HTC Desire S review: HTC Desire S

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Typical Price: $649.00

HTC Desire S (black)

(Part #: DesireSBLK)
4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars 20 user reviews

The Good Gingerbread OS. Solid unibody construction. Faster download capability. Camera significantly improved from the original Desire.

The Bad Evolutionary, not revolutionary. Somebody stole the physical buttons.

The Bottom Line HTC's Desire S isn't the king of the hill in the way that the original Desire was. As an evolution of the Desire concept, it's still a very nice phone, but it's not a world beater.

8.8 Overall
CNET Editors' Choice Jun '11

Design

It's no secret that the original HTC Desire was one of our favourite phones in 2010; despite many other models launching last year, it remained a solid option for any smartphone buyer, seeing off a raft of competition. The updated version, the Desire S, has seen its most significant change in the design arena, grabbing the unibody design style that HTC first used in the Legend last year, and applying it to the Desire idea. The result is mixed. We like the style of the unibody Desire S for the most part, and the fact that it's thinner and smaller (59.8x11.63x115mm to the original Desire's 60x11.9x119mm) makes it easier to hold in the hand than the original did, although that'll vary depending on your hand size. If you found the Desire HD to be too much physical phone to handle, the Desire S may suit your needs well. Then again, the Incredible S' back-bump heavy design felt even better to our hands, so it's well worth giving it a grip road test before buying, in any case.

Something old, something new: the Desire and the Desire S.
(Credit: CBSi)

The Desire S' 3.7-inch SLCD 400x800 display screen looks fair, but having dug out our test Desire, the difference in quality between AMOLED and LCD screens quickly becomes apparent. It's not the kind of difference you'll spot unless you do stick them side by side, but the LCD screen is slightly more washed out.

Again, tastes may vary, but we do miss the inclusion of actual physical buttons that the Desire had but the Desire S lacks. We can't say the same for the lack of optical trackball; while it seemed like a neat idea at the time, a year down the track we can't say we ever used it for much.

The rear of the Desire S houses a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash set off slightly from the central position that the camera had on the original model, next to the speaker grille. As with the Legend, the bottom of the back houses the battery and SIM compartment slot. The unibody design of the Desire S means that it's got two distinct plastic bumps on the back, compared to the smooth back of the original. The upside of this particular design decision is that it's an easier phone to hold.

User experience

There's a simple rule for HTC phones; if you buy one, you're going to get HTC Sense, no matter what the underlying operating system actually is. The Desire S doesn't buck this trend, offering up HTC Sense 2.1, identical to the recently reviewed HTC Incredible S. At this stage, Sense feels rather like a set of comfortable old slippers, even though HTC insists that there's more than two hundred changes between the Sense you get on the Desire S and the Sense you got on the original Desire. It's worthwhile noting that when we quizzed HTC on these exact changes, things got rather evasive as to specific detail. Still, Sense is a key differentiator for HTC's phones, and the ability to personalise your phone, quickly skip through application types and access recently used applications is a plus in the increasingly crowded Android market, where there are still a lot of phones that offer little in the way of applications beyond those that Google offers anyway.

Speaking of applications, as a Telstra exclusive, there's also a range of Telstra applications covering services such as Foxtel and WhereIs. As you might predict, they're forcibly installed and can't be removed without rooting the device.

Camera

We loved the original Desire to bits ... except for the camera, which was a notable weak point. HTC's cameras have never been a really strong focus for the manufacturer, but the Desire S carries the recent trend of offering up decent, but not great, camera options. Putting the Desire S through its paces against the original Desire is a little unfair, but we did it anyway. Undeniably, if you were stepping up from the Desire you'd notice the camera difference straight away with greatly improved colour and shadow depth in most shots. Put it up against a more capable smartphone shooter, however, and the Desire S' shortcomings become slightly more apparent.

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