Tuesday morning I received a courier parcel from Mobicity – the new HTC Desire Z had arrived, ready to be reviewed.
The Desire Z comes in the usual packaging for HTC’s mobile fare, and it lists an impressive set of features:
- 800 MHz Snapdragon processor – don’t let the clock speed fool you, this phone is fast!
- 720p HD video recording
- 1.5GB on board storage with MicroSD expansion options
- 3.7″ touch screen, with dedicated hardware keyboard
And it’s this last feature which really differentiates the Desire Z from the competition. Physically, the phone is no longer nor wider than the Desire or Nexus One and it’s only a millimetre or two thicker, and 50 grams heavier. However, instead of being purely a touch device, there’s a flip out QWERTY keyboard underneath which is quite usable and it doesn’t take long to build up a quick typing speed.
Let’s get into it.
- Large 3.7″ touch screen – easy to read and a joy to use. Worked well in sunlight.
- Solid feel – unlike some phones with fold out keyboards (Nokia N97 for example) the Desire Z feels sturdy, and doesn’t creak when twisted.
- HTC Sense. Yes, I said it. Sense is a pro on this device.
- Good call quality and fast data. Good for the travelling pro.
- Camera application is top notch, and has some built in special effects for a bit of fun.
- While not much larger than the original Desire, the extra dimension and extra weight are noticeable in your pocket. It feels a little unwieldy.
- The travel on the keys on the keyboard is minimal – typing feels unnatural, and (for me at least) the touch screen entry is faster.
- So far, the Desire Z only comes in UMTS 900/2100 MHz. Those of you who prefer, or need, Telstra’s Next G network can’t take advantage with this phone.
The Desire Z is a larger, slightly heavier phone than the Desire, and it takes a little getting used to – it’s far more comfortable to hold and type on two handed than one. Physically, it rests well in the hand – it feels solid, but even though it’s not much heavier than the Desire, you can feel the difference – it balances differently and one handed use, for me, was a little awkward. In terms of dimension, the device is well sized, and feels comfortable for touch screen typing, or with the physical keyboard.
In many ways, the phone’s hardware is unremarkable – it has a combined directional pad / button on the front of the device, a volume rocker on the left, a power button on top, and a slide release on the right to remove the battery cover. The ‘standard’ Android buttons are not hardware, rather they are touch sensitive areas at the bottom of the screen as with the Nexus One. They are quite responsive and work well, however I must say I preferred the physical hardware buttons on the Desire to the touch screen counterparts – in some situations, the touch buttons would not activate leading to repeated tapping of home before the home action would fire.
The touch screen, as mentioned above, is a beauty to use for data entry and it works well as a touch screen too – touches are quickly recognised, multi-touch works well and accurately, and in short the phone was unremarkable, in that the touch screen just worked, and worked well! In landscape aspect, with the keyboard folded out, the screen was large enough to enjoy web browsing and other activities, and games such as Angry Birds were a pleasure to play on the large screen (helped by the snappy CPU performance).
The camera takes pretty decent photos and good videos too – 720p HD video recording is a plus. One thing I quite enjoyed was the built in special effects on the camera – depth of field, vignette, colour alteration – these are features usually found in 3rd party apps, but HTC’s Camera includes them all, and they’re easily used and adjusted to your taste.
Photos and example video to come soon!
A number of people on Twitter and in the comments on my sneak preview asked what the keyboard was like, as Android phones with keyboards are far less common, and for some people, the addition of a physical keyboard is the killer app.
I have to say that the keyboard, while a nice addition, really just didn’t jump out at me as much as I’d hoped it would. It is easy to use, it’s a reasonable size, and text entry works pretty well.. but I must also say that I found the keyboard felt unnatural to use. It may have been that the buttons were a little small, but I think the real let-down for me was the buttons felt as if they had no travel – sometimes it was hard to know if you’d pressed a given button or not, and the error-rate was at times unacceptable. Enabling auto-correct for the physical keyboard fixed that issue, and led to faster text entry.. however given the way the phone has to be held to use it, and the lack of travel in the keys, I wouldn’t think that extended typing on the keyboard would be much fun.
On some occasions, I found myself sliding the physical keyboard away, and reverting to the touch screen which I easily found twice as fast. I guess this will come down to personal taste – some people will prefer touch entry, others the keyboard – so at least on this one, the Desire Z has both of you covered.
The Desire Z ships with Android 2.2 (FroYo), with HTC’s Sense interface over the top. For those of you unfamiliar with Sense, it could be summarised as the Android evolution of HTC’s front ends on Windows Mobile devices – however, unlike Windows Mobile, Android is very powerful and customisable, and in the early days, some (including me) questioned the necessity of HTC Sense. I have been quite critical of it in the past – it has caused phones to run slowly, came with a lot of bloaty, pointless apps, and generally was one of the first things I would look for a way to remove.
I hate to say it, though, but Sense on the Desire Z just works. It’s fast, it’s snappy, and it actually feels like it’s grown up a bit. No longer does it feel like it cripples the device, rather it feels as if it even enhances it a little. The number of ways in which the home screen can be adjusted and tweaked to your needs is just great, and many settings such as new ring tones or changing wallpapers are easily accessible.
Unfortunately, some of the apps pre-installed on the device are unnecessary, or in some cases, just outdated and painful to use. While HTC Peep still works as a twitter client, for example, it’s a pain to use – it lacks features of many modern twitter clients and the screen layout is rather wasteful. Other apps such as Plurk and Locations are curious inclusions, but I suppose they may appeal to some people – to me, they just take up space.
On the whole, though, I’d say Sense on this device is just fine – it doesn’t slow down, it looks and feels good to use and comes with the added features of the new HTCSense.com, which allows users to remotely manage and control aspects of the Desire Z (and other newer HTC Android phones).
Sense aside, the phone runs all the Android apps I cared to install, and some of my faves like Tweetdeck, Angry Birds and SMS Backup+ worked exactly as they should.
For the hackers out there, this phone can be rooted, and undoubtedly it will see custom ROMs cropping up in the near future. CM6.1 would be one to look out for.
I like to bang on that phones should work well as phones first and foremost and the Desire Z doesn’t disappoint. Good audio quality in both directions made phone calls unremarkable in that they went through exactly as they should. The only let down was a few drop outs, but I was unable to determine whether this was something to do with the phone, or the network that I was using to review it (Vodafone). I suspect the latter, as the signal at work and in other areas I was using the phone is hardly strong.
As noted above, though, the phone is a little larger than what I’m used to in a smart phone, and it felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable holding the phone to my head for extended periods – I’d recommend the use of a good hands free if you’re going to be talking a lot.
I haven’t yet put the Desire Z through my usual stress testing because I haven’t had time, however it seems comparable to the Nexus One and Desire – that is, it’ll go a day with normal usage – sync, email, web, calls and SMS, a bit of music and some other mucking about – but come evening, it’ll be dead or close to it.
Perhaps in recognition of this, the review unit came not only with an A/C adapter, but also an in-car charger as well. This is probably a necessity, as some in-car activities, such as using Google Maps Navigation, can kill a battery quick smart – really, you’d only use navigation or other power intensive apps if your phone was on said in-car charger, or you’d kill it more quickly than you could ask “Hey, where’d my Vodafone reception go?”
The Desire Z is a fantastic phone. It’s fast, responsive, and equally at home for the corporate user and the pro-consumer. This isn’t the type of phone you’d buy for your talk- or text-happy teenager, but it’s a serious phone for a serious user. It’s powerful, solid, and comes with features that make other phones weep – huge internal storage, a decent keyboard, a large screen, and jam packed full of Android goodness.
On the downsides, the keyboard just didn’t feel 100% right, but it’s damned close to what you’d want. The phone itself was a little heavy in the hand, but you’d get used to this quite quickly – after a day or two, the phone feels far more natural to use than it did on first impression.