HTC Desire Z review: Desires A-to-Z

GSMArena team, 12 November 2010.
Pages: 123456789

Tags: HTC, Android, Touch UI

The usual package

The tiny box of the HTC Desire Z has enough room for a USB charger, a standard microUSB data cable and the usual paperwork.

There's a one-piece headset too with music controls. The supplied headphones aren't your only option though, since the Desire has a 3.5mm audio jack.

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The HTC Desire Z unboxed

An 8GB microSD card is also enclosed. Sadly, there's no carrying pouch in the box.

HTC Desire Z 360-degree spin

With a 3.7" screen, a full four-row hardware keyboard and rather free-handed use of metal, the HTC Desire Z easily tips the scales at the impressive 180 grams. At 119 x 60.4 x 14.2 mm, it is definitely not a piece to just slip in a pocket and forget about either.

But we are not saying the weight is entirely a bad thing. The Desire Z has good balance and a solid and reliable feel that we really like. 180 grams will probably be too much for some users but it's definitely something we're willing to live with - as long as we get solid and durable finish and handling that's still comfortable enough.

Design and construction

The HTC Desire Z doesn't look much like the original Desire. In fact, there seems to be more of the Google Nexus One in it. The overall styling feels just the right bit more chiseled and angular. Having just reviewed the Desire HD - recycling an old design is not the way to get us impressed. In the case of the Desire Z, we're glad to report it's got a distinct and easily recognizable face.

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HTC Desire Z

Quality materials and strong build are traditional HTC values, to which the Desire Z remains faithful. Well, for the most part anyway. The phone's key design element - the Z hinge - is perhaps the most questionable too. But we'll get there in due time.

The metallic front frame and battery cover both have a soft brushed feel. The rest of the surface is rubbery and very pleasant to the touch. The phone's body (save for the screen obviously) is slow to take fingerprints and thanks to the light-color finish even when it does eventually get greasy, smudges are hard enough to notice.

The new S-LCD unit is a solid performer indoors although the contrast is decent at best. The sunlight legibility however was a bit of a letdown. Indeed the Desire Z beats the regular LCD of the Desire HD in the bright sun by a whisker but it's no match for SuperAMOLED or Retina screens.

Now, yesterday we did have a hiccup with falsely identifying the Desire HD's screen as an S-LCD unit but you can reast assured that's the only thing we got wrong about it.

The Desire Z's screen is indeed superior to Desire HD's (it's fair to note that the pixel density is in the Desire Z's favor) but by a small margin. The S-LCD screen has better contrast, slightly more saturated colors and superior viewing angles compared to regular LCD. But it falls obviously short of SuperAMOLED - and even Retina - in terms of both contrast and viewing angles.

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Desire Z display next to iPhone 4 one

As to screen sensitivity, the Desire Z reacts to the gentlest taps thanks to the capacitive technology. The touch sensitivity is so high that it sometimes detects your finger from a few millimeters as you're just about to touch it.

The typical Android controls (back, contextual menu, Home and search) are right below the display. They're capacitive controls - and the transition to and from the touchscreen is seamless..

The optical trackpad is underneath, and outside the touchscreen. It can be used to scroll both menus and lists, and it even lets you select items and launch apps. But it's not essential really. The touchscreen is more than enough to get you around the interface. The trackpad can come in useful for jumping links on a webpage and that's probably it. We really couldn't find a better use of this control.

Above the display you will only find the earpiece and two embedded sensors (proximity and ambient light). There is also a hidden status LED under the earpiece grill.

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Trackpad and capacitive controls earpiece on top

Sliding the HTC Desire Z open reveals one of its key features - the four-row full QWERTY keyboard. Before we get to the sweet four rows of buttons, a word on the actual form-factor. The Desire Z is a slider for the lack of a better term. It's more of a lift and pivot motion - the upper half gets raised on the Z-hinge before softly dropping into place. It's unlike the HTC G1 mechanism and in fact it's unlike anything we've seen so far by any manufacturer.

The initial slide requires quite a bit of a push - but surprisingly once you get past the folding point it drops rather flimsily. The worst part is it doesn't really lock into position. You can't help but feel the hinge being too soft - almost fragile. Maybe it's just making the wrong impression, but we do fear the hinge getting worse with use.

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Watch the Desire Z go from closed to open in three shots

Our fears aside, upon sliding it up, the screen automatically rotates to landscape orientation. And the fun starts. The brilliant keyboard has great ergonomics, well spaced buttons with excellent press.

The four-row layout is of great help here: the keys are big enough to handle comfortably. Two Function keys and two Shift buttons (one under each thumb) are more than welcome. There are even two user-configurable keys. The top, which accommodates numbers too (no numpad layout here) is very easy to access, with more than enough headroom.

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An extra friendly keyboard

The left side of the HTC Desire Z features a long and thin volume rocker next to a microUSB port.

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The volume rocker and the microUSB port are on the left

On the right is the dedicated camera key and the battery cover latch.

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The camera key and the battery cover latch on the right

At the top, we find the 3.5mm audio jack and the Power/Lock key. At the bottom of the phone, you will see the mouthpiece.

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3.5 mm audio jack and the Power/Lock knob the mouthpiece at the bottom

The HTC Desire Z rear hosts the 5 megapixel camera lens and the tiny loudspeaker grill. There is a LED flash next to the lens.

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The camera lens, LED flash and loudspeaker grill at the back

The battery cover will pop softly up as soon as you squeeze the latch to reveal the 1300 mAh battery . The thing to note is the microSD card slot is under the battery so it's not hot-swappable.

The Desire Z is quoted at 9 hours and 50 minutes of talk time or 430 hours in stand-by in a 2G network (that's scaled down to 6 hours and 40 minutes of calls and 430 hours of stand-by in 3G mode).

In reality we would just squeeze one day of heavy use out of it - an hour of internet browsing, some music and video playback, 30min of gaming, 30min of using the camera and a couple of hours of getting to know the phone's interface. Basically the 3.7" screen was pretty much constantly on. We guess once you get to know your new toy you can even et two days of battery life out of it under moderate use.

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Removing the battery cover the microSD slot is under the battery

The HTC Desire Z is a solid business messenger and it looks it. The finish is excellent and the build quality is nearly perfect. The only suspicious element is the Z hinge - and we're not even completely sure whether it's the feel we don't like or it really is weaker than it should be.

The size of the phone is just right - given the 3.7" screen and the exceptional QWERTY keyboard. It's a heavy phone by any standard but well balanced and comfortable to hold and operate. It looks mature and to-the-point and has lots of personality.

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The HTC Desire Z: great to handle, but make sure you're comfortable with the weight

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