HTC Desire Z Review

Jonathan Morris
February 23, 2011

HTC has always made smartphones to suit all needs, but besides the G1 that launched Android, we’ve not had a decent keyboard-equipped model, until now.

For some reason the networks haven’t been going as mad for this handset as for the Desire HD. Is it because of its thicker size, or the fact that it only runs at 800MHz instead of 1GHz?

Well, if it’s for either of these things, the people in charge of picking phones to sell should hang their heads in shame, as the Desire Z has all the ingredients to be a huge hit.

With the exception of the Motorola Milestone models, or some BlackBerry-like devices from Acer and Alcatel, keyboard equipped Android phones are quite thin on the ground.

With large touchscreens, everyone seems to think that you can get by entering text using on-screen keyboards.

While multi-touch keyboards are improving all the time, allowing you to hold down the shift key to enter upper-case letters simultaneously, and third-party alternatives like SwiftKey and Swype are also finding new and innovative ways to speed up text entry, sometimes you simply need real keys.

Given the success of the Motorola Milestone in the USA (under the Droid name), there’s a proven market for such devices, so why did HTC take so long? Perhaps it was simply down to the fact that keyboards add bulk, which doesn’t fit in with the ultra-slim iPhone generation.

The phone is thicker, slightly, than a Motorola Milestone 2, and like the Motorola doesn’t have a full five-row keyboard, but the buttons are well spaced and easy to press even if they’re fairly flat. If they were any more pronounced, the phone would be thicker still.

The keyboard is backlit, and the phone has a very clever ‘Z-hinge’ that means it doesn’t slide out as you’d expect. It’s a clever design that will certainly impress, although I couldn’t see much benefit from this design over a normal slide.

The keyboard has two function keys, which can be customised to launch any app or trigger a function of your choice. Instead of cursor keys, which would have forced the keys to be closer together, there’s an optical navigation pad by the screen that was first seen on the Desire, but removed on the Desire HD due to lack of space.

Another difference with the Desire HD is the smaller screen, although it’s hardly small at 3.7-inches.

If you want to watch movies, then the larger screen on the Desire HD will still win out, but you have the exact same number of pixels on the Desire Z, so the upside here is a sharper screen image. Not quite Reality Display, but still good.

Playing the numbers

The 800MHz processor is also only going to put off people who believe that higher numbers = better performance.  Just as it is proven not to be true for cameras, it is also not automatically true that a faster processor is quicker especially if there’s a graphics co-processor onboard to lighten the load.

In our benchmark test, the Desire Z outperformed even the flagship Google Nexus S, a phone with a 1GHz processor. The Desire Z is most definitely NOT underpowered.

It also has plenty of internal memory to install apps (and with Android 2.2, you can also install many apps on a memory card) and is always responsive, which thanks to HTC’s excellent Sense UI offers you a degree of customisation that is unimaginable on other Android devices.

Not only can you change the skin, the layout of the home screen panels (so you can switch between work, home or social panels to suit your status) and even the audio pack from ringtones to alerts and alarms, but the new HTC Sense web-based service allows you to control the phone remotely, should you leave it at home by mistake.

This allows you to read incoming messages, view old messages, see contacts or find the location of the phone if you’ve done more than simply leave it at home. Should it have fallen into the wrong hands, you can then wipe the device completely – while still having all of your messages, contacts and other content (synchronised via Google) safely backed up to be restored to your replacement.

The camera may only be 5-megapixels, and only have a single LED lamp, but don’t let this put you off. For what you lose in pixels, or low-light performance (at close range) you gain in convenience. The dedicated camera button makes it possible to fire up the camera quickly, and take pictures without having to try pressing on a virtual shutter lens. The camera also has a range of modes, and features, including distortion, vignette, depth of field and the traditional tricks like sepia, negative and solarisation. There’s also face detection, geotagging and 4:3 and 16:9 ratios.

As well as good still-imaging options, there’s HD video recording (at 1280×720 pixels) and the option of using the LED as a fill-in lamp.

For sharing your pictures and videos, the phone can also send content to DLNA-compliant devices, including HTC’s own Media Link accessory, a £100 device that is little bigger than a battery and connects to any HDMI-equipped television to pull content from the phone via Wi-Fi. If you’re under any illusion that this phone is for business users only, all of these things should make it pretty obvious that it’s being marketed to anyone and everyone.

But, if you are wanting to be a little more serious with the Desire Z, you have a copy of QuickOffice to let you work on Word or Excel documents.

It also makes an excellent handset for anyone wanting to read and respond to emails, send Tweets, update their blog on the move and anything else where you might otherwise need to carry a laptop.

The only flaw is the 1,400mAh battery, which is bigger than the Desire HD’s pack, but still puts the phone under pressure to perform for a full day. However, it copes well and the overall package edges it ahead of the Milestone 2 overall.

It’s outrageous that the Desire Z isn’t being more actively marketed as this phone really deserves to be taken seriously, so take the time to hunt it down.


The Desire Z is a long-awaited HTC smartphone, using Android, that offers a full keyboard experience. Only Motorola seems to have taken physical keys seriously, even though HTC launched its first Android phone with one at the beginning. The keyboard design is clever, even if it’s a little bit too over-engineered for the sake of it, but the performance is amazing, putting it ahead of rival handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S or the Samsung made Nexus S. It has a great camera, good screen and all the benefits of HTC Sense. There’s really nothing bad to say about this phone.

Ratings (out of 5)

[wpgalleryimage title=”Editors-Choice-5Star” float=right]Performance: 5
Features: 4
Usability: 5


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