20th Jun 2011 | 16:40
How many "likes" is HTC's latest Facebook phone going to receive?
HTC Salsa: Overview, design and feel
There's a slight lack of high-quality action in the mid-sized Android phone section. The big manufacturers are focusing their attentions on creating monstrous, high-end "super-phones" with entire LCD monitors stuffed in their cases, while the smaller phone makers concentrate on offering budget handsets with smaller screens and lower specs.
Thankfully the HTC Salsa has appeared to fill that touchscreen gap, and comes as a throwback to 2010's lovely little 3.2-inch HTC Legend, trying to be the perfect compromise between performance, price and screen size – with added Facebook integration and a larger 3,4-inch HVGA screen.
With pricing expected to be around £20-£25 per month on contracts, could this be an affordable mass-market winner for HTC?
Physically, you get a tough, matte, metallic body, with HTC for once opting to use a colour other than black – the Salsa comes in a shimmering lilac. However, if you're a male user, you could get away with calling it a more macho "bluey-grey". It's certainly a relief to have something from HTC that isn't a dull, black, plastic rectangle.
The form factor is similar to that of the HTC Legend, with a similar flared "chin" that used to be HTC's hallmark design feature plus the same four capacitive touch buttons.
One of the finest physical touches is the Salsa's camera button. It's a proper, soft-touch button of the sort you'd find on a standalone digital camera, with a distinct two-stage press that makes focusing and shooting much, much easier than usual on cheap phone buttons, helping keep shots free of motion blur.
The Salsa is just as sweet looking around the back, with the bluey-grey metal nicely topped and tailed by grippy rubberised chunks.
The bottom rubber section is removable, after a bit of a struggle and worry, to reveal the phone's insides, with the battery, SIM and SD card held in place by a locking plastic bar.
The HTC Salsa feels very nice in the hand, well-balanced and pleasingly heavy, with metallic side buttons and logos giving it a touch of class. The capacitive buttons and the physical Facebook one are all backlit, so there's no struggle when using it in the dark. Plus they make it look nice.
Everything else is as we've come to expect from one of HTC's 2011 Android range – a 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button along the top, silvery volume rocker and USB connector to the left. And it's every bit as robust as most HTC phones these days.
HTC Salsa: Interface
The HTC Salsa runs on Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread – albeit heavily customised with the familiar HTC Sense skin. The Android phone features the same 2.1 version of Sense as seen on HTC's Wildfire S and Desire S, but with two main new additions.
You get the HTC Sense 3.0 interactive lock screen as used to such great effect on the HTC Sensation, which brings a customisable selection of quick-launch icons to the phone's standby screen.
Drag one of these into the circle for instant access to a feature, or pull the circle up to unlock the phone. Having quick access to the camera through this is an excellent addition to HTC's winning software setup.
The lock screen adapts itself to show missed calls, lets you skip tracks when the music player is running, reject calls and all sorts, and is one of the best additions HTC has made to its Sense interface for a long time.
You're able to customise the four app slots, so you can have easy access to whatever you use most on your phone.
The other new addition to HTC Sense is the Salsa's headline feature – Facebook integration. The most obvious way this shows itself is via a constant ticker of Facebook and Twitter status updates beneath the classic HTC flip clock, which is by far the most useful part of the Salsa's Facebook additions and brings new life to the Home screen.
Pressing the status message opens HTC's new Sense Facebook interface, where Facebook updates can be sorted via picture and video updates, updates that contain web links or those that contain check-in location data.
It's all quite useful, but looks pretty grim. While the standard Android Facebook app features a clean blue and white look, HTC has stuck with its black and white style with rounded corners and stacks of wasted space everywhere.
Still, if you don't mind the look, HTC has brought in a lot of functionality to the OS, plus you can also pull Flickr updates into this app as well, for an all-in-one social experience.
Pressing the physical Facebook button on the HTC Salsa brings up a messaging window, which lets you ping your latest interesting thought out to the masses on your Facebook Wall or on the Wall of a friend. You can attach photos to messages, but not videos.
A long-press on the button lets you "check in" to a place, via the Facebook Places tool.
It might all seem a bit pointless, really, as the existing Facebook app is already very tightly integrated into Android. All HTC has really done here is add a couple of shortcuts to a button and confused users by offering two very different looking ways to share things to the social network.
However, the little FB button will glow gently when something can be shared, so something like a music track or picture you've just taken will see you prompted to tell your friends about it. This really encourages use of Facebook, especially if you're a 'lapsed user', so we can see why Zuckerberg is so keen to see the range extended.
Away from the social business, the HTC Salsa features the same enhanced Notifications menu as found on its other 2011 Android phones, including the HTC Desire S. You get two tabs in the drop-down menu, plus a scrolling top bar that lists your most recently accessed applications.
The second tab has toggles for common features, letting you deactivate all the power-eating connectivity stuff when not in use. It's a fairly pointless duplication of the Android power bar, but useful to have and easy to get at from anywhere in the phone, so it's worthwhile in its own little way.
Apps install quickly through the Android Market, with HTC adding its own "HTC Recommends" tab to the Market app. This offers an odd selection of paid-for apps that you might want to download. Could marketing money be involved in there somewhere? Surely not.
Everything else is familiar HTC Android – seven Home screens, support for masses of visual customisation through widgets, skins and wallpapers and multitouch zooming into an overview of all pages all runs extremely well on the HTC Salsa's 800MHz processor.
HTC Salsa: Contacts and calling
HTC's People app on the Salsa is its take on the Android contacts system, where you manage a combined list of existing SIM contacts and any HTC imports from elsewhere. Your friends can be grouped together for easy access, with users able to create their own custom groups and add anyone into the list.
Social network support is of course included, with the Salsa able to pull in and display details from Twitter, Facebook, your SIM card and any previous details you've added via your Google account.
Thankfully you can choose which ones to display via the Menu, making things easy to manage if you've somehow become popular on the internet.
The HTC Salsa's Home screen People widget is an excellent way to fill up one of your screens, offering quick access to your favourite contacts via a scrollable, visual list that populates itself with any photos you've linked with accounts. You can set a default action for each of these, too, automatically opening up a SMS message for one person or calling another.
Contacts can be linked if you have duplicate entries on your phone and imported from social networks, plus HTC lets you set a different ringtone for each contact or simply block all calls from that person if they're going over the top with the personal contact.
Call quality is excellent, with voices coming through nice and clear. The speaker volume isn't particularly loud, though. We had to keep it at maximum to make things properly audible, so if you work somewhere noisy or have broken your ears through years of listening to drum & bass too loudly, you may find the Salsa's not quite loud enough.
HTC has also put a proximity sensor in the Salsa's case, allowing the screen to automatically turn itself off when you put it to your ear. This seems like magic – and to 15th Century peasants, it is.
Signal reception on th HTC Salsa was good. We were worried that the metal case might interfere with mobile reception, but didn't have any issues at all.
In fact, we had the full four-bar signal more often than not, which is better than most phones manage – and seemed to translate into decent call quality, rather than just pretending to have signal when there really was none.
HTC Salsa: Messaging
HTC has given its SMS messaging system a much-needed visual overhaul on the Salsa, with its threaded messages presented on little bits of paper with shadows beneath. There's only so much you can do to "sex up" text messaging.
Beside the SMS text entry window is an attachment button, which lets you add photos, videos, contacts in vCard format and vCalendar entries to messages. You can also add audio files, but there's a strict file size limit. So no pinging MP3s to your friends.
The Salsa's keyboard is HTC's tweaked take on the standard Android QWERTY. It's more usable than the stock option thanks to a selection of numbers and alternate characters above each key, accessed by long-pressing on a character.
This is more convenient than having to flip to a separate screen when keying in alpha-numeric stuff like passwords and email addresses.
By default, the keyboard will attempt to predict your word, with its best guess highlighted in green. If that's the one you want, pressing space puts it into the text field. It works well and the 3.4-inch screen is sensitive enough to register the lightest of fingertip typing. It's very nice to use.
You also have a choice of keyboards, with Phone and Compact options on offer. Phone is a standard numeric keypad complete with the same predictive text system, if you enjoy keeping your text entry old school...
...while Compact is this odd dual-character take on the QWERTY layout. It gives you bigger keys that are easier to hit, but in return you have to rely heavily on the predictive text doing its job. Which, to be fair, it does.
Email is handled on the HTC Salsa by a simple client that supports both MS Exchange ActiveSync accounts and anything else that uses POP3/IMAP authentication.
Presentation of text screens is one area where HTC Sense doesn't do a particularly great job, with its black-and-white screens not really setting the pulse racing.
Still, the email client works and gets the job done, supports multiple POP3/ IMAP and Exchange accounts, enables you to configure email groups with multiple recipients and configure options for maximum mail size download and update frequency, if you need to stay in control of mobile data use.
HTC Salsa: Internet
The HTC Salsa's 800MHz processor is excellent when it comes to browsing and shifting web pages. Text isn't quite as sharp on screen as found in the bigger, high-res 4-inch superphones, but despite the HTC Salsa's modest 320 x 480 resolution everything's nicely readable.
The Salsa supports full multi-touch zooming, with users able to pinch the screen with two fingers for a closer look at pages – which it does quickly and without any obvious glitches, even on the busy TechRadar home page.
Double-tapping a text area quickly zooms in and reflows the copy, making it a great device to use as a general web browser.
The HTC Sense user interface also includes the same tabbed browsing system as seen in the Wildfire S and HTC Sensation, with a pinch of the screen zooming your display out and popping up a scrolling icon list of all your current open web pages. This is very slow to respond while pages are loading, but once they've popped up it's a great way of managing browsing sessions.
Bookmarks are handled via the menu button, with the HTC Salsa enabling users to sort their collections via tags, view a generated list of most popular pages and browse their entire history. Plus Android enables you to save bookmarks as quick-launch icons on your Home screen for quick access – or you can dump them all in a folder.
If a page has an obvious RSS feed, an icon will appear beside the URL bar. Tapping this prompts you to add the feed to HTC's own news reader app, which also automatically pulls in any RSS feeds you may have added to Google's own web-based Reader.
Sadly, there's no official support for Adobe's Flash Player, thanks to the Salsa's processor apparently not having enough power to run it. However, HTC has supplied its own "Flash Lite" plug-in, which does allow the phone to play some forms of embedded video...
...although YouTube embeds refused to play, which is a pretty big hole in its functionality. But on the whole, the Salsa works well as a mobile browser. As long as you're not hoping to watch iPlayer in bed.
HTC Salsa: Camera
The HTC Salsa features a pretty standard 5MP sensor with LED flash, which outputs photos at a maximum resolution of 2952 x 1728.
The camera app has a limited collection of filters, just your usual pointless Negative, Sepia and the other usual photo-ruining suspects no one ever, ever uses, such as this one:
...although there are more tinkering options available in the HTC Salsa's standalone image editing tool. You also get a self-timer, geo-tagging on/off toggle, face detection, shutter sound toggle and the standard white balance and exposure level gauges.
Open up a shot in the Gallery and you're able to apply a greater number of filters, with the Auto Enhance option doing a very nice job of lowering the brightness and boosting contrast levels, giving shots a much more impressive, less washed out look.
You can also have the Auto Enhance feature automatically applied to all images via a toggle in the camera app, if you like its effect on the output.
Also of use to the socially networked is the Auto Upload toggle, which enables you to sync all of your photos from the HTC Salsa to Facebook or Flickr.
Rather cleverly there's an option to do this either immediately or once a day, plus you can make it only happen via Wi-Fi – and specify privacy settings for the ones that go to Facebook. A very nice feature for social nuts.
Facebook integration has also crept into the Salsa's photo gallery, with separate tabs featuring images collated from the social network.
The Salsa's camera includes a digital zoom. Here's a photo...
And here's the same scene snapped at maximum digital zoom. It all goes a bit blocky when viewed at actual size, but when shrunk down to social network proportions it's something you could live with.
The Salsa's flash does a good job of illuminating dark scenes, although output does tend to suffer in quality. There's a lot of visible over-emphasised coloured pixels when viewed at full size.
There's no specific macro option, but the Salsa manages to sort out close shots itself. As ever, close-up shots produce the most impressive results.
Unfortunately, the camera's menu screens can get bogged down and laggy while you're fiddling with settings, which ruins the experience. It's not always jerky, but every once in a while the camera will come grinding to a halt for a few seconds.
On the plus side, the two-stage physical button makes taking shots easy, although there's a slight pause between press and image capture – so you have to hold still for a little longer than you think.
Also handy is the way that holding down the shutter button launches the camera no matter what you're doing on the phone, which is another second-saving interface change for the better.
One thing the Salsa's sensor is noticeably good at is capturing scenes that include bright and dark areas. Rather than being either too bright or too dark, it's usually just right.
The HTC Salsa also does a pretty good job of maintaining the detail on shots with hair and grass, which a lot of poorer smartphone cameras turn into blotchy messes.
Overall, it's a pretty standard HTC mobile camera that produces good enough results to use and print, with that essential flash for when you stay out past dinner time.
HTC Salsa: Video
There's no HD/720/1080 claims on the box here, with the HTC Salsa managing to record its video clips at a maximum resolution of 720 x 480. Results are good and a clear step up from the chunky output of HTC's entry level Wildfire S.
The camcorder section of the camera app is the same as that found on the Wildfire S and HTC Desire S, offering a few novelty filters, white balance settings, a selection of lower video resolutions for creating smaller, more manageable clips, plus an audio on/off toggle.
Clips at full resolution emerge colourful and without much in the way of blockiness or distortion. Everything's sharp and bright, and while the video camera's interface can get a little laggy and glitchy, the sensor itself is always smooth, switching between light and dark areas with ease while recording.
The digital zoom works while filming clips, although it can become laughably jerky and bogged down. You zoom in and out with the volume rocker, and occasionally it gets so behind itself it starts buffering your presses and zooming in and out at about one frame per second.
There's no autofocus while recording clips, with the Salsa using the same tap-to-focus system as seen in the company's HTC Sensation. It works quickly and well, reducing the amount of needless autofocus that can ruin some mobile phone video output.
It struggles to focus on close-up shots, but in general the Salsa produces video clips you won't be ashamed of or feel overly disappointed by when sticking them on your computer.
There's also a second front-facing VGA resolution camera on here, just in case Android or HTC ever conjures up a reason to actually use one that isn't a play on Apple's 'enchanting' ideology for video chatting.
HTC Salsa: Media
According to HTC's Salsa tech spec sheet, the phone's capable of playing most of today's popular video formats, including files encoded as MP4, WMV, certain AVI files and even some Xvid creations.
In reality is has pretty specific file format requirements, so we couldn't get it to play our standard review collection of Xvid files. It happily worked with a couple of WMV files and some MP4 clips, so is capable of playing back clips to a good standard as long as you ensure they're in the right format.
The video player is rather light on features. It enables you to play things, pause things, toggle between full-screen and cropped resolutions and skip through the scenes. It needs a bit of work, to say the least.
Music is handled on the Salsa by the standard HTC skinned Android player. As such you get a workmanlike experience, with support for large and small Home screen widgets that handle playing, pausing and track skipping.
There's also a pause option in the drop-down Notifications menu, but oddly there's no option to resume the track once it's paused. You have to go back to the app or widget to start music playing again.
Within the player itself, your music collection can be sorted by artist, album or just a big list of everything, with the ability to add songs to playlists – and create new playlists on the fly – by long-pressing on a particular song.
There's no shopping option, with the only other interesting feature being a Menu option to search YouTube for clips of the artist you're currently listening to.
The onboard speaker is pretty loud, although things do get a bit tinny if you stick it up to maximum volume. It's not bad for a phone, though, and is perfectly usable if you like using your mobile as a desktop music player.
HTC Salsa: Battery life and connectivity
The HTC Salsa's battery life is excellent. Even under review conditions when we're taking photos every 10 minutes and constantly opening Twitter and Facebook all day, the Salsa managed to last very nearly a full two days on one charge – and with a 1520mAh battery for a mid-range phone, we can see why.
HTC has supplied a collection of power saver settings as well, which can be set to kick in and restrict certain services and adjust options when your battery falls to a certain level.
It's a useful way of stopping your phone secretly draining its last bit of power trying to connect to Wi-Fi.
Treat the HTC Salsa carefully and you'll be able to relax a little and stop panicking about where the nearest working charging point is.
Aside from 3G and Bluetooth, we have Wi-Fi and GPS, which are now pretty much standard and essential for a phone of this kind.
HTC always makes it easy to connect your device to your computer, with a really helpful pop-up menu that offers you various connection options.
It's here on the Salsa too, and although the actual options haven't changed (charge only, disk drive, HTC sync, USB tethering and internet pass through), we were pleased to see that the menu has been given a little bit of a makeover compared to previous HTC devices.
Not having to use proprietary software such as Samsung's Kies makes the whole thing a lot easier. And whether you're rocking Windows, Mac OS X or Linux on your computer, you don't have to start worrying about compatibility issues, which is helpful.
As for getting your stuff on the phone, the Salsa uses HTC's standard USB connection menu. Plug it in and the phone prompts you to select an action.
Mounting it as a USB drive means you can't use any functions on the phone that use the SD card, but it'll pop up as an external drive on your PC so you can drag across your Kasabian back catalogue with ease.
Also, we weren't able to find any DLNA client onboard. This wasn't too much of a surprise, as that tends to be a feature reserved for higher-end phones, and we can't see it as a feature being missed too much by the target market.
There's also another option that's not in the menu, and that is to use your phone as a wireless hotspot. It's been part of Android for a little while now and you'll find this option tucked away in the app drawer.
Technically, the HTC Salsa is a quad-band unit that supports GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE, plus HSPA/ WCDMA. It's also capable of functioning as a tethered USB modem, and we had no problems at all or any dropped signals when connecting to various Wi-Fi hotspots.
It also supports the latest 802.11n connectivity, which is handy if you've updated your router in the last few years.
As well as the proximity sensor in the front face of the HTC Salsa, there's also an ambient light sensor. This isn't a huge amount of use, but it does mean you're able to select the automatic brightness setting and have the phone adjust its own screen depending on how near you are to a window.
HTC Salsa: Maps and apps
Aside from the Facebook tweaks and the interactive lock screen nicked from the HTC Sensation, what you get on the HTC Salsa is the same impressive selection of Google and HTC apps as found on the likes of the Wildfire S, the Desire S and the rest of HTC's Android range.
Obviously you get the cornerstones of the Android OS, with Google's Gmail, YouTube and Maps all pre-loaded, with the latter now broken down into separate tools for location service Latitude and Google's very powerful Navigate satnav tool.
Google Maps works flawlessly on the HTC Salsa, with its GPS system managing to get a location lock pretty quickly. You'll be prompted to download a voice pack via the Android Market if you want amusingly robotic spoken directions, so make sure you're connected, preferably via Wi-Fi, when setting up your first route.
The Maps app itself supports Google's latest multi-touch improvements, so you're able to rotate the view, scale it up and down and even look at the 3D vector buildings at street level – if you're looking at one of the city centres that Google has mapped in 3D.
Back on the Facebook side of things, HTC has busted out the Facebook Chat tool into its own standalone app, which features a simple front-end of online users, plus an archive of recent chats.
This uses the SMS messaging app design, so once again HTC has managed to give us yet another contrasting way of accessing the same features.
There's also a full-screen Facebook chat widget for your Home page, which features yet another different visual style. It's a very simple list of online friends. Click on them to open up the chat window. This is probably the best thing about the Salsa's Facebook features if you love your Facebook chatting.
As with the Wildfire S, you get two HTC app and widget discovery tools on the Salsa, in the form of HTC Hub and HTC Likes. HTC Hub offers a pretty sparse collection of bland widgets and novelties, while HTC Likes is much more interesting, offering an alternate user review system to the Android Market and letting app downloaders rate their choices.
One nice thing about HTC Hub is its collection of alternate wallpapers and ringtones, so once you've signed in with an HTC Sense account you can access free groups of sounds, more wallpaper images and HTC's "scenes" – complete reskins for the phone's background and icons.
Sadly there's one massive problem with the Salsa – a criminal lack of onboard memory. The phone tells us it has 150MB available for installing apps, a pretty mediocre amount of storage space that we managed to nearly fill on day one by simply installing the basic app we always stick on a phone to make it feel like home.
HTC attempts to help you out of the hole it's dug for you by offering a memory management tool that launches when the phone starts running out of space. But it's a token effort, offering basic advice such as moving apps over to your SD card.
If you're in any way serious about using apps or into mobile gaming, the Salsa, as lovely as it is, is not the phone for you, thanks to this weird limitation.
At least Angry Birds runs perfectly.
There's an FM radio onboard with customisable preset stations, which needs headphones to be plugged in to work.
We didn't get any headphones in the box with our Salsa, although that might be because it's a review unit. If getting some cheap free headphones is a deal-breaker, you might want to check that out before ordering one.
HTC Salsa: Benchmarks
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful phone reviews on the web, so you're able to make a more informed buying decision.
Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.
Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.
We test each device three times and take an average.
HTC Salsa: Hands-on gallery
HTC Salsa: Official photography
HTC Salsa: Verdict
The HTC Salsa is yet another impressive Android phone from HTC, with its polished Sense interface as smooth, reliable and feature-packed as ever. The only flaws here are the phone's puzzling lack of internal memory and a camera that occasionally gets itself awfully bogged down.
If you can live with the above foibles, the HTC Salsa's an excellent choice for those who find today's four-inch "superphones" too big to handle.
The Salsa's battery life is superb – one of the big advantages of opting for a mid-sized screen with an average processor. If you've found the limited uptime of the bigger smartphones frustrating to live with, the Salsa will be a godsend.
HTC's hardware is once again excellent all round. The metallic case is sturdy, the screen responsive, the capacitive buttons reliable and trustworthy. Having a proper, soft-touch camera button makes it an excellent replacement digital camera, too.
The output of the camera is pretty nice for a 5MP sensor, producing colourful shots relatively free from digital mess. Video is also much better than produced by the Wildfire S, with the wide 720 x 480 output sharp and smooth.
The camera app struggles, with quite a bit of lag slowing down the menus. It's not always laggy and is never totally unusable, but sometimes the icons take a second or two to scroll and the digital zoom can get itself horrendously bogged down.
The Facebook integration could seem a bit useless to some if they're more enamoured by the price point and looks of the Salsa rather than the FB button.
While it's nice to have one-button access to post status updates if you're a serious social networking people-botherer, HTC's own Facebook pages look awful and don't update as reliably as the official app. You'd be better off just using the Facebook app and its widget – although generally we found an increase in our Facebookery using the phone.
The lack of Flash Player support is offset by HTC's own Flash Lite app that manages to play many embedded videos, but without full Flash Player support the Salsa loses one of Android's key differentiating features. No iPlayer here. But then that's also the BBC's fault.
Once again, HTC has skimped on onboard storage. Simply installing our essential "day one" Android apps caused the Salsa to complain about low space. Giving users a shameful 150MB of storage space for downloaded apps and games just isn't good enough in 2011.
We love the hardware and HTC's Sense interface runs exceptionally smoothly on top of Android 2.3, plus the Salsa works very well indeed as a mobile web browser and can handle the demands of Angry Birds' physics code with ease.
If the camera worked a little more smoothly and if there was a touch (well, a lot) more app storage space, it would be the perfect mid-sized Android phone.
It's a well-made phone that's enjoyable to use and a breath of fresh air in the world of bland black slabs – but today's app-hungry smartphone users will find its lack of onboard memory a daily frustration.