Google has worked hard in the latest releases of Android to bolster the platform's appeal to business users, but with the jolly green robot as mascot this platform still tends to appeal to geeks and gamers more than to the BlackBerry set. The HTC Desire Z could change this, with an excellent QWERTY keyboard offering something we don't often see paired with Google's system.
Android is coming up on its third birthday as a commercial product, and yet a scan over the dozens of Android releases up to now reveals a severe shortage of physical keyboards. Motorola is far in front with 14 QWERTY Androids (only five of which have made it to Australia), but for HTC, a leader in the Android brigade, the Desire Z is only the second keyboard phone after the HTC Dream. To set this release apart, HTC's designers have attempted to solve a problem we see all too often with QWERTY slider handsets: how to move the screen into a position where it doesn't obstruct the top row of the keyboard.
The solution is rather clever: an ingenious design HTC calls the "Z-hinge". When you slide this phone open the screen is effectively lifted by the Z-hinge and placed in line, and very nearly flush, with the bottom half of the handset. This reveals an excellent chiclet-design keyboard, where each key has a little breathing room from its neighbour.
HTC's clever Z-hinge mid-action.
The physical aesthetics of the Desire Z are among the best of the HTC range. The handset maintains the now-familiar HTC design profile, but its mix of brushed aluminium and light slate-coloured soft-touch plastic gives the Z a brighter, more chic appearance than you get with either the Desire HD or with the HTC Windows Phone handsets.
If you've been watching the progress of HTC's Sense UI, then you're probably familiar with the user experience of the Desire Z. In many ways, it is identical to the version of Sense UI you get on the. This Sense UI version 2.1 adds to its predecessor with customisation options unmatched by any other Android maker in the market to date. Using the HTC Hub you can change the phone's Skin, effectively change the colour palette of the phone across the UI, download ringtone packs to update all phone sounds in one action and apply any of the 72 HTC-designed home screen widgets.
Sense 2.1 also adds a multitasking manager into the Android notifications panel, allowing you to move between your most recently opened apps by scrolling through a horizontal list above your current notifications.
If there's one element of the UI we'd love HTC to take a crack at next, it's the layout of the Application Drawer. On the Desire Z the App Drawer remains the same as it has been since the first HTC releases, while other Android makers like Samsung have long since looked to an iPhone-esque horizontal app layout. This is a small issue to be sure, but we find the App Drawer can become a little unruly once you've downloaded several dozen new apps to the phone.