Sunday, 13 February 2011

HTC Desire Smartphone

The company I work for (who shall remain nameless) provide us with Blackberry phones.

They're are pretty good for sending emails as the little keyboards are quite tactile and easy to use with some practice, but the models they give us have small screens and as I get older I'm finding it harder to read the screen than I did. They also are rubbish at sending and receiving images with text in (they compress them to a stupidly small size which is unreadable) and the mapping/GPS system is useless.

So, after waiting in vain for over a year for promised iPhones, I decided I needed a proper Smartphone, with a touch screen, zooming, etc, etc, etc.

Partly I envied my colleagues cool iPhones and partly I was fed up with the last decade functionality of the Blackberry.

So, I started looking. I fairly quickly discounted the iPhone. Firstly I'd heard lots of people complaining about faults with them, secondly I'm not keen on the way Apple tie you into iTunes software and thirdly (most importantly) I couldn't find one for under £35 a month.

Looking at the options, I quickly decided the HTC Desire (rather than the new and bigger HD or the smaller Wildfire) was the phone that fitted my budget and requirements (including portability and a decent sized screen) the best.

I've had my Desire, through Virgin Mobile, for a few months now and it's changed my perceptions of handheld devices quite a lot.

It looks very smart and professional, if not quite so jewellery like as the iPhone, which I rather like.

The screen is big (3.7 inches) and bright and the few buttons easy to use. The navigation, using these buttons and the touchscreen (which seems to work unerringly well) is logical and easy to get to grips with even without detailed instructions. I have printed out the user manual and found a couple of more obscure setup options using it, but it's very flexible and all the basic stuff is very easy to configure.

It was a doddle to get it pick up my work email, calendar and phone calls (although the latter was an option on the Blackberry to forward all my calls to my new number) and my Gmails come through to the Android Gmail app.

I installed a few free apps, including an App Manager and File Manager and was impressed with toys like the Compass, Barcode app (which lets you scan a barcode and then lookup a product online for price comparison or more details), various G-Meters (fun if not especially accurate) and the like.

After a couple of days familiarisation, I installed Amazon's Kindle e-reader software and downloaded a few, free classics. It's surprisingly easy to read books on the HTC Desire's screen, although you get a paragraph, rather than a page, of text at a time. Whilst I wouldn't use it to read books full time, it's quite handy to kill 5 or 10 minutes sometimes reading Dracula or the Legend of King Arthur.

The eBay app is good too, reminding me of when auctions I'm watching are coming to an end, something I'm pretty poor at without reminders!

On the way to a meeting, I opened the invite to the meeting from my calendar to find the address as I came out of Regent's Park Tube. If you're like me, you can find the nearest tube to somewhere easily, but don't know London well enough to know which exit is best or where to go once out on a first visit.

In this case, the tap to see the full address instead showed me the location on a map and a symbol (using the GPS) to show where I was. It was simplicity itself then to follow the map to the meeting (at a brisk 4.6 MPH according to the Speedo app!). An excellent solution that worked superbly.

Some of my iPhone loving colleagues wonder why I have a separate MP3 player (my excellent Cowon iAudio 7 reviewed earlier and still going strong even though it's now out of production, sadly), but I've always found the sound quality of the Cowon so much better than the Blackberry or any iProducts that I've preferred to keep my music on there.

However, I thought I'd try some music on the Desire, just for those odd times I've forgotten the Cowon or it's out of battery (not that it ever has been...).

The sound is not a match for the Cowon, with a thinner sound and no way to adjust the Bass, but it's pretty decent for a phone and listening to a couple of albums wasn't the chore it would've been on my old Palm or even the Blackberry.

The inbuilt 5 MPx camera, too, is pretty decent. In good light it delivers crisp, sharpish photos with decent colour tone, although it suffers a bit in lower light and the flash only works well close in. However, for a spur of the moment, fun night out camera it's pretty acceptable, certainly much better than the Blackberry's 2MPx camera, which took lousy photos even allowing for its lesser resolution, and as good (if not better) than iPhone photos I've seen.

I played the included Teeter app which is a game where you try to guide a ball through a maze without it falling into holes (like those old fashioned wooden games), which was frustratingly addictive. I then downloaded Need for Speed Shift (which I love on the PC) and found it a worthy contender in terms of game play and graphics quality to Gran Turismo on the PSP. Given the difference in price (A factor of 5x more for the PSP game!), it's hard to see why you'd want to spend so much on the PSP...

So, I'm wondering if the HTC Desire is pretty close to the perfect device.

It works as a phone and handles my calendar and emails (from multiple accounts) with aplomb. It's great for surfing the internet (via the web browser or specific apps) whether over 3G or wi-fi connections and can even act as a wi-fi hotspot for my laptop! In fact, I often don't turn on my home PC when I get in and just browse and read e-mails on the Desire connected to my home wifi network.

The camera is perfectly good for those spur of the moment snaps and it plays MP3s well enough for most people. It even acts as a pretty decent handheld games console.

I've only experimented briefly with the video camcorder and not watched any long videos on it yet, but it seems pretty usable in both respects, if not bleeding edge.

Whilst I'm not yet ready to throw away my MP3 player or Digital SLR, it's hard to see why many people would bother buying separate devices when a smartphone like the HTC Desire can do so many things so well.

So, is there any negative about the Desire? Well, typing is a bit of a pain with no tactile feedback and a small 'keyboard' especially in portrait mode. The battery life can be quite limited too if you use a lot of the features, in my first few days I had to charge it every day, but that's down to every other now.

Other than those issues, though, the HTC Desire seems a great smart phone which does pretty much everything you would want a mobile device to do!

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