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HTC Desire S review

The original Desire was one of the most popular smartphones of last year. Does the follow-up offer enough to make it a worthwhile upgrade?

The HTC Desire was our Smartphone Of The Year in 2010. It was a hard won accolade, as last year was jam packed with top grade smartphones and competition was tough. HTC has now followed up the Desire with the Desire S. Is it a worthy successor?

Well, we do really like the Desire S, but to be frank it is not the standout winner that its predecessor was. There are a lot of similarities between the two handsets, and indeed, in some respects, by making such an outstanding crop of phones last year HTC has set itself up as a very hard act to follow.

So, for example, HTC Sense remains a standout skin for Android, and while it has been tweaked recently, with new additions such as an improved weather app with new sound effects, the core remains very impressive and doesn’t bear a lot of fiddling. And some new effects like the gathering of app shortcuts into sweepable pages rather than a single scrollable list feels like a backward step.

We aren’t, either, huge fans of HTC’s own, charged for, navigation app, which is now hardwired to the Car Panel six icon user interface, so that you can’t switch into Google Maps easily when driving. But we’ve seen this before, so it’s not a new HTC Desire S feature.

A second camera, a VGA one, sits on the front of the chassis, and complements the 5 megapixel camera on the back. Ostensibly you can use the front camera for video calling as the HTC Desire S runs SIP supporting Android 2.3.

But without a client on board and with little support from the Market, you can’t make the most of the camera yet. HTC does include an app that lets you use the front camera as a mirror, though.

Android 2.3 is a standout feature, although as is always the case with devices running HTC Sense you have to wonder how timely any future OS updates will be delivered. The original Desire received an update to 2.2 but not, as yet, 2.3, nor any significant updates to Sense either.

Many of the remaining specifications lack wow factor pull. The 3.7 inch screen offers 480 x 800 pixels just as the HTC Desire did. There’s a 1GHz processor, 1.1GB of internal storage, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi with b, g and n support. HSDPA supports upload speeds to 5.76Mbps and download to 14.4Mbps.

Where last year’s Desire was a true cutting edge device, this year’s suggest the line is set to drop more into the mid-range, with the real hardware advances being seen elsewhere.

We aren’t best pleased with the unibody chassis design. It is solid and tough, but it leaves room for just a small backplate protecting the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card slot, and that latter can’t be got to until you disconnect the battery which means no hotswapping of cards.

Still, the front is pleasant enough. HTC has abandoned the optical trackpad that was a hit in the original Desire, and turned against the physical shortcut buttons of the Desire too, so we have a nowadays very standard arrangement of four touch sensitive buttons for Android Home, Back, Start and Menu functions.

Sadly these don’t rotate as you turn the Desire S in your hand as they do on the new Incredible S.

There’s no denying that the HTC Desire S is crammed with features and the apps HTC includes are a real standout feature. There’s nothing we have not seen before but the mix includes Connected Media for DLNA sharing of music, video and stills, Amazon MP3 store, Reader, and, of course, the ability to use the handset as a Wi-Fi hotspot, to name but a few.

It is a heady mix, and the Desire S is in many ways a super smartphone. To answer our own question posed at the head of this review, the Desire S doesn’t stand out as much as the original Desire did, doesn’t break new ground, and doesn’t, at this point, look like a contender for Smartphone of the Year 2011. It is good, but not great.