The HTC Desire C introduces a new budget or entry-level smartphone to the market. For a low, low price you can have Android functionality with Beats Audio branding, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream all in a diminutive-yet-attractive package.
HTC have previously had success in the budget market with the HTC Wildfire S, so we’ll see if they improve on the formula here.
First impressions of the Desire C are pretty positive. It’s a small and rather attractive package. Our review model was ‘Polar White’, but it will also be available in ‘Stealth Black’ or ‘Flamenco Red’, depending on your preference and in keeping with the Beats Audio branding.
In the hand, the Desire C is slightly smaller than an iPhone 3GS, despite the same sized 3.5” screen, but feels lighter, so it won’t wear a hole in your pocket. The prospect of Ice Cream sandwich on sub- £100 handset handset is an added draw.
The plastic-y build quality might not be to everyone’s taste, as it’s not the most durable of materials, although it does make the handset very light at a mere 100g.
We were quite taken by the eggshell-like finish of the plastic. It was nice to touch, gave a pleasing sense of grip in the hand, and minimised the problem of fingerprints on shiny surfaces.
However, we soon noticed that the matt finish tended to pick up darker smudges from pockets and fingers pretty quickly. The red or black versions shouldn’t have this problem, of course.
To open the phone and get at the translucent red innards, you use a fingernail from behind the ‘on’ switch to prize off the back panel - a simple yet effective solution.
Once inside, you can access the microSD slot to expand the storage, or replace the SIM card or the battery.
The 3.5” touchscreen does the job, but at 320x480pixels, it isn’t that great for long periods of internet browsing or reading small text. Whilst it was bright enough indoors, it performed less well outside where reflections tended to get in the way of what was onscreen. Colours tended to be on the muted side too, as were the blacks.
But, for the most part it was functional, and got the job done. You wouldn’t want this resolution on a screen any bigger, but the iPhone 3GS did just fine at this size and is still going (just)!
Audio sounds rich and full thanks to the Beats Audio setting. Those who remember back far enough will recall the Mega-Bass switches on Sony Walkman and Discman personal stereos. This essentially serves the same purpose, boosting low-end sounds.
It is essentially an equaliser setting, though, and if lashings of bass isn’t your thing, you can always switch it off from the notifications area.
With a 600MHz Qualcomm single-core processor, the Desire C isn’t aimed at the power user, although for light use and messaging, there weren’t any real problems.
Angry Birds Space ran just fine thanks to the 512MB RAM onboard, (unlike Nokia’s budget Windows Phone the 710) and Flipboard news reader also ran smoothly, despite occasional warnings that it was below the minimum supported spec.
The five megapixel camera operated ok in well lit conditions, however, there is no LED Flash, meaning that low-light shooting on a night out will be a struggle. Video quality is limited to 640x480, which is a low resolution but the framerate is solid.
Storage on the device is 4GB, which should get you started with some music, apps and pictures. When this runs out you can expand capacity by up to 32GB with a removable microSD card.
Another neat feature with this handset is that you get 25GB of cloud storage via a free Dropbox account, free for two years, which should last the duration of the phone, and allow you to back up your photos without the need to sync to a computer.
Another interesting but unexpected addition is NFC, a feature that we’re more accustomed to seeing in pricier models.
Currently this means that you can use Android Beam file sharing to send files between compatible handsets in close proximity.
It also means that the Desire C will be ready for Google’s Wallet service. When this is launched in the UK you should be ready from the outset to make small wireless transactions.
Batery life was fairly decent on standby, and would hold its charge for a good few days before dropping. At 1230mAh the battery isn’t huge, and wore down with sustained use just like you’d expect from a smartphone. Fortunately though, you can you can always keep a spare battery handy as they are readily available and not too expensive.
The HTC Desire C runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich straight out of the box. This is a great selling point given that more expensive handsets are still awaiting updates to Google’s latest OS.
Most notably, the keyboard in this version of Android is much more accurate and easier to use, and the dedicated task manager button with swipe-to-close is a welcome addition.
As usual, HTC has added its Sense UI overlay to add a cohesive visual feel to its product line. This version of Sense seems to be a cut down iteration that goes easy on the animations and graphical flair, but still offers the usual customizable tweaks in the phone’s settings.
As mentioned previously, however, loading times tend to be on the long side. And because the Desire C features a single-core processor, background tasks such as audio tend to stutter - especially if you’re browsing while listening to music.
Animations can be jerky, and the phone sometimes takes some time to answer, particularly if, say, you’re switching from browsing to phone functions.
At the heart of the Desire C is a 600MHz, single-core processor with 512MB RAM. Now, maybe we’ve been spoilt by higher-end dual and quad-core handsets that could give Usain Bolt a race in the speed stakes, but we felt that the Desire C really did push the CPU to its limits.
Jerky animations and pregnant pauses during anything but basic navigation frustrated us. Any attempts to multi-task tended to drop out the audio for a few seconds, and if we were doing something else as someone called, the phone tended to stutter a bit while swapping operations from YouTube, to call handling for example.
It’s a good thing that HTC have a dedicated button for the task manager, as you will most likely find yourself closing open applications much more often than is ideal.
Compared with HTC’s previous budget handset, the Wildfire S, the Desire C gives you a bigger screen and a nicer design, with a media oriented bass boost thanks to Beats Audio and NFC connectivity.
Whilst the addition of Android 4.0 brings some welcome OS tweaks to general usability, it is let down in the usability stakes by an underpowered 600mHz processor, which results in anything but the most basic operations being a cause of frustration.
If you’re after a cheap, impressive-looking second handset for nights out taking on holiday, or simply some basic smartphone functions at a low cost, then by all means try the Desire C.
However, its good looks are fairly skin-deep and if you shop around you could pick up a slightly older but more powerful handset for the same price.
The HTC Desire C is available now, free from around £15p/m on a 24-month contract, or from around £99 on PAYG.