HTC picked up all sorts of accolades for the extremely capable Android all-rounder that was the original Desire when it first appeared last year.
The new version sports a sleeker look, the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system and a few other tweaks, but is it really that different to its predecessor? Let's take a closer look...
Design and build
As with a few other HTC handsets of late, the Desire S sports a unibody design, meaning that it’s made from a single block of aluminium.
It’s a classy look, and its potential coldness is tempered a little by the rubberised plastic sections which top and tail it (phone aerials have difficulty working through metal).
The bottom section is removable for access to the SIM and microSD cards, both of which you can swap without the need to remove the battery.
It’s slightly shorter than the previous version at 115 x 60 x 12mm and weighs 130g, while the Android hard buttons on the front have been replaced with a touch-sensitive strip.
On the sides are microUSB power/sync port and volume rocker, with a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top.
There’s no change to the original Desire's LCD screen. None at all. To be fair, at 3.7in across and with a 480 x 800-pixel resolution there’s nothing wrong with it – it’s bright, clear, and sharp.
But other manufacturers have been raising the stakes recently, notably Samsung with its AMOLED screens (now also being used by Nokia) and Apple with the iPhone's Retina Display, and it seems a shame that HTC hasn’t moved forward in step.
Interface and OS
Besides the casing, the OS is the biggest difference between the Desire S and its predecessor. It’s running the latest 2.3 version of Android, known as Gingerbread in Google’s sweet-toothed ’droidiverse.
Some of the changes will make more sense over the next year or two – NFC (Near Field Communication), for making virtual payments, and SIP calling for VoIP calls for instance – but other aspects are more here and now.
The keyboard layouts have been improved to make them easier to use and there’s a new editing facility that makes cut and paste more user-friendly.
There have also been some power management tweaks to boost performance and certainly the 1GHz processor proved to be fast and capable when jumping between apps and browsing the web. That’s no doubt helped by a boost in RAM – 768MB, up from 576MB on the original Desire.
HTC’s Sense user interface is the best we’ve seen on an Android phone – intuitive, good-looking and offering an array of genuinely useful features such as the FriendStream widget, which pulls together all your social networking, email and text messages in a single scrollable stream.
The call management feature is pretty handy, too – when your phone rings, picking the handset up immediately lowers the volume, while if you turn it over, the ringing stops altogether, which is handy if you receive a call during an important meeting, for example.
Cameras on HTC phones have never been a great strength, and while there have been improvements, this one is still nothing to shout about.
It’s a 5-megapixel number (a step down from the recent Incredible S, which offers 8MP) and features an LED flash, autofocus, geotagging, digital zoom, face detection and a variety of effects.
The icons on the control strip at the right of the frame rotate when you turn the phone on its side too, which is a nice touch. But picture quality isn’t really as good as it should be, with a tendency to blur, soft edges, and so-so colour reproduction. It also struggles more than it should with too much or too little light.
There’s 720p HD video recording on board, though, which isn’t bad, and although there’s no HDMI port, you can transfer footage wirelessly to your DLNA-enabled TV to view vids or pics on the big screen.
Taking advantage of Gingerbread’s ability to handle two cameras, HTC has put a 1.3 megapixel model on the front for video calling. Unfortunately, though. you can only use it via the internet with a third party VoIP app like Fring, rather than true video calling via your network.
One interesting little feature is the Mirror app, which basically turns this camera on, so you can take a real good look at yourself on-screen. A gimmick, yes, but a useful one.
Apps and browser
The Android browser has always been pretty nippy but it now supports Flash, giving it one up on the iPhone, and it renders web pages well as a rule, automatically running text round so it fits the screen.
The Android Market has proved to be a resounding success and is now second only to Apple’s App Store in terms of the amount of goodies it has available for download, much of it free. QuickOffice is also on board for creating and viewing Word and Excel documents.
Media and connectivity
Watching videos on the 3.7in screen is no chore and you can stretch them to fit the screen if needs be.
The Android music player has been given a stroke or two with the Sense brush, giving it an extra control bar, as well as a link to Amazon’s MP3 service, and the ability to search online for related YouTube content for each of your tracks.
You can also stream music from your PC via your Wi-Fi network. There’s an FM radio on board too, but you’ll probably want to upgrade the tinny-sounding headphones the first chance you get.
The Desire S doesn’t necessarily come with a microSD memory card, though you may get one depending on the deal offered by your network. It can handle up to a maximum of 32GB on top of the 1.1GB memory that’s already on board.
Performance and battery life
Battery life is okay but nothing special, giving us a little over a day of fairly heavy use.
- High-quality 3.7in touchscreen
- 1GHz processor delivers plenty of punch
- Attractive and well built
- Video calling only via the web
- Not a huge step forward from the original Desire
Verdict: The original Desire was a lovely little Android smart phone and so is its successor, but the changes aren’t so huge that they make it a must-buy if you’ve already got the first one.
More info: HTC Desire S spec
Price: From free on contract; £400 SIM-free