The HTC Desire S Revisited

When HTC originally launched the Desire S in 2011, it was at a time when manufacturers were introducing dual-core processors, screens larger than 4.0″ and 8 Mpixel cameras for mainstream models. Some competitor devices offered all three paper advantages for around and about the same price as the Desire S. Now, HTC offered the Sensation model, offering customers these three upgrades, so the Desire S was always considered a mid-range model. Compared with more glamorous competitors, the Desire S was quickly relegated to the also-ran camp.

However, HTC had addressed an issue that some manufacturers were yet to realize: application storage memory. Partially, because the HTC Desire was very limited in this respect but also because HTC could see that Android was rapidly evolving and application sizes were getting much bigger.

It’s this 1.1 GB of application space that means the Desire S can still be relevant today, compared with my Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, which does not have the application storage space necessary for the enlarged and updated applications.

I’m not going to bore readers with the full reason why I switched to using my three year old HTC Desire S for the best part of a week but let me just say it was mostly down to user error on my part. It’s given me the opportunity to use the Desire S as my daily driver handset and it was not quite the culture shock that I thought it might be.

Part of the reason for this is because my Desire S is running Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich under HTC Sense 3.6. Although Android Ice Cream Sandwich is now dated, it still looks and feels reasonably modern. It also allows the device to run one of my core productivity applications, the Google Chrome Browser, which the Dell Streak couldn’t manage.

Firstly, as a brief introduction to the Desire S hardware; this handset was introduced in 2011 as an update to the original HTC Desire. Compared with the original, the Desire S offered an improved 1 GHz processor with a 3.7″ SLCD screen, 768 MB of RAM and Android 2.3, later upgraded to 4.0 via the unusual (for HTC) route of a PC connection.

It's a little battered and I run a simple homescreen.

It’s a little battered and I run a simple homescreen.

The Desire S has an elegant aluminium unibody design with two plastic areas for the antenna and battery, memory card and SIM tray. It has a front facing VGA camera and a rear mounted 5 MPixel camera. And it’s good looking – although mine is looking a little tatty! The onscreen layout is also polished and presentable, quite different to the Samsung Galaxy S II’s cartoony vivid interface.

In addition to memory, one of the key improvements between the HTC Desire and the Desire S is the newer generation processor. It uses a more efficient and faster 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon single core unit. The screen is relatively compact compared with today’s mid to high end devices, just 3.7″. The Desire S also comes with Bluetooth 2.1, 3G and a 1,450 mAh battery.

Moderate light conditions, flash off, cat content to pose!

Moderate light conditions, flash off, cat content to pose!

The camera may only be a 5 Mpixel unit but takes respectable quality images, better than the Moto G or Desire 601. The front facing camera is only of VGA resolution, which is a noticeable step down from current devices but for video conferencing it doesn’t matter too much.

Taken using the flash.

Taken using the flash.

I’ll write a little about the upgrade to Android Ice Cream Sandwich for the Desire S, because if you have one of these handsets, you won’t see the ‘phone prompt you for an over the air update. This is because HTC only released the update for “development purposes,” as it wipes the handset when you run the update.

The Desire S isn’t without issues. The device feels less responsive than more modern devices, especially when synchronizing applications or working with the notifications tray. There is also an issue with the WiFi antenna; when you touch the higher plastic cover on the back and the device is connected to a WiFi network, it loses signal. I also need to say that the Desire S is generally smooth and fluid in use, but when it comes to system performance, newer handsets such as the Desire 601 and Moto G are in a different league.

The Desire S has a noise-canceling rear microphone and good call quality. It’s usable even in noisy environments and this is the main reason why I put mine back into service. I can forgive much if I can use the device for calling!

This shows the battery life in use and when idle.

This shows the battery life in use and when idle.

Battery life varies from pretty good to mediocre. Sense 3.6 misses out on HTC’s power saving mode but does put the data connections to sleep at night. Even with the data connections active, the device sips battery when idle. Unfortunately, in use the handset is a little thirsty. I see a day from the handset but I do need to moderate my use in the evening, especially if I have been playing music during the day.

From a productivity perspective, the Desire S is a capable handset. It compares favourably with the Desire C, a newer, lower end handset. The Desire S has more capable hardware compared with the Desire C, but the version of Sense it runs is heavier on the device. The Desire S is better for calling, taking pictures and productivity tasks where having a larger screen is handy. Comparing both of these side by side, the used Desire S is arguably a better option. And whilst I enjoy using the Dell Streak, the Desire S having a newer version of Android and being much more portable, means that it’s a better device for my purposes.

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