HTC Desire S Android phone

HTC Desire S review: The Desire S is best described as an evolution of its predecessor, but does little to stand out amongst the crowd

HTC Desire S
  • HTC Desire S
  • HTC Desire S
  • HTC Desire S
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5


  • Latest Android OS and slick Sense integration
  • Unibody aluminium design
  • Competitive price


  • Evolution rather than evolution
  • No real advanced features
  • We miss the physical buttons

Bottom Line

The HTC Desire S is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade over the original Desire. It remains an excellent smartphone, but it hits the market at a time when competition is fiercer than ever. We think it's a good all-rounder at a competitive price, but the Desire S does little to stand out amongst the crowd.

Would you buy this?

It's hard to believe it's been more than a year since the original HTC Desire was launched, a smartphone that put Google's Android operating system on the map in Australia. The successor to the Desire is the HTC Desire S, and it's best described as an evolution of its predecessor. The Desire S is now playing in a more competitive field, and it's no longer the high-end device that the original Desire was. That's not to say it’s a bad phone by any means, but we think it does little to stand out amongst the crowd.

Read our original HTC Desire review and check out our guide to the best upcoming smartphones in 2011.

HTC Desire S: Design and display

The HTC Desire S is a very similar phone to the original Desire, with some key additions and refinements that make it a more attractive proposition. The first change is the design: the Desire S is wrapped in an aluminium "unibody" shell, a similar design that HTC has used previously on its Desire HD and Legend Android smartphones. This makes it sturdier than its all-plastic predecessor, and HTC has also managed to shred some bulk and weight from the phone. The Desire S feels every bit the premium device, and we like the slight "chin" on the bottom that is reminiscent of the HTC Hero.

Gone is the original Desire's trackball and physical buttons. These have been replaced by touch sensitive keys (home, menu, back, search) below the display. We prefer physical buttons as they aren't as easily accidentally pressed, and are usually more responsive. HTC has also added a front facing camera and equipped the rear camera with a single LED flash — considering the Desire S is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, HTC deserves plenty of credit for the extras over the original model. However, we prefer the rubber-style, industrial design of the HTC Incredible S over the Desire S.

The HTC Desire S has the same sized 3.7in touchscreen as its predecessor, but it uses super LCD (SLCD) technology rather than the AMOLED display of the original Desire. The Desire S's screen has a resolution of 480x800 and is bright and clear, but it lacks the wow factor of competing screens like the one found on the admittedly higher priced Samsung Galaxy S II, or even the original Galaxy S. Importantly, the Desire S's display is responsive to touch, and swiping gestures didn't pose any issues during regular use. It also uses gorilla glass, which HTC says makes it less susceptible to breaking.

HTC Desire S: Software and performance

The HTC Desire S runs the latest version of Google's Android OS, 2.3 or "Gingerbread" and comes with HTC's Sense UI overlay. The latter consists of extras including "skins" that change the look of windows, the dock and the lock screen, seven home screens for widgets and shortcuts, and an app menu that can be sort by all, frequent or downloaded. The usual HTC extras are all there, including a car panel designed to be used while driving, the "HTC Likes" widget for recommended app downloads, the "My Shelf" app for storing and reading e-books, a universal search function, a unified messaging inbox, and instant maps through the "Locations" app, which doesn't require network coverage once downloaded.

The HTC Desire S also comes with a pre-loaded flashlight app, and a mirror app that uses the front-facing camera to act as, you guessed it, a mirror. We also like the fact that HTC Sense implements your eight most recently opened applications at the top of the notifications panel in a horizontal scroll bar, along with quick setting toggles including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, GPS, mobile network and a link to all phone settings.

HTC has also added some small but very nifty touches to the Desire S. The phone can be set to reduce its ring tone when it detects movement (i.e. when you pick it up), it can mute the ring tone if the phone is flipped over face down, it will ring louder when it senses it is in a pocket or a handbag, and it will activate the hands-free speakerphone while on a call if the phone is flipped over face down.

The Desire S felt relatively snappy during general use, though we get the feeling HTC's Sense UI does take up a chunk of system resources. The Desire S is fast enough, but we did experience the occasional lag or slowdown, and the Sense menu screens and windows sometimes take longer to load than we feel they should. The Desire S has a very quick boot up-time, usually powering up in just eight seconds.

The Desire S works with, a set of desktop-based services largely centred on backup and security. Once you've created a HTC account and logged in, you can locate your phone on a map if it is stolen, remotely lock or wipe the handset, redirect calls and messages to an alternative phone number and archive contacts, text messages and call history — all through your PC.

The HTC Desire S has an excellent Web browser on board. It supports Flash video and multitouch zooming, and it loads and renders pages quickly and smoothly. The Desire S handles media efficiently; we loaded a 720p AVI file onto our microSD card, and played back the file through the standard video player without any issues. The lack of a HDMI-out port is a disappointment.

HTC Desire S: Camera, battery life and other features

The HTC Desire S has a 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash, and a front-facing VGA camera for video calling. The rear camera also doubles as a 720p HD video recorder. The flash works reasonably well in dim lighting, and video recording is of a good decent quality, but the camera is a notch below the latest 8-megapixel cameras found in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II. The camera has a wealth of settings, including image effects like solarise and sepia, along with the ability to adjust ISO, sharpness, saturation, contrast and exposure. We also loved the fact you can use the external volume controls as zoom keys, though the lack of physical camera shutter key is an annoyance.

Battery life on the HTC Desire S is much improved over its predecessor. The Desire S will last more than a full day on most occasions, though you will obviously get more use by fine tuning the synchronisation settings; we recommend turning off e-mail, Facebook and Twitter updates for the best battery life.

The HTC Desire S is sold exclusively through Telstra for $649 outright, and will also be available for $5 per month on Telstra's $59 Freedom Connect plan over 24 months. The plan includes $550 worth of calls and MMS messages, unlimited text messages to any mobile within Australia, and 1.5GB of data per month.

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