The HTC Desire seems a popular phone, I keep noticing it where ever I go. I've had one for nearly a year now and am very happy with it, apart from a few gripes, so it was interesting to receive a HTC Desire S on review to see what has changed in the new model. Unlike the Desire Z and Desire HD which offered different hardware options (a keyboard and a bigger screen respectively), the Desire S is designed as a successor to the original. It is about the same size and has the same 3.7” 800x480 resolution screen, but a lot about the phone has changed, and it has picked up a few new features..
Gone is the black and brown plastic case and replacing it is a black case made largely out of one piece of aluminium. On the back there is a plastic battery door at the bottom and another plastic bit at the top where the camera is. The buttons on the front have also been replaced by touch sensitive buttons which fit well with the case. It looks very classy. The five megapixel camera is still present, but this is big news – there is also a front facing camera! This makes video calling applications possible, although as far as I know out of the box the phone has no software for video calling, you will need a third party app or wait for an update to the operating system. You do get a “Mirror” application though, which could be useful I suppose.
Inside the operating system has been brought right up to date with Android 2.3.3 (a.k.a. “Gingerbread”) . A very welcome change is the increase in internal storage memory from a miserable 148MB on the original Desire to a much more respectable 1.1GB. This is great news and should mean seeing that dreaded “Low on space” warning much less often. You can also happily install lots and lots of apps. So now you should be able to get more out of your phone and explore the rapidly expanding Android apps scene.
HTC Sense, the overlay to Android to make it look a bit nicer and add some features, has also been updated and it is now possible to apply different “skins” to the phone to give the user interface a different look. The notifications area has been greatly improved with the pull down section having more information and access to quick settings. You can also use the online services of htcsense.com to do things like remotely lock your or wipe your phone should it get lost. Two new applications are supplied to find content too, HTC Hub to find media content such as new wallpapers and HTC Likes to find applications and share them with friends.
I noticed that an ebook reader application is now bundled with the phone. This connects to an online bookstore to enable you to purchase more ebooks (unexpectedly I found that a copy of The Art of War was already present on the phone so now in those moments when you are waiting for a bus you can learn all about military strategy). An interesting development, although I wonder if a 3.7” screen is enough to comfortably read a book on, and even more to make people so fond of the experience that they will pay for more content. I can imagine if you did get stuck somewhere for a few hours the option of being able to download and read a book could be very useful. Of course there are other ebook/bookstore apps, but having it supplied out of the box might tempt more people to try the idea out.
The arrival of Google Navigation was a major step for Android and it is something I use quite a lot. It is not perfect but good enough to lead to me not bothering to pay for an update to my old SatNav. The Desire S takes things a bit further. It has a “car panel” which once activated shows options on the screen using nice big buttons, perfect for when you have the device in a car holder. The Desire S features a premium navigation solution as well as Google Navigator. The most noticeable difference is the voice, instead of the robotic voice of Google Navigator you get a more human sounding one – with a choice of accents. I am not sure how much better the premium navigation is. It will set you back about £15 a year to use it, you can also subscribe for shorter timespans.
Once you've reached your destination you might want to relax by listening to some music or watching a video. The Gallery, Video player and Music players have all been updated so that they can see content from media shares from your network that supports UPnP (these usually have a logo that says “DNLA certified” on the box). This means if you have media server software that complies with UPnP on a computer on your network you can stream music, pictures and video to your phone. I tried this out with my installation of MediaTomb and it worked really well. I could select and view videos and music that were on another machine and use them on the Desire S without any fuss.
This capability is client only on the Desire S, so for example you can't watch a video stored on your phone on your TV (if it understands UPnP), but there are apps available that will provide such functionality. Oops I found out it does do this! For example you can pick a track, get the context menu up and if you pick "Select Player" you can actually send it to another device on the network. Very nice!
Lastly all of the activities above can easily run down the battery so a slightly better battery than was present in the original is included. I'm not sure it will make much of a difference, so it is still a good idea to carry a charger if you are going out for a while! However it should help a bit.
Overall a good successor to the original HTC Desire. The new design of the case looks sleek and modern. It is a good looking device with some extra goodies on it that will help you get more out of your phone. Maybe not enough of a feature jump to justify upgrading an original Desire (for me anyway) but for people looking to move up to a high end Android smartphone it is definitely worth considering. If there was one thing I would add it would be changing the display for one that works better in bright sunlight, and it would be great one day to see FM Transmitter functionality on an Android phone (the Nokia N900 has it). It is great though to see some of the issues with the original HTC Desire (which is a very good phone in many ways) be addressed and to see the product evolve.