Buy the Nexus One or wait for the HTC Desire?

If you're looking for the best Android smartphone that money can buy, then chances are you were all dead set on the Google Nexus One - until now, that is. At MWC 2010, the manufacturer of the self-styled "superphone" has launched an almost identical version of its own called the HTC Desire which was originally codenamed the HTC Bravo. Either way, it looks like a hell of a handset.

However, it's not quite as simple getting the newer phone so here's a brief run down of the similarities and differences and an idea of which one you should be splurging your pennies on.

Similarities

Let's get the easy bit out of the way first. Both the Nexus One and the HTC Desire have the same chassis and general insides. They've got crystal clear 3.7-inch WVGA AMOLED displays, 1GHz Snapdragon CPUs and 5-megapixel cameras with an LED flash to back them up. There are tiny discrepancies in the dimensions and the weight of the two devices - we're talking down to 0.2mm - but to all intents and purposes each one weighs 135g or so with the 1400mHA battery included and both measure 119 x 60 x 11.9mm.

Again, the RAM in the HTC Desire is quoted at 576MB rather than the 512MB in the Nexus One but there's a good chance that the last 64MB is just enough to have the Sense UI sitting on top without any noticeable performance difference and, even if it does go beyond that, then good luck noticing a difference between the two. Now to the differences.

User-interface

HTC has trumped Google in one important department - software. Just as with the Hero, the company has added the very popular Sense custom UI to the Android OS background. The interface offers more seamless integration of your contacts from all of your various lists and address books - be they Skype, Twitter, your phone book, Facebook - and knits them together for an apparently more intelligent experience. Some purists may prefer the cleaner experience of straight Android 2.1 Eclair - the main OS on which both of these devices operate - but speak to anyone with a Hero and they'll sing you arias on Sense.

Noise cancelling

Curious this, but for one reason or another HTC has ditched the double microphone noise cancelling feature found on the Nexus One. So, if you do a lot of calling on the street or in a noisy environment, then you might rather plump for the Nexus One.

Voice text entry

It's a great feature of of the Nexus One that Google has enabled users to be able to type into any field anywhere on the device by talking to it. It's obviously particularly important in the States where Google Maps for Navigation is also enabled. Sadly, voice entry is absent on the Desire, so it's finger work only.

FM Radio

So, it seems that both handsets have a built-in Broadcom BCM4329 Wi-Fi/FM chipset. Although neither seems fully activated, the HTC Desire does at least have FM radio functionality which is missing on the Nexus One - at least until Google decides to fix it with a software update which may or may not happen. The chip also gives capacity for both handsets to transmit FM and support 802.11n Wi Fi for better range of connection. As it stands though, neither has those features enabled

Branding & engraving

One of the cute little services that launched along with the Nexus One was the fact that you can get whatever you like engraved on the metal name plate on the back of the handset. Yes, it's all about personalisation.

You may not have been able to think of anything particularly witty to put on there, but it's rather nice to have the option and that's something that's withdrawn if you go for a Desire. No nameplate, no engraving. On the other hand, you'd also have to be happy with the Google Android branding on the back of the Nexus One, so be sure you're okay with that too.

Mouse control

HTC has ditched the trackball cursor control found both in the Neux One and just about all the previous Android handsets made by the Taiwanese smartphone specialists. Whether the switch for an optical pad on the Desire is a good thing or a bad one is probably up to you to decide. The same change has been made by BlackBerry with the most recent version of the ever popular Bold.

Trackballs can sometimes collect bits of foreign matter which get rolled up inside the handset and start to cause annoyance and malfunction. At the same time, there are some really bad optical pads out there and, with such a small area to get your thumb on, you might rather you'd gone for the more tangible mechanical version on the Nexus One. Horses for courses on this one.

Buttons

As well as the optical pad, the four Android soft keys on the bezel of the the Nexus One have moved onto the chassis below on the HTC Desire and become hard, clickable keys instead. Doubtless one could debate the pros on cons of each but, at the end of the day, it's a style choice rather than anything else.

Special Features

With the dual announcement of the upgrade to HTC Sense, there's a few extra features on the Desire. First, the ringer volume on the phone automatically lowers once you've picked the handset up. Second, the ringer mutes altogether if you flip the phone over and face down and, third, there's an automatic back up system which stores your bookmarks, MMS/SMS and passwords on your microSD card. What's more, Sense brings extra widget windows and a rather fun looking "helicopter mode" which allows them to appear and disappear again at the pinch of the screen.

US Version

The Nexus One is going to be a little bit better to you if you live in the US. First, as mentioned earlier, you get access to Google Maps for Navigation. Second, you don't have to pay any import duty. The real clincher if you live in America though, is that you simply won't be able to get the HTC Desire over there - not as it stands, anyway. It has no support for US 3G bands.

Price & availability

There are two main ways to buy a Nexus One. The first is SIM-free and unlocked direct from Google in the US. That works out as $529 plus a further $30 on postage. On top of that, you'll also have to pay a UK import tax on it as well at 17.5% of the total including delivery. By today's rates, the whole lot comes out at around £425. You'll also have to get service on top of that. There's plenty of good contracts with fair usage levels of internet access out there from £15 per month and the real bonus here is that they're only 12-month contracts too. So, in total, this method will cost something like £605 for the year.

The second way to buy it is on contract with Vodafone. This isn't available as yet but the tricky part is that Vodafone is also going to be a UK carrier for the HTC Desire. Word is that there'll be packages of around £35 per month with the handset free, but it's not clear, as yet, as to how long that agreement is for. It's also not going to be in the shops until some time between April and June, so there could be a bit of a wait as well.

That said, HTC is keen to keep the SIM-free price of the Desire down and the figure touted is £480. Add in the same SIM-only deal as with the Nexus One and that totals £660 - not an awful lot more than the Google option and, incidentally, if the contract with Vodafone is on an 18-month basis, then the previous unlocked method would work out as £630. Very competitive indeed.

Conclusions

It's a close call because, at the end of the day, they're both very good phones. If you already have a Nexus One, then there's no need to lose any sleep over the Desire. Likewise, if you're absolutely busting to buy yourself a top Android smartphone now, then go for a Nexus One. We could be looking at anything up to 4 months until we get a sniff of the Desire.

Additionally, you can probably root the Google handset and add on Sense and the FM radio as well, which together probably make up much of the ground. On the other hand, if you can wait and just hold on a few months more, then the HTC Desire is definitely the phone of choice here.

UPDATE: T-Mobile is to offer the HTC Desire from 26 March.

 



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