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HTC Desire C review: HTC Desire C

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But just because you're on a budget, you shouldn't have to live without the latest version of Google's Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. Or so says HTC, which has introduced that most rare of creatures -- a budget 'droid that doesn't taste of Gingerbread.

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5.5

HTC Desire C

The Good

Ice Cream Sandwich; HTC Sense 4.0; microSD card slot.

The Bad

Weak processor; Small low-res screen; Call volume is quite quiet.

The Bottom Line

The HTC Desire C delivers Android Ice Cream Sandwich to the budget end of the smart phone spectrum, but this sugary goodness can't compensate for under-powered hardware. Even at this affordable price, there are more powerful and capable budget blowers up for grabs.
Not everyone can afford a super-powered smart phone with multiple cores and a screen big enough to double as a tea tray.

The ICS-flavoured HTC Desire C can be pocketed free on two-year contracts starting at around £13 a month, or it'll set you back from £130 on pay as you go or circa £185 SIM free.

Should I buy the HTC Desire C?

The Desire C can be cheap but 'you get what you pay for' applies in spades. The Android experience it delivers is very budget indeed, so don't be distracted by thoughts of Ice Cream Sandwich goodness at bargain basement prices. ICS can't compensate for the limitations of owning such an under-powered smart phone.

HTC Desire C
The Desire C packs the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, into a small, budget package.

On monthly contracts, the Desire C is hard to recommend. If you can afford a few more pounds each month -- to hit the £15 figure -- there are scores of excellent alternative Androids up for grabs that stomp all over the Desire C and won't leave you sobbing at the prospect of being locked in their company for two long years. Sony's cheap and cheerful Xperia U -- packing a dual-core chip -- can be pocketed for a cheaper monthly toll than the Desire C (and it isn't much more expensive on PAYG or SIM free).

Also noteworthy is the excellent Huawei G300, which costs a snip less on PAYG than the Desire C yet it offers a superior experience -- with a 1GHz chip and an attractive 4-inch display. And, if you can stomach a spot of bloatware, there are operator-branded blowers in this price range with more under the bonnet -- such as the T-Mobile Vivacity and the Orange San Francisco 2.

At best, the Desire C would make an okay first-time smart phone for kids or newcomers to Android. But it's not going to keep you guys entertained for long.

As well as the alternatives mentioned above, parents buying a first smart phone for a child could consider the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2, which is a basic, kid-friendly blower that's up for grabs on contract from as little as £10.50 a month.

If you're after a sub-£200 SIM-free phone, you could even consider stepping away from Android to dive into the world of Windows Phone via the budget Nokia Lumia 610.

Ice Cream Sandwich and apps

The Desire C comes with Ice Cream Sandwich but it's not fully loaded with all of ICS' features. Don't expect to get Face Unlock, for instance, which unlocks your handset using facial recognition, as this budget blower doesn't have a front-facing camera.

What you do get, among other things, is ICS' ability to flick notifications out of the tray, a scrollable stack of thumbnails showing your recent apps (also flickable), and a mobile data usage menu that allows you to set usage limits and warnings. There's also the ability to resize certain widgets to take up more or less of the screen -- albeit there's not much room to play with on this dinky display.

HTC Desire C
Tap the recent apps menu and the Desire C delivers Ice Cream Sandwich's flickable thumbnail stack.

You can also download Google's Chrome for Android beta browser, which is only available for ICS. The Chrome browser works surprisingly well on such a low-powered device, with the 3D deck of cards interface for navigating tabs coming into its own on the small screen.

Ultimately though, while it's nice to have the newest version of Google's OS on board, just having ICS isn't enough to make the Desire C a great phone. It certainly doesn't compensate for how slow and under-powered it is. There's no getting away from this unfortunate truth. One of the many more adequately powered Gingerbread Androids will typically be a more capable sidekick than this phone.

Because the Desire C is weedier than other phones in HTC's new line-up, the company has pared back its Sense 4.0 interface -- so you don't get all the bells and whistles found on more expensive devices such as the One S and One X get. There's no fancy lock screen widgets on the Desire C, for instance, just the option to set which app shortcuts appear.

You do still get HTC's trademark preview widget menu but it's pretty slow -- and it just serves to underline how under-powered the phone is. It really is a shame HTC didn't use a more beefy chip.

Elsewhere on the Desire C you'll find the familiar Android experience of multiple home screens to swipe around and customise with apps and widgets. Thousands of apps are available for download from Google's Play store, but don't expect all of them to run smoothly because of the phone's weak processor.

HTC Desire C width
It's not the slinkiest of handsets but it's light enough, at just 100g.

Power and performance

The Desire C took so long to crawl through the set-up process -- appearing to freeze multiple times -- that I feared I might have been sent a dud. Eventually it recovered from this torpor and came to life. Or, more accurately, it stabilised to a plodding pace.

If you're doing anything more taxing than swiping around basic menus, expect to be regularly eyeballing loading screens before the stuff you're after materialises. At especially taxing times, you'll find yourself waiting for the phone to catch up with what your fingers are asking.

Why the foot dragging? The Desire C has a 600MHz chip, which is pretty dinky by today's standards (don't confuse this Desire with last year's HTC Desire S -- which had a 1GHz engine). You certainly won't find yourself zipping around the web. Attempt to view full versions of websites and you'll be left staring at illegible blurs for precious seconds.

Even when full-fat web pages do load, the low-res 320x480-pixel screen means text is tough to read unless you turn the phone on its side and switch to landscape orientation. All in all, you're better off snacking on mobile versions of websites -- they're much more up the Desire C's street.

In benchmark tests I ran, the Desire C confirmed its barrel-scraping performance, with a lowly score on Vellamo's browser test of just 539. It bottomed out Quadrant's benchmark, managing only 1,404, and stuttered to 2,244 in Antutu's test.

It also ran GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test of 3D graphics at a mere 24 frames per second, so the only gaming you'll want to do on this blower is the Angry Birds variety -- and even Angry Birds was a touch juddery.

HTC Desire C
The Desire C's weak processor will leave you wanting more.

Video looks impoverished on a panel that offers a mere 165 pixels per inch. And while you can technically download the BBC's iPlayer app, getting any TV shows to play smoothly appears to be entirely beyond the Desire C. At best, this is a phone for eyeballing short YouTube clips.

I also found typing on the diddy keyboard cramped. Unless you have child-sized digits, turning the phone on its side is almost a pre-requisite to use it. And there doesn't appear to be a Swype-style alternative to make typing in such a small space a little easier.

HTC has splashed some paint on the Desire C's rump to brand it with a Beats Audio logo but don't expect epic feats of aural delight. The speaker is okay but at the top of the range -- which doesn't go that loud -- my review handset developed a crackly buzz.

Call quality is also not good. Even in a very quiet room, the person on the other end of the line sounded muffled to me. Outdoors, with background noise to contend with from traffic and people, I found it really difficult to hear the person on the other end, missing chunks of the conversation in the process. The volume simply didn't go loud enough to compensate. The person I was speaking to also had trouble hearing me so if you're hoping the Desire C will at least be an awesome telephone, think again.

Battery life is one area you can rely on though. Crack open the back of the Desire C and nestling in its snazzy red insides you'll find a 1,230mAh removable battery. During the time I spent with it, I found the phone easily lasted a day's moderate use. If you're not using it too much, you might be able to stretch to more than one day before hunting for a plug.

Design and build quality

The Desire C is not an aesthetic eyesore but nor is it especially blessed in the looks department. Its small, rounded pebble form sits easily in the hand but it does look slightly bland.

HTC has jazzed things up by going for a two-tone split between silver aluminium trim on the front -- at least on the white model -- and matte white plastic adorning the back. The black model has a snazzy red metallic collar around the camera lens (on the white model this is standard silver). I've also spotted a bright red model in the wild, which certainly looks more striking.

Size wise, the phone's footprint is fractionally bigger than a credit card. It's not super-slim but nor is it mega-chunky -- and at just 100g, it won't weigh down your pockets.

HTC Desire C size
The Desire C is not much bigger than a credit card.

Build quality feels plasticky and cheap, especially as the back flexes and creaks if you push on it. The backplate also doesn't fit that snugly into the front of the phone. The power key has a slightly unpleasant feel under the finger as it's sited on the crack that divides the two halves -- making it feel sharp.

The front of the device has HTC's standard three touch keys -- back, home and a recent apps key. The latter felt especially unresponsive but I put this down to software lag rather than a problem with the hardware as the other two keys weren't so sluggish.

You get a 3.5mm headphone jack up top and a micro-USB port on the side for charging and moving files back and forth. Inside the phone, you'll also find a microSD card slot for expanding its 4GB of on-board storage.

HTC has continued its partnership with cloud storage company Dropbox so you can easily set up the phone to auto-sync any photos you take to a Dropbox account. You also get 25GB of Dropbox storage space free for two years.

Also included is near field communication (NFC), a contactless sharing technology -- so you can swipe the phone over NFC-enabled tags to quickly grab info or to change phone settings.

Camera

The Desire C has a 5-megapixel camera on the back. I found this nice and snappy for taking a photo -- at well under half a second. Less good is the lack of control over the focus so it's hit or miss whether your photo will be in focus.

HTC Desire C camera test
This outdoor snap has strong colours but detail lacks crispness (click image to enlarge).

As a really basic point and shoot, the Desire C is fine, but even then you should expect a lot of blurry shots. In good, strong light outdoors, it can turn out some colourful snaps but the quality is never better than camera-phone fodder.

The phone captures video at a maximum resolution of 480x640 pixels. During testing, I found results to be very crude -- with poor audio and lots of artefacting in the frame producing footage with a chewed-up look. The best you can say is it can look quite colourful, rather than washed out.

It will just about serve for really basic low budget YouTube clips but that's the absolute limit of this lens.

Conclusion

The Desire C can be pocketed pretty cheaply, but even at this price there are more powerful alternatives vying for your cash. Just getting Ice Cream Sandwich -- or HTC throwing in stuff like NFC -- is not enough to compensate for the phone's many shortcomings, at least in my view.

While HTC's interface is easy to use, poor performance overall and limited scope result in an Android experience that can be frustrating as often as it is fun. The Desire C is an especially tough sell when compared with nippier Gingerbread alternatives such as the Sony Xperia U or the exceedingly affordable Huawei G300 -- not least because these phones are due an ICS update in the not-too-distant future.