First Look: HTC Desire

If you're thinking about getting a Google Nexus One, or are jealous of your mate that already has, then we've got some good news. The Nexus One has been trumped already, by this handset, the Nexus Two.

It's not, of course, called the Nexus Two - that would be mean. No, the phone previously codenamed the HTC Bravo has broken cover, ditched that moniker, and donned a new name - the HTC Desire.

But with a virtually identical spec to Google Nexus One, what will the Desire actually give you? Will you want it, and should you wait the extra month or two for it to hit the shops? We were given a chance to have a brief play with the new handset before the official launch at Mobile World Congress.

The HTC Desire at a quick glance is virtually identical to the Nexus One in design. It sports the same 3.7-inch WVGA AMOLED screen and those rounded curves with the power button on the top. The inside specs are roughly the same too. You get a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, microSD slot, GPS, A-GPS and 512MB of flash and 256MB of RAM. There's a proximity sensor too and a compass so you can use it for augmented reality apps and of course it's HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ready.

Then there is the 5-megapixel camera on the back with LED flash and the ability to capture (a slightly boosted) 800 x 480 video. Both run the latest Android 2.1 operating system and both feature shortcuts on the front of the phone to the home, menu, back and search options.

So what's the difference? Well the Google phone does win over the Desire on active voice cancellation and probably because of this you won't be able to use the voice to text functionality on the Desire either. No talking to your phone then when you are feeling lonely.

But you didn't think that would mean HTC would ship an inferior product did you? It hasn’t. Gone is the mechanical trackball on the front, and the touch-sensitive buttons within the screen, replaced instead with hard shortcut keys and a more precise optical navigation key which is also a button.

It's a move we've seen happening across the industry with BlackBerry making the same choice. Trackballs are prone to failure and on an 18- or 24-month contract, you don't want it to break, so it's a sensible move. The truth is that you might find you never use it because with such a good touch response from the screen you rarely need to.

As this is a HTC handset and not a Google handset you'll also get the HTC Sense UI as found on the HTC Hero. The Sense UI has been improved, made faster, integrated some other contact features and generally looks and makes the Nexus One even more boring than it was before.

New to Sense is a "helicopter view" that works in a similar way to Expose on the Mac. You just have to pinch the homescreen and it displays all the homescreen pages you've got running. You can then just tap to jump to the one you want or pinch back out, because it supports multi-touch.

There's also Flash Lite 4 support meaning you can watch videos on the Web from the get go (something you still can't do on the iPhone) and the ability to select text on the screen to then look it up in Wikipedia or have it automatically translated.

Coming with Android 2.1 you get all the latest whistles and bells the OS can offer with the overall design sheen of the Sense UI to make it a more consumer-friendly and approachable offering.

In the hand and it's fast and responsive with virtually nothing to whinge about. The keyboard is tight but that could be fixed by downloading the recently announced Swiftkey keyboard app that predicts what you are going to say next.  

We'll hold out for a full review before seeing if there are any real quirks to be worried about.

 

Verdict

With its impressive feature set and easy handling it's easy to see even from our brief play that this is going to be one of the best handsets of the year. 

That's not going to be an easy crown to claim, especially as HTC are also releasing the rather prettier HTC Legend with its unibody machined from a single piece of aluminium.

The HTC Desire is slated as a European handset with suspicions that there will be a US version coming under another guise later in the year, as was the case with the HTC Hero. You also won't get Google Navigation by default as you'd expect in Android 2.1. Again, regional variations come into play and until the service launches in the UK, you'll miss out.

While some purists will moan about the lack of voice entry and active voice cancellation features, the HTC Desire on paper, and in the hand, looks to be a better and more approachable handset showing that like the HTC Magic before the HTC Hero, HTC has saved the best for itself.

Let's hope that when it's released in Q2 that it lives up to its name, and really does become a handset to desire.

 



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