HTC Desire S: Verdict
The Desire S is a great phone, but it feels like it doesn't live up to its grand name. We loved the original Desire so much. It was offering an experience comparable to the iPhone 4 three months before Apple's device was even announced.
But now, 12 months later, the experience is still comparable to the original Desire. The Desire combined cutting-edge hardware and great software, but the new tech seems to have filtered to the Evo line these days.
The Desire S feels like HTC treading water, with a mild upgrade to keep the brand alive. Of course, a mild upgrade to such a great phone is still going to produce a damn good handset, but it doesn't have the gravitas its predecessor had.
HTC is well ahead of the pack when it comes to combining the power of Android with the glossiness of the iPhone. The design in some of the apps actually reminds us of HP webOS phones, such as the Palm Pre 2 more than anything, and that's a good thing.
HTC has built a clever and easy method of integration between your phone and your online world, with social networking really sticking out as a highlight.
The design and build of the handset is excellent, save for that Wi-Fi issue, which we'll come back to in a few paragraphs.
The camera is good quality, producing serviceable still and HD video that would be quite good if it weren't for the stuttering issue.
Call quality was excellent, with voices coming through crisp and clear, and it's a shame how little we get to say that about handsets these days.
The browsing experience was generally strong, with the speed that web pages load still impressing us, and Flash is taking yet more steps forward in its 10.2 guise. It was still finicky at times, but when it did work, it was fairly smooth, which is more than we could say for many Flash 10.1 single-core phones.
Let's start with the Wi-Fi attenuation issue. It's just a bit too easy to trigger accidentally. We first noticed it because we were logging into a web server, typing our password in landscape mode, and suddenly we couldn't connect anymore.
It's a bit like the iPhone 4's issue in that if you've got a really strong signal, it'll reduce it, but probably not all the way if you're just holding the phone casually, or have it placed gently on your leg.
However, if you have a medium or weak Wi-Fi signal, you'll be down to nothing in the space of a few seconds.
Beyond that problem, there's no other major flaw with the Desire S. It's just lots of little scuffs spoiling the polish.
Contact lists that don't appear properly at first for no reason, and then don't link properly; HD video that stutters; a slow notifications bar; Android web browsing that still isn't quite as smooth as we'd like it to be by now; a screen that's hard to see in the sun; a music app with inconsistent controls and network streaming that didn't work, and so on.
None of these is a dealbreaker on its own, but when combined they take the shine off what should be HTC's leading light.
We said in our LG Optimus 2X review that dual-core power didn't really bring anything to phones yet in terms of the overall experience, since Android was already so fast on the best handsets. But it does offer an element of future-proofing, and the Desire S's issues with recording HD video brought that home.
The Desire S isn't behind with its hardware right now, but we're not far from the arrival of dual-core phones en masse, and we wonder if it won't look a little short-sighted then.
If this verdict page comes out as being a little melancholy for a four-star phone, it's only because we had such high hopes for the Desire S. And why wouldn't we? Its predecessor sits top of our 20 best mobile phones list, after all.
The reason the Desire has kept up with everything that's come after is because it was so far ahead in the first place. The Desire S isn't. It's a great phone, and one we would wholeheartedly recommend in a vacuum. In fact, we recommend it even not in a vacuum, but we can't help but have our gaze drawn to the HTC Incredible S and the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The former is out now, and though it doesn't offer Android 2.3, it's very similar to the Desire S, but cheaper. The latter is due out before too long, and will aim at the same higher-end market the Desire S does, but with more advanced tech.
The HTC Desire led the revolution, but the Desire S could be just another member of the rabble.