Arguably, the HTC Desire and Google Nexus One were the two best Android handsets of last year. HTC made both of them- one for themselves and one for Google. These handsets became so popular that HTC decided to turn the Desire into a family by launching two additional handsets end of last year- the Desire HD and the Desire Z. Neither of these these handsets had the form factor that made the original Desire such a successful product so HTC went back to the drawing board and at MWC 2011, revealed the Desire S-a true follow up to the original Desire and one that we have for review today.
Packaged in the familiar white HTC box, the Desire S comes with the usual charger, USB cable and a less than stellar headset. Also included are quickstart guides in multiple languages as well as warranty and safety information.
The Desire S is slightly smaller and lighter than the original Desire and has dimensions of 59.8 x 115 x 11.63mm which makes the Desire S an excellent fit in your hand. HTC has outdone itself with the construction quality of the Desire S. I would go as far as placing it right up there with the Nokia N8 which, in my opinion, is only second to the iPhone 4 in terms of construction quality. The unibody enclosure, made from a single piece of aluminium has an incredible fit and finish with no creaking parts whatsoever.
On the top you have the power button as well as the 3.5mm jack while the left has the volume buttons and the USB port. I’m not sure if this was the best place for the USB connector as using the device while its plugged in becomes inconvenient- especially when trying to use the onscreen keyboard. The bottom and right side of the Desire S are clean of any buttons which means that you don't have a dedicated key for the camera- a sad omission in my opinion.
Also gone is the optical d-pad as well as the row of buttons below the touchscreen. These are replaced by touch buttons giving the device a much cleaner look. Although I prefer actual buttons over touch ones, I've gotten used to them after playing around with the Nexus S and the Desire S. Above the screen you have front facing VGA camera while the back has a 5.0 Mega-Pixel Auto-Focus camera with an LED flash which takes pretty awesome pictures but more on that later.
Under the hood, the Desire S is a mixed bag of an improvements. It’s still based on the 1GHz SnapDragon CPU as the previous Desire, however, the Adreno 200 GPU has been replaced with the Adreno 205 GPU. Compared to some of the recent handsets such as the Motorola Atrix and LG Optimus 2X with their dual core NVIDIA Tegra based CPUs, the Desire S appears as bit weak- at least on paper. However, support for multi core CPUs isn’t being introduced by Google until Android 2.4 is released which is a few months away.
Continuing with the specs, HTC has increased the RAM from the original Desire’s 512MB to 768MB and internal storage to 1.1GB along with bundling an 8GB MicroSD card. There is a bit of a change on the radios as well with HTC using HSPA instead of HSDPA which theoretically raises the speed from 7.2MBps to 14.4MBps. I also mentioned the updated Adreno 205 GPU which, from what I know, is the same GPU used in Sony’s Xperia Play Smartphones giving gamers some serious advantage.
About the only area where the hardware suffers from a downgrade is the screen. The original Desire came equipped with an AMOLED screen which was later changed to Super TFT by HTC and that is what you get on the Desire S as well. It's not a bad screen by any measure but not as readable as an AMOLED screen in direct sunlight, which is something we have plenty of in the UAE. I also noticed that the buttons below the screen don't always light up- especially under moderately dark conditions. They work fine in pitch darkness but I found myself struggling to press on the right spot many times when the buttons should have lighted up.
On the software side, HTC has made the leap from Froyo to Gingerbread. Our version of the Desire S came equipped with Android 2.3.3 which is more of an under-the-hood improvement over 2.2. With SenseUI added on top, the phone feels just a tad bit slower than stock gingerbread. This does not mean that the Desire S is slow by any means- just that stock Android 2.3.3 is incredibly zippy. The Desire S scored 5840 in the Sun Spider test which is better than the Desire Z and the iPhone 4.
The Sense UI also receives a minor update as well with little additions here and there such as the option of enabling/disabling radios as well as accessing the settings option from the notification pull-down menu. Not sure if this was present before or not but icons now scroll a page at a time instead of continuously scrolling. Sadly, Gingerbread’s awesome lock screen transition gets lost in SenseUI.
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I mentioned the camera on the Desire S is awesome and below is a of shot that proves that even during night time, the pictures turn out much better than most Smartphones we have tested lately. Where the Desrie S suffers a bit is video recording when shooting in 720p mode. Although the quality is decent, the frame rates are a big on the sluggish side and you notice choppiness in your recordings. Not sure if this is a firmware issue or not as the phone seems capable enough, as far as hardware is concerned.
Finishing things off, HTC has managed to increase the battery capacity on the Desire S from 1400mAh to 1450mAh. Even with the slight bump, I found the battery life to be Desire S’ biggest weakness. Under light to moderate days, I was able to get about 15 hours out of it but when used a bit on the higher side, the phone would pretty much be dead within 12 hours. One particular day when I was using the phone extensively- which involved downloading a 50MB map file for maps with GPS activated, taking a few pictures as well as a 720p ten minute video, and, talking on the phone for about an hour, I managed to deplete the battery in under nine hours.
Overall, I must say that the Desire S is an excellent upgrade over the original Desire and with a price tag of AED 1,999, is my recommended device for someone looking to buy an Android based device. It might not provide the longevity that the original Desire did for its owners but nevertheless, it is an exceptional phone.