In the last few years, one of the golden rules in the Android smartphone arena is that it's better value to buy last years flagship device rather than this years low or midrange model. This is because the previous year flagship may be available for about the same as the current midrange choice but has a higher specification. Quite often, previous flagship devices are updated with similar software to the current generation of devices, too.
However, there are some features that cannot be software engineered into an older handset, such as 4G LTE network connectivity. And so in the UK, at the time of writing we are seeing something of a season change in the Android smartphone market. This is all because of LTE being introduced to the market. Combine this with much more efficient LTE modems on handsets and manufacturers introducing the 4G radio technology lower down in the model range than ever before. Things are getting exciting.
At the end of 2013, Motorola shook up the budget Android smartphone market with the introduction of the Moto G, showing the world that a cheap Android device doesn't have to be sluggish and unresponsive.
Enter the HTC Desire 601, which was released in early 2014 with my carrier. This is a lower / midrange handset in HTC's current lineup. It's not as competitively priced as the Moto G but as I'll come on to explain, it is aiming a little higher. HTC will gladly sell you the Desire 310 if you're looking for something as well priced as the Motorola Moto G.
The Desire 601 combines some of the more desirable features of the HTC One range with a less premium build, slower hardware and a reduced price. In this review I'll be taking a look at the HTC Desire 601 and also a sideways look at the 2012 flagship HTC devices, the One X and One X+.
The Desire 601 combines a 4.5″ screen at 540 by 960 pixel resolution, also known at qHD, with a 1.4 GHz dual core Snapdragon 400 backed up by 1 Gb of RAM (the same as the HTC One Mini, but driving fewer pixels). You have 8 Gb of storage plus a MicroSD expansion slot, wrapped up in a polycarbonate chassis with a removeable back. Like the HTC One range, you also get BoomSound, meaning the handset has stereo speakers set into the front of the handset. You also get a noise-cancelling microphone and a removeable 2,100 mAh battery, which is sure to delight many people. It also ships with Bluetooth 4.0, an FM radio, GPS / GLONASS and 802.11n speed WiFi.
These radios work exactly as expected. The Desire 601's 4G radio is no slower than anything else I've connected to 4G where able to and the addition of fast networking makes the handset compelling to use. Bluetooth, WiFi and the location services work as I expect.
The Desire 601 ships with Android 4.2.2 and HTC Sense 5, which includes HTC BlinkFeed and HTC Zoe. This is a couple of versions behind the current release of Android, but for most people in the market for a mid-range device, this is inconsequential. And whilst this device should benefit from Android Kit Kat, historically HTC have not updated their mid-range devices to newer versions of Android.
Sense 5 is not perfect but is generally fast and smooth. HTC have included the ability to connect the device with a great many online accounts and this makes the Desire 601 genuinely easy to use. For users with only a few online accounts, having so many choices can be a little daunting and has people asking what a LinkIn account it. This written, HTC have thought long and hard about what people want from their handset and how best to deliver this.
As I've written, the Desire 601 includes HTC's BlinkFeed, which first emerged on the original HTC One. BlinkFeed may be used to present useful information to you as a homescreen. It can include data from a large number of sources encompassing social networking, newspapers, email, calendar and similar on your device. HTC say that BlinkFeed has a minimal impact on the battery and I've found this to be true providing you synchronise the data over WiFi, but when I allowed BlinkFeed to do its magic over the mobile network I did notice an impact on the battery. By default, it only refreshes over WiFi, which is how I have it set up.
The HTC Desire 601 comes with a removeable 2,100 mAh battery, the same size as the Nexus 4 and Samsung Galaxy S III. It is removable and replaceable, but in my experience the 601 offers commendable battery life thanks to a blend of power efficient hardware and HTC's clever battery optimization, which includes their Smart Sync (I've written about it here) and the Power Saver mode, which puts the Internet connections to sleep when not needed. In my use, I've found it similar to the Moto G. It's more efficient when left alone but a little less efficient in use.
The Desire 601's 1.4 GHz dual core processor is for the most part smooth and responsive. It does occasionally visibly decelerate, typically when switching between the Chrome browser and other applications, which seems to be the heaviest application I use. As with the Moto G I suspect that having 1 GB of memory is more of a handicap than only having a dual core processor.
The 601's 4.5″ screen is better than I expected. It is sharp, responsive and shows accurate color representation. It's a real shame that the Moto G has such a brilliant screen because whilst the Desire 601's panel isn't bad, it's not quite as good as the Motorola. However, I do feel that I'm nitpicking here and I'm splitting hairs.
So far, so good: the Desire 601 has commendable battery, performance, connectivity and a display. Now let me write about the Achilies' heel of the HTC Desire 601: the camera. It has a 5 Mpixel unit that is completely underwhelming. On paper, it should be respectable and perhaps HTC will polish the camera performance with a software update, but in use it's simply not very good. Pictures lack sharpness and definition.
From a productivity perspective, the HTC Desire 601 is an interesting device. In day to day use, it's very good. It has a large, spacious screen, enough performance to keep up with large documents on the move, a fast Internet connection and two day moderate use battery life. HTC's BoomSound is excellent when using the device as an in-car navigation unit.
Yes; it runs an older version of Android and is probably not going to be updated and yes, the camera is substandard. These are the compromises made for high speed 4G connectivity, BoomSound and the ease of adding accounts to the device. It's a great lower / mid range device that manages to exceed the sum of its parts. Well done HTC.