Review of HTC Desire as alternative to Apple iPhone
My search for an alternative to Apple’s iPhone has been long and frustrating.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked out of a highstreet phone shop, disappointed by devices that promised so much but turned out to be flimsy toys with sluggish software and unresponsive touchscreens.
Anyone who has similarly quested an escape from Apple’s grasp will know my pain!
The problem, you see, is that the iPhone is close to perfect. It feels solid, it looks pretty, and its screen responds to the slightest gesture.
But it is hobbled by Apple’s super-tight approval process that, for example, blocked Pulitzer Prize-winning work by satirist Mark Fiore, and kept customers waiting an astonishing 20 days for the popular Opera web browser to be allowed on to the device.
(Fiore’s work was eventually approved after much public outcry, while Opera rocketed to the top of the iPhone app chart with more than one million downloads in 48 hours.)
The latest, and most enticing alternative to the iPhone comes in the form of the Desire by Taiwanese mobile phone specialist HTC.
With HTC’s announcement on Friday that its next handset, the Incredible, will not be launched in the UK — and presumably not on the Continent either — it is likely that the Desire will remain as the iPhone’s main European rival for some considerable time.
Hyped as the world’s first superphone, the Desire is fast, beautiful, and its touchscreen is every bit as tactile and responsive as that on Apple’s handset.
At the heart of the Desire is Google’s Android operating system so it is near-infinitely customisable.
It is also out-of-stock across much of the UK after delivery flights were grounded by the volcanic ash cloud.
On paper, the Desire is the first serious challenger to the iPhone’s reign as king of phones. But how does it compare in use?
The failings of the Desire hit you within minutes of first using it.
Its screen is bright and colourful indoors, but almost unusable in sunlight. This severely hampers all aspects of the phone, from sending texts to web browsing, to taking photos.
The touchscreen intermittently remains active during phone calls and it’s too easy to press the on-screen buttons with your ear. I’ve accidentally hung up on people dozens of times.
Sound quality during calls is noticeably worse than the iPhone. Both the earpiece and the speaker produce a feeble, tinny sound with a background hiss.
Used indoors, the Desire’s vivid screen is great for most apps, but when viewing photos or web sites you realise that the screen is severely over-saturated. People’s faces become beetroot red.
Web browsing is a joy. Pages render quickly and accurately.
When you zoom in on a web page using the familiar un-pinch gesture, the Desire neatly re-formats text to your screen width for easy reading.
Built-in Google chat is a surprise boon, offering a free and instantaneous alternative to text messaging between friends.
The phone is advertised as a hub-in-your-pocket for social networking, yet support for Facebook and Twitter is incomplete and unreliable, at times missing entire blocks of messages.
Thanks to the open nature of the Android operating system, there is a myriad of alternative apps to replace the standard ones.
Antiquated list-style text messaging is easily upgraded to a free iPhone-style app with familiar speech bubble conversations.
There are superb free apps for Twitter, note taking, reading news feeds, and almost anything else you may want to do with a phone. Facebook apps are thin on the ground and quite poor, although a full-featured official Facebook client is persistently rumoured to be on the horizon.
Some free apps include advertising but this is unobtrusive.
There has been much criticism of Apple not allowing Flash on the iPhone.
Flash on Android phones is far from perfect, as it is slow and more things don’t work than do work, but more robust Flash support is promised soon.
General use of the Desire is not as smooth as that of the iPhone. The on-screen keyboard is more fiddly and auto-correction is often silly. The optical trackpad is randomly useless, and stops working entirely if you try to use the handset in even light rain.
Many functions require a press of the menu button to bring up a list of options, whereas on the iPhone there would be a button on the screen. This extra step makes the Desire feel a little cumbersome.
Battery life is appalling. With moderate use I have to charge the Desire twice each day. The phone loses around a fifth of its charge just sitting on the bedside table overnight.
Not for everyone
With the Desire’s catalogue of weaknesses, you may be surprised when I say that I have no interest in going back to the iPhone.
Refined and slick Apple’s handset may be, but unless you take the risk of unlocking it (so-called jailbreaking) you will always have Apple acting as master and commander.
In contrast, it feels like I own the Desire and I can do what I want with it.
Certainly the Desire is not for everyone.
The poor performance of the screen in sunlight will put a lot of people off.
Most people don’t want the hassle of finding alternatives to the lacklustre built-in apps.
Perhaps most telling is that I’ve been using the Desire for a week now and it has begun to reduce my casual phone use.
With the iPhone I would fill downtime and dog walks by web browsing, checking Facebook, reading tweets and texting. The Desire’s poor performance in daylight and fiddly on-screen keyboard have made these pastimes more of a chore than they should be.
Whilst the Desire is flawed, for those of us who want a non-Apple superphone it’s certainly good enough, and crucially its open nature affords it the potential to be much better.
ps. Seeing as this is still vaguely a photography blog, here’s a set-up shot for the photo in this review. Nothing special, just a few sheets of A4 copier paper and a couple of erasers taped to the backs of the phones so they could stand upright. Ambient exposure was set for the phone screens and the flash was bounced off the ceiling with just enough power to over-expose the white paper.