By April 11, 2011

HTC Desire S review

DesireSSo far this year HTC have announced 6 new products and here we are looking at the first, the HTC Desire S.

Many have said that HTC’s latest Android handsets are simply a refresh of last years models and while the HTC Desire S may not be a revolution the look and feel is fairly different to it’s predecessor. The screen size may indeed have stayed the same but it has now been switched to an S-LCD rather than AMOLED panel. In practical terms though the difference is hard to spot.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is that the physical buttons below the screen on the Desire have been replaced with the touch sensitive kind and the optical trackpad is long gone too. This shaves a few millimetres off the length of the handset.

The Desire S has been built quite differently to last years Desire. In fact the difference is from the ground up in that the body has been constructed from a single piece of machined aluminium in much the same way as we say with the HTC legend. This makes the handset really robust and have a cool-to-the-touch finish that you only get with metal.

Read on for the full review and to see how this years HTC Desire S shapes up to last years model as well as handsets from competitors.


The 10 Second review:

  • Device: HTC Desire S
  • Price: around £382
  • Summary: A well made Android handset that will certainly give competitors a run for their money
  • Best of: Aluminium uni-body construction, great S-LCD display, forward-facing camera
  • Worst of: not a huge jump from previous model, not a compelling upgrade, disappointing main camera
  • Buy it now from: Clove Technology
  • Also consider: HTC Incredible S or Google Nexus S


What’s in the box?

  • HTC Desire S handset
  • Mains charger
  • Battery
  • MicroUSB sync/charge cable

Bear in mind that although our review unit is final ROM and final hardware we haven’t yet seen the final retail packaging so you can expect to get more in the box if you buy one than we have with ours!


HTC Desire S specification:

  • Operating System: Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense
  • Processor: 1GHz Snapdragon 8255
  • Expansion Slot: MicroSDHC Up to 32GB
  • RAM: 768 MB
  • Internal Storage: Capacity 1.1GB
  • Display/Screen: Capacitive Touchscreen, 3.7"  WVGA 480 x 800
  • GSM/GPRS: Frequencies 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • 3G/HSPA: Frequencies 900/2100 MHz
  • Bluetooth: Version 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate
  • WiFi: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • DLNA: Yes
  • MicroUSB (USB2.0)
  • 3.5mm Stereo Audio Jack
  • GPS: A-GPS
  • Camera: 5 Megapixels with LED flash
  • Front Facing Camera: VGA
  • G-Sensor
  • Proximity Sensor
  • Battery: Capacity 1450 mAh
  • Dimensions: 115 x 59.8 x 11.63 mm
  • Weight: 130 grams (4.59 ounces)



The front of the HTC Desire S is a good place to start and it’s here that you’ll perhaps find the most noticeable differences to the HTC Desire. A large speaker sits top and centre above the display while a simple forward-facing VGA camera can be found just to the right. The S-LCD display measures 3.7"  and has a 480×800 WVGA resolution.

Touch sensitive buttons below the screen provide Home, Menu, Back and Search functions while the optical trackpad from the Desire wont be found on here.

HTC Desire S front view 

HTC Desire S front view


The left side of the handset has the obligatory up/down volume control buttons and below them a micro-USB connector. I know that the placement of the USB is going to annoy many of you, personally I prefer the connector on the bottom too as it does improve the chances of finding a dock/charger for the handset. I also think it’s neater on the bottom. One assumes the placement on the side is to give the bottom more of a curve.

HTC Desire S left side view

HTC Desire S left side view


Turning the Desire S through 180 degrees reveals very little on the right hand side. There are no buttons or connectors here. I’d personally have liked a hardware camera button but so few handsets seem to have them these days.

HTC Desire S right side view

HTC Desire S right side view


There’s not much to see on the bottom of the handset either with nothing but a tiny hole for the microphone but you do get some idea of just how curved the back is in a photo from this angle.

HTC Desire S bottom view

HTC Desire S bottom view


There’s slightly more to be found on the top of the Desire S with a power button on the right (as you look at the screen) and a 3.5mm headphone socket to the left.

HTC Desire S top view

HTC Desire S top view


Looking to the back then perhaps the uni-body construction is more evident with no seams between front, side and back. There’s a plastic area around the 5 megapixel camera, flash and loudspeaker (which in my sample didn’t want to stay put).


HTC Desire S back view


The whole of the bottom portion of the back is a removable plastic cover under which you’ll find the battery compartment, SIM-Card and microSD card slots. The back cover itself also has the antennas built in to it to reduce the interference that the aluminium body would otherwise cause.

 HTC Desire S with its back cover removed.

HTC Desire S with its back cover removed.




  • Excellent S-LCD display
  • great performance
  • HTC’s sense UI
  • Aluminium body


  • Battery life isn’t brilliant
  • Main camera quality
  • USB connector placement



It feels like much more than a year ago that I was sitting in this very seat to review the HTC Desire. The Desire came hot on the heels of the Nexus One and was really almost identical to it. Perhaps the Desire S is what the Nexus S would have been if HTC had been commissioned to build it for Google again.

I’m not sure what the fascination with giving all of this years handsets the ‘S’ suffix is all about. One manufacturer seems to have pulled that letter out of the air and everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon. I suppose the average user will not associate ‘Ss with the most current of models but what does the ‘S’ mean? Special? Sorted? Super? We have no idea and neither did the guys from HTC when we asked. Maybe it’s going to be like car registration numbers? ‘S’ is for 2011 and maybe next year it’s going to be ‘T’? Perhaps not. In any case the ‘S’ is here a while longer.

The underlying operating system of the Desire S is the latest version of Android Gingerbread 2.3.3 with HTC’s own Sense user interface over the top. Naturally this is the latest incarnation of Sense too, 2.1. I think that you either love or hate Sense and I can understand both sides of the customisation argument. There are those that feel that Android is best served in its vanilla flavour and allow then end user the customisation choice. There there are those in the other camp that want to see variations in the user interface with skins and overlays to differentiate between manufacturers. For me personally HTC Sense is just about right, it goes far enough to improve the look and feel without destroying the Android experience. My only criticism is that it cannot be completely turned off if you don’t like it. HTC have said however that they have the new versions of Sense sitting in this kind of higher layer as an overlay now which will help improve the speed that they will be able to make subsequent OS updates available.

The Desire S has more RAM than the Desire, 768MB and a total of 1.1GB of internal storage. The processor clock speed remains the same at 1GHz although the actual CPU is the slightly newer MSM8255.

HTC have now switched to Super LCD screens on all of their devices. Last year saw a lot of supply issues with AMOLED screens, possibly because Samsung used them all for their own phones? In fact later versions of the HTC Desire itself came with SLCD rather than AMOLED. Generally speaking SLCD isn’t as warm or colourful as the AMOLED counterpart it has to be said though that these differences are really only apparent when you look at SLCD and AMOLED side by side and even in a lineup not everyone would notice. 

In reality the Desire S screen is bright and the colours are bold enough without being over emphasised. It’s only when you put the Desire S next to the retina-displayed iPhone or the fab Sony Ericsson Arc are that you realise that it’s not quite as pin sharp as either of them. Good but not fantastic.


You may, I hope, have already seen my HTC Desire S unboxing video which will take you on a quick tour of the hardware and show you some of the key features. As I mentioned in the video we normally only review retail versions of handsets in case there are changes before they go on sale. Our review has been of a PR model but is final hardware and software but not in a retail box. Rather than rush a review we also spend time with the handsets we review.


Setting up the HTC Desire S for the first time is a piece of cake thanks to a step-by-step guide through the basics. So if this is your first Android handset or you’re a novice user it should guide you simply through the process.

Setup1 Typing Setup3 Setup4 Setup5 Setup6 Setup7 Setup8

So you’ll see from the images above there are 8 screens to take you through the setup. Language, onscreen keyboard, transfer from old phone, internet connection, sync, WiFi Setup, Google location, email setup. Each of these screens require you to ask a few simple questions. The onscreen keyboard page also will take you though how auto-correction works.

Typing tutorial

If you are an experienced Android user you may choose to skip the whole setup process and set things up manually. If you do choose to skip the process you can also come back to it later on.

Once you get past the wizard, either by skipping or completing it, you’ll end up at the main homescreen. The first time you start the phone up this can take a little longer than normal, maybe up to 30 seconds but future boot times are much faster.

As with other HTC handsets that have Sense you’ll find a homescreen which consists of 7 pages as you’ll see below.

weather emailpage friendstream home people map blank

The home view starts off in the middle and there are three additional screens on each side that are accessed by swiping from side to side. From far left to right they are:

  1. Full page weather that uses your current location and provides a 5 day forecast.
  2. Email feed which gives a preview of emails in a timeline fashion from each email account that you have configured.
  3. Friendstream. First introduced on the HTC Desire and HTC Legend last year, Friendstream brings your Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts together in one location.
  4. The middle, ‘home’ screen has the now iconic flip style clock with a weather summary. The lower half of the display has shortcuts to Tips, Messages, Email, Web Browser, Camera and Android Market.
  5. The next screen has the Google search bar complete with voice search option. Below is the People widget which displays favourite people and groups for quick access to contact them.
  6. The Map widget is quite useful. Not only does it display your current location but also allows you to share that location via a number of social services and then also integrates with Footprints and then a further two pages, accessed by swiping up/down gives you a list of places to eat/drink nearby and then a page of shops nearby. More on this later.
  7. Finally, the 7th page is left blank for you to fill yourself.

Of course this is just the default setup of the homescreen. You can add and remove shortcuts and widgets to your hearts content. Fortunately HTC give you an awful lot to choose from, more than your average Android handset. To customise it’s simply a case of pressing and holding a blank portion of the screen to add something new or else pressing and holding an existing item in order to remove.

If navigating backwards and forwards between the 7 homescreen pages help is at hand in the form of the helicopter view that HTC call Leap. You can either pinch any of the homescreen pages or press the home button twice to be presented with a zoomed out overview of what’s happening on each page. This view can be handy if you don’t know which screen you’ve put a widget on but overall I’d say that it’s more for show-off factor than practical use.


HTC Leap view


At the bottom of every homescreen page are three buttons. On the left is the ‘launcher’ icon which brings up your full list of installed apps. Phone, which gives access to the phone pad for dialling numbers or finding contacts and then on the right is the customise button. Customise allows you to, erm, customise everything from the wallpaper to the sounds and tones. Although the default sound set is called HTC Default 2010 isn’t a great impression for the latest 2011 model!

New users often ask us what the icons on the toolbar at the top mean. Many apps have their own symbols so there would be far too many to explain but below are some of the common ones.


They represent: Contact Matches where names and email addresses have been matched between accounts. Two envelopes are there because each of the two email accounts I have configured has new mail. The tick in a box . The next icon shows that the device is connected over USB. WiFi and Mobile network signal levels are next followed by battery level and time. Generally if you aren’t sure what something means then a swipe down from the top bar will open it up with more details.

dropdown quicksettings

Taskbar Pull-down

The pull-down bar has been expanded to include, at the top, a list of the most recently used applications. This list can scroll to show a more used items and provides another way of getting quick access to things that you use frequently. In practice I think you’d want to add your favourite apps to the homescreen but this is another option.

Below the most recently used list you’ll see more detail for the notifications shown in top-most bar. These may include message alerts, WiFi networks found, tweets and Facebook message updates. Anything that requires attention should be listed here.

You’ll notice too that there is an additional Quick Settings tab in here. This provides quick access to common control panel items allowing you to easily go in and switch WiFi, GPS or Bluetooth on/off for example. This I found particularly useful as it saves a lot of clicking or menu navigation that would otherwise be required to change these through the normal settings menu. Obviously you wont find everything in this list but the last item will take you to the full settings menu if you want to go via this page rather than from the homescreen.


For many people Android is all about being able to customise their phone. Last year, with the Desire and Legend, HTC introduced a new feature to HTC Sense called Scenes. This allows you to have multiple homescreen profiles so that you can set them up and switch between them at any time. This may be particularly useful if you use your phone for both work and personal being able to set up the homescreen with various widgets for each profile. Out of the box HTC provide Social, Work, Play and Travel Scenes on top of the default HTC Scene. On top of that you can also download more Scenes. The Scene selection is a lot easier now too as each one now provides you with a small preview image rather that a named selection list.

scene1 social work play travel morescenes

HTC Scene selection


If Widgets and Scenes aren’t enough to keep you busy customising your Desire S you can now also change the skin of the interface too. There are 5 provided and again you can also download more.

skin skin2 skin3

Skin selection


As with all Android powered devices there’s an extensive Settings menu to allow you to change or set all manner of phone features. HTC even customise the settings menu with more colourful icons. Not an earth shattering change but does make it a little more pleasing.

settings wifi display gps wifi about


So lets take a look at the pre-installed apps that are accessed through the launcher. I wont talk about every app but lets start by having a look at the list and then lets have a run down of a few of the more important ones and some that are unique to HTC.

apps1 apps2 apps3 apps4

As you can see, right out of the box there are three and a half pages of apps to play with covering everything from Email to Music, Maps to Games. Naturally you can always add more from the ever growing selection in Android Market.

We’ll take a look at some apps later on.


We’re often asked about the phone, dialler and contact capabilities of new phones. In this department the HTC Desire S is pretty straight forward. The dialler has large number keys that make it easy to tap away the number you want to dial. On top of that there’s the smart dial feature. Simply by tapping a few numbers or letter on the number pad you’ll see suggestions for contacts that match have matching numbers and letters within their contact card.

Once you place a call you’ll see the call status and, if you have one, the photo of the person you are calling, otherwise you’ll see the green android.

dialler callscreen

From this screen you can mute the microphone or place the call on speakerphone. Sound quality in both phone mode and in speakerphone is good the later being clear but lacking in volume, it could do with being a couple of notches louder and I doubt that it would be loud enough to use it in-car as a substitute for a real hands-free kit. In my speakerphone test with James he was in-car whilst I was in a quiet room he was able to hear me clearly enough but I’d prefer more volume.

For anyone wanting to use voice dial this is also possible thanks to the speech recognition within the Google search app. How successful and accurate the search is depends a great deal upon how you talk. After a couple of attempts the closest I was able to get with my phrase ‘Call James Richardson’ was to be asked ‘Did you mean.’ This came back with everything from ‘cool james richardson’ to ‘cool change richardson’. I’m sure James will be pleased with the former.

I appreciate that this has a lot to do with the way I speak and that with some practice I would get better at emphasising the syllables that the recognition software was looking for but it is indicative of the challenges that voice recognition technology faces.


Cool James Richardson.



Last year when I reviewed the HTC Desire there was one thing that particularly disappointed me about HTC’s implementation of Android. HTC had chosen to add a truly lovely email interface to supplement the standard Android offering. Now this may sound great, and indeed from an aesthetic point of view it is. However, from my point of view and for anyone in business that had a lot of email accounts, there was one glaring omission: Multiple Exchange email support. For some reason HTC had excluded this feature from their email setup on the HTC Desire. This was particularly frustrating for me as the standard email setup on Android did indeed support multiple Exchange accounts.

This limitation is not present on the HTC Desire S though, in fact it was addressed on the HTC Desire HD and Desire Z. So now you can have multiple Exchange, IMAP and POP3 email accounts or any combination of them.

email_combined conversation favourites unread marked meeting attachments

The email client has multiple views to help deal with your email. If you have a large volume of mail then this definitely useful. As you can see from the screenshots above there are several ways to see your messages. From left to right:

  1. The main inbox view has all of your email in one list. The nice thing here is that you can see the messages from all the email accounts you have configured in one consolidated view. You’ll notice the coloured bar on the left of each message denotes the account it belongs to.
  2. Conversation view groups messages in a threaded format by subject.
  3. Favourites view allows you to see only email from those people on your favourites list. This works hand in hand with the favourites you have in contacts and as speed-dials. You can also have a favourites group and email everyone in that group with one click.
  4. Unread view. Can you guess?
  5. Marked messages or those that you have flagged for followup.
  6. Meeting invitations are shown in the next tab and new meetings can also be set up here.
  7. Finally the attachments view. Only messages with attachments are shown here. I find this useful as I frequently search email for attachments when looking for a file.


For those using a Gmail account your emails are accessed through a separate application on the phone. Personally I only use a Gmail account for testing review handsets and for signing in to Android Market. If you do use Gmail as well as other mail services though you may find it annoying to have to use two separate apps for each one as the main email view, although it can combine multiple email accounts, doesn’t combine with Gmail.

Gmail gmail-email-view

The Gmail email view is much more simple that than the ‘normal’ email account and offers far less flexibility but also less fuss. This may be appealing if you prefer simple features though.



The calendar is another area in which HTC have hugely expanded on the standard Android functionality. Not only is the calendar app better looking and more feature rich but there are also a number of calendar widgets that can be used.

Like the email client, we first saw these changes on the HTC Desire and HTC Legend last year but the functionality has been expanded upon since then and more control is now offered.

So for example on the left below you have the calendar app showing a summary of activity for the month of April. Each day has a grey bar next to it that fills up in green as more meetings or activities are added. Of course you can switch to a more detailed view and add new appointments through this screen.

For me the power of the calendar is truly unleashed when you begin adding widgets to the homescreen. When adding a calendar widget you are give the choice of three different types.

There’s the small or single event style (2nd screenshot below) that takes up only a small amount of space on the screen and shows only the next appointment in your calendar. Once that appointment passes the next one shall be shown.

The other two widgets types are both full-screen so obviously will take up a whole page on the homescreen. One provides a month view of upcoming appointments with a small triangle on the days where you have any activities. The agenda view lists only upcoming appointments skipping days where you have nothing at all.

Once you have selected the type of widget you want to add you have a choice of which calendar(s) you want to show data from. You can show all or one or any combination. The beauty of this is that you could add more than one calendar widget and have one for each diary you maintain. This would be particularly helpful when used in conjunction with Scenes in that you could have a personal calendar set in one Scene and business in another.

calendarapp calendarsmall calendarmonth calendaragenda calendarchoice calendarlock

Lastly, in the screen shot on the far right above, the lock screen also gives a reminder of diary events complete with a snooze button.


Keyboard & Text Entry

Just like many other Android handsets, the HTC Desire S offers three different options for text entry. When you first set up a standard-looking QWERTY keyboard will be the default option. This is what I suspect that most people will use and as the screen is quite large it works very well on the Desire S. It also has predictive text that suggests words as you type. Personally I find predictive more annoying than helpful so generally turn it off but it’s there if you choose to use it.

Two other entry options exist. First is a compact QWERTY keyboard, sometimes referred to as a 20-key. I’ve never liked compact QWERTY keyboards, I cant seem to get on with them, I wonder how many people still use the compact QWERTY option?

The third layout is a phonepad style or 12-key. This allows you to enter text in a more T9 style which again I know suits some people more than others. The advantage here is that it gives you much larger buttons to press which is handy if you have fat-fingers!

No matter which keyboard style you choose it will revert to a full-QWERTY when you rotate the screen in to landscape.

keyboardportrait keyboardlandscape phonepad compactqwerty keycom

I’m guessing that most people will know that when you are typing in a web or email address the keyboard has a .com key to help speed the address entry up. Perhaps fewer people will know that a long press on this key brings up other extensions. .net, .org and .edu are also provided but what about I find this a frustrating omission.

Keyboard layouts have changed slightly since the HTC Desire of last year but this is down to later version of Android OS being used on the Desire S.

You may notice in the screen shots above that there’s a key on the bottom row, second from the left, that has a microphone symbol on it. A long press of this key brings up the voice recognition software as an alternative to touchscreen keyboard entry. This is subject to the same kind of limitation that the voice dial option is in that you have to speak clearly and carefully to have any kind of success with it. You also have to have network coverage (either WiFi or mobile) in order for it to work as the voice processing element is carried out online and the results sent back to your handset.

For those of you looking for other entry methods it’s a case of looking through Android Market for one that suits, you wont find Swype pre-installed here unfortunately.



With its 3.7" S-LCD display, the HTC Desire S is a good handset for web browsing. Sure there maybe other handsets out there with larger screens but few exceed the 480 x 800 pixel resolution seen here in the Desire S. It’s a matter of personal preference but I think that 3.7″ is ample for web browsing and I prefer not to carry a larger handset. The ‘standard’ Webkit browser on the HTC Desire S does a fantastic job of rendering web pages and they do so rapidly.  When you first visit a site the page will initially scale to fit in the width of the screen so you can see the layout as it’s meant to be and it looks virtually the same as you would see on a desktop browser. You can then scroll around the screen looking for the content you want and, because the Desire S supports multitouch you can use two fingers to pinch-to-zoom wherever you want or double tap to zoom to a specific portion of the page.

HTC introduced text reflow when they launched the HTC Diamond about 3 years ago. When you zoom to a section of text on a page rather then the text be too wide for the screen and force you to have to scroll the page from left to right repeatedly to be able to read it the browser will re-flow or re-justify the text so that it fits the width and you only need to scroll up/down to read a whole passage of text. Handy.

Naturally the browser also makes use of the built in accelerometer so will rotate the display to suit whenever you rotate the device allowing you to easily switch between portrait and landscape browsing. There is very little lag when rotating.

The Desire’s browser also supports Flash and you can install the latest version 10.2 so you’ll be able to use your favourite Flash based sites or even play Flash based games. Lesser handsets can really struggle when displaying Flash content but as the Desire S has a reasonably powerful Snapdragon CPU and 768MB of RAM it doesn’t seem to suffer any slow down, even on particularly complex flash sites.

Naturally the screen plays a big part in the overall browsing experience but the CPU and RAM should certainly not be overlooked when it comes to browser performance. Luckily the Desire S has plenty of CPU power from it’s 1GHz processor and a large amount of RAM. These all contribute towards providing a browser that’s quick to respond and to render webpages. The CPU and RAM are particularly important when it comes to loading and using content from Flash-based sites which fortunately the Desire S does well.

webportrait weblandscape


The YouTube application on the HTC Desire is much the same as you would find on most Android handsets. I still think Android has the best of the YouTube applications, not only in terms of how it looks but also its functionality. YouTube videos look so much better on Android than on the iPhone for example.

You can browse through videos, look at the top videos and recommendations as well as search for a specific video or channel. As you can see below, a search for leodee (my YouTube account name) brings up my channel and all the unboxing videos I have available (nearly 500 now!). YouTube videos then playback pretty much flawlessly on the screen (depending of course on your internet connection) but for me they play back smoothly over WiFi in HQ format.

When playing back in portrait orientation the video sits in the top half of the screen with the title, description and comments underneath. When you turn the handset in to landscape mode the video rotates and is played back full-screen.

ytsearch youtube


Social Networking

Social networking is well covered on all HTC handsets thanks to the Friendstream app and widget built in to HTC Sense. We first saw Friendstream last year on the HTC Legend and then on all other HTC devices since. This brings together three social network feeds in to one place. Twitter, Facebook and Flickr are supported so any time there is an update from one if your friends you’ll see it in one list. It’s a social network aggregator.

From the desktop widget you can post your own status updates. When you post an update it’ll go to each account you have configured, there doesn’t appear to be a way to say you just want a particular update to appear in just Twitter or just Facebook. As with the email and calendar widgets there’s a choice of sizes so you can have a full page or half page widget.

From the homescreen widget you can click through to the main app where you have a little more control over your status updates and you can post photos and video from within the app itself.

The app has different tabs to allow you to search or filter friends updates. The first has all updates, then status updates, photo and video updates, posted links, lists and finally notifications.  

friendstream frienstreamapp friendstreamstatus friendstreamphoto friendstreamlinks friendstreamlists friendstreamnotifications


If using a feed aggregator isn’t your cup of tea you can choose not to use it and instead use the individual Facebook and Twitter applications.

There have been recent improvements to the Facebook application for Android with more features and an improved interface. It now has a photo stream at the bottom of the main window which is pretty cool.



There are literally hundreds of twitter clients out there and I’m sure that we all have our favourites. Pre-installed on the Desire S you’ll find HTC’s own ‘Peep’ app. This works closely with the Friendstream app too. Peep is actually one of my favourite Android twitter clients, it’s nice and simple but still has the essential features and it also looks appealing too.

If you don’t like Peep then you can try the official twitter app. That doesn’t do too bad a job but if you don’t like either of the supplied apps there’s a raft of them to choose from on Android Market.

peep twitter


GPS & Navigation

Naturally you’ll find Google maps here in the Desire S and there’s nothing special about it’s implementation here. There have been some changes to the maps app since we looked at the HTC Desire. Two finger zooming is supported and now you can use two fingers to rotate the display as well.

There’s street view and satellite views too or you can layer them together. 

maps1 maps2

Google Maps does provide for directions and this maybe enough for some people as it plots routes from point A to point B for either car, public transport or walking routes. I often use Google Maps when in London to find my way to various meetings. It’s nice and easy to use.

GPS technology has been improving steadily over the past few years. I remember a time when finding a GPS signal was a hit or miss affair and you had to stand still in one place and be quite patient for a GPS fix and you could forget about getting a fix indoors!

This was particularly frustrating when you got in to a built up city, such as London, where the GPS was often lost having been blocked out by the ‘urban canyons’.

I’m pleased to report that the GPS in the HTC Desire S works really well. Not only does it pick up a signal and acquire a fix quickly, even from a cold boot, but it retains the fix and doesn’t seem to suffer from drift.

carpanel mapsnavigation1 mapsnavigation2 locations footprints

If you want turn-by-turn navigation there is a creatively named app: Navigation. It’s actually a Google 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.


Android Market & HTC Hub 

Android market on the Desire S is just the same as you would find on any other Android handset at the moment. I think Apple could learn a thing or two from Google here in terms of the way Android market is laid out and the categories that everything is broken down in to.

As mentioned already HTC give you the ability to download additional content for your new phone whether it be a new skin or a sound scheme. HTC Hub takes that a step further though and once you sign in you’ll a whole variety of Apps, Widgets, Sound Sets, Scenes etc. All of which are exclusive to HTC.

market htchub HTCHUBWidgetdownload htclikes

Now I do question the need for another app store. Personally I think that we only need one per platform and Android Market should be enough. I don’t have a problem with HTC providing content exclusively for their products but I’d much rather see this delivered through the normal Market app. It feels unnecessary and I can only imagine how confusing it may be for a new user.


Music & Media 

Media playback on the Desire S hasn’t changed much. There’s a music app which performs all the functions a music player should, from song/artist/album views to genre and now-playing. There aren’t any sample tracks or videos provided though. No big deal.

There’s also a built-in FM radio. As with most devices, you have to plug in headphones in order to use the radio as the headphones act as an antenna. I’m not sure if some headphones may perform better as an antenna than others, I tried a couple of pairs but the reception was quite disappointing and it’s very sensitive to the direction you lay the headphone cable. I found myself holding the handset at arms length to pick anything up. It may work better in a city where you are closer to the bigger radio stations. 

music fmradio

News & Weather 

There’s a lovely News & Weather app on the Desire S. It’s well integrated so you can get the top stories in headline or summary format and then click though for the full article.  

The weather gives you a full 7 day forecast. You can click on any of the days for a more detailed outlook.

news newsandeather



Another recent addition is the Reader app. This is essentially an eBook reader much like the Kindle App or iBooks on the iPhone. You get to see each book in your library and once you pick the one you want you can thumb through the pages. It works ok but isn’t particularly exceptional. There are a few pre-loaded titles that you can have a look at or of course you can go and buy other titles through the app. The eBooks come from Kobo and while there are loads to chose from there aren’t as many titles available as via the other apps already mentioned.

There are also some weird category headings such as ‘Books for Dudes’ and ‘Heathers Picks’. I’m not sure what’s wrong with regular library categories!

 reader chapter2


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 S 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.



In the past HTC received a lot of criticism about the cameras on their phones. There was a spell where they decided not to included a flash on any of their handsets and even some of the more recent handsets have only had 2 or 3 megapixel cameras, this is at a time when the likes of Sony Ericsson are pushing up to 12 megapixels with some of their phones. Whilst I appreciate that it’s not all about the pixel count it seems that cameras were not a key focus point for HTC with their handsets.

I believe that many would have been disappointed to hear that the Desire S wasn’t getting a camera with more than 5 mega pixels. The Desire had 5 MP and that was a year ago. Now, knowing that it’s not all about the pixel count I anticipated that the Desire S would, perhaps, have improved optics. After all the lens and sensor make more difference to the IQ than the number of pixels alone.

On to the results in a moment.

The camera application itself offers a great deal of control over things such as ISO, White Balance and Exposure as well as being able to turn auto-focus on or off depending on your needs. There’s also a digital zoom should you wish to use it. The only thing missing for me is that there’s no dedicated camera button on the side of the handset. In order to take a photo you have to press the optical trackpad button which just doesn’t feel very natural, I suppose one would get used to it though.

camera galery pictureshare

HTC have included a ‘Camcorder’ icon in the programs menu. This basically takes you to the same camera application but with the defaults set to video recording mode. Video recording seems reasonable. The Desire S can record in 720p HD video recording mode.

Once you have your video recorded you can choose to share it via Email, MMS (if it’s not too big) or upload it direct to your YouTube account. There are similar options for still photos too but additional options include sharing via Facebook, Flickr, Peep and Picasa etc.

So let me tell you about the photos that I’ve taken. I was initially encouraged as the camera app has plenty of controls. Everything from self-timer, ISO, white balance and face detection.  There’s also a whole selection of image effects that you can apply. Vintage, Posterise, Sepia and Vignette are just a few in there.

Looking at the live preview on-screen the camera seems to be doing a really good job, even in quite low light conditions. I took several different shots including some macro shots and some with the flash. Reviewing on screen on the Desire S the pictures looked really good. I was impressed at first.

So why was I only impressed at first? Take a look at the photos below, Initially they look good, especially if you look at them without zooming in. They are acceptable at this size. However, if you now click on one of the samples below, especially the one with the tree, and look at it full size you’ll see that there is a great deal of fuzzyness. It almost looks as if the picture has been simplified somehow.

I should point out that these images are straight from the memory card and have not been processed in any way. I’m sure that the issue here is that the images are being compressed excessively when they are being saved to the memory card from the camera. I think that the camera and the optics are pretty good but the compression is killing the photos!

I did wonder if there was a setting for the compression or the IQ within the camera app. but I cant find it. It would be ideal if there was a setting for no compression or lossless. Memory card capacities are such that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if each photo was a few MB’s.

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Close-up Shots


Low-light flash shot



Just a final few words on the Desire S’s ability to pick up a mobile or WiFi signal. I’ve mentioned a lot of times in the past that where I live it’s almost impossible to get a mobile signal on any network. Vodafone is the best and Orange the worst for me. The Desire S has its antennas placed in the back of the battery cover in an attempt to improve reception. Throughout my review I used an Orange SIM in the phone. I’ve been surprised by how often I’ve had service. If you look at the screenshots throughout the review you’ll see that the signal strength has been really variable but on the whole there has been some coverage.




I was a big fan of the HTC Desire when it launched last year and there is no denying its popularity, so much so that there was a time last year where HTC really couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Yes the HTC Desire S does build upon that success but the changes are fairly incremental. The biggest change being the aluminium body which by the way is not only good looking and great in your hand but also make the Desire S about as robust as they come.

The one thing that continues to frustrate me about HTC is how poor their cameras continue to be. Whilst I’m not a big user of cameras built in to phones, taking only the odd candid snap I’d really hoped for more from HTC here. I hope that they could address some of the camera issues through firmware as if a decent camera is important to you when selecting a new phone the HTC Desire S will sadly only disappoint.

In all other areas the device does well. Great for web browsing and social networking, light enough while still maintaining that balance between feeling light and feeling robust and not toy-like.

If you already have the HTC Desire I don’t think it’s worth the upgrade to the Desire S, the difference isn’t big enough and you may miss the physical buttons below the screen. If however you are coming from a completely different device then I’m sure that the Desire S wont disappoint.


Review by: Matt

[ Post Tags: HTC Desire S, review, Android, Gingerbread, ]

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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