Wednesday, April 14

HTC Desire

And there you have it: I have finally succumbed and joined the fancy fray of smart and large screened smartphones. But to be fair picking HTC's current flagship didn't feel like much of a compromise or downgrade from my trusted Nokia E71, a phone second only to the great SonyEricsson K750i.

I love the E71 for one big reason: its keyboard. That alone really changed the way I used my phone; I was texting more(!), I was emailing more and I was generally using the non-talk features of my phone more (although this was also helped by a new O2 contract which gave me more minutes and texts than I could possibly use and unlimited infinite). So important was the keyboard that it's been the only reason I've not bothered changing my phone.

Still, despite my fondness of the Nokia it was starting to grate a bit - it was clear how underpowered and sluggish it was, and the lack of consistency in its UI was starting to annoy me a bit. Oh and I've not used my calendar effectively since getting it due to Nokia's insistence on reminding me about events not via a discreet notification (which every other sane phone will do) but a repeated alarm tone, something I was forced to dismiss and therefore forget about.

So when HTC announced the Bravo, a phone that would lay the foundation for a series of phones including the Google Nexus One and my new handset, the Desire, I decided to take an interest. I had already decided on supporting Android over the iPhone, WebOS and Symbian as my next generation smartphone platform, so all that was left was the hardware specification. Apart from the usual GPS and compass, the Desire has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and a large and lovely OLED capacitive touchscreen (which I've now learned not to actually push too hard). If I was looking to switch to a current phone, this would have to be it.

Well not really, since the Nexus One was also an option. A quick search on Google will tell you the differences, but for me the deciding factor was that the Desire was released here in the UK first. That said I like the hard buttons and love the trackpad, but do miss the voice-to-text and navigation stuff that the Google branded phone has (those who have seen it in action might consider it as magical as I do). EDIT: Thanks to the magicians at XDA, I now have both voice recognition and UK Google Navigation on my Desire. And they're both pretty awesome.

So after a week with the HTC, what do I think? Well, my misgivings about non-pure Android implementations and UIs like Sense have pretty much been thrown out of the window, and I now appreciate how much they add to the platform. It remains to be seen what effect it has on Android updates and the like. I hope that HTC don't drag their heels too much, although I suspect I'll be hitting XDA quite a lot over the next year or so.

It took me a while to get used to the Android (or maybe even smartphone) way of doing things - having a separate phone application for instance confused me a bit, and due to the phone refusing to sync with my PC over bluetooth (an unforgivable omission) it took me a while to figure out how to use Google Contacts and Calendar in a clean and manageable way (I've spent a lot of time keeping my address book in order. Perhaps a little anal but hey). I also don't understand why the HTC (and other manufacturers) insist on putting their headphone sockets on the top of their handsets - I can't be the only one who puts their phone in their pockets upside down in order to pull it out the right way, and it doesn't even make sense having it at the top when you're using it or have it against your ear.

Unfortunately calendar notifications still don't work the way they should (which so far only SE seems to have nailed correctly in their decade old phones. I wonder if they've changed it "for the better" yet?). Here's a clue, dear phone makers: notifications should be discreet and short (think a single beep) and then added to a list of outstanding events. The Desire gets this right to an extent, except the events will keep beeping every five minutes or so until you dismiss or snooze them, which of course then hides them so you forget what they were about in the first place. On top of that, you can only clear all outstanding events and not just the single ones you want to. Absurd, absurd, absurd and possibly enough for me to not bother with the calendar in this phone either.

I also have a few issues with battery life - although I'm guessing that a daily recharge regime is something I'll have to accept and get used to. Of course the battery may still have to settle down, plus I might be playing with it much more than I will be usually.

As time goes on and I adapt the way I consider the handset (it's not a phone, it's a portable computer with a modem) I'm getting over some of the issues I had. And it's already changed the way I do things for the better - I now no longer use Outlook as a overkilling contact and calendar backup (although I'm not sure Google is a better bet) and I love how I have a list of the day's prayer times as a widget on my home screen. Web browsing is so easy I've started using my phone to surf even though I have a PC in the same room, and practical things like a Qiblah compass mean that I don't need to carry my own anymore (although I probably still will since that doesn't take batteries). Things I thought I would hate - like Facebook contacts - work like a dream and really do make a difference as it means I don't have to manage things like contact pictures and birthdays myself. I doubt I'll be using the phone to email or IM on the go, but that's more of a lifestyle choice rather than a fault of the Desire.

To be honest I didn't immediately fall in love with this phone in the same way I did the SE's or the E71. But if my first week with it is anything to go by the potential is definitely there and it might even surpass the K750i as the phone I consider to have been the best I've ever owned. I don't even miss the keyboard on my E71 that much (although I will be disabling the auto-correct pretty damn soon).

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