HTC, with these smart phones, you are really spoiling us. Not only did you tempt us with the drool-worthy Legend, you've followed it up with the stunning Desire. With a huge screen and speedy processor, the Desire definitely lives up to its name, and even trumps its Google-branded twin, the Nexus One.
The Desire comes free on a two-year, £30-per-month contract, or you can pick it up SIM-free for around £400.
The Desire is pure gadget sauciness wrapped in an unassuming package. Like its twin, the Nexus One, the Desire's appearance gives little indication of its powerful 1GHz Snapdragon processor or its seemingly endless pool of features. On the outside, it's just modest, dark grey plastic, although there are a couple of design tweaks that set it apart from the Nexus One.
A touch-sensitive trackpad replaces the Google phone's trackball, and satisfyingly clicky buttons do the job of the touch-sensitive buttons on the Nexus One. Both changes may seem small, but we think they're big improvements. The Desire's trackpad sits flush with the phone, won't collect lint in your pocket and looks cool. The touch-sensitive buttons were the worst thing about the Nexus One, because of their occasional unresponsiveness -- the Desire's buttons are still subtle but, when you press one, you know it.
The Desire also lacks the noise-cancellation feature of the Nexus One, and you can't write texts and emails using the voice-recognition feature, although you can still use it to search. But, since we aren't big fans of voice-recognition-based messaging anyway -- it just doesn't work well enough to be faster than typing, and it's embarrassing to use on the bus -- we're don't think you'll miss this feature. That's especially the case since the Desire's on-screen keyboard is one of the best on any phone, with good spelling-correction capability and handy shortcuts for numbers and punctuation.
Sense and Android software
The biggest difference between the Desire and the Nexus One is the inclusion of HTC's Sense skin, which covers the Android 2.1 operating system in an attractive user interface, adding some extra features and making everything feel more polished.
For example, the Desire has a built-in back-up app that will save your data onto your SD card, and a program to help you sync your music and photos with your PC over a USB cable. It's possible to do all these things with bog-standard Android and free apps from the Android Market, but HTC has made it easier for those of us who don't want to do any of the legwork.
The downside of Sense, for those of us who do like to geek out once in a while, is that it's harder for HTC to update the Desire with the latest version of Android, since Sense has to be updated and tested too. This means that phones like the Nexus One, which run un-modified versions of Android, may get upgraded more quickly.
Sense also includes several fun home-screen widgets, including a new Friend Stream widget that brings together Facebook updates and tweets into one live stream. It's a good idea, but it didn't stay up-to-date during our tests, and tapping a tweet opens the Twitter app without jumping to that particular message. We also had problems with the widget that showed our favourite contacts -- it seemed to drop certain people from the list occasionally. Only we're allowed to do that.
The Desire also offers an excellent address book that pulls in contacts and photos from Outlook, Facebook, Gmail and Flickr. Organising any duplicates is a breeze. We particularly like the fact that you can hide the contacts from each account, such as those boring work folks from your Outlook address book, but still have them synced onto the phone, just in case you ever need them. If only the Desire also merged Outlook email and our other email accounts into one inbox. Annoyingly, these are handled in two separate apps, although the apps themselves are excellent.
Despite some of the widgets needing polish, we're big fans of Sense overall, and you can always get rid of the widgets you don't like and download more from the Android Market. The Android Market isn't as well organised as the iPhone App Store, but at least plenty of the best stuff is free.
The Desire's 5-megapixel camera takes decent shots in good light, and the LED photo light is handy when it's dark, although it tends to be quite harsh. We were particularly impressed with the Desire's video-recording capability -- low light and changes in lighting are handled very well.
The camera is fast to start, with hardly any shutter lag. It also writes speedily to the microSD card. These facts are all testament to the phone's muscle-bound processor and 512MB of RAM. Note, however, that Android phones can slow down significantly once you've got loads of apps running on them -- it's the curse of multi-tasking -- but we had no complaints with our fresh-from-the-oven Desire.
With a 94mm (3.7-inch) screen sporting a 480x800-pixel resolution, the Desire is a great choice for multimedia junkies. Unlike the iPhone, it will play Flash in the Web browser, and it supports 3GP, 3G2, MP4 and WMV video files.
The microSD card can be filled with up to 32GB of movie magic, and HSPA connectivity keeps your YouTube flicks streaming fast over 3G, although the on-board Wi-Fi is even faster. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack rounds out the media pleasure.
The Desire's stunningly bright and vivid AMOLED screen definitely has wow factor but, now that the sun's out again, our love affair with AMOLED is turning sour. Indoors, the screen's brightness is blindingly impressive, but the display is almost impossible to see in sunlight.
The huge screen makes Web surfing a pleasure, and the Desire's browser is one of the best we've used. Not only is it insanely fast, HTC has tweaked the standard Android browser to make it easier to use and better-looking.
Flash support ensures that pages look just as they should, and the browser is almost fast enough to play Flash movies, although navigation elements fare much better. It's also got multi-touch zoom capability, so zooming in on pages is a fast and instinctive experience. The browser also does a good job of automatically zooming in on and reformatting text when you double tap the screen, which means pages quickly get themselves into a state in which they're easy to read.
But all this power comes at a cost. Like many smart phones, the Desire's battery life is diabolical -- in fact, it's even worse than the Legend's. Expect to charge it every day, especially if you frequently use the live widgets and Web-surfing features.
Offering speed, style and every feature under the sun, is the HTC Desire the perfect phone? Not quite -- it's not as sexy-looking as the Legend, and Android is still clunkier and geekier than the iPhone operating system. Nevertheless, if you can learn to love Android's geek chic, the Desire is a phone that doesn't compromise. The list of things we love about it is longer than our arm, and our complaints are mere quibbles. Overall, we're definitely feeling the Desire.
Edited by Charles Kloet