I was looking to upgrade from my trusty Desire (a tough act to follow), but was concerned that this Desire S didn't appear to be all that different on paper. Now that I have decided to go with it I can tell you it is definitely a big improvement. I'm glad I didn't waste any more money on dual-core efforts. In my opinion you simply don't need them yet. I do not use my phone for serious 3D gaming. Even so this has the same chipset as the SE Experia Play, which is a phone geared up especially for gaming so it should cope just fine if that's your bag. I also find the 4.3 inch screens a bit too large for my liking. The 3.7 inch ones are just right. After some extensive use here are my in-depth findings, both positive and negative. Mostly positive though!
This phone certainly doesn't struggle for the lack of a second processing core. It flies! The old Desire was fast, but this is on another level. The Sense 2.1 UI and 2.3.3 Gingerbread OS are a big improvement. There is ZERO lag between screens, when scrolling through long lists, and most notably when loading apps & running processes lists in the management sections in settings. This used to bring my old Desire to a crunching halt for a couple of minutes whilst it built the list up. The Desire S takes 2 seconds. This is down to a 30% more efficient 1GHz CPU, Sense 2.1 refinements, or Gingerbread 2.3.3 improvements. It doesn't look like much on paper, but along with more RAM it really does make quite a noticeable difference.
There have been some nice additions to Sense 2.1 which I am liking, for example the ability to apply different skins/themes without having to root the phone. It's now very easy to change the look and feel of your phone which I am loving. Battery life is another area where they have made big (and much needed) improvements. Even after the first few charges, the phone is taking 3 hours just to drop to 99%, and I'm typically getting 36 hours plus out of it with heavy use. I was lucky to get 24 hours out of my old Desire, and after 3 hours use it would have dropped to about 80%. Plus batteries generally improve over the first couple of weeks use (and I'll be playing with it less) so I expect it'll get even better. You also now get a nice graphical representation of battery use to help identify any severe drainage causes. Hoping for 48 hours uptime soon!
As I touched on earlier, it should deal well with any game you can throw at it. It plays Angry Birds Rio without any drop in frame-rate and it looks fantastic. All-in-all for the software side of things, I am very pleased with the steps taken since the old Desire by HTC. The fantastic free Google maps navigation is as good as ever. It did take a few minutes to get a GPS fix the first time I used it, but that is completely normal however, and it now gets a GPS lock in only a few seconds.
Be warned with the optional 3rd party navigation on offer though: HTC Locations. This requires that you download maps onto your SD card, then pay for a licence to activate the voice-guided navigation side of things. I can see the advantage of this over using Google maps; you don't need a data connection to download maps. Just a GPS lock is required much like a traditional sat-nav. However, I found that even after purchasing the full licence, it would refuse to work and just kept "force-closing" (android for a crash). The people who developed this software and who you buy the licence off (Route 66) didn't seem to give a monkeys. After the patronising advice of "try turning it off and on" and "try a factory reset" didn't work, they then shrugged and refused to refund me. This is NOT A FAULT OF THE PHONE THOUGH so I'm not taking off any marks for this. I just think you should be aware before spending £22 on the full licence like I did. Besides, Google maps navigation has recently been updated to download and cache all the necessary map data right at the start of your journey, so it will not leave you stranded should you loose your data signal part way through your trip anyway. If you still think you may start your journey where there is already no data signal (the only weakness of google maps) then please try the £3.50 (30 days) licence to check it works first! Just don't expect decent customer support from Route 66 if it fails! One good thing that did come of this Route 66 debacle was what happened after I did a factory reset. Normally, without 3rd party backup apps installed, all your apps are wiped out and you have to go back through and start putting them all on manually. Not any more. HTC were aware of how I had my phone set up prior to my factory reset as I'd signed up to HTC Sense, and upon logging back into my account after the wipe, all the apps started automatically re-installing. Even my wallpaper, ringtone choices and volume settings were remembered. I was slightly concerned that HTC also seemed to have "backed up" my wireless router's network key however, as that also worked straight away and jumped straight on my WiFi network without having to be told the magic word.
The camera although still 5MP is yet another improvement. The most noticeable one being that it doesn't take the picture 3 seconds after pressing the shutter button any more! Pictures are taken much faster so you are less likely to miss the moment. The colours are more accurately represented, and generally less correction is required afterwards over the old Desire. Pictures in low light or fast-moving subjects still result in under-exposure or blurred shots respectively though. I was hoping for a `sport' mode with high shutter speed but it seems I'm the only one! The LED flash effective range is again only roughly 12 feet and still does make people look like they're being interrogated by torchlight. If you want a proper camera though, buy a dedicated camera. The camera on this phone serves it's purpose: to take amusing pictures of your mates when they have fallen over after too many sherbets, and uploading them straight to Facebook or wherever before they've had chance to get up and make you delete them.
Now for the only slightly concerning issue; the WiFi signal drop issue. You may have heard of this one. Due to the aluminium uni-body construction, HTC have located the WiFi aerial behind the small rubber cover at the top of the phone near the camera lens. Relax. It's no where near as severe as the comical i-Phone "death grip" issue, but be warned that if you cover your hand over this area it will cause the WiFi signal to drop about 30%. Not such a problem at home when you are typically close to your router. But when on only a very weak signal to begin with, you certainly should be aware of this potential issue. This will only likely occur when holding the phone in landscape orientation, so try to be mindful not to completely cup your hand over this area. Holding it by the corners (like I do anyway) and there are no problems. The WiFi signal does NOT drop when placed down on a flat surface though. Interference seems to be limited to your hand. I'm pleased to report that the 3G side of things suffers no ill effects no matter where you hold it so we can still laugh at iPhone 4 owners. If anything my Desire S is getting a stronger 3G signal in my office than the old Desire did.
Call quality is very good and I've had no dropped or missed calls. The bluetooth synced with my speaker pod straight away and has a comparable range to the old Desire. The built-in loud speaker has had some improvements to sound quality, but still don't expect high fidelity. It's only really meant to help you carry on playing Xbox when your wife rings you. They always seems to know when you're having a good round don't they? For that purpose calls come across loud and clear.
The build quality feels impressive. It's aluminium uni-body construction feels vastly more robust that the old Desire. It's a pleasure to hold with a comforting weight to it, and you feel sacrilegious putting a case on it. It looks much smarter too in it's matt black paint job. Gone is the dodgy coppery-brown paint from the old Desire. I'm paranoid though so it's in a case when out and about, but can't help but remove it when back at home. I can understand why the few people who bought the HTC Legend really liked it now.
The screen is made of Gorilla Glass this time around so is much more scratch-resistant than the old Desire. Again it's up to you to make the call on fitting a screen protector. Search for Gorilla Glass on any popular video streaming website to find clips of people TRYING to scratch this screen! It's impressive what it will stand up to.
I have found that I struggle getting the battery cover off and on. It is quite firmly in place when it's just come out the box, and you worry that you may break it using excessive force. Once it's off and your SIM card is in, you'll find it's also a bit tricky to reattach. Follow the instructions though and you'll be fine. You shouldn't have to do this often either.
There is a very small gap between the bottom edge of the glass screen and the aluminium casing which lets a tiny sliver of the backlight show through when in a darkened room. But you have to angle the phone just right to see it, normal viewing angles don't show it, and it's easily forgivable considering the rest of the phone's build quality.
I thought I would miss the optical track pad and hardware buttons from the old Desire more than I actually am. The software buttons perform well, and moving the cursor around text using the touch-screen is handled well with only the occasional miss-selection. Occasionally the haptic feedback (vibration) to confirm a press of these software buttons has stopped for a few seconds. I haven't figured out what causes this, but it starts working again soon enough. A small bug in the ROM perhaps. Read more ›