Just over a week ago I walked into a mobile phone shop and handed over my own hard earned cash and bought myself an HTC Desire. I'd thought long and hard about what phone to get. The HTC Hero I had on trial last year was great, but had a few problems that put me off. The Desire has addressed these problems though and added more features, so after reading up on it and seeing one in real life I knew this was the phone for me. A few people have been asking about the phone, so I thought I would share some first impressions.
The unit itself is very slim and light. The infamous “chin” from the Hero has gone, and the trackball upgraded to an optical version. The device has some hardware buttons, a useful addition making it that bit easier to use. These include a volume control which I was very pleased about as I use it as a music player a lot so being able to change volume without having to look at the device or unlock he screen is very convenient.The Quick Search button is very handy too and can also find content on your phone, including apps.
A high resolution touch screen display dominates the phone. This is a pleasure to use, it is very responsive (I've found touch screens to be a bit of disappointment on various devices in the past). The device has seven virtual home screens that you can scroll through by swiping the screen or with the optical trackball. This is very handy and different screens could be used for different things like work, leisure or travel. I mention that category because you also get Google Maps Navigation Beta included, so voice guided Satellite Navigation is always with you, the only issue is that you need internet access to be able to download the directions, which could be a problem if you are in an area with no signal. I haven't had much chance to use it yet, but it looks promising.
Text entry was something that I was worried about, especially as I was moving to it from a device that had a keyboard. I am also quite good as missing the key I want on a touch screen. Fortunately the Android (the phone's operating system) Engineers have anticipated that people like me might use their devices and devised an input method where it doesn't really matter if you do this, it will try to work out what you were trying to type. This took some getting used to, and a little embarrassment at first when I asked a friend when she was off to “Cardiac” rather than “Cardiff”, but now I am used to it (thanks to following the tutorials!) and find it really useful. I am told that Swype is a really good input method too, but haven't tried it yet.
Having a phone that multitasks is simply wonderful. It means I can do things like listen to Spotify, Last.fm or Internet Radio whilst reading web pages or my emails. Why anybody thought this was “geeky” is beyond me, haven't people have been listening to music while doing other things for quite some time? The web browser has proved much better than I thought it would be, even when reading web pages that were not designed for mobile devices. When you zoom in on these pages it reflows the text to make it easy to read on the screen, so convenient. It also has Adobe Flash built in, opening up a whole area of rich web content. It can take the Flash part of the web page and make it full screen, a feature that worked well with the Swedish Language learning games I was trying!
The camera looks good, but I haven't used it much yet. The addition of a flash will make it much more useful. To take a picture you have to press the trackball, which does feel a but unnatural, a button on the top of the device would have been better. There are a couple of issues with the phone though, the first is of course the battery, never a happy story when it comes to smartphones. Thanks to Keren Mills for providing me with lots of tips to keep power consumption down. These include the use of a program called Advanced Task Killer that enabled you to close down programs you are now using, and getting rid of the “live wallpaper”, a nice feature, but not essential. I think Google should just include close buttons on Android applications rather than leaving the operating system to decide when to shut down a program, I'm sure that would conserve a bit of power.
Also it would be great if there was a way to lock the icons and widgets on the screen, I have found myself accidentally moving things around when I pick up the device, if anyone knows a way to do this please let me know. I found the lack of memory for applications a bit of an issue too, install some heavyweight apps and the allocation soon gets used up, but it looks like this issue might soon get fixed as the new version of Android allows the installation of applications to the SD card (external storage) and rumours are rife that the Desire will be getting this new version as early as June 23rd.
There are lots of apps I am trying out that I really like, and I will write about these in future. However one app that is particularly interesting is Google Voice Search which allows you to say what you want Google to search for. Of course things like this are a developing technology so results will be varied, but when I said “Milton Keynes taxi!” it found me a list of taxi numbers (shown right) and I could just tap the screen to call them. This voice search is also sometimes integrated into other apps too, like Spotify, where results were admittedly varied, I didn't have much luck with my poor pronunciation of certain foreign artists' names, but English group names seemed to work well. Technologies like this are a natural next step for mobiles and it is something I think I will find useful.
Overall I am really happy with my purchase. Android is a platform with a big future and, with a range of devices for different pockets, an inclusive one too. The HTC Desire is a great little device with a polished user experience and it is a pleasure to use. One surprising result of having it is that I have found myself using my laptop less as the Desire does a good enough job of getting my emails, reading the web, interacting with Twitter and Facebook and entertaining me.