Tuesday, August 14, 2012

HTC Desire C Review

Not too long ago, we took a look at HTC One V, the lower end offering of the critically acclaimed HTC One Series. While we thought that the One V was as good as it could get in terms of bang for buck HTC seems to be poised to beat their own offering with the HTC Desire C, even if this seems contradictory to HTC's claim to stay away from Low-End phones. Today, we have a look at the HTC Desire C, a tiny sized smartphone named after flagship phones of yesteryear in a sub-$200 offering.

Overall Construction
The Desire C is a significant departure in the lineage that it is named after as this is far from being a flagship device by any stretch of the imagination. The fact remains however, that design choices of old with design choices of today have influenced the overall look of the Desire C. From the overall shape, to the form factor the Desire C certainly is distinguishable from HTC's other offerings in the One series.

For many people, the thought of a 4 inch+ screen is more of a turn off than an appealing feature. It's one of the many reason that the iPhone has continued to be so popular. The Desire C looks to capitalize on the demand for moderately sized smartphones. Next to its flagship stablemate the HTC One X, the Desire C is obviously dwarfed in size and footprint.

That being said, the Desire C is clearly an entry level device, but feels like a very solid device, just like the slightly more expensive One V. While it isn't a completely unibody phone like the One Series offerings, the combination a solid aluminum front chassis with the soft rubberized plastic back cover is far superior to other phones in the same price bracket.

In our eyes, the Desire C isn't a successor to the Desire, Desire HD or Desire S even if it bears the same name, but rather a spiritual successor to the surprisingly well received Wildfire and Wildfire S. Its small footprint and compact 3.5 inch screen makes it perfect for people with smaller hands, as well as people who prefer using smartphones one handed.

At 12mm thick and 100g heavy, the Desire C is a thick yet extremely lightweight device. While it's significantly thicker than most other smartphones today, the small footprint and extreme lightweight makes it fit nicely in the pocket as well as in the hand. The ergonomics of the handset is quite refreshing in a world of super sized phones.

The version that we got the opportunity to review was the gorgeous red version. Matching the surprising red interior chassis, the front and back panel of the phone was certainly an eye catcher. In fact, we noticed that the phone matches particularly well when paired with the cord of a set of Beats headsets which we believe to be the base color for this particular version of the phone.

Overall, the phone feels much more premium that it's price tag insinuates but feels substantially inferior to the HTC One V.

HTC Desire C

Being an entry device, the Desire C was of course equipped with a pretty average display. You won't find an 720p HD, 300+ DPI display here. The phone is equipped with a 3.5 inch 320x480 pixel LCD display, which puts it at a paltry 165DPI. This certainly won't impress anyone owning a smartphone from the past 3 years but that wasn't the goal of the Desire C.

One should remember that just over two years ago this was the same screen configuration of, what was then, the still very relevant iPhone 3GS. This means that for people who are coming from feature phones, the Desire C's screen will be more than good enough for their needs.

Overall, the brightness, contrast and colors were pretty average. Unlike the One Series phones, the screen is not laminated to the front glass. This means there is significantly more distortion when looking at the phone off center.

That being said, the experience is pretty reminiscent of the now venerable HTC Magic which is good for general phone tasks like calling, but pretty inadequate for Browsing, Multimedia and Gaming. The simple fact is for people used to larger screens the 3.5 inch screen is simply too cramped to use very efficiently.

Just like the HTC one V, we believe the phone lacks any form of oleophobic coating making it significantly more difficult to wipe clean than other smartphone. Although a wipe from a damp cloth will do the trick.

As with the One V, the top mounted Power buttons feels very natural and is the best placement for people familiar with most other smartphones. However, it does feel a bit wobbly, which is a small detail but takes away from an otherwise solid feeling phone. We would have liked to feel as confident with it as we did with the volume rocker which was rock solid. We believe the power button is that way because of how the indentation to remove the back plate happens to be right next it. Again, this is a minor issue but one that could put doubts in the longevity of the button in the eyes of potential buyers given the failure rate of power buttons on many consumer electronics.

Our thoughts on the Android button layout on the One Series are the same on the Desire C as it shares the same button implementation as the rest of HTC's 2012 portfolio of devices. While we still think that software rendered menu button isn't as bad as other reviewers have made it seemed, the lower res Desire C is forced to use the multitasking long press to bring up the hidden menu in legacy apps. Again, as we mentioned in other HTC reviews we believe this issue become moot once apps are converted to Android 4.0+ design paradigms.

Battery Life
Sporting a relatively small 1230mAh battery, the Desire C got us comfortably through a full day's use. The screen with its smaller size and lower resolution coupled with a low clocked processor easily makes the most of its seemingly paltry battery.

We did notice something quite interesting and possibly a big plus for some people. Given that the battery is such a small 1230mAh, it took less than 90 mins to fully charge the phone from dead to full. To the many people who can't dedicate a couple of hours tethered to a USB/Power Outlet, this will certainly be a big plus.

Unlike the One Series phones, the Desire S has a user replaceable/removable battery. For many road warriors looking to carry a spare battery, this feature is a must when away from a charging source for a significant amount of time. Although, we must say that we have a hard time seeing many people falling in to the cross section of people who would be looking at an entry level smartphone and people who are road warrior.

Internal Hardware
The Desire C is replacing the Wildfire S in HTC's product lineup so as expected it isn't to most endowed smartphone.

- 600 MHz Qualcomm 1st Generation Single Core Snapdragon S1 Processor
- 512MB of RAM
- 4GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 32GB
- Adreno 200 Graphic processor
- 7.2mbps HSPA capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 5 MP camera

One thing we liked on the One V that we also like in the Desire C compared to the One S/X was the presence of a microSD card slot. While it was needed to several key OS functions but did not come pre-loaded with one it means that expandability is possible.

Like the One V, we fear for the upgrade longevity of this device. It's great to see it launch with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but we have our doubts about ever seeing an upgrade to Jelly Bean. We would like to be proven wrong by HTC but after seeing how the Desire HD upgrade went down we are pretty much convinced that the Desire C will not see any major Android revision upgrades (Jelly Bean, Key Lime Pie, etc).

We also fear for the usability of the device once a user starts populating the phone with more and more apps. In our time with the Desire C, we installed apps like the official Twitter app, Instagram, Facebook, etc. We didn't see a significant slowdown but we can't guarantee that the experience will stay the same if a given user decided to take things further.

HSPA Capabilities
Yet another downside of using an older set of hardware is the limitation in terms of wireless connectivity. The Desire C is sadly limited to 7.2mbps which by definition isn't 4G. By today's standards this isn't quite up to par with what current smartphone users are accustomed to. That being said, speeds were okay and hovered between the 2-3.5mpbs range. This was good enough for general browsing and some limited emergency tethering.

In reality, when you consider the hardware of the Desire C, we do think this is enough throughput for this device as page rendering speeds, as well as multimedia rendering speeds are bottlenecked by the slower CPU. This was apparent, when we didn't get much noticeable loading speeds when switching from 3G to WiFi.

As with all speedtest sections we must remind you that your mileage will vary. Speeds will vary per carrier and location. Our unit was tested on the Fido/Rogers network.

Speaker and microphone
Like the One Series phones, the Desire C comes with Beats Audio integration. Again, as we've said countless times in past reviews, the Beats equalizer profile makes bass heavy songs sound good but isn't great for every genre.

The loudspeaker is significantly quieter than the One series phones. Audio performance in both receiving and transmitting was about average.

Being an entry level phone, the Desire C has a lower end camera at 5MP but is pretty decent. It does not have the f2.0 aperture or ImageSense bells and whistles but still does fairly well for an entry level offering.

With a f2.8 aperture and lack of LED flash, the handset is just about useless in low light situation. We tried snapping a few shot to see what we could muster up and it literally picked up nothing but a blank black picture.

Also worth mentioning, is that there is no way to set focus. This means depth of field changes are not possible and macro shots are extreme difficult to acheive.

Like the One V (but worse), several of the shortcomings of the camera are due to the low processing power of the 600MHz processor. Out is 720p recording, as well as slow motion capture, zero shutter lag, etc. Thankfully the awesome camera software found on the One Series remains just about intact.

Surprisingly, when given ample amount of light, shot were pretty good. With quality about on par with the One V, the Desire C matches its slightly higher specced sibling in color reproduction, sharpness and contrast.

Sadly like the One V a front facing camera is noticeably absent, which is a shame given the target demographic of this handset.

Video was as bad as one would expect from a VGA resolution camera. There simply isn't enough horsepower under the hood to keep up with 720p recording.

Sample Pictures
Android 4.0 /w HTC Sense 4.0
Again like on the One V, we cannot express how glad we are to see a manufacturer put Android 4.0 on an entry level device. Of course this is a double edged sword as it makes people wonder why older handsets like the Desire HD or even previous Wildfire devices are excluded from an ICS upgrade, but that's a discussion for another time.

Check out the software section of our review of the HTC One X for a deeper over look at Sense 4.0 and the additional enhancements made by HTC to Android 4.0. We also ask that you check out the software section of our review of the HTC One V for a more in depth explanation of the subtle yet significant changes to Sense 4.0 that is only on the One V and Desire C. But for a quick overview here's an list of some of those changes;

- Homescreens are limited to five and cannot be added or subtracted to
- Gone are the web-OS like cards and in is the stock multitasking menu
- Screenshots, media as well as any non essential data requires a microSD card

Again, like the One V, the experience is pretty darn close to the experience on the One X/S and again it is a great news for an entry level device like the Desire C. We were quite surprised that the 600MHz processor was able to keep the experience relatively fluid (at least out of the box).


The Desire C is a curious little device. As a power user, there is nothing that attracts me to the device. It's too small, a tad slow, and really lacks features that are important to me. However, when one takes a step back to see the bigger picture, it's easy to see that the vast majority of people are not power users. To most, price/affordability and value are far more important and this is where the Desire C really shines, especially when it comes to contract free purchases.

If you're looking for a phone for free, but on contract, I'd much rather recommend the One V or the iPhone 4 given that they have significantly more features.

However, if you're looking for a basic phone sans-contract or at a shorter term contract, the Desire C becomes a very interesting choice. Given that the iPhone 4 is still sold for a premium price ($549) without a contract and that the One V loses a bit of value with the Galaxy Nexus being in a neighboring price bracket ($300-350) the Desire C is in a league of its own in terms of value ($150-200).

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 7.5/10
- Very nice overall design (particularly attractive in red). Feels very solid and great in the hand. Best in class industrial design for entry level smartphone. Substantially less premium feeling than the One V.

Screen: 6/10
- Too small, too low a resolution, too low a pixel density.

Buttons: 7/10
- Good feeling volume rocker, wobbly power button. Same short term problems with Android Button Layout that fades away as third party Android Apps Mature.

Internal Hardware: 6/10
- Unquestionably low specs. Meager hopes for longevity in both software usability (eg. once more apps are installed and phone becomes more bloated) and upgradability (will likely stay at Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich). HSPA speeds were quite slow.

Battery Life: 8/10
- Pretty good battery life. Got through a day's worth of use without any trouble.

Speaker and Microphone: 7/10
- Beats equalizer helps put the Desire C above competing offerings. But was average in loudspeaker performance and okay in earpiece and microphone performance.

Camera: 6.5/10
- Good camera experience. But obviously lags behind high end phones with more advance sensors. Includes the great Sense Camera software. No low light usage is possible as it lacks an LED flash.

UI Changes: 8/10
- Similar, experience to the One V. Great to see Android 4.0. Surprisingly responsive out of the box.

Addition Enhancements: 9/10
- We were surprised to see it included, but Dropbox and Beats integration are nice additions that set the Desire C from other low end offerings.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7/10
- Pretty heavy on preinstalled apps (every carrier version).

Final Score: 7.2/10

Note: At first glance our current rating system will make the Desire C look much worse than it actually is. But please keep in mind that this is because of the nature of our rating system, the Desire C is being measured up against mid to high end devices. If you are considering the Desire C it's because you are probably on a budget. To prospective buyers we say, the Desire C is a good low-risk purchase.

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