Review of the HTC Desire

The HTC Desire is the sister phone of the Google Nexus One, and so I was happy that I was given a chance to review both of these phones at around the same time.

Last Updated: 30-Sep-2010

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Iíd like to remind reads that the purpose of my tests is purely directed toward the suitability of the device as a PHONE first and foremost. While I do throw in a few comments about non-phone features (such as the camera), I am not concerned with how good (or bad) an Android device the Desire is compared to other Android models on the market. Because of this, youíll find the review rather negative, because as a phone the desire is a very poor choice.

Also note that over-the-road performance is no longer a category in my tests. This category was created to test a GSM phoneís handoff performance. With the advent of 3G there has been very little to distinguish one phone from another when it comes to performance on the move.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: For the purposes of testing RF performance I put the Desire up against my 2-year-old Nokia N95, which has thus far proven to be an excellent baseline for other phones. The N95, like most Nokia models, has excellent RF sensitivity and only a very tiny number of phones have ever bested it. The Desire doesnít do better than the N95, but it does match it, which gives the Desire excellent RF sensitivity too. So far so good.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

When you first power up the Desire the screen slowly handwrites the words Quietly Brilliant. I donít know about brilliant, but they are dead-on about the quiet part. If incoming audio on the Desire has one clearly definitive problem its that it isnít loud enough. I found the quiet nature of the phone to be one of the biggest annoyances during the tests.

Tonal Balance: The audio from the native earpiece of the Desire is a little muddy and indistinct. This seems to be a problem afflicting many phones on the market these days. I didnít find it anywhere near as huge a problem as the low earpiece volume however , and most peopleís voices sounded clear enough that many owners wonít notice. However, I know from experience that it could have been so much better.

Sound Reproduction: The accuracy of the reproduced audio was quite good, despite the aforementioned muddiness. However, the overall quality was a little difficult to judge due a strange hiss-like background noise that was ever-present during a call. I refer to it hiss-like because the make-up of the sound is much more layered than that. No matter what you call it however, it is annoying.

Earpiece Volume: As I alluded to in the opening paragraph for this section of the review, the maximum volume of the earpiece was disappointingly low. To be fair, it was no softer than the iPhone 4, but that isnít saying much, because I would characterize the iPhone 4 as disappointingly quiet as well. When compared to my N95 however (which offers Nokiaís volume-boost feature) the Desire seemed even worse. It was difficult to hear when in the presence of loud background noises (like a crowded food court, or out on the street). I compared its volume against a number of other Nokia models, as well as a Blackberry Torch, and they all put the Desire to shame.

Outgoing Audio: Outgoing audio was surprisingly good. The phone managed to suppress the background noise a bit better than any Nokia Iíve tested and the voice quality was a bit warmer as well. Your callers wonít have any difficulty understanding you, but when the background din gets really loud (like at a crowded food court) the overall quality of your voice suffers, though not as much as I noted on an iPhone 4.

Speakerphone: Sadly the Desire possesses the worst excuse for a speakerphone that Iíve encountered in ages. The tiny little speaker can barely produce enough volume to be comfortably audible in a quiet room and the sound quality is shallow and tinny. Iíve heard cheap childrenís toys with better piezo speakers in them than this phone. Unfortunately the poor quality of the speakers doesnít just affect calls, it affects the all multimedia functions, such as the playback of videos. It sounds tinny and crackly, forcing you to listen to videos with headphones or earbuds on.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Like virtually all modern phones, the ringer is simply the playback of audio clips through the built-in speakers. Thatís fine when the phone has excellent speakers, but since the Desire suffers greatly in that department, the ringer suffers too. The maximum volume and overall quality of ringers is mediocre at best. If you pick standard rings 3 or 4, the volume is acceptable, but I put the phone in my pants pocket at the Square One food court and then I called the Desire. If I hadnít felt it vibrate against my leg I really wouldnít have known it was ringing.

Keypad Design: The Desire has no physical keyboard, and so it relies solely upon a virtual keypad (just like the iPhone 4). However, the accuracy of the keypad is much lower than the one on the iPhone. I frequently had to back up and repeat characters. I ended up having to carefully watch what I typed as I entered passwords. My guess is that you would become accustomed to it over time, but compared to the iPhone it looks like it has a steeper learning curve.

Display: According to the information I could dig up on the Desire, it is supposed to have an AMOLED display, but a friend of mine said that due to a shortage of AMOLED displays they use LCD on many of the recent builds. I wasnít sure what type of screen the test phone had, but I noticed that it seemed decided brighter when viewed straight on. That suggested that it was an LCD. Regardless, the display offered a resolution of 800 x 480, which isnít as high as the iPhone 4ís 960 x 640, but it was none-the-less a nice-looking display with excellent color. As for brightness, it worked well indoors, but in direct sunlight it was difficult to see (though not impossible).

Icing on the Cake

The camera worked well enough, but it produced results that were about what I expected from a cell phone camera. In other words, it was good, but not great. I also tried recording a high-resolution video, but for some reason the 1 GHz processor in the phone couldnít seem to keep up with it and the result was jerky. It worked much better when lower resolutions were used.


As a phone, I found the Desire very undesirable. Its low earpiece volume, muddy tonal quality, and useless speakerphone put it near the bottom of any list of phones Iíd buy personally. In addition, the poor speakers mean that as a multimedia device the Desire is also rather limited compared to other Android models on the market. Unless you plan to do all your multimedia usage using earbuds or headphones, the Desire may not suit your needs either.

So how does the Desire compare to the iPhone 4 (as a phone)? Based on my tests with the iPhone 4 Iíd say that come out tied. The iPhone 4 has low earpiece volume, a somewhat tinny (though clearly much louder) speakerphone, and less-than-perfect tonal balance (the iPhone 4 sounds a bit peaky and hollow). I didnít find myself attracted to either phone based on their functionality as phones. As for the Android vs iOS4 debate, I wasnít really looking to compare the two devices. Iíll leave that up to other testers.