As Mobile World Congress draws towards a close for another year, the big manufacturers have displayed their devices hoping to capture customer enthusiasm and be the next big handset. We’re looking at each of the individual company’s offerings and considering what they’ve put on the table.
HTC were the last big company to put their cards on the table at Mobile World Congress. Having set the bar high in 2011, the company had the weight of huge expectations on their shoulders. Their response was five new Android handsets (and their first tablet). But what did we make of them?
HTC Desire S
The HTC Desire was an excellent device, but soon fell foul of the pace of up-speccing, and was later outstripped by the HTC Desire HD. The HTC Desire S brings some of the those spec updates to the table, meaning it will be a hugely capable device.
However, our first question when we got our hands on the device was to ask what was new in HTC Sense. The answer is nothing really. You get the latest version of Sense which is the same as the HTC Desire HD. That leaves you with a phone that feels like an incremental update – great if you’re coming to the end of a contract and want to go the HTC route, but less appealing perhaps if you are an existing Desire owner looking for something more.
Still, like all the HTC Android devices, it offers excellent build quality and hardware specs that, barring a bump to a dual core processor, keep the Desire S up to the mark. Although HTC Sense hasn't changed, it's one of the most comprehensive customisations available on Android devices, and one of the most popular.
HTC Wildfire S
HTC haven’t had such a smooth run with its lower spec phones. The HTC Tattoo wasn’t well received, but the Wildfire was better. The Wildfire S, then, is quite different because you get spec boosts that make a difference, namely a sharper display.
Again HTC Sense is relatively unchanged, but you do get a dinky little device that whilst pitched at the affordable end of the market, doesn't compromise on that quality look and feel. The Wildfire S feels nice nestled in the hand and we’re sure that many will be attracted to its cute curves and compact nature.
HTC Incredible S
We’re not sure where to put the Incredible S. It’s a new device, but it’s really only a variation on design. Plus, this is the handset that arrives as a Froyo rather than Gingerbread. That’s an oddity that really seems to stand out. Why? What is so different about the Incredible S that it’s yet to get updated? HTC have promised that an update will be along as soon as possible, but it just makes us wonder why this couldn't be resolved before it landed. HTC did make a point of saying that Android version isn't the most important factor because of the strength of HTC Sense (and in moving from 2.2 to 2.3 there is little real difference), but this is really a case of customer perception.
Of course the great thing about the Incredible S is that it gives you a raw design that’s a little different from the unibody curves the rest of the range displays. You now get access to a larger display, sitting between the HTC Desire S and the HTC Desire HD. We like the design too, it's brash and manly. We’re all for variety, but we can’t help feeling that we’ve seen all this before and wish there had been something else on offer with the Incredible S.
The HTC ChaCha is the QWERTY “Facebook phone”. Of all the devices launched by HTC at Mobile World Congress (excluding the Flyer) this is the one that we all know the least about. A new form factor with a new way of interacting with HTC Sense, it’s difficult to judge what the experience will be like once it gets into customers' hands. The form factor might mean that apps from the Android Market won't all work, but this is something we'll have to investigate.
It’s also one of the devices that HTC was being very cagey about letting us play with. The software that runs the HTC ChaCha doesn’t appear to have been finished in time for Mobile World Congress, so remains something of an unknown.
However, if priced right, the the HTC ChaCha could be an attractive alternative to the cheaper BlackBerry devices out there, but sees HTC Sense pitched against INQ's Cloud Q, which might offer a refreshing alternative. But, it does give you a Facebook button, allowing you to interact direction with the social network with minimal fuss. Is a button enough? Time will tell on this one.
The second phone with a silly name. HTC told us that these names were codenames that had been preserved and reused, but not necessarily for these products. Why the mulling over the name? We suspect that some might overlook the phones because of the names – they might be designed to give the impression of fun, but ranked alongside Wildfire, they don’t exactly shine.
The HTC Salsa actually sits quite close to the HTC Wildfire in terms of component spec, although the screen is fractionally larger. The design is slightly spoilt by the multi-tonal plastic panels in the rear of the device and the placement of the Facebook button does seem a little odd, a little too in-your-face perhaps. It reminds us of the HTC Hero and following that the HTC Legend, but doesn't seem to be quite as pretty as that latter device.
The saving grace, however, is that this is another affordable HTC handset and you’ll get all the Gingerbread HTC Sense action that you’ll find elsewhere, so Facebook isn’t the only skill this handset possesses. We’ve no doubt that HTC’s native offering will appeal above and beyong the Facebook aspect.
Our pick of the bunch
It’s difficult to tell. We suspect that all will be popular, but the elephant in the corner is the HTC Desire HD. The Desire HD is still the best phone in the range (except for the Android Gingerbread detail), and an anticipated update in September 2011 (perhaps with a dual core processor, NFC) might see some hold on to their existing device - especially if they are already an HTC Android owner. Following that, the Incredible offers up the largest display, but the slightly older version of Android will deter some. The HTC Desire S will perhaps win out as a result at the high-end. The Wildfire S does make some great moves, so should prove popular with those on a budget.
Our deliberation is a reflection of HTC’s MWC launches. Talking to others around the show, it seems that many were expecting more - new Sense features or design, incorporation of something groundbreaking. It seems that 2011 might be a year when HTC cools a little. When we got our hands on them, we questioned whether bringing you First Look reviews was worthwhile - afterall, there really wasn't that much to add to the HTC story over 2010's offerings. They’re still great phones, displaying great build quality, but visually some might want HTC Sense to start evolving.