First Look: HTC Desire Z review

0 out of 5

For

Build quality, new Sense features look great, great keyboard

Against

Touch keys might be a little small below screen

Are you looking for our full review of the HTC Desire Z? If so, you can find it here.

Some people raise an eyebrow at HTC releasing a QWERTY Android device and that's almost understandable - HTC having played a big part in defining consumer touchscreen Android devices over the last 2 years. But you don't have to look too far back into the annals of HTC history to see the legacy of keyboard-sporting Windows Mobile devices.

So to us, the emergence of an HTC QWERTY device makes perfect sense. Doh! You see what we've done? We've fallen into the trap of rolling off HTC's current buzzword. Today at the press launch in London, HTC execs dropped the expression about "making sense" numerous times. And who can blame them when the new models both come with an updated version of HTC Sense? We'll look at some of the details of the new user interface once we've examined the hardware on offer.

With a 3.7-inch WVGA (probably 800 x 480 pixels) resolution display, you could get away with thinking the Desire Z is a regular touch phone. In fact, it is almost an HTC Desire, and perhaps this explains why HTC have chosen to give the HTC Desire Z an 800MHz Qualcomm 7230 processor, rather than the Desire's 1GHz. A point of differentiation or something more? 

Perhaps the keyboard makes a difference. Without the on-screen keyboard being in constant use, perhaps the demand on the processor is less? Whatever the reason, its one of those oddities you'll have to swallow.

The Z name reflects the hinge between the screen and the keyboard. When we first saw the HTC Desire Z in leaked photos, we thought the coupling between the body and screen was too close, like the keyboard was glued to the side. In real life, that Z hinge makes this more apparent and once opened the two halves of the phone flatten out nicely. It's very cleverly designed.

The Z hinge also opens with real purpose. It doesn't just slide open, it fires open. You give it a push and BANG! it snaps into place. One HTC bod said they'd been sitting at home opening and closing the phone repeatedly to see if it changed. We like the mechanism on the Motorola Milestone 2, but this is something else.

In terms of dimensions, the HTC Desire Z comes in at 119 x 60.4 x 14.16mm. It is a bit of a fat phone, but given the keyboard we'll accept that. The Milestone 2 is a touch smaller but there is one major difference: the HTC Desire Z has an optical trackpad at the base of the screen, which doesn't seem to fit - and Motorola ditched their optical navigator from the original Milestone based on user feedback.

We expected it to be a button to return to the home screen (like the Nokia E7 we saw yesterday), but instead you have the normal four touch buttons across the bottom of the screen: home, menu, back and search. Given the layout across the bottom of the phone, these now feel a little small. Based on our first impressions, we'd be tempted to dump the central optical trackpad, although with extended use we might find it useful.

The keyboard felt great in our tests, easy to get to grips with, although we didn't have the chance to test out the programmable shortcut keys or find those quirks that only throw themselves up with prolonged use. Notable keys include menu and search, with big shift keys and the inclusion of "tab" which we don't always see on mobile devices. We'll have to see how well alternative characters are produced and how navigation of the device integrates with the keyboard when we have the HTC Desire Z in for a full review.

Fortunately HTC Sense now rotates to fit the landscape aspect when you pop the phone open. It does look a little strange when you are used to seeing things in portrait, but your widgets will also change shape to fit the screen. We're not sure if everything will rotate and you can never guarantee that third-party applications you add through Android Market will work in both portrait and landscape, but we'd expect the core HTC applications to on this device, something we need to examine in more detail when we get a sample in for review.

Around the back you get a 5-megapixel camera, supported by an LED flash. It's an autofocus camera and we found it worked snapping shots around the show floor, but that's no real test. We examined some of the effects you can now add, expanding on the offering we had previously in the Desire. Remember too that there are plenty of apps to do this in the Android Market if you are after a particular look for your photos. A test of quality will have to wait, but so far it looks good.

Video capture is offered at 720p and again you get to apply effects, but we didn't get a chance to look at the quality of the video and sharing options on the show floor. One thing we did look at, however, was a new addition to HTC Sense and that is the DNLA sharing.

Hiding under the "Connected" icon you have the option to send your video, music or video to a DNLA device, most probably your TV. We have only seen demos and will have to give it a full run for its money in a normal home environment, but HTC told us it would happily collect content from a compatible network drive and play it back on the device. It sounds like it is giving Samsung's All Share a run for its money, so it will be interesting to pitch it against the Samsung Galaxy S to see which device performances the best.

HTC Sense looks and feels like the user interface we've got to know in the progression of devices from the HTC Hero through to the current two handsets. Visually it looks much the same, although there have been some major changes that compete with some of the connected functions you'll find on other systems, like Apple's MobileMe offering and some of Microsoft's MyPhone. This includes locating your handset, locking it and sending a display message to it if you lose it, and finally wiping it - something that was once the preserve of corporate users, and now a feature we can all benefit from.

Remote call forwarding activation is another useful feature, as is the backup of messages, so you can refer to something online that you said on your phone. Obviously there is the consideration of privacy here, as you don't always want to be able to sit at work and read back all those text messages you sent to your ex-wife whilst drunk. Could be catastrophic; could be hilarious.

One of the features that the new HTC Sense boast is a fast boot. We tried this out and saw the device start in under 10 seconds, but we don't know if this is the same once you pull the battery. We're also taken by HTC Sense's new pre-cache map option, but getting the maps to work indoors seemed to be a problem at the launch event. 

Navigating around the device, it all seemed fast and smooth, with no sign of lag, so perhaps that 800MHz processor and 512MB RAM handle the Android 2.2 and HTC Sense layers, but at the same time, it's one thing looking at a sample device, and something entirely different when you get it out on the streets. Still, based on previous experience with HTC's Android devices we'd expect this to be an excellent performer, even if the Sense widgets still need a prod to update.

Verdict

The HTC Desire Z is a welcome addition that strengthens HTCs Android offering, bring the QWERTY option that is too often over-looked. It squares up nicely against the Motorola Milestone 2 which will also be hitting shelves shortly, so we'll have a real scrap on our hands, with two Android 2.2 devices pitching HTC Sense against Motoblur, although the Milestone 2 is the more powerful device.

First impressions are good, but there is still a lot to consider. And consider it we will when we get the phone in for a full review soon.