HTC Desire S

Style and handling summary for HTC Desire S review
With its aluminium unibody, the Desire S feels smooth in the hand, while it gets a retro feel from its rounded edges and matt rubber embellishments
HTC Desire S

User friendliness summary for HTC Desire S review
Improved performance thanks to Android Gingerbread, as well as more responsiveness from the touch screen and a speedier virtual keyboard. We also like the HTC Sense interface

Feature set summary for HTC Desire S review
What you'd expect from a smartphone - snapper, sat-nav, and social networking, email and web on a par with the desktop experience - but there are bigger and better devices on the horizon, with high-definition displays and dual-core processors, so it may seem a bit old hat come the end of the year

Performance summary for HTC Desire S review
Performance was mostly speedy and smooth, with decent multitasking capabilities, although every so often we didn't receive email alerts

Battery power summary for HTC Desire S review
You'll get a slightly better battery life thanks to a slightly bigger battery - but you'll still need to charge it at the end of each day

Full Review and Specification for the HTC Desire S
The HTC Desire S is a darn fine phone. And if you've been keeping up with phone developments and are familiar with the work of HTC that's about all we need to say. Because the Desire S is very much like the Desire HD, the Incredible S and the Desire - just wrapped up in a different chassis. Features-wise it comes on a par with the Incredible and the HD - and as the Desire is set to get an Android Gingerbread upgrade, that will soon be pretty much the same too. While the Desire S really just represents an incremental upgrade on the Desire stable, is there room for another one - and does the Desire S do enough to earn its rightful place?

Looking good
The first standout feature is the aluminium unibody - which comes in grey, slate or black. On the top and bottom of the device there are matt black plastic pads, and its rounded edges offer the familiar trademark HTC retro look. The 3.7in touch-screen is of the S-LCD type, which offers a brighter, sharper take on the LCD screen of the Desire HD, and is easier to view in sunlight - although its colours don't quite match up to the likes of the high-res screens found on phones such as the Xperia Arc. The usual Android buttons - search, back, home and menu - are found in four touch-sensitive areas along the bottom.

The search key is great - you can use it to do an apps search from the home-screen or launch the web, or use it for app-relevant searches when in most apps.

Under the hood is a 1GHz processor, plus 1GB RAM, which is a step up from the Desire. Like other phones on Android 2.2 and above, the Desire S can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, as it can convert the 3G signal into Wi-Fi, to which other devices are able to connect. The battery is bigger than the Desire HD, at 1450mAh compared to 1230mAh, so there's a definite improvement in battery life, but you'll still have to charge the device every night.

Back to basics
The Desire S is the first of HTC's phones to be launched with Android Gingerbread (although the Incredible S is due an upgrade soon), and most of the differences can be found under the bonnet. Performance on the Desire was a bit sluggish, even with a 1GHz processor, but the Desire S offers a smooth experience - it's faster, has a better virtual keyboard, and multitasking works well.

Anyone who is familiar with HTC's Android handsets will have no problem getting accustomed to the seven home-screens, which can be customised with widgets and pre-loaded apps - as always the HTC weather-clock is a joy, with its animation of current climes when the phone is nudged awake from sleep mode.

Setting up and syncing email is easy thanks to the handy start-up screen, which also takes you through setting up Facebook, Twitter and Flickr step by step. If you don't already have one, you'll need a Gmail account to activate the handset - this will sync contacts with your phone book, as well as all your social network contacts. Android 2.2 lets you back up your data with Google - which means every time you sign in to a new Android handset with that email address, it automatically downloads everything from saver usernames to apps, so if that doesn't appeal make sure you leave that option unticked.

Looks-wise, the only thing that's different in Gingerbread is the all-programs menu - this appears as a vertically stacked set of screens, rather than one long scrolling menu - and there's a features tab that allows you to change settings such as 3G and Wi-Fi quickly. A toolbar at the top of the screen is where your alerts will appear, but we found this to be rather unreliable, as alerts popped up some minutes after the email had actually arrived. Also, we had some trouble receiving texts - they often didn't appear unless we sent a new one, or made a phone call.
The five-megapixel snapper has an LED flash and autofocus. While HTC has been working on improving its cameras, this is still not really a ‘good' camera phone. Having said that, it does offer a reasonable amount of options for tweaking settings before you take a snap and some nifty effects to add on afterwards. We'd still like to see a better lens and a few less software options though, as seen on the iPhone 4. However, the images are pretty decent, with better colour reproduction than those from the Desire HD's snapper. In daylight, images come out pretty clearly, although we noticed some over-sharpening if we zoomed in.

In low light with the flash turned off, the images were slightly blurry, especially if we had zoomed in, but some pictures we took in a dimly lit club were okay when viewed on a monitor. Where it comes up trumps - compared with the iPhone 4 - is when it comes to sharing options. You can send your picture via any of your emails, MMS or social network apps.

You can also record in HD video, at a DVD-quality frame rate. There is a front-facing VGA camera for making video calls, although you'll find no native video calling feature on the phone - and Skype does not yet support video calls on Android handsets. You can choose apps such as Fring or Tango, but your friends will have to use these too.

Apps and internet
Android handsets have always had the benefit of an excellent browser that offers full HTML for a desktop-like browsing experience. The web pages will automatically fit the display, which means you don't have to do a lot of scrolling, and a double tap switches between zoom-in and 100% page views. A nifty addition is the ability to download the Chrome to Phone app - this means you can send text and links that you are reading on your computer over to your phone. It's handy if you're checking out phone numbers or map links.

Android Market now offers you a choice of 300,000 apps and is fast approaching the number of iPhone apps available (350,000). But HTC has had the foresight to preload a good few apps on the Desire S, so you may not need to go shopping any time so. The Car Panel app offers a proper sat-nav experience for drivers, there's a Places augmented reality app for nearby points of interest, an ebook reader and Soundhound, which is a Shazam-lookalike.

The verdict
HTC has been busy bringing a host of Android handsets to market that all have similar features and pricetags. While there will be higher-tech phones available soon, with dual-cores and ultra-HD screens, the Desire S has plenty to offer the average smartphone use, with email, web, apps, social networking and casual photography options. So why would you buy it? Well, it's pretty much the same as the Incredible S, but comes in a smaller package.