While HTC's flagship One smart phone might steal the headlines with its metal body, Full HD display and powerful components, it's pretty expensive if you only want a phone for the basics.
If you'd rather have cash in the bank than a top-end phone in your pocket, cast your eyes over the HTC Desire 500. It's a 4.3-inch phone with an attractive plastic shell, HTC's easy to use Sense 5 software and a decent screen.
Should I buy the HTC Desire 500?
The Desire 500 tackles the essentials well, doesn't cost the Earth and has a more interesting design than most budget smart phones. It also looks cool, its processor tackles social networking, Web browsing and light gaming well and at £200, it's well priced.
If you want a more luxurious design, the HTC One Mini has a great metal body, but it will set you back around £100 more and if you're happy to spend that much, you could go for the new Nexus 5 -- its Full HD display and searingly fast processor are normally only found on phones way above the £300 price. The Desire 500 is 3G only too, so you'll need to look higher up if you want faster 4G speeds.
If money is your chief concern though, take a look at the Nokia Lumia 620. It's available for around £160 on pay as you go, has colourful, interchangeable covers, a great screen and easy to use Windows Phone 8 software. You will have a much smaller selection of apps to choose from though.
Design and build quality
With its glossy white back and colourful bright blue accents, the Desire 500 is one of the most attractive budget handsets I've seen in a while. It's eye-catching, fun, and above all stands out from the usual slew of black and grey mobiles that you'd typically find for this price.
It's available in white, with red accents too if blue's not your thing, or you could ditch the colour completely and opt for the all black model -- but that's just not as fun. The shell is made from glossy plastic. It doesn't have the same luxurious aesthetic as the all-metal HTC One, but it does cost a lot less, so it's probably a fair compromise. It feels pretty sturdy though and I find the design generally falls on the side of stylish, rather than cheap.
It measures 132mm long and 67mm wide, which is quite big, considering its 4.3-inch display. That's due to its fairly wide bezels and large amount of room above and below the screen. The space above the screen houses what looks like the same front-facing Boomsound speaker from the HTC One, but it's only the speaker for making calls, rather than the loudspeaker for playing music.
The loudspeaker for music is around the back. It bears the Beats audio name and I found it to be sufficiently loud for YouTube in the kitchen, but you'll want to use headphones to get decent sound quality.
Built into the blue edging on the right hand side are the volume buttons. They sit flush with the surround, so they're quite difficult to find by feel alone, particularly when the phone's in your pocket. You'll find the usual 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port on the top. Under the plastic case is a microSD card slot, which allows you to expand the meagre 4GB of internal storage. Thankfully, you can move some apps to the SD card too.
The 4.3-inch display has an 800x480-pixel resolution, which isn't amazing, but about what I'd expect on a phone of this price. It naturally doesn't have anything like the same pin-sharp resolution as its top-end sibling -- small text and icon edges look a little fuzzy -- but it's perfectly adequate for most tasks like tweeting and posting updates to Facebook.
It's not the brightest display I've ever laid my hands on, but it was at least bright enough to counter some of the reflections from the CNET UK office lights. It might not stand up too well to the bright summer sun, but if you don't plan on leaving England, that's not going to be a problem for you.
It has fairly decent colours -- perfectly fine for some Netflix shows -- and its viewing angles are good. It's certainly among the better quality displays I've seen on budget phones.
Android and Sense 5 software
The Desire 500 comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which is quite an old version of the software. Most Android phones -- even budget ones -- tend to arrive with the more up to date 4.2 or 4.3 by now and even they're behind the times, given the launch of 4.4 KitKat on the new Nexus 5.
Still, you might not really notice it has older software on board as HTC has slapped its Sense 5 interface over the top, dramatically changing the look of Android. It still has the basic Android functionality, including multiple homescreens to pop apps and widgets down, and an app menu where all your apps are stored.
Visually, things are very different. The app menu has a very minimalist look, with wide-spaced icons in a constant list. A weather app sits at the top too, in case you can't bear to return to the homescreen to see if it's raining. I found the Sense interface on the HTC One very simple to get to grips with and I'm happy to say it's just as easy here. It's far more stripped down than the overly-complicated Galaxy S4, so it would be a good option for anyone who's nervous about taking their first steps into Android.
You'll also find HTC's Blinkfeed to the left of your homescreen. It's a scrolling news aggregator that shows updates from your friends' social networks, as well as articles from select news outlets in large tiles. It's visually quite fun and if you've ever used Flipboard on a different phone, you'll find it instantly familiar. The downside of it however is that it can't be removed, nor can you add your own websites to the page using RSS feeds -- although this feature has just been added to the HTC One Max.
Power and performance
Tucked into the plastic body is a quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz. That's a satisfying number of cores for a budget phone, but it's quite a low clock speed, so I wasn't expecting a blistering performance.
I wasn't disappointed. On the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, the Desire 500 racked up a score of 1,020. While that's nowhere near the 4,000 scores of phones like the Sony Xperia Z1 or Nexus 5, it's perfectly reasonable for a budget model. It scored only slightly less than the One Mini.
Navigating around the Sense interface was swift and mostly free of lag when opening menus. When opening the multi-tasking panel, there's a bit of a delay for all the thumbnails to load, but it's hardly what I'd call sluggish.
It handled water racer Riptide GP 2 well, with enjoyably high frame rates. With the lower resolution, the game didn't look anywhere near as good as it does on the One or other top-end phones, but it was certainly playable. For more casual games like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope or Candy Crush, the 500 will do fine.
The Desire 500 keeps an 8-megapixel camera around the back. It's a standard phone camera, rather than the 'Ultrapixel' camera of the One, which has physically bigger pixels in order to take in more light and therefore give better quality. In my tests, the 500's camera was about as good as you'd expect for a budget phone.
In my test, it managed to achieve a reasonably decent exposure -- although the bright window at the back was blown out. There's plenty of detail in the shadowy areas though and there's not an unpleasant amount of image noise either. Clarity isn't brilliant, particularly when you look at it full screen, but it's perfectly fine for Facebook.
The Desire 500 doesn't have the same burst-firing Zoe mode as its big brother, but it's got a few tricks up its sleeve including an HDR mode, panorama mode and built-in camera filter effects. There's also an LED flash and a front facing camera for video calling.
HTC has slapped an 1,800mAh battery into the Desire 500, which it reckons can provide up to 12 hours of talk time over 3G. That's not a mind-blowing claim, but I'd say it is at least fairly accurate. In my own testing time, I found it was able to put up with a day of standard use without too much trouble, which is basically what you should expect from any smart phone.
Playing games, streaming video or simply keeping the screen brightness ramped to the max will seriously eat into the battery life, so make sure you don't do anything too strenuous unless you plan on recharging over lunch. Like all smart phones, you will need to charge it overnight.
The HTC Desire 500 might not have the same luxurious metal design of the One range, nor does it have the most powerful processor in the world. It does, however, offer an attractive and fun design, an easy to use interface and won't break the bank either. If you're after a phone that stands out from the usual black and grey handsets and don't want to waste your kids' inheritance, the Desire 500 is worth considering.