When it comes to purchasing a smartphone, I always look for one in the premium class. Yes, the ones with super-fast processors, enormous HD displays and tremendous camera strength. For some reason, I’ve never given a chance to a mid-range phone, haven’t even tested one.
When HTC phoned and informed me that my HTC One review unit will come next week for a special reason and instead they’ll send me their latest one, the Desire 500, I became quite pensive. I was acknowledged of the fact that the Desire line up is the company’s mid-range class. When I got home and took the device out of the box, I was looking in awe and actually couldn’t wait to use it as my daily driver for the consecutive week.
Disclaimer: We received the phone — blue version — on Friday 20th and used it as my daily driver till Monday 30th.
Let’s start the review with the hardware part. The phone is covered with a white glossy shell with HTC branding and the 8MPix primary sensor dressed in brushed blue embellishing the back. The same aluminum-look plastic is crafting around the edges, including the power button and the 3.5mm headset port on the top, the volume control on its right side, and on the bottom the microUSB charging port and sound-canceling speaker. On the front, you will find the display which is covered with high-quality glass and feels premiere in the hand.
Initially, when I noticed that the phone is covered with plastic, I thought I’d have to go through the same experience I had with every single Galaxy device’s polycarbonate back. On the contrary, the particular cover feels splendid in the hands — not cheap at all. It fits very nice in your hand (123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm); its grip is so solid that it’s implausible to slip from it. The device is indeed very light-weight (123 grams, 4.34 Oz) and has a considerably thin bezel as well, causing no pain after using it for a long lasting period.
Taking off the back — a really painstaking process during the first fruitless attempt — inside you will find a 1,800mAh battery with HTC’s logo engraved on, the microSD (up to 64GB) and microSIM card import. And yes, the microSD card slot in this phone has great substance as it solely features 4 gigs of internal storage with only 1 gigabyte free for the user.
The sole thing we didn’t like about the hardware of the device is the buttons accessibility. Although, they look great in that blue brushed plastic because they are in the same surface level with the rest of the plastic surrounding, sometimes it can get hard to press. It’s a really minor issue though, thus let’s just put it on the back burner.
In terms of color range, the phone comes in three different versions. Black, White, Blue — the one we used, and Red — red accent on edges with white back cover.
I characteristically remember when the HTC One X came out. It was the company’s flagship of the 2011-12 season; also the first to bring quad-core madness in the industry. All the reviews I read, including my experience whilst using it, came to the same conclusion. Tremendous hardware and performance, embarrassing Sense 4.0. Back then the design was hideous and laggy, the exact opposite of the device’s rest features. So, I wasn’t feeling quite ready to use Sense before doing the first boot-up.
The Desire is powered by Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean in conjunction with HTC’s Sense 5.0 – the latest iteration of the skin. Trust me, v5.0 has meaningful integrations over the v4.0. It took about ten minutes to set up the phone, including synchronization with my Google accounts, installing apps and locating to show local weather etc. The phone was ready to use in just ten minutes. As you have probably already figured out, my initial horror before using Sense UI was gone.
The marquee feature of Sense — at least in my opinion — has to be BlinkFeed. It’s the best addition I have ever seen in custom mobile user interfaces. If you aren’t aware of BlinkFeed, it’s a news and status aggregator, allowing you to stay on the loop with latest updates on the first page of your home screen. It allows you to choose the topics you want to be informed from and by whom – politics, tech and science, music etc. One thing we noticed is the amount of featured headlines is inefficient. Though, if you go to categories, choose the one you want to read and open it up, you’ll find a number of more specific topics of this intersection and more services supporting this platform that aren’t featured. For instance, I checked the Gadgets, Internet and Smartphone topics in the tech and science section – you can do the same for the rest as well. You can also add Facebook and Twitter updates on BlinkFeed. When you open up a story on BlinkFeed, it displays a part of it and gives you the option to read the full story via the browser on the bottom, or if you’ve already got the gist, share it on various social networking platforms. Our overall experience with it was great as it was really responsive.
Moving on to Sense in general, we feel confident enough to say that it works as great and as user-friendly as BlinkFeed. We didn’t expect that astonishing results to be honest. The interface is very fluid and fast. One thing I personally enjoyed is the software’s functionalities, especially when it comes to talk about the pre-installed browser with capabilities identical to Google Chrome (i.e. new incognito tab) and Flash player. Originally I wasn’t sure about how much it actually works – like most features of the software, though when I actually needed, it got the job done.
In order to actually see how well it works, I have visited numerous non-mobile friendly websites, which include plenty of pop up advertisements and require flash to play any embedded video format. Sense stock browser allows you to navigate through these websites with ease and make full use of their features. On the rest Android UIs, the user would have to purchase a usually low quality third-party Flash-AdBlock browser thus to access this particular type of websites. I also found quite fascinating the fact that it would update the weather automatically when I was leaving the district I reside to and additionally I did not miss any message or tweet from a friend with such a peachy notification system. Generally, every stock application in Sense is a profound work.
Albeit being redesigned from scratch, Sense still doesn’t look as attractive as other Android skins. The springboard has a black background with three app icons in each row. Design preferences are definitely something subjective as others might find it gorgeous. Though, the vast majority agrees that Sense needs a more intuitive design thus to become funnier navigating around.
Did you know that mid-range devices do not solely feature old-tech single core processors? In fact, the Desire has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 200 quad-core mid-range chip clocked at 1.2GHz under the hood. Alongside with it you’ll be tendered with an Adreno 203 GPU and 1 gig of memory. The concise description of the chipset looks eye-catching to you till you read mid-range. Well, there is no reason to worry about it. Despite being a chipset manufactured for middle class devices, this thing is speedy. I had no problem playing any 3D game, including the most demanding ones such as RipTide GP 2, and most importantly it runs through the OS startling smooth. As mentioned right above, in terms of gaming, I tried a bunch of heavy-graphics games, and there wasn’t any lagging or crashing, causing you to lose it and probably throw your precious devices on the wall – graphics always set to the highest level. Multitasking was a blast as well as 1GB makes app switching ridiculously fluid and fast.
The Desire 500 contributes to the enhancement of Wi-Fi reception as well, as it includes 802.11n for peak performance. My router is in the second store of the house, and while being on the fourth I was able to browse the Internet with one line of signal. Frankly, it has one of the best Wi-Fi I’ve used in a smartphone. I definitely didn’t anticipate a mid-range phone to offer that great web browsing experience. The processor also improves the reception of the rest wireless implementations too, since web-browsing through a cellular network was acceptable as well.
The chip itself has one downfall with great significance though; as it affects the performance of the camera. Its video-resolution support is limited to HD 720p, which by any means is awful. You might think that 720p isn’t bad – especially for a mid-range handset, but you’ll see why later on this review.
Now for our geeky-readers, we indeed put the device under AnTuTu benchmark test and it’s actually decent. The results are close to Samsung’s former flagship, the Galaxy S2.
One of the most substantial features of a smartphone nowadays is its camera. After a lot of shots during daylight and night, we have mixed feeling about it. The Desire’s primary sensor shares a striking resemblance with a premium phone’s, as its spec sheet clearly states that the camera is shooting at the celestial resolution of 3264×2448 pixels – equal to the iPhone 5S. Taken at face value, it sounds magnificent.
The camera indeed snaps high-res photos, though after taking more than one hundred shots, most of them were really noisy even in sunlight, and for whatever reason they look sort of shaky. The camera software has been bumped up with a selection of functionalities, including Instagram alike filters, image, ISO and white balance adjustment.
We found out that in daylight with white balance set to auto, the background is dominated by a bluish tint, hence whilst shooting under sunlight we set WB to ‘Daylight’, thus to receiving more accurate color results. When it comes to low-light photo shooting we concluded that the best combination is auto white balance and ISO adjusted to either 400 or 800. Whilst at 800, the photo will indeed look brighter while at 400, it will be ostensibly darker but much less noisy.
In addition, the front facing camera shoots at 1.6MPix, and it is the best I’ve used for selfies, video-chatting or even as a mirror. The handset exhibits LED flash, which I avoid using. It does fairly as a standard LED light, with the upshot being a yellow-colored picture. Like in any other device, I solely made use of it as a torch.
In terms of video recording, as we mentioned above, it is limited to 720p duly to the chip. Though, other phones that record in HD – like the iPhone 4, which still is great in video capturing – bring quite impressing results on the table. The video capture is probably the most distinguishing feature of all as it is the sole one that we detested testing. It is extremely noisy and inconsistent, and albeit recording at 30FPS, pixels move really slow consequently causing lag whilst watching it. The moment I watched the video, I dwelled on memories from my Xperia X10 Mini Pro film capture at 480p, in late 2010. Haphazardly organized.
Desire 500 Camera samples:
The Desire 500 showcases a quite intriguing 4.3-inch display resolving at 480×800 pixels at 217ppi. As we wrote in the hardware part of the review, the screen is covered with premium glass, which is very responsive – there was not a single finger-touch it did not register. It is not Gorilla Glass and consequently I’d suggest purchasing a screen protector if you opt for it. Albeit the fact that the res. of the display is not the sharpest, colors are really lively, its brightness adjustment is efficient enough and viewing angles look quite nice despite the fact that it does not have IPS built-in. One thing we did not enjoy whilst using the phone, is when under intense sunlight – with the most bright level set – fuzzy edges in graphics are very conspicuous with a naked eyes, regardless what the screen displays.
Moreover, the bottom of the display kept some space for two touch capacitive buttons as well. Home and return. I have been used to the concept of the home button – either physical or digital – being in the middle and not located on the right side; hence I got confused the first day tapping on the center receiving no response. Beside that last two remarks, it definitely is one of the best displays you will find in the mid-range phone market.
The biggest flaw we often face while using a modern smartphone is its battery life. For an unexplained reason, hardware manufacturers touch up the specs and neglect to implement a solid battery capable of sustaining these energy absorbers.
To run the juice, HTC has installed a 1,800mAh battery on the back which might sound promising to you though it’s not the phone’s strong suit. It can absolutely get you throughout the day with brightness adjusted to 65% along with mild-usage (a bit of web-browsing, video/music playback, and checking in with the social platforms you use) for about twelve hours – with battery dropped to 10%. In terms of heavy battery usage, we ran the Inferse Battery Test, our standard test that cycles through a series of popular websites, 3D games and high-res images with brightness set to 65 percent. The Desire lasted 2 hours and 18 minutes – much less than we originally estimated, which is quite embarrassing, since it runs in such a low resolution display. During both occasions, power saver mode was turned on.
Another implementation that really matters for the consumer is the audio performance of the handset. The 500′s speaker grill is embed on the bottom of its back, which for me is kind of a downfall as we usually place our fingers on that spot – blocking the sound to emit. Regardless, sound quality is very decent even when set to the loudest level it wasn’t reduced. HTC definitely could make it a little bit louder, though it’s fair enough.
According to recent reports, it is highly likely that the phone will be the company’s last device to support Beats Audio sound enhancement -at least for the near future. Once you plug-in you ear buds or Bluetooth headset, the program will be turned on its own automatically – it displays Beats Audio logo in the status bar while on – promising a consequently better sound proficiency. Frankly, I have never been able to see the distinction. I used the same white classic Apple earphones in my 4S and then in the Desire and experienced no difference whatsoever. The quality though was fulfilling from every aspect.
A mass proportion of reviewers believe it’s redundant to dedicate more than two lines for the handset’s main and original purpose; phone calls.
I asked for some feedback from the people I made calls to and their comments were pretty positive. They said that they could hear me very clearly, some said that the basses were a bit higher than they should be – tough that didn’t affect the conversation by any means. I feel suffice to say the same thing for the other party as well. I could hear every single word they popped out from their mouth, whether it was a phone call or Skype. Along with the powerful signal reception, voice calling in the Desire 500 is quite an experience. Irrefutably, the phone aced it here.
The first day I brought the handset at school and asked my chaps how much do they think it costs, everyone thought it is an iPhone competitor, a prodigious premium-class phone, retailing from around 500 to 600 euros. When I informed that it is available from 250 to 300, they couldn’t believe me.
HTC implemented such a great spec sheet and elegant design on the device that it tricks you into thinking that this is a bargain. When you actually test the handset though, you will notice glaring instills of mediocrity which prove where it truly belongs to. Sure, it is one of the best options you can go for in the mid-range market, but that’s about it. Let’s hope though that other companies will push the envelope and start giving emphasis on their middle class line ups as well.