Archive for June, 2010

I’ve had the HTC Desire for a few days now, long enough to feel like I understand it, perhaps not long enough to fully grasp the things I love and hate about it. The following are general first impressions. In time I’ll come back in the future and see if my opinions have changed.

Out of the Box (8/10)
The first thing I noticed about the Desire is that it comes in a fairly small box. There’s no CD containing PC software that must be installed. No 500 page manual in 18 different languages, the charger cleverly doubles as a USB cable further reducing the clutter.

The phone itself is very nice. I’ll admit it, I think the iPhone is more “beautiful”. There’s nothing about the HTC’s look or feel that I dislike but there’s also nothing about it that makes me stop and catch my breath. It’s a perfectly nice design, it has nice touches that give it a feel of quality, but that’s as far as I’d go. Apple do “iconic” better than most, perhaps they focus a little too much on the image. The antenna problem with the iPhone 4 is not the first time that people have raised questions about whether Apple beauty is more than skin deep.

So, the Desire looks and feels nice on the outside, how about the inside?

First Start Up (9/10)
The HTC Desire looks a whole lot more beautiful when it’s turned on. The screen seems to me to be as good or better than anything I’ve seen in my limited use of the iPhone (very limited). Initial set up couldn’t be simpler, in fact It didn’t seem like I had anything to set up. There’s a little tutorial on how to use the on-screen keyboard, more on that later.

One nice bit of flashiness is the Live (animated) Wallpaper. Completely impractical, probably uses a bit of extra battery power, but totally worth it, although many of the included wallpapers are pretty poor, there are one or two that I like.

Getting Online (9/10)
The Desire picked up my WiFi with no trouble, and as I’ve taken it out and about It has picked up public hotspots with equal aplomb. I had a little research to do to set up my 3G internet connection (I’m with Three Ireland), but again setting it up was simplicity itself and it works fine. The phone toggles seamlessly between WiFi and 3G and back again.

It’s also simple to tell the phone to rely only on WiFi. There’s really little point in having the phone going to the internet over 3G syncing your Facebook or Twitter accounts while it’s in your pocket.

Online Accounts (9/10)
The Desire is all about the internet. Flickr, Twitter, GMail and so on. Pointing it at these various sites is simplicity itself. More interestingly, when you’ve set up links to online accounts you start to see info from those sites popping up in unexpected places. For example the phone numbers of my facebook friends appeared in the contacts list on the phone dialer. Mrs Dalton hates that feature, but I’m ok with it.

The ability to link together the various “identities” for your friends is nice. For example you can link the Name, Phone Numbers, Email addresses, Flickr account, Facebook account, Twitter account for a friend all under one contact. Very nice.

Linking up to the IMAP mailboxes on my own domains also worked fine. Nice.

The FriendStream feature is quite nice, and works well, although when I first fired it up I was getting tweets from Twitter. Not the phones fault, it probably assumed that’s what I’d want. As it happens on Twitter I don’t follow any friends, I follow people like Stephen Fry. It took a little poking around to figure out how to exclude Twitter from my friend stream but keep the phone linked to my twitter account. Once I did that all was well.

The Keyboard and TouchScreen (6/10)
My previous phone was the Nokia E71 and I must admit I liked the keyboard. My biggest worry about moving to the Desire was the all glass face. Virtual keyboards are not my favourite thing. I understand that if we’re ever going to emulate Star Trek then we need to get used to typing directly on glass, so on with the show.

First impressions are that it’s fine. The predictive text feature means that you don’t generally have to hit the keys spot on. Hit a nearby key and the Desire will usually know what you mean. One problem with this feature is that it’s not always available. I haven’t figured out why some apps have this feature and other’s don’t but it’s REALLY annoying when you don’t have it to fall back on.

Scenes, Widgets and Programs (8/10)
A Scene on the Desire consists of seven pages of icons, shortcuts and widgets. This is where you really have to spend a bit of time setting things up the way you like. It can be a challenge.

There are plenty of apps pre-installed on the Desire and you can of course download more. Icons that launch programs are all very well, but to really feel like you’ve got a special phone you need Widgets. Widgets are more than icons, they actually provide information. A good example would be a clock on the main screen that shows Date, Time and possibly even weather.

Sadly there isn’t a huge selection of quality widgets. Even if you search the market place you’ll find that most programs don’t include widgets. Hopefully this will change.

You can create as many Scenes as you like, so you might have a Work related setup, a Social Networking setup etc. To be honest I had trouble finding seven pages worth of content to create even one Scene. So far I haven’t bothered to set up multiple Scenes.

The Desire comes with a number of pre-configured Scene’s which for the most part are fairly lousy.

The Market Place (5/10)
Perhaps the biggest reason why I abandoned Nokia was their Ovi Store, so the Android Marketplace was always going to be an important factor for me. I’m a little bit underwhelmed. The experience is a lot better than using Nokia’s Store (how could it be any worse), but you need to wade through lot of really really bad stuff in order to find decent apps.

Even software from fairly reputable sources can be a challenge. Listen from Google Labs is a good example. It’s a pretty good podcast manager/player. I found it to be incredibly buggy and judging by the comments many other people hit the same issues.

If you stick with it and search search search there are a few gems in there. Here are a couple of apps that I’m liking:

3G Watchdog
Cabbage
DoubleTwist
FxCamera
Google Earth
Google Sky Map
gStrings
NetCounter
Retro Camera
Scanner Radio
Shazam

I installed DoubleTwist primarily for it’s podcast playing ability, but it was a handy replacement for the Standard Music player that comes preinstalled on the Desire. The Music Player on the Desire isn’t good. DoubleTwist isn’t anything special either but it’s an improvement.

PC Connectivity (10/10)
I’ve had very little need to connect the Desire to a PC. Another thing that drove me away from Nokia was the amount of software they seemed to want me to install on my PC. Similarly my iPod sits in a drawer because I got sick of iTunes. My bad experience of the iPod is a big reason why I never bought an iPhone.

The HTC Desire works very well with the PC. Connecting via USB cable gives you 4 options (Charge Only, HTC Sync, Disk Drive and Internet Sharing). So far I’ve used Charge Only, and Disk Drive. I haven’t had any issues. I’ve dragged and dropped my music files and they’ve worked fine.

I’ve also installed DoubleTwist on both the PC and the Desire allowing me to manage PodCasts on the PC and then Sync them with the phone. I’d like to be able to search for and download podcasts directly on the Desire which Google Listen allowed but sadly Google Listen was too buggy, and for now DoubleTwist is a decent compromise.

Reliability (10/10)
I’ve had no problems at all with the Desire. It has been rock solid so far. It has appeared to hang for a few seconds now and again but has always recovered very quickly. Occasionally apps throw errors and have to be shut down, but given that most of these apps are freeware from amateur developers that’s no reflection on the phone. In fact the phone’s ability to keep functioning with such a petri-dish of crap third party code running on it is quite impressive.

Sound Quality (5/10)
At the end of the day this is still a phone, so how does it hold up on that front? I haven’t done a direct side by side comparison between the Desire and my old Nokia but my sense is that the Nokia offers better sound quality on calls. Without prompting I’ve also heard the same opinion from other Desire users. Interestingly I’ve noticed the worst quality occurs when I talk to another Desire user.

That said I can’t complain too much about the Desire, I’ve made and received calls and although I can hear a difference in quality I haven’t dropped any calls or had difficulty understanding the conversation.

The built in speaker is another story. It’s rubbish, total rubbish. I didn’t think the speaker on the Nokia E71 was anything special but compared to the Desire it was superb.

Battery Life (3/10)
BAD, BAD, BAD.
Battery life is the Achilles heel of the HTC Desire (and smart phones in general). Bigger screens, more connectivity and more uses beyond simply making calls all mean that the battery gets clobbered on Smart Phones.

Now, I’d expect that in the first few days the novelty factor would mean that I’d be using the Desire A LOT so perhaps I need to consider battery life over a longer period to get a better feel for it. Also I’m told that after a few charges the battery life will improve. Here’s hoping. My initial experience is that I’m getting about 8-9 hours of use before I need to recharge.

Those figures are based on doing little or nothing to conserve the batter. I have WiFi on all day, I have GPS on all day. Bluetooth is off, screen is on medium brightness. I’ll keep an eye on it but for now poor battery life is an expected weakness that I can deal with.

Overall (7/10)
Overall I like the HTC Desire. I don’t LOVE it. It’s not a life changing phone, but I’m happy with it. I’m looking forward to future versions of Android and the emergence of more and better apps and widgets.

I’ll rethink these scores in a few months time when the Desire and I have spent a bit more time together.

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My first mobile phone was a Nokia 1610. A Brick by today’s standards, but it worked and it never gave me any trouble.

I briefly switched to a Panasonic and then a Siemens phone. The Panasonic was ok (very slim by the standards of the day), the Siemens was a piece of crap that ended up in a rubbish bin after one bad call too many.

I swore after the Siemens debacle that I’d go back to Nokia and never stray again. And since that day almost a decade ago, I’ve stuck to my word and been through a range of Nokia’s from the frankly brilliant 6310 up to the fairly ok E71.

But times have changed and a mobile phone is no longer a phone with some software built in, it’s a computer with a phone built in and Nokia are no longer cutting the mustard.

One of the reasons I loved the early Nokia’s is that the intuitiveness and usability of the software was superb. Everything worked like you thought it should, and the phones were rock solid.

As the world has moved on to ever more elaborate devices (smartphones) Nokia have handed control over to rivals like Apple and HTC. They may try to wrestle back some of that control in the near future with their new N8 smartphone, but I think they might be doomed to fail.

It’s not that they make bad phones, they don’t. But they just don’t get that phones aren’t phones any more, they are computers. Computers need software. Apple has it’s AppStore, Android has it’s MarketPlace and Nokia? Nokia have a pile of festering puss that they call Ovi Store.

To understand how bad Ovi Store is, try and imagine you’re in college, studying computer science, and there are a gang of guys in your class who never attend lectures, spend the whole year getting drunk and partying, and then at the end of the year realize they have 24 hours to complete and submit an end of year project. Ovi Store is the kind of think they’d produce. It has been around long enough now for “kinks” to be worked out so I can only assume that Nokia intend it to be as bad as it is.

So, I’ve given up on Nokia and bought myself an Android phone (a HTC Desire to be exact).