, I can't remember when I have been treated better by a cell company. Sprint? AT&T? T-Mobile? Yea right. With some of their plans, if you break your phone, including getting it wet, you just stroll into a US Cellular store and they give you a new one...no deductible. Dead battery? Pop into a store for a fresh one. Phone upgrades after one year, same discount as new customers and no new contract.

    My girlfriend has the EVO 4g and it is cool for sure but with her absolutely horrible battery life and frequent freeze ups...not to mention Sprint's less than spectacular coverage, no 4g (with a charge anyway), and iffy customer service. Well, I'll happily trade the Desire's rock solid performance and US Cellular's coverage/customer service for a couple bells and whistles. All the gadgets in the world are worthless without the coverage to back them up.

    • Misty

      @Lon

      I agree wholeheartedly about U.S. Cellular's customer service. Even before the "Belief Program" that no longer requires contracts for service, I never had trouble getting an early upgrade, or the new customer price. Coverage is great and in Chicago, U.S. Cellular was the first provider to have coverage on the subway--way back in 2002. I love my Desire despite some storage space issues; I need to get a larger micro SD card; and have had some problems with some apps repeatedly force closing but these are not deal breakers regarding the whole package. I would, however like to be able to delete some of the pre-installed apps. Other than that, the Desire is the best phone I've had.

  • Allison

    Great review and I love my desire!

    As for My Contacts Backup, I figured out if you log on to US Cellular's homepage from a PC and select the My Contacts Backup link, you can permanently delete unwanted contacts so they won't be downloaded the next time you perform a backup.

    Is FroYo available in the US yet?

  • A

    Good review! So far I'm happy enough with the phone.
    The camera = nightmare quote was hilarious :)
    I would agree it's not great, but I've had some decent shots that show better detail than the penny example. Perhaps its processing does something to an object that small with few different colors to 'see'... Worst part is how easily blurred they can be; it's too sensitive to motion.

    I've managed to get 2+ days out of a charge finally, but it took awhile. Heavy browsing makes the little thing hot very quickly and certainly drains the battery quickly. Hopefully 2.2 can throttle the CPU down a bit unless you really need full power, thus saving some juice.
    It's far more important for me to be able to be in touch than to surf, so I tend to use it lightly.

    My only major disappointment was the black friday sale shortly after I already bought it, but I still think it's worth $200 (after rebate) at the moment, and U.S. Cellular is indeed a good carrier.

    Favorite thing? ...I can play music from Rhapsody anywhere, anytime.

    Anyway, thanks for the pretty fair review with some good personal thoughts, insights, and witty commentary :)

  • htc babe

    hello everyone!!! I have had the HTC DESIRE for about 3 weeks now. I have no problems with the camera. in fact the best camera i have ever had on a device. But i do have a problem with the fact it doesn't have a lot of memory space on the phone. i constantly get alerts that i have low space thru out the day without even installing anything. so therefore i cant receive my email until i delete another app.The browser is very fast. I love the pinch to zoom. I love the fact that when the phone rings, u can flip it over n it goes to mute cool :) love the 7 home screens and the loud speakers also. but can someone please tell me when the froyo coming? i was told jan.31 but they changed it again. please help me lol

  • Aaron

    Does anyone know how to stream netflix on the HTC Desire? I've read that you cannot, but I thought I would ask some other folks to be sure.

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