By November 15, 2010

HTC Desire Z review

DesireZ-main The HTC Desire Z is the handset that I’ve been most looking forward to reviewing since it was announced along with the HTC Desire HD just a short while ago.

I do like devices with hardware keyboards even since the first HTC Blue Angel that I had all those years ago to the HTC TyTY, TyTN II and then Touch Pro I have rarely been with out a device with a QWERTY keyboard. For a while there seems to have been a bit of a gap in devices with a decent QWERTY keyboard and Android powered handsets with QWERTY have been quite few. Sure there have been a couple from Motorola but I was personally unimpressed with quality of them.

So now we have the latest HTC Deisre Z to look at. Running Android 2.2 and with the newest implementation of HTC Sense it promises deliver an unrivalled user experience. The operating system is virtually the same as the HTC Desire HD that James reviewed a few days ago so I’ll be concentrating on the hardware in this one.

Read on for the full review.

 

The 10 Second review:

  • Device: HTC Desire Z
  • Price: £429.95 (inc VAT)
  • Summary: HTC flagship QWERTY-keyboarded device
  • Best of: Great keyboard and mechanism, clear and bright screen
  • Worst of: Fairly heavy and battery hungry. Camera ‘only’ 5MP
  • Buy it now from: www.metrophone.co.uk

 

What’s in the box?

  • HTC Desire Z
  • Battery
  • Mains charger
  • USB Cable
  • Quick start guide
  • Warranty card
  • Wired hands-free headset

 

HTC Desire Z Specification:

  • Platform: Android 2.2 (Froyo) with HTC Sense
  • Dimensions: 60.4 x 14.2 x 119mm
  • Weight: 180 grams (6.35 ounces) with battery
  • Processor: 800 MHz
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • ROM: 1.5 GB
  • Screen: 3.7 inches SLCD
  • Resolution: 480 x 800 WVGA
  • Communications: HSPA/WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz. GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz.
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth® 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate
  • Camera: 5 megapixel color camera with Auto focus and flash
  • Battery: 1300 mAh Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
  • Battery Standby: Up to 430 hours
  • Battery Talk Time: Up to 590 mins
  • USB Interface: microUSB
  • Chipset: Internal GPS antenna
  • Removable Media: microSD memory card (SD 2.0 compatible)
  • Keyboard: Slideout keyboard

 

General

Starting at the front on the Desire Z there’s a generous 3.7″ screen. Rather than the AMOLED technology of the HTC Desire, which we know had supply issues, the Desire Z screen technology is Super LCD (SLCD). It’s very difficult to distinguish between the technologies with the naked eye and SLCD does, apparently, offer better power consumption.

Above the screen is a larger speaker grille behind which, other than the speaker, is a small and discrete LED to indicate the charge status as well as provide visual alerts.

Below we have the obligatory touch sensitive buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search along with an optical ‘track-pad’ with a push-button.

HTC Desire Z front view

HTC Desire Z front view

 

Looking to the left side of the handset there’s the up/down volume control buttons and the MicroUSB Sync/Charge connector.

HTC Desire Z left side

HTC Desire Z left side

 

The right side has a dedicated camera button and a spring loaded switch to release the back cover.

HTC Desire Z right side

HTC Desire Z right side

 

On the top there’s a 3.5mm headphone connector so standard headphones as well as the supplied wired headset are supported. The top is where you’ll also find the power/sleep button.

HTC Desire Z top view

HTC Desire Z top view

 

Flipping the handset over you’ll see the 5 mega-pixel camera and LED flash. The camera here is capable of recording 720p video too. The metal part of the back can be removed to revel the battery and the SIM card and SDHC memory card socket.

HTC Desire Z back view

HTC Desire Z back view

 

The keyboard on the Desire Z comprises of 4 rows of keys. They are generous in size and nicely spaced out, even for my big thumbs.

HTC Desire Z QWERTY keyboard

HTC Desire Z QWERTY keyboard

 

The HTC Desire Z gets its name from the unique ‘Z-Hinge’ mechanism that it uses to reveal the sliding keyboard. This mechanism allows the screen to lay flat and for the keyboard to be almost flush with the screen. This makes the top row of keys much easier to get to when typing as it is unhindered by the edge of the screen. More on this later though.

HTC Desire Z QWERTY keyboard mechanism

HTC Desire Z QWERTY keyboard mechanism

 

 

Highlights:

  • Large screen WVGA screen is clear and bright
  • Fantastic keyboard, all keys easy to access

 

Lowlights:

  • Large screen and sliding keyboard make the handset quite heavy
  • Hinge may be fragile and not secure enough
  • Memory card placed under battery

 

DesireZ-angled-left

 

Review

As I said earlier, in software (OS) terms, the HTC Desire Z is almost identical to the HTC Desire HD and as we already have a lengthy review of the Desire HD I’ll talk first about the hardware before coming to the software aspect. I’ll borrow a few passages from the Desire HD review where necessary (is that cheating?)

Upon initial inspection the Desire Z looks much like any other touchscreen ‘slab’ handset that you might find out there at the moment. That’s not to say that it’s not an attractive handset as, in my opinion, it’s a good looking design but there is little to give away the fact that there is a full QWERTY keyboard hiding away on there somewhere. The mechanism seems to have added little to the overall thickness of the handset and the illusion is certainly helped by some clever styling with nicely curved edges and changes in colours/materials that help break up that appearance. To the eye it seems less than 14mm thick.

Really the only thing that gives away the fact that the Desire Z isn’t just an average touchscreen handset is the weight, tipping the scales at 180 grams this is no lightweight. Some may find this off putting but considering the screen and QWERTY I think no big deal.

Like all touchscreen phones the 3.7″ capacitive SLCD screen dominates the front of the handset with not room to spare around the edges. Below the screen there are 4 touch-sensitive buttons.

There has a been a lot said for the quality of AMOLED and SuperAMOLED screens, I too am a big fan of that technology with its vibrant colour and brightness. However I don’t think its any secret at all that there have been a lot of supply issues with AMOLED screens. Samsung are the only manufacturer of said screens and the demand for them has been massive which has led to shortages of the original HTC Desire and to HTC actually switching the screens on new Desire’s made from AMOLED to SLCD.

Super LCD is a Sony technology that has similar performance characteristics to AMOLED. In fact unless you have both SLCD and AMOLED side-by-side it’s hard to distinguish. So it’s SLCD that HTC have put in to the Desire Z (as with the Desire HD). SLCD is also said to be slightly more power efficient than AMOLED.

The HTC Desire had a small optical ‘trackpad’ that looked a bit like a nipple but here on the Desire Z there’s a much larger optical sensor and button that you can use to navigate through menus etc. In practice though I found that I rarely used the trackpad, the touchscreen seems to render it unnecessary really.

 

Keyboard

So lets get to the part that I’m sure you all want to hear about; the QWERTY keyboard. The mechanism to open and close the screen/keyboard on the Desire Z is unique and is where the handset gets its name. HTC call this the Z hinge. It has been specially developed in response to feedback that HTC got from customers regarding their other QWERTY devices. On other handsets, not just from HTC, the top row of keys on the keyboard was positioned very close to the screen so that when it was in the open position some found it hard to use that top row. The Desire Z addresses this by having the QWERTY sit almost flush with the screen when its open. Less of a step means it’s easier to type on that top row.

The hinge mechanism is spring loaded so that it has a tendency to want to stay in either the open or closed position. However, I would prefer there to be a bit more resistance in that spring mechanism as to me it didn’t feel particularly secure in the closed position and I wonder how much worse that might feel after a few thousand open and close operations.

Looking closely at the construction of the hinge mechanism it appears to have been constructed from black plastic. Here again I wonder if this will be up to much of a pounding. The parts look quite small and fragile so I would not be surprised to see this break after even a minor drop.

The keyboard itself is a pleasure to use. The keys are presented on four rows with the top QWERTY row also doubling up to  be number keys. They keys are backlit, of a decent size and are evenly spaced with just enough space between them to mean that I had no problem typing pretty quickly even with my fat opposable thumbs,

The key layout has has some thought too. For example, there are FN keys on both sides of the keyboard and the "@” symbol also has its own key rather than being a shift function of another key. There are also two user-definable shortcut keys on the keypad which is handy.

Lastly, when the keyboard is flipped open it automatically rotates the screen to landscape orientation and locks it that way no matter how you hold the handset.

DesireZ-angled-open

 

 

GPS

If you saw my demo video you’ll have seen that I had little luck with the GPS on the Desire Z. Granted I was indoors when recording the video which certainly doesn’t help but other handsets find it easy to pick up a GPS signal indoors but the Z struggles. Outside there’s no problem at all but it would seem that the GPS is not as sensitive as it could be.

 

WiFi

I believe that all of HTC’s new handsets now support 802.11b, g, and now n standards. This is a great addition especially as more and more content is being delivered via streaming etc and not that these handset support DLNA the more bandwidth the better.

One thing I almost always check on a new handset that I’m reviewing is how well it can pick up a WiFi signal. This is particularly important to me as I live in a house with rather solid walls which is WiFi’s worst enemy. The thing I always want to know is can I pick up a WiFi signal in all rooms of the house? With the Desire Z though the simple answer is no. Even when really close to my WiFi router the signal is variable (just look at the reception bar in all of the screen shots) and I am unable to connect whilst at one end of the house where my iPhone can easily pick up a signal.

 

Mobile Coverage

Mobile coverage on the Desire Z is a different story to the WiFi though. If you’ve read many of my other reviews you may have seen me comment that where we live I get virtually no mobile coverage on any network. Some handsets can pick up a bit now and then, my Bold 9700 seems about the best, where others hardly ever have service.

With the Desire Z however, I have had some intermittent service on Orange and O2 which is very unusual here. In fact I was actually able to receive a phone call on O2 and complete the 2 minute conversation without being cut off. This is a minor miracle and suggests that the antenna and other radio hardware on the Desire Z is decent.

signal

 

 

HTC Sense

Just as with other HTC android handsets the HTC Desire Z has a custom user interface overlay, HTC Sense. I’m sure that everyone is familiar with this by now, HTC have been using Sense for years now.

The homescreen on the Desire Z is made up of 7 pages or panels, a main ‘Home’ panel sits in the centre with 3 other panel on either side that you can access by swiping the screen left or right. The default setup can be seen below. Left to right: Weather, Messages, FriendStream, Home, Favourites, Locations and finally a blank screen.

weather messages friendstream Home favourites maps blank

HTC Desire Z home screens

 

As you would expect, these panels can be customised to your liking with different shortcuts, widgets and backgrounds as you see fit.

You don’t have to swipe from left to right to find the panel or widget you want. Double pressing the home button displays the ‘Leap’ view. This show a cmall version of all 7 panels on the screen at once allowing you to chose the one you need.

leap

Leap view

 

One change to be found with this latest version of HTC Sense is on the top ‘pull-down’ notification bar. Previously you could pull-down the top notification bar and would be shown things like new tweets, new emails etc. However, this now also shows a list of recently used applications which I find to be extremely useful.

pulldown

 

The HTC Legend first introduced us to the concept of Scenes essentially allowing us to have different homescreen profiles for different uses. So, for example you may choose to have one Scene for for and one for home.

This feature has been extended further on the Desire Z, you still have access to 5 predefined scenes but this now has a neater browser with a preview feature. Once can still customise the default Scenes or create your own but more can also be downloaded through the HTC Hub.

scenes morescenes personalise

HTC Scenes & Personalize

 

In the programs menu you’ll find 3 pages of pre-installed applications so there’s plenty to play with even from the first time you turn it on but naturally you can also install tons of other applications.

apps1  apps2 apps3

 

HTC Hub

The HTC Hub is a new feature on the Desire Z and Desire HD. You have to set up an HTCSense.com account and sign in to access it but it then gives you the ability to download new Widgets, Wallpapers, Scenes etc. that are specifically designed for your handset.

htchub

HTC Likes

Accessible through the HTCSense.com site and with it’s own app on the handset HTC Likes is like a mini Android Market. Here you can find featured and most popular apps as well as ringtones games etc. HTC have done a great job here and HTC Likes is far better in terms of layout and styling than the bog-standard Android Market.

htclikes htclikes2

 

Web browser

Once again there’s a nice webkit browser on the HTC Desire Z. When you combine the excellent rendering quality of webkit with a good quality and high-res screen the combination is excellent. Even looking at the full view where the page is compressed to just 480 pixels wide the text is still legible and smooth. You can use two fingers to zoom in and out and text reflow is also featured here.

web1 web2

 

Email

Email features on the Desire Z are virtually the same as the Desire and the Legend. The main email view is arranged in to a number of screens to help keep things organised.

First of all the main ‘inbox’ showing all received email for each account. Next along is the conversation view where emails are threaded together based upon their subject. Favorites allows you to apply a filter showing only email from those people on your favorites list so you might want to choose to have your wife or girlfriend’s (or both!) emails appear on this list. Unread email shows up in the next tab.Flagged messages, those that you’ve set for follow up will appear in the second-to-last tab. Finally there’s a to keep all of your meeting invitations that you receive via email.

 

conversations  favourites  marked meeting-invitations received   unread

The great thing about email on the HTC Desire Z is that it now has multiple exchange email support as well as support for POP, APOP and IMAP so virtually all email servers will be accommodated. Switching email accounts is also an easy affair.

account-select

Lastly email composition is as simple as it gets.

compose

 

There of course is a separate Gmail app if you prefer.

 

gmailGmail6 gmail3 gmail4

 

HTCSense.com

The new HTCSense.com service is probably something that I could write several thousand words on alone. However, let’s keep to the key features.

Essentially HTCSense.com is a free service for which you can register when you get your new HTC phone (either the Desire HD or the Desire Z at the moment).

When you sign up you give your email address, a username and password and enter your mobile number. You also have the option to allow your phone to backup to the HTCSense.com ‘cloud’.

Once you sign up you’ll be sent a confirmation email which enables you to activate your account.
First of all you’ll want to sign in to your HTCSense.com account from your PC (or MAC).

sense-site

The main dashboard is where most of the cool features are to be found. On the left you’ll see a map that will show you the last know location of your mobile. You can force it to refresh and using the Desire’s internal GPS you’ll be able to see where it is. Very handy if you are the kind of person that losses their phone at work or home all the time. It will at least tell you the address of where you’ve left it.

So now you’ve just arrived at work and realised that you’ve left your phone at home. Well here you have some options. Firstly from the HTCSense.com site you can choose to forward your calls and or your messages to another number. You don’t have to forward both to the same number either.

Within the messages tab you are also able to read and SMS or MMS messages received on your phone from the website. Handy.
So lets assume you’ve arrived home and looked around for your phone. Still cant find it. The next thing you can try is to make the phone ring. I’m sure we’ve all done this at some point in the past, asked a friend or colleague to ring your phone in the hope of finding it by following the ringing. This in itself is fine but what about if we had the phone on vibrate or, worse still, silent?

Here’s the answer, pressing the make phone ring button will do just that, it will ring at max volume, no matter what the ring profile you had it set on.

sense-site2

So the other scenario might be that you’ve left your phone in the back of a taxi. You can see it moving around on the map and at this point you are probably thinking you’re never going to see the phone again!

This is where the lock phone option may help. By allowing you to secure your phone with a pin code and allowing you to display a message and a phone number on the screen you may get lucky and encourage someone to return it to you. By doing this you can set the number that they can call and that’s all the handset can then do.

lockphone

Remote lock in action

device-lock

After a few hours you might think that you’ve tried enough to get you phone back and now the important thing is to secure your data. Fortunately there is a final option at your disposal, the Erase Phone button.

Your phone will be restored to factory settings. All of your content and phone data will be erased, including any connected storage cards. Your Contacts and Footprints will be stored on the HTC Sense website, but you will be required to register a phone again to connect to HTC Sense. Remote phone control features will not be available until you connect a phone to HTC Sense.

With these new HTCSense.com features do you think the phone companies may offer a discount on the handset insurance? I guess not!

 

 

WiFi hotspot

Not long ago, if you wanted to use your mobile to connect your PC to the internet you’d have to use a data cable and set it up as a wireless modem. More recently some third-party apps emerged that would enable you to share the internet connection from your mobile phone to your PC. Obviously HTC realised how popular this was and now include a ‘Portable WiFi router’ app on most of their handsets.

The Desire Z also has this feature. You simply run the app, give your phone an SSID, set up security and it will then host incoming connections and share out your 3G over WiFi. Excellent.

hotspot1 hotspot2

 

On-screen QWERTY

One of the questions that we regularly get is ‘how easy is it to use the on-screen keyboard?’ The Desire Z has a pretty much standard Android style QWERTY keyboard on-screen. This works in either portrait or landscape depending on the orientation of the handset. The only minor niggle I have with the on-screen keyboard is that it isn’t exactly the same in terms of layout as the hardware one – it would have made sense if they were identical.

qwerty1  qwerty2

 

Navigation

The Desire Z, just like its HD big-brother has a number of navigation and GPS apps available. First of all there’s Google Maps and Google Latitude that I’m sure everyone will have seen by now.

Then there’s HTC Locations. This provides a list of shops, restaurants, banks etc. around your current location. This I’ve found to be a really handy feature.

Also included is a turn-by-turn navigation app called, creatively, Navigation. It’s actually a Goole thing that works really well. You can chose between walking and driving routes, avoid tolls etc. It also allows you to set you destination from your contact list or speak the destination. It provides voice-guidance and a 3D map view of where you are going. It may not quite rival the paid-for applications that one can buy but for an inclusive application or for anyone that only needs to use navigation occasionally it is very capable.

locationnavigation car 

Locations, Navigation and Car Panel 

Other Apps.

Obviously there’s a whole raft of other applications, frankly too many to cover them all but here’s just a few that I like.

 

HTC have added a ‘Blocked Callers’ app to both the Desire HD and the Desire Z. This is an app that I really, really need! My number seems to have found its way on to some kind of telemarketing list and I am frequently called by the same numbers over and over again. This app allows you to add numbers to a list and either have them totally rejected or you can choose for the call to get dumped straight to voicemail.

blockedcallers

 

Flashlight is another example of an app that was once dreamt up by a third party. It simple enables the you to turn on the LED flash on the back of the handset and use it as a torch. HTC have taken this a little further giving it a nice little interface and also some control over the brightness of the light.

flashlight 

 

The Camera

The camera on the Desire Z is a 5 mega-pixel auto-focus shooter with a single LED flash. Some may well be disappointed with only 5 mega-pixels, especially as the Desire HD has an 8MP camera. However, as I keep on saying; it’s not all about the number of pixels. The optics and the quality of the sensor are much more important when it comes to the IQ of your photos.

Looking at the small versions of the sample photos below they initially look quite good. The colours of the toys on the left look really vivid and quite faithful to the original however, when you look at the full size version of the image (click on the thumbnail) you’ll see that there’s quite a bit of noise or grain to the image. This despite the lighting being really quite strong.

Look then at the photo of the garden in the middle. Again this looks good to begin with doing a decent job of pulling detail from the bright as well as the shady parts of the shot. However when you look closer there is again a lot of noise and fuzzyness especially round the trees at the bottom of the garden. To me it look like the JPG compression is far too aggressive leaving far too many artefacts.

All these shots are straight from the phone – no editing.

IMAG0010 IMAG0025 IMAG0025

Using the flash though and the story is a little different and the image quality and colour reproduction are decent considering that the camera was placed quite close to the subject in virtual darkness.

The macro shot on the right below too is impressive. Taken of one of my headphones at an extremely close range no flash and not overly bright ambient light. A decent job.

IMAG0026 IMAG0028

Perhaps I am expecting too much from a phone camera?

 

Battery Life

Battery life always seems to be a hot topic when a new handset comes out and judging whether or not you or your brother our your aunt Fanny will be able to get a days use from one battery charge is hugely dependent upon so many factors as to be virtually impossible to guess.

Battery technology doesn’t seem to be able to keep pace with the demands that the latest handsets place upon them so we end up with situations where these large screen devices barely get a days use before needing a recharge simple because of the need to keep the size and weight of them down.

I’ve been using the Desire Z for the past week and I can comfortably get a day from the battery without the need to recharge but there isn’t a great deal in reserve at the end of the day.

Whether or not you will get by with the Desire Z all depends upon your typical usage. Far example, I make and receive a handful of calls throughout the day, maybe 30 minutes in total. I’ll browse the web, use the WiFi and listen to some music and that’ll be fine.

Normally, when we’re writing a review we’ll get through the battery in a matter of hours. I have the handset sitting next to my as I type, I have WiFi and the screen on almost continuously as I write about the various apps. I have several things running at the same time and I have the GPS on. This hammers your typical phone.

I think we’ll be waiting a while before we see large screen devices with many days from one charge but for the Desire Z my feeling is that it’s a bit power hungry and I think I’d be wanting a higher-capacity battery.

 

 

DesireZ-angled-right

 

Conclusion

In writing a conclusion I have been thinking about the past week of using the HTC Desire Z. Most will know that I am a fan of Android but find it strange that I carry only the iPhone 4 and the BlackBerry Bold 9700. I love the screen on the iPhone and it has a great web browser whereas the 9700 is great for email, typoing and BBM so I carry both but the Desire Z has made me think about perhaps having a one device that can do it all.

The Desire Z performs really well, has a great screen and a keyboard that really is a pleasure to use. If you want/need a mobile with a hardware QWERTY then the HTC Desire Z is certainly worth a look, I’m just worried about how robust that Z-hinge is though!

 

Review by: Matt

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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