Telstra’s first Android is mostly Desirable

Just over a  year ago,  Optus brought the first Android phone to Australia in the form of the HTC  Dream.  Now Telstra has joined the Android ranks with the launch of the  HTC Desire.  This recent addition to HTC’s Android lineup is an impressive device and after two weeks of use, the verdict is “mostly desirable”.

So what makes this phone so desirable? And why the qualification of “mostly”?

NOTE: In addition to the standard disclaimer & disclosure, readers should be aware that this phone was purchased on the Telstra staff plan. Therefore this review does not discuss plan and pricing options. This is a personal review and is not part of the Telstra’s  ‘social review’ program.

Things to Love
For anyone still wondering if it’s worth making the leap to a smartphone (be it iPhone, Android or other) , the answer is yes. At home, the Desire has  become a convenient laptop substitute for simple tasks like checking email or catching up on Facebook. Having an alternate means of Internet access also comes in handy when, for instance, your broadband service is offline for a week.

Turning specifically to the Desire,  HTC’s ‘Sense’ user interface is a winner. There’s a few elements to Sense which I really love, starting with the seven customisable  home screen panes. Not only does this provide plenty of space for widgets and apps, it also enables similar applications to be grouped together on separate screen. For instance, you might  group all the games on one screen, with social media apps on another.

What adds to the wow factor  is the ability to preview the seven  panes with a “pinch” of the screen, then select the screen you want with a single touch. It’s much faster than flicking through multiple screens iPhone style.  (Check out the video from PocketVideo for a full run through of the Sense experience.)

The screen on the HTC Desire is also fantastic. It’s big and bright, which makes for a great web browsing and photo viewing experience. Even set to the dullest power saving level, it’s still quite usable indoors. The only time I’ve found myself turning up the brightness is to view photos or outdoors in bright light.

Despite such a large screen, the battery still managed to meet my needs.  Battery life is helped by a handy power management widget that provides one-touch on/off control over functions like WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, syncing and screen brightness. The Desire managed about a day and a half without recharging under normal usage, which involved both 3G and WiFi internet browsing as well as a couple of phone calls and some game playing.   Adopting conservative power setting and resisting the urge to use the phone except when needed, it easily made it through two days without recharging.

The Desire’s camera was also a pleasant surprise. My expectations were quite low given my previous experience with the less than satisfactory camera on the  HTC Magic. Thankfully the Desire’s camera is much better. It won’t replace a dedicated digital compact, but it will give you a better chance of capturing those spur of the moment shots that always seem to come up when you only have your phone with you.

Lastly, I’m a big fan of the unlock pattern on Android phones .  Remembering and swiping in a multi-point pattern  seems a lot simpler than remembering a PIN of equivalent length.

Things to Improve
The HTC Desire is a good phone, but it’s not perfect. Early users of the Telstra branded Desire  didn’t get off to the best start, thanks to a software fault with the GPS. To their credit, Telstra and HTC were fairly quick to issue an over-the-air software update that not only fixed the GPS issue, but also added voice search.  In the end it was a  minor inconvenience, but one that still detracted a little from the initial excitement of having a new phone.

Secondly, whilst  I’ve  found apps to do all the things I want on my Desire so far, there’s still a lot more choice on the iPhone.  Currently, Apple has about a 5:1 advantage over Android in the number of apps, with games the weakest link for Android.

Wrapping Up
Overall the HTC Desire has a lot going for it – it’s easy to use, has a nice bright screen, gets through the day without a recharge and has a better than expected camera. Whilst the initial GPS issue took some of the fun out of my first week, there’s no buyers remorse.  And with the Android Marketplace growing at 9,000 apps per month, the ‘app gap’ is quickly going to become less about the number of apps and more about their quality (1). The HTC Desire is probably the best Android phone in Australia at the moment. If you’re considering a smartphone, then it’s worth at least checking out the Desire before you hand over your money to become another iPhone user.

p.s. As the Desire is currently exclusive to Telstra, the best place to compare the  Desire and iPhone is at your nearest Telstra  T[life] store where you can check out ‘live’ handsets side by side.

(1) But that’s a topic for another post.

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