HTC Desire S
29th Mar 2011 | 15:51
Can HTC's first Android 2.3 smartphone live up to its blockbusting heritage?
HTC Desire S review: Overview
All things must come to an end (or at least be supplanted by something new). The HTC Desire S has arrived to take over from its predecessor in the Android race.
In many ways, it's quite similar. We'll still be looking at a 3.7-inch 480 x 800 screen, Android overlaid with HTC's Sense UI and a 1GHz processor. However, HTC hasn't totally rested on its laurels.
You can check out TechRadar's video review of the HTC Desire S
The RAM is increased for the upgraded Android 2.3, there's now 1GB of built-in memory and it's made with a premium aluminium unibody shell.
The only real disappointment from a spec point of view is that 1GHz processor – it's single-core, while its competitors slowly move to dual-core for the higher-end phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2.
While it lacks the processing grunt of the LG Optimus 2X, we commented in our review of that phone that the Android experience wasn't actually made any faster or smoother than the original Desire by the addition of Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2, so it'll be interesting to see if it can be as slick as ever on one core.
The Desire S also brings improvements in video recording, with 720p HD capture now supported, though the sensor stays at five megapixels.
The wireless technology has also had a welcome boost, with 14.4Mbps HSDPA 3G broadband and Wi-Fi 802.11n support both added.
The battery is also slightly larger (up to 1450mAh, which is still smaller than a lot of the competition), though HTC is claiming as much as a 20 per cent increase in standby and talk time.
It's available SIM-free for a little over £400, but looks set to be free on contract from around £35.
We're told the retail version will ship with a microSD card, but the size will vary between retailers – 4GB looks set to be the average.
The HTC Desire S is classy. The original Desire was incredibly well built, but HTC is taking things to another level recently. The Desire S features a unibody aluminium shell that brings Apple to mind, but bizarrely not the iPhone.
The iPhone 4's glass and steel design is flashy and eye-catching, but something like the MacBook Pro's unibody build is more discreet, though no less impressive. It's the latter that the Desire S brings to mind, being made with a similar construction process that's resulted in the same kind of gentle angles along the edge.
There's a little bit of cheating going on, because the area around the camera and the slide-off panel on the bottom are both plastic, but that doesn't even come close to marring the overall quality. It's simply a stunningly made handset as far as basic build quality goes.
More than anything, it's comfortable to hold, and feels solid. There a small amount of give on the back, and you can hear it tapping the battery if you press your finger against it, but there's no give in the device otherwise – it lives up to its billing as a solid lump of metal.
Looking at the front, the most obvious change is the loss of physical buttons and optical trackpad. While real buttons can be a nice thing to have, the optical trackpad won't be missed. More precise text editing is now built into the OS, making it redundant, and losing it has meant HTC could shave a little off the device's height.
It's now 60 x 115 x 11.6mm, and weighs in at a middle-of-the-road 130g. While 11.6mm isn't hugely thick, it's certainly lagging behind in the skinny war going on between Apple, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Maybe HTC's got it right, though – let them worry about fitting the battery in, and just make perfectly good normal phones.
The Desire S doesn't feel thick – it's a nice size in the hand, and the curved sides make it quite comfortable to hold.
The screen retains its 3.7-inch size and 480 x 800 resolution with Super LCD technology. The display is noticeably closer to the glass than the original Desire. It doesn't quite match the iPhone 4's printed-on-the-glass effect, but compared to the original it's certainly an improvement.
When we took the Desire S and original Desire out into the sun together, we actually found the new handset slightly harder to see with them both set to the highest brightness levels. It wasn't a major difference, but it was particularly noticeable when viewing from off-centre - which might be a big turn off for some.
Speaking of which, viewing angles are excellent, just as they were on the Desire S's predecessor. The screen in general is vibrant and clear, with text easily legible.
The touch-sensitive Android buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) are softly backlit, and give of a jolt of haptic feedback when pressed.
At the top of the phone are the wide earpiece and the new front-facing camera. The camera's only VGA, which will probably suffice for most people.
On the device's left-hand side are a silver volume rocker and a micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a PC.
On the top sit the 3.5mm headphone port and the Lock key, which is in a nicely easy-to-reach spot (unlike, say, the HTC 7 Trophy).
On the back is the five-megapixel camera's lens, with the LED flash and loudspeaker grille next to it. This plastic appears to house the Wi-Fi antenna, which will become a BIG talking point later on in the review.
The bottom is a slide-off panel that offers access to the SIM card slot, microSD card slot and battery. The way it curves around the phone (the Desire S still has HTC's trademark lip at the bottom) means you can end up trying to push off against your own hand, inadvertently holding it in place.
Once you get it off, you'll see a couple of connections underneath. The last time we saw something like this was the Palm Pre 2, so we got excited that there might be secret wireless power capabilities in the Desire S.
There isn't. The slide-off panel is actually part of the antenna assembly, and removing it breaks the connection, meaning you'll have no phone signal while it's off.
With it off, you can get to the battery and card slots by opening a little flip-open panel. It all feels slightly over-engineered, as though HTC has employed Brains from Thunderbirds to design the battery compartment while he was high on model glue.
HTC Desire S review: Interface
HTC Desire S review: Interface
If you read our Google Nexus S review, you'll have seen us say that Android 2.3 didn't prove to be too different as an upgrade. Then, if you read our HTC Incredible S review, you'll have seen us say that HTC Sense didn't prove to be too different.
But combine the two and… yeah, things aren't that different. But this is in the same way that a fudge sundae isn't that different every time you buy it – it's still delicious.
HTC Sense is the manufacturer's custom overlay for Android, using all the power of the operating system, but providing a more unified interface.
It's proven itself to be beautifully smooth in the past, and time was that only HTC phones could match the iPhone for smoothness of interaction. We'd suggest that Windows Phone 7 devices, such as the HTC HD7 and Samsung Omnia 7, have crashed that party now, but Sense/Android is still ahead when it comes to flexibility and features.
Once again, the general interface experience on the HTC Desire S is excellent, with one irritating exception. The notifications bar is frequently slow on the Desire S, with you swiping forlornly at the top of the screen, but nothing happening.
It will catch up eventually, but it's a flaw that stands out more because the interface is so slick otherwise.
Being Android, you get multiple Home screens (seven in this case) on which to place widgets or shortcuts to apps. You can pinch in at any time to activate Leap View, which shows all the home screens at once.
The notifications bar has your recently used apps at the top, for fast app switching. There's also a second tab to this menu, with lots of quick options, including turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.
At the bottom of the Home screens are shortcuts to the full app menu, the Phone app or the menu to personalist the phone. You can choose between different wallpapers and Scenes (which are sort of like themes), add new widgets and folders for apps, and more.
Opening up the full apps list produces screens of icons that you flick through one by one (a bit like the iPhone, but flicking vertically instead of horizontally) instead of in one monstrous list.
There are a couple of tabs here, for seeing your Frequent apps and Downloaded software.
There's the Android Market to pick up more apps, of course, and there are more customisation options in the HTC Hub app.
More recently, HTC Sense has become more cloud-focussed than ever before, and the real boon is simple and effective integration with Twitter and Facebook right out of the box.
Being Android, Google integration is great too, though you'll find more detail on this in the Contacts and Calling and Messaging sections.
Like the HTC Incredible S, the fast booting process is available, and it's amazing how quickly the phone gets up and running after being turned off.
The screen is very strong and clear indoors, but doesn't stand up well in the sun. As we already mentioned, it was actually slightly worse than the original Desire, and was significantly weaker than even the now-21-month-old iPhone 3GS.
HTC Desire S review: Calling and contacts
HTC Desire S review: Calling and contacts
You can access contacts on the HTC Desire S using the People app, or by just going straight into the phone app. Your most recently used contacts will be at the top, though the dialler underneath to search for someone.
There's a widget on one of the Home screens by default for accessing your favourite contacts.
Contact lists can be imported in several ways. The most obvious is your Google contacts, which Android adds when you sign into one of the Google apps. You can also add Twitter and Facebook contacts.
As ever, this can mean multiple entries for people. We found the Desire S to be a bit hit and miss when it came to automatically linking people with similar names. It correctly suggested links for one person, for example, but left other when their Facebook names and Google contact names were identical.
Linking contacts manually isn't too arduous, though – there's a link button at the top of every contact, and it's then just a matter of searching for the other entry and hitting Save.
The People app is presented as a list, with social networking status updates appearing beneath someone's name. You can sort by forename or surname, and you can also choose to display contacts from only some of your linked accounts if you want (for example, you could have Twitter and Google, but not Facebook).
You can also use the arrow at the top to quickly see your contacts from only one of your social networking accounts, or go back to seeing all contacts.
We actually had some problems getting our Google contacts to work – they wouldn't appear in the list, despite being ticked in the options. It took a lot of fiddling, unticking, restarting and general faffery (it's a perfectly cromulent word) to get them working.
We couldn't see any reason for it, and if we searched in the dialler, we could find the contacts, but the Desire S just didn't want to play nice in the People app. We did get it sorted eventually, though, likely due to sync issues with the Google server - other users will probably find it works first time.
Going into someone's contact entry presents you with lots of useful quick options for getting in touch with them. The initial screen displays their phone and messaging details, and you can tap on them to get in touch using your preferred method.
However, if you slide to the next tab at the bottom, you'll be able to see your text history with that contact, presented in a threaded view. You can send a new message from here.
The next tab does the same for emails, and the next shows you their recent social network status updates. There's also one to see their galleries from linked social network sites, and buried right at the end is your call history with them.
Adding a new contact sees you presented with the option of choosing to save to your cloud accounts or to the phone memory or SIM. After that, you've got all the usual options, including phone numbers, email addresses, IM usernames, postal addresses, birthday and more.
Of course, the more simple method also works – just tap a number into the dialler and a 'Save to People' option appears.
Call quality on the Desire S was excellent – one of the best we've tested recently. Voices are clear and easy to understand. It's generally loud enough to hear over external noise, although you'll inevitably struggle in heavy traffic.
The signal on the Desire S is acceptable, but not great. It seems to be quite generous in its apportioning of bars – we found very few situations where it had one bar; it tended to either show two or more, or none, which makes us think the thresholds must be quite low.
The Desire S also lost signal quite easily in known trouble spots, but – as we said before – call quality was very good, so it didn't seem to affect things adversely. There's a secondary mic on the back, which is obviously doing its job.
The loudspeaker is impressively potent for handsfree calls, even to the point that voices can become a bit shrill at full volume, but you certainly won't struggle to hear the other person.
HTC Desire S review: Messaging
HTC Desire S review: Messaging
As mentioned in the Contacts section, messaging is heavily integrated into the Sense experience. You can get to email and text conversations with people through their contact entry in the People app, but there are dedicated email and messaging apps.
Messages is a fairly straightforward text app, showing you an overview of the different people you've been texting on the main screen, with a threaded conversation view on offer if you tap on one.
To write a new text, just tap in the field at the bottom to bring up the on-screen keyboard. We've always been mightily impressed when it comes to writing messages on Sense phones, including the original Desire and the HTC Desire HD, which is partly down to the excellent autocorrect.
When writing out anything longer, it does an excellent job of keeping your wayward fingers in check. However, the keyboard is slightly less convincing for shorter terms, such as when you're searching for someone's name.
The keys are very close together, which can lead to mistakes. It doesn't cripple the experience by any means, but we found we made more mistakes on the Desire S than the iPhone 4, for example.
In landscape mode, we also sometimes found ourselves hitting the full stop button rather than the spacebar – the screen's just a little too large to reach it comfortably. It's something you'll get used to, but think a slightly different arrangement would make things easier.
As is often the case, you have the choice of a Gmail app or a more generic Email app. The Gmail one is just as easy to set up as ever; if you have your Google account details, it's automatically set up.
The Email app also proved easy, offering an Exchange option and a generic POP/IMAP option initially. To set your POP/IMAP, you generally just have to put in your email address and password and the phone will do all the configuring for you.
Both email apps are very good, though HTC's Mail app fits in with the aesthetics and UI of the Desire S's other app better. It offers several ways to view your messages, including options to view your email as a straight up inbox, or as conversations.
You can also view email just from your favourite contacts, and this tab also enables you to address an email to all of your favourites with one tap.
There's an unread-only view, and also a screen that enables you to view only emails with attachments.
Writing emails uses the same keyboard as the messaging, so it's easy to write emails of a good length without getting frustrated.
When it comes to social network messaging, HTC's Friend Stream does a good job of bringing Facebook and Twitter together, but it isn't quite the complete messaging solution. It's more suited to fairly passive users who like to read others' statuses, lacking the depth you can go into for both social networks.
Basically, public replies on Twitter and Facebook status comments are in, but direct messages, trending topics and any other wider information is out.
HTC Desire S review: Internet
HTC Desire S review: Internet
802.11n Wi-Fi is enabled for those who can take advantage of it, as is 14.4Mbps 3G access. The 3G speed was generally quite good, but it's the Wi-Fi that makes things interesting.
The HTC Desire S has a death grip problem, similar to the iPhone 4's much-publicised problems. In this case, it's not mobile signal that's affected, but Wi-Fi. The antenna appears to be mounted behind the plastic panel that houses the camera, and it's extremely vulnerable.
If you hold the phone in a normal landscape typing position your fingers will cover that spot, and the Wi-Fi signal will drop. If you place the phone on your body – such as resting it on your leg – facing up, the Wi-Fi signal will drop.
How bad is the drop? If you're right near the router, it's unlikely you'd make the signal totally disappear in casual use, but we did manage to reduce some connections from the full four bars to none just by placing a palm against the plastic area.
In more realistic use, a medium to low signal is likely to drop to zero within a few seconds of you covering the spot.
Even placing the phone down on certain surfaces can affect things – we put the Desire S down on a magazine and saw the signal drop a bar on very strong networks. Picking it up less than an inch restored it. That small difference was enough to see some weaker other networks disappear when scanning.
However, when you're avoiding that, the browser itself is fast to load, and generally responsive to operate. Just like we saw with the Google Nexus S, the scrolling and zooming still isn't totally fluid. The iPhone's experience remains smoother overall, but that certainly isn't the weakest part of the Desire S's browsing experience.
We mentioned in our Google Nexus S review that we wanted text to reflow as you zoomed in, rather than having to tap, and that's what we've got here. As soon as you've finished pinching or doubleop-tapping, the text is reorganised and ready to read.
You can, of course, add bookmarks, which are viewed in a thumbnail view. You can also open multiple pages in different windows, and you switch between them in a rotating graphical view - also accessed by pinching in on a zoomed-out page, which is neat.
Flash 10.2 is supported, and it works much better than in the plugin's early days on single-core phones. Many videos we watched played back smoothly enough to be at least tolerable. There were hiccups with non-mobile optimised videos freezing for some time before they played, but play they did.
However, some content was really finicky. Videos on the BBC Sport website wouldn't show up at all, while videos on the BBC News site would play, audio fell out of sync quite easily until you moved it into full screen mode.
As is common for Flash on mobiles at the moment, the single biggest issue is control. The videos tend to all come with tiny little pop-over controls designed for mouse control. It can make controlling them on your phone infuriating, and is probably the area in most need of tweaking now that playback is relatively smooth.
HTC Desire S review: Camera
HTC Desire S review: Camera
The HTC Desire S has proved to be a beast of incremental upgrades over the original Desire, and the camera is no exception. The five-megapixel sensor hasn't changed, but it's now possible to record in HD at 720p.
There are no scene modes on the Desire S for easy tweaking, though you can manually adjust the sharpness, saturation, contrast and exposure using sliders, and you can select the white balance and ISO value yourself as well (though we found the auto settings fine).
Photos can be geotagged, and there's a face detection option. You can leave the camera to autofocus itself, or you can tap to focus to bring a specific area into focus.
There are also several effects you can apply, including Distortion, Vignette, Greyscale, Depth of field, Dots and more.
The camera is fast to operate, with little noticeable shutter lag, and reviewing photos is quick and easy. As is so often the case these days, there's no dedicated camera button, so you'll have to use the on-screen shutter, but this worked well enough in our tests.
OUTDOORS:The brightness of this shot is good, and the colours and shadows are all accurate for the scene. There's a good amount of detail for a phone camera in the tree's branches, but the size of the sensor really becomes obvious when you study it at full size – everything becomes soft quite quickly. It's still good, though
CONTRAST:There are parts of this shot that become really quite blurry (the tops of the towers on the left, for example), but it's generally quite detailed, and handles the contrast between the bright sky and shaded guitarist brilliantly
VIGNETTE:The Vignette effect seems to boost the colours as well as shade the corners (you can adjust the exact amount that gets blacked out), and the result is blurry and overly vibrant mess
WARM VINTAGE:This is the Warm Vintage effect, and it picks up slightly more detail than the Vignette version
POSTERIZE:The Posterize effect in all its fuzzy glory
INDOORS:This was taken in good indoor light, but the camera had trouble focusing. Everything's a little blurry, and the artificial lights have washed out the colours slightly
CLOSE UP:There's no macro mode, which sort of shows. The pink is captured well, but the texture of the fake petals has been mostly lost
FLASH:Poor Wall-E is in a sorry state. The flash only barely illuminated him from about 50cm away, and there's lots of digital noise in the picture as the camera tried to compensate. Focusing was also an obvious issue
HTC Desire S review: Video
HTC Desire S review: Video
The big change from the HTC Desire when it comes it video is the addition of 720p video recording. It's recorded in H.264 in the 3GP file format, and comes out with some slightly odd specifications.
It plays with a bitrate (the amount of data that's been recorded) of 8Mbps, which is fairly typical, but it's at some very odd framerates. One of the clips is just under 20 frames per second, one is just over 20fps and one's just over 21fps. Any one of these would be unusual, (we'd expect to see 24fps or 30fps), but three different clips with three different framerates is bizarre.
As you can see, the quality is generally pretty good. Motion is captured well in the first clip, with little ghosting and very few artefacts around the performer. There are some strange stutters, though, as if the phone had struggled to record consistently.
This same thing is even worse in the second clip. There's more motion in this clip, which would indicate that it's possibly a problem with the phone not being able to keep with the bitrate.
The third clip has the same issues again. However, it also shows the strength of the recording, with the ducks' ripples appearing smooth and crisp. The flying birds' movement is well handled, and a good amount of light is being let in with the sun already starting to get low in the sky.
Much like for stills, the light doesn't do much for videos. It'll light things immediately in front well enough, but drops of quickly, so you'll always be struggling to pick detail. However, it's better than nothing for when you just have to take videos of something in the dark. No, don't tell us. We don't wan to know.
HTC Desire S: Media
HTC Desire S: Media
Media apps have always been Android's weakness out of the box, with almost all Google-phones paling compared to the accomplished software on the iPhone 4.
The Music app is a flashier affair than the standard Android player seen on the Google Nexus S, but it's still a slightly awkward affair overall.
When you open the app, you're taken to the Cover Flow-style Now Playing view, which shows the order of the songs you're listening to, but this view really doesn't offer much usefulness beyond looking nice.
It's a bit inconsistent, showing a whole stream of album art when you're playing all songs, but only a single cover when you're playing an album. While this makes sense to a certain degree (what's the point of seeing the same album cover over an over?), the problem is that you can actually use the Cover Flow view to skip from one song to the next.
This doesn't work in the album view, meaning that an entire control method disappears depending on whether you're listening to an album or playlist, which can only serve to confuse.
However, the Desire S recognised our files easily and accurately. Information was imported correctly, and everything is sorted in the way you'd expect – by artist, album and genre.
Hitting the Menu key brings up options for equaliser support (which is now included in Android 2.3 by default) and SRS sound enhancement, which can really boost your music. There's also an option to look up any song on YouTube, so you can see the video (or a heavy metal cover of it by some guy in his bedroom, we suppose).
Sound quality in general was pretty strong. Music was rich and fairly detailed over a good set of headphones, with some nice kick to the bass. It became quite distorted at overly high volumes, but you'd rarely need to turn it up that loud.
Video generally looks superb on the Super LCD screen. Colours are appealing and natural, motion is smooth and there's plenty of detail. The only fly in the ointment is that black levels aren't very good, and any dark scenes can become hard to follow quite quickly.
A 720p H.264 video that we loaded onto a memory card played smoothly, but when we played a standard-definition AVI encoded in generic MP4, it was dropping a lot of frames, leading to a slightly jerky experience.
The software is smart enough to recognise 1080p video when its in a compatible codec, and present it as a thumbnail, but you get an error when you try to play it, suggesting it's probably the lack of CPU grunt holding it back, rather than any software limitation.
Though the gallery is one area stock Android has really made strides in terms of UI, HTC has actually decided to use its own, which at least matches the rest of the phone in terms of interface.
While it is decidedly simpler to use than Google's version, it's less flashy. Performance is occasionally suspect, with photos sometimes stuttering when you slide between them.
The most significant addition by HTC are the tabs for viewing Facebook and Flickr photos. With these options, it's slightly reminiscent of Windows Phone 7 devices such as the HTC HD7 and Samsung Omnia 7. You can also share photos to online services.
Photos looks great on the 480 x 800 screen, and though going from one picture to the next can stutter, pinching to zoom is extremely accurate and responsive.
The Music, Video and Gallery apps all tie into the Desire S's DLNA capabilities, something we saw recently on the LG Optimus 2X, among others.
For the uninitiated, DLNA is an alliance that devices like your Windows 7 PC, PS3 and some TVs are all part of, and can stream files from one another wirelessly - and more phones that ever are supporting this standard.
We were able to stream movies and photos to the handset easily. Browsing files from another machine was fast, and videos started playing quickly at very reasonable quality. Photos were more hit and miss – the overall experience was a lot slower, and some albums refused to load to no discernible reason.
Streaming music with it from your computer or other server was a total loss, however. It simply didn't recognise any music files on the host computer at all.
The FM Radio app require the headphones to be plugged in, but ran well once they were. It quickly scans the airwaves when you first open it, saving any clear stations. In fact, it's a little over-sensitive, saving several stations that are mostly static, even when there are lots of clear ones.
Audio quality is good, however. It doesn't save the names of stations, and you can't record either, but it serves its basic purpose.
The built-in YouTube is fast and useful. It's not great for discoverability through Featured Videos or Most Popular (because they aren't there), but you can search, browse by category and upload videos.
When you select a video, viewing it portrait plays the video at the top, with information, related videos and comments underneath. Turning the phone landscape plays the video fullscreen.
HTC Desire S: Apps and maps
HTC Desire S: Apps and maps
The HTC Desire S is packed – packed we say! – with apps. It really is bordering on excessive. There's an Amazon MP3 app for buying music and various Google apps, including Latitude, Google Search and Places, to begin with.
There's the Reader ebook app, which is as good as ebooks tend to get on phone screens. It enables you to annotate and bookmark sections of books, as well as easily resize the text by pinching to zoom. There's a store integrated for buying new books.
QuickOffice is included, and there's a News app for RSS, as well as a separate News and Weather app, which shows you top news stories. And the weather.
The Facebook app is fairly standard, offering access to your News Feed, Profile, Friends, Messages and more, including a Chat option.
The Twitter app opens on your timeline, with the usual options for mentions, direct messages and options to see your favourite tweets, retweets, suggested users and more. Unusually, there's no text box at the top so you can get immediately tweeting, but there's a button in the top corner to compose something, so it's not far away.
There's also HTC Peep Twitter client, which does offer a quick text box at the top, and fits better with the UI of other apps, including the People app. It offers essentially the same options, so which you use will likely come down to personal preference.
HTC has thrown its HTC Hub into the phone, which is partly a way of offering yet more content. There are all sorts of new widgets on offer, as well as new Scenes, skins, wallpapers, ringtones and more.
Perhaps of most interest are two addition social networking plugins for the Sense UI: LinkedIn and Picasa. These are lesser-known than Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, so it makes sense not to include them as standard, but it's nice to see them as an additional option.
The Calendar syncs easily with Google and Exchange calendars (as you'd expect), but we're not sure about the layout. Unless you're keeping track of only a few things, the month and week views don't offer much info at a glance. The day view offers more detail, but it doesn't have the useful ability to see how long an appointment is quickly.
The calculator is simple, but effective. Hold the phone portrait and you get a standard set of numbers and signs; turn it to landscape and you'll get all the scientific options.
Of course, we can't neglect the Android Market when it comes to apps. It's growing and growing, offering lots of great (and some not so great) apps, which are mostly free. There's a little bit of lag when using it on the Desire S, but it's still easy to navigate around and grab new apps.
The HTC Desire S features three separate mapping apps. Google Maps and Navigation (which are to be expected), and HTC's own Locations app.
The idea of including Locations is that you download the maps to your phone, and then don't have to worry about whether you've got mobile signal to actually be able to see what's around you.
The maps can be quite large (the UK's is 532MB), but they come with all sorts of information about points of interest and places to go.
Of course, we've also got the new Android 2.3 version of Google Maps, which is better than ever. It also allows for some offline caching, but not to the same degree as Locations.
The fancy 3D buildings and rotating, turning scenery is all complete. Performance was a bit up and down – it was fine the first time we used, crashed out the second and was just very slow to respond the third.
The GPS unit proved to be extremely fast and accurate when outside, pinpointing us to a fair degree of accuracy within just a few seconds.
HTC Desire S: Battery life and connectivity
HTC Desire S: Battery life and connectivity
Battery life on the HTC Desire S proved to the very definition of adequate. We tend to be resigned to a charge per day for modern smartphones, and this is also the case here with any sort of intensive use.
In addition battery life was pretty good when mostly left on standby. Some phones will still eat through their lithium-ions, but not the Desire S.
The addition of easy access to switch off certain functions in the notifications bar helps here. Making it just a couple of taps to turn Bluetooth off, for instance, had an effect.
The HTC Desire S features 3G up to 14.4Mbps, and 802.11n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP.
For a more physical connection (so to speak), there's a micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a PC. When you plug in, you'll be presented with several options, including being able to use the HTC Sync desktop client.
There's also the HTCSense.com service, which enables you perform some handy tricks with your phone from a web browser.
Once signed up, you perform several handy tasks, including making your phone ring at the highest volume, locating it with GPS, forwarding calls and messages, locking the phone with a message or erasing the phone completely.
It also enables you to back up your contacts, though this was a process that hung around in the background a lot and seemed to keep stalling.
Ringing the phone from the service worked well, though, which could make it easier to find when it's lost down the sofa. It's also nice to have the peace of mind of knowing you can wipe or lock your phone if you lose it.
It's all great to have for free, although we struggled to get the GPS part to find our phone.
HTC Desire S: Comparison
HTC Desire S: Comparison
The HTC Desire S is certainly a worthy successor to the original Desire, offering a superb Android experience.
Even though we're seeing dedicated Facebook phones, such as the INQ Touch Cloud, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that does it better than HTC Sense.
The iPhone 4 is the elephant in the room, as ever. The Desire S has more built-in options, and offers widgets and other features that aren't available on iOS, but the iPhone remains a smoother web browsing phone and offers slicker interface performance overall.
HTC Desire S: Benchmarks
HTC Desire S
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
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Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
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HTC Desire S: Hands-on gallery
HTC Desire S: Hands-on gallery
HTC Desire S: Official gallery
HTC Desire S: Official gallery
HTC Desire S: Verdict
HTC Desire S: Verdict
The Desire S is a great phone, but it feels like it doesn't live up to its grand name. We loved the original Desire so much. It was offering an experience comparable to the iPhone 4 three months before Apple's device was even announced.
But now, 12 months later, the experience is still comparable to the original Desire. The Desire combined cutting-edge hardware and great software, but the new tech seems to have filtered to the Evo line these days.
The Desire S feels like HTC treading water, with a mild upgrade to keep the brand alive. Of course, a mild upgrade to such a great phone is still going to produce a damn good handset, but it doesn't have the gravitas its predecessor had.
HTC is well ahead of the pack when it comes to combining the power of Android with the glossiness of the iPhone. The design in some of the apps actually reminds us of HP webOS phones, such as the Palm Pre 2 more than anything, and that's a good thing.
HTC has built a clever and easy method of integration between your phone and your online world, with social networking really sticking out as a highlight.
The design and build of the handset is excellent, save for that Wi-Fi issue, which we'll come back to in a few paragraphs.
The camera is good quality, producing serviceable still and HD video that would be quite good if it weren't for the stuttering issue.
Call quality was excellent, with voices coming through crisp and clear, and it's a shame how little we get to say that about handsets these days.
The browsing experience was generally strong, with the speed that web pages load still impressing us, and Flash is taking yet more steps forward in its 10.2 guise. It was still finicky at times, but when it did work, it was fairly smooth, which is more than we could say for many Flash 10.1 single-core phones.
Let's start with the Wi-Fi attenuation issue. It's just a bit too easy to trigger accidentally. We first noticed it because we were logging into a web server, typing our password in landscape mode, and suddenly we couldn't connect anymore.
It's a bit like the iPhone 4's issue in that if you've got a really strong signal, it'll reduce it, but probably not all the way if you're just holding the phone casually, or have it placed gently on your leg.
However, if you have a medium or weak Wi-Fi signal, you'll be down to nothing in the space of a few seconds.
Beyond that problem, there's no other major flaw with the Desire S. It's just lots of little scuffs spoiling the polish.
Contact lists that don't appear properly at first for no reason, and then don't link properly; HD video that stutters; a slow notifications bar; Android web browsing that still isn't quite as smooth as we'd like it to be by now; a screen that's hard to see in the sun; a music app with inconsistent controls and network streaming that didn't work, and so on.
None of these is a dealbreaker on its own, but when combined they take the shine off what should be HTC's leading light.
We said in our LG Optimus 2X review that dual-core power didn't really bring anything to phones yet in terms of the overall experience, since Android was already so fast on the best handsets. But it does offer an element of future-proofing, and the Desire S's issues with recording HD video brought that home.
The Desire S isn't behind with its hardware right now, but we're not far from the arrival of dual-core phones en masse, and we wonder if it won't look a little short-sighted then.
If this verdict page comes out as being a little melancholy for a four-star phone, it's only because we had such high hopes for the Desire S. And why wouldn't we? Its predecessor sits top of our 20 best mobile phones list, after all.
The reason the Desire has kept up with everything that's come after is because it was so far ahead in the first place. The Desire S isn't. It's a great phone, and one we would wholeheartedly recommend in a vacuum. In fact, we recommend it even not in a vacuum, but we can't help but have our gaze drawn to the HTC Incredible S and the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The former is out now, and though it doesn't offer Android 2.3, it's very similar to the Desire S, but cheaper. The latter is due out before too long, and will aim at the same higher-end market the Desire S does, but with more advanced tech.
The HTC Desire led the revolution, but the Desire S could be just another member of the rabble.