HTC Desire S review: Droid cravings

GSMArena team, 18 April 2011.

Tags: HTC, Android, Touch UI

Pretty decent retail package

The HTC Desire S comes in a pretty small box, but it still has room for the essential accessories. There’s a socket charger, which needs a standard microUSB data cable to connect to the phone. Such cable is, of course, included.

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The HTC Desire S retail package

There is also a headset with music controls. Unfortunately, it’s of the one-piece variety, meaning you can’t replace the headphones with third-party kit without losing the remote functionality.

Finally, there’s adequate storage right out of the box, thanks to an 8GB microSD card, which was inserted in the handset itself. The usual paperwork was also here, but it’s nothing you cannot find online anyway.

HTC Desire S 360-degree spin

While the HTC Desire S keeps the screen size of the original Desire and even throws in several new features, it manages to fit into an even more compact package. The difference is not quite prominent in width (59.8mm vs 60mm) and thickness (11.6mm vs 11.9mm), but the height has shed some 3mm, which is certainly not bad.

And the weight has been reduced too, though marginally. At 130g, the HTC Desire S weighs 5g less than its predecessor. We do appreciate its solid build and quality feel though.

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The HTC Desire S sized up against the iPhone 4

Design and construction

The HTC Desire S is a looker. With a large screen on the front and metal unibody for the rest you can’t really go wrong. Plus, we can trust HTC for a solidly build smartphone.

The only downside is that it’s hard to really tell form a slew of recent HTC handsets. Still, the black color scheme and the subtly changed contour and controls below the screen are probably enough to make it stand out among its siblings. After all, there aren’t too many ways to design a touchscreen phone.

The Desire S comes with a 3.7” S-LCD screen. And while you won’t get to experience any AMOLED blacks, you’d still get one of the better LCD screens in business.

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The S-LCD screen is a nice step forward for HTC

We saw the first of the HTC units worthy of the name Super LCD on the Incredible S and we are happy that the Desire S is treated to the same high-quality LCD. You get a display with punchy colors and very broad viewing angles. As far as LCD goes, image quality doesn’t get much better than that.

The only area where HTC still lags behind is sunlight legibility. The display isn't particularly bright and it's obviously pretty reflective so using the Desire S outside on a bright sunny day is not exactly an easy task.

And here come the results of our now traditional display brightness and contrast test. As you can see, the Desire S fares pretty decently against its peers.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC Desire S 0.14 113 803 0.21 193 914
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
HTC Incredible S 0.18 162 908 0.31 275 880
iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
Motorola Atrix 4G 0.48 314 652 0.60 598 991
Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo 0.05 68 1324 0.10 134 1295
Samsung Galaxy Ace 0.23 160 701 0.34 234 683
LG Optimus 2X 0.23 228 982 0.35 347 1001

You can learn more about the test here.

As to screen sensitivity, the Desire S performs just as you would expect a capacitive unit. The gentlest of taps do the trick.

Moving on, a video-call camera is right next to the earpiece above the display. There are also a couple of hidden sensors there – proximity and ambient light.

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There’s a video-call camera right next to the earpiece this time

Underneath the screen, we find four capacitive keys. Frankly, we wouldn’t have minded regular keys like on the first Desire, but we’ve no reason to complain. The haptic enabled controls are well spaced and very responsive. Plus, the transition from the touchscreen is smooth.

The keys (Home, Menu, back and search) have extra functionality upon a long-press (task switcher, virtual keyboard, voice search).

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There are four capacitive touch keys below the display

There’s no trackpad on the HTC Desire S. With the whole interface designed for touchscreen use it was redundant to begin with, probably only usable as a shutter key.

The long and thin volume rocker and the microUSB port are on the phone’s left side.

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The volume rocker and the microUSB port on the left side

The right side of the smartphone is perfectly bare with no controls or ports whatsoever. A camera key would have been nice, but we’re in no luck yet again.

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The completely bare right side

At the top we find the 3.5mm audio jack and the Power/Lock key.

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There’s a standard 3.5mm audio jack and a power/screen lock key on top

As usual, at the bottom of the phone, you will see the mouthpiece.

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The microphone pinhole is located on the sloped bottom

The HTC Desire S rear features the 5 megapixel camera lens and the small loudspeaker grill. There is also a tiny LED flash but, as you know, you shouldn’t get your hopes too high for night photography.

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The camera lens is flanked by the LED flash and the loudspeaker grill

The back plate consists of three parts – a metal piece in the middle and two parts of soft rubbery plastic either side. The upper one hosts the lens, flash and speaker, while the lower one opens to grant access to the card slots and the battery.

Unfortunately, we discovered that placing your hand over the top part of the back panel quickly deteriorates the Wi-Fi signal the Desire S is getting. You wouldn’t usually place your hand over there when you’re browsing the regular way in portrait mode, but when you switch to landscape grip, it’s quite easy to go for this death grip.

While with a strong Wi-Fi signal around, covering the back panel with your palm may only lower your download speed, with a more flimsy connection, it can stop a data transfer in its tracks.

Going further down the back, we get to the battery cover. It’s a bit hard to slide the cover open and then undo the battery holder but it’s not a major flaw on its own.

However to access the microSD slot you need to undo the battery holder. There’s nothing to keep the battery in place so you need to prop it with a finger unless you want to turn off your phone.

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Gaining access to the battery is harder than usual

The 1450mAh battery inside the HTC Desire S is quoted at up to 455 hours of stand-by or up to 9 hours and 50 minutes of talk time. In real life, it does pretty well. Our test unit gave us two full days of fairly heavy use (quite a bit of web browsing, the usual set of photos, a few minutes of calls and fiddling with the interface and testing the apps).

Generally the HTC Desire S is one of the best built smartphones we have seen recently. Its aluminum body is a joy to look at and handle.

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The HTC Desire S felt nice in our hands

And there are only a few problems in terms of pure ergonomics too – the lack of a dedicated camera key and the sub-par sunlight legibility are probably the biggest issues, but the rest of it seems fine. Pretty good marks overall for the HTC Desire S in the hardware department.

We now move to the software part of this review. Starting on the next page, we're going to look into the nuts and bolts of a Sense-skinned Gingerbread Android.

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