When HTC originally released the original HTC Desire, it was a game changer. A slick, classy design, great screen and lots of features, not to mention a deeply attractive overlay on top of the Android OS. Then came the HTC Desire S, the HTC Desire HD and now the HTC Desire C.
The C in Desire C could easily stand for ‘compact’, as this is a small smartphone. It’s a bit thicker than some other HTC handsets currently available, but the curved edges mean it fits the hand well and feels comfortable.
The feel-good factor is also down to the contrast of the matte back casing and the glossy smoothness of the glass screen. You can roll the phone easily in your hand and it’s a quite satisfying feeling. Although the case of our review sample was white, it didn’t pick up fingerprints or dirt easily. It’s also available in black, but we found the matte white finish works very well.
Not least because it sets off the discreet red Beats Audio logo towards the base of the rear. HTC part-owns Beats Audio and many of its phones offer superior sound quality as a result. HTC doesn’t boast, however, revealing the partnership very subtly through the logo and – look closely or you’ll miss this – a gleam of red on the inside of the microUSB charging socket. The black version is more brazen, including a red ring around the camera lens which sits on the back of the phone. It’s flanked by a circular speaker but sadly this isn’t balanced by an LED flash for the camera.
HTC’s industrial designs are consistently strong, and while this isn’t a high-end handset, the design looks great. As HTC execs are quick to point out, you should be able to tell it’s one of the company’s phones even if the label’s fallen off. That’s certainly true here. There’s one other design feature worth noting; remove the rear cover and you’ll see the insides are all shaded with Beats Audio red, even including the battery. It’s a very nice touch, even though you probably won’t be seeing it very often.
As on the pricier HTC One X, this phone has a series of individually milled holes, requiring astonishingly precise hardware to create them. If the manufacturing process simply involves moulding them, plastic is usually left behind, but this way the holes are pristine, which is very good if you’re trying to hear somebody’s voice through them, providing great sound quality.
The front of the phone is pleasingly minimalist, with HTC’s logo up top and three shortcut buttons underneath, with the same Back, Home and Recent Apps icons favoured by the latest HTC handsets.
But the really eye-catching thing about the Desire C is its size. This phone is smaller than an Apple iPhone, looking almost like a squashed iPhone 3GS. However, the Desire C sports a display which is the same size as the iPhone but in a much more pocketable shape. And it has the same screen resolution as the 3GS, too. It shows that a 3.5-inch touchscreen such as this really doesn’t need that much space around it.
Switch on the Desire C and you’re met by HTC’s introductory screens, connecting you to Wi-Fi, offering to transfer your contacts and so on. The wallpaper HTC has chosen is the same countryside and sunshine image used on its latest high-end phones. And though the screen resolution is lower, it still looks good here.
HTC pioneered the lock screen system that is now echoed in Google’s Android 4.0 OS, so you can choose to launch to the home screen or go straight to phone, camera, mail or messages instead. It’s a neat system and made the more attractive by the fact that, if those four don’t suit, you can choose other options instead.
Although this is not a high-end phone, it comes with Android 4.0 loaded from day one. There are many Android handsets coming out in the next few months which are still toting earlier systems, so this is a plus. Apple makes much of the fact that the Android user base is fragmented between different versions, so at least HTC is doing its bit to bring everyone up to date.
Of course, since this is an HTC phone, which version of Android it comes with is only half the story. HTC Sense remains the most comprehensive Android overlay, with cuter icons, swathes of special features and carefully rethought extras everywhere you look. The latest version has been simplified since last year’s edition was deemed too sprawling, and the result is an elegant, straightforward interface that easily offsets the geeky reputation Android sometimes enjoys.
Some things never change; like, for instance, the signature clock and weather widget that sits front and centre on HTC phones. And here it is, the flip clock looking smart, the sun icon sitting in the middle and the stats (date, temperature, forecast) underneath.
But while the Desire C looks like a smaller version of other high-end HTC phones, it lacks some of the powerful specs. So, most importantly, the processor on the phone is quite underpowered. It’s just 600MHz which, these days, is a little puny. As phone software has developed, it’s become more demanding, so a faster chip is preferable, in order to let the operating system shine.
Although the Desire C is often speedy enough, the more you do the more it slows down. This is a shame and is something that could become annoying quickly. It’s especially noticeable, of course, next to the super-fast HTC One X. Though that’s a much more expensive phone, of course.
Still, there are other ways in which the phone excels. For starters, the camera is a decent 5-Megapixels, which is totally acceptable on a phone of this price. While not outstanding, it is highly usable, except in low light. Shutter lag was present but not excessive. There’s no auto-focus, which is a shame, though as a budget phone it was unlikely ever to trouble serious cameras.
This is a snapper and a reasonably good one, but one that’s designed to make it easy to send your images to Facebook or Twitter rather than turn you into David Bailey. Similarly, video is not great, though at least the HTC interface is exceptionally easy to use and proves one of the best.
Sound, as you might expect from a phone discreetly badged with the Beats Audio logo, is very good. You can toggle the Beats Audio on and off. When it’s switched on, you get punchier sounds, extra bass and all-round improvements. Alongside the music player there’s an FM radio, adding to the aural possibilities.
Dropbox is integrated and 25GB of online storage comes free for two years. After that time you can still access the photos, video and more that you’ve uploaded, but you can’t add any more. You can set the phone to automatically save stuff to this online storage.
As to the basics of mobile phones, such as making calls that are audible and reliable, there’s no problem. HTC has always had this licked and this is no exception. Signal strength rarely dropped and the clarity of calls was consistent, partly down to those carefully milled holes mentioned earlier.
Battery life is also good and better than many past HTC phones. Perhaps because the processor isn’t making such keen demands of power all the time, it glides happily through a full day if you’re using it gently. Even with intensive use it’s unlikely you’ll need to recharge during the day.
The battery life is one of many elements in the Desire C that stands out. Its styling, compactness and the great HTC Sense overlay are terrific too. In fact, if it just had a more powerful processor, this would be a real winner. As it is, it’s still a great-value smartphone that fits the hand perfectly.
While performance is inevitably basic for such a low-priced handset, the gorgeous style, great usability and fantastic features, including Beats Audio and the Android 4.0 OS, make the Desire C an entry-level smartphone that’s hard to beat.