The HTC Desire Z is a competitor to Motorola’s Milestone 2, that launched on Friday 19th November. Whilst it is technically inferior does the overall package of hardware, software and interface work?
Shaun McGill from www.pda247.com put together the following review, read on to find out how it fares……
The Android world has been crying out for a business centric device, or at the very least a phone that includes a full-width keyboard for those that need to create data and deal with many emails and the like every day, and finally one has arrived in the form of the Android Z. The only Windows Mobile device I still see used regularly is the HTC Touch Pro2 which had a significant following amongst those who have the needs described above and it showed that the slide-out keyboard form factor can work very well if consideration is given to the fact that the keyboard will be used the majority of the time. The Desire Z takes this idea and moves it forward a few years by streamlining the overall design and making it feel like a smartphone that is accessible by more than just business people.
I am still of the opinion that a smartphone with a hardware keyboard has major advantages for people who don’t like typing on touch screens, me for example, and the inclusion of a large touch screen offers the best of both worlds. That is the theory anyway.
There is little doubt that the Desire Z is at the front of the pack in specification terms, but the 800Mhz processor may be viewed negatively by some. I personally see this as an advantage because Android 2.2 does not require 1Ghz to perform smoothly and to me a Ghz processor is not only unnecessary, but more likely to reduce battery performance.
It’s the usual suspects in the box and the inclusion of an 8GB expansion card is welcome to supplement the 1.5Gb of internal space. For most users 9.5GB will suffice, but the option to expand up to 33.5Gb in total will without doubt suit almost everyone. As per usual I struggle to get excited about packaging and included accessories these days because the box ends up on a shelf within a couple of hours and the only default accessory I tend to use is the AC adaptor. The headphones here are not too bad compared to most, but I will still use my own preferred pair.
It’s a looker. The first thing that struck me about the Desire Z was how different it looks and feels compared to smartphones that have come before. There is an air of freshness to the design which manages to retain practicality in the way the keyboard slides and the overall placement of the hardware buttons is unobtrusive to say the least.
With the keyboard in the closed position it looks and feels like a standard touch screen phone which is unusual. Almost all full width keyboarded devices have felt thick in the past and a small wobble has been apparent when holding them. HTC has managed to make this smartphone feel like a unibody despite the keyboard and this is an impressive achievement.
The sliding mechanism is unusual, but is a tried and tested formula that HTC has used before. It looks quite mechanical when you view it from the side, but does produce a solid fit when open or closed and is fairly smooth in operation once you are used to snapping it open. I found myself trying to push it the wrong way the first couple of times, but familiarity kicked in and all became well on the first day.
The keyboard itself is unusually thin and I suspect that this is a bi-product of trying to keep the overall form as slim as possible. What you are left with is a wide keyboard with 4 rows that offers a novel experience the first few times you use it. The keys are almost flush and offer little travel or feedback which is disconcerting at first. I can see the logic behind the idea, but as a long time BlackBerry user this feels slightly odd. The positioning of the keys is excellent though and there are dedicated keys for full stop, comma, and ‘@’ which aids the typing process nicely. You also get two hardware shortcut keys next to the space bar which can be assigned to specific functions or apps- a nice touch and one which would be good to see in other smartphones.
I am somewhat undecided on the keyboard because it is not the best, but sometimes keyboards can grow on you…
As I said earlier, the buttons are unobtrusive and all you get are volume buttons on the left, camera button on the right and on/off button on the top. To be fair you don’t really need anything else and they are all designed to be perfectly usable. The standard Android home, menu, back and search keys are located just below the screen and are part of the screen design which is tricky at first. The location is logical, but there is obviously no physical button as such so practice will be required. It is a non-issue, however, because buttons like this can get away with being virtual.
An optical trackpad is also positioned below the screen and works very well, on the one occasion I used it anyway. I have seen this before with Android and never use this button- I am presuming that some people do, but it would be easy to remove this feature and not affect navigation of the phone at all.
Overall the construction is plastic, but seems to be a particularly well built type of plastic which almost feels metal in its construction. The metal battery cover on the back, while small, adds an extra touch of class which elevates the Desire Z further in my mind as an extremely well built device. The overall build quality is simply superb and way ahead of many other phones; it manages to retain practicality (you feel that you could drop it in a bad and it wouldn’t get scratched) yet also includes an alluring design. Very few smartphones achieve this balance, including the iPhone 4 and Galaxy S, and the Desire Z is the first to pull it off of all the phones I have reviewed over the past few years.
Having played with the Desire Z for 4 days and it has grown on me over that time. Android is an unusual operating system in that you are immediately presented with a plethora of apps and functions that confuse as much as they exhilarate and this can be difficult to control at first. Where Android excels though is in its ability to let the user do almost anything they want with the interface and the multiple home screens, themes and other tweaks help a great deal in making the phone feel like it is yours alone. When you own an iPhone, you own an interface which is the same as everyone else’s, but some prefer a sense of individuality and there is as much interface flexibility here as you could possibly need.
Besides all of the standard apps provided by Google, HTC has waded in and provided a wealth of extra; HTC Hub, HTC Likes, SoundHound, Desk Clock and Car Panel are just some of the extras, but there are other features bundled under the ‘HTC Sense’ banner that become second nature to use after just a few days. With Navigation included I struggle to see what is missing and every time I get to review a new Android phone, I get another glimpse into the Android Market. It is getting better all of the time and I am almost ready to concede that it rivals iTunes in terms of app availability and quality these days.
Anyway, how does the Desire Z perform as a smartphone? Let’s look at the individual parts-
This is the only part of the Desire Z that I have not been completely impressed by. After a couple of days of familiarity I was soon used to the way it works, but still feel that it could be better. It is far from the best keyboard on the market, but with practice you will find it comfortable enough for responding to emails and keeping in touch. One other bonus that may not be considered is that the keyboard is not adding significant weight or depth to the phone so you end up with the best of both worlds. It feels like a normal touch screen phone when the keyboard is closed and you may well find yourself using it in this mode the majority of the time, but the keyboard is always there should you need it.
UPDATE: After a further 2 days of use I started to really get into the keyboard once I had forced myself to use it more. In the end the mark went up a point to 8/10 and I conclude that it works well, despite the fact that it really shouldn’t. Strange…
General Performance (9/10)
The 800Mhz processor is more than capable of providing a smooth and quick performance on every level. From video playback to running multiple apps at the same time, everything just flies. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the fastest smartphones I have used to date and there is never a feeling that things are going to slow down, ever. This phone does prove that Android maybe does not need a 1Ghz processor for 99% of the tasks it will be used for.
Excellent. The resolution is good, the touch is smooth and it works really well in most conditions. There is some washing out in bright sunlight, but I have been more impressed with this screen that expected when the technology is considered. One annoying aspect of a very good screen is that it leaves you with little to say about it, but a comparison to my iPhone 4 does highlight just how crisp the Retina Display is in the latter. However, take the iPhone away and there is nothing wrong with being able to see the odd pixel. The screen is hard to criticise and I for one could live with quite happily.
I was surprised by the quality of the camera for what is touted as a high-end smartphone. HTC has made great strides in this area recently, but it hasn’t quite worked out here. I found it quite difficult to take well focused shots, and the camera actually seemed to want to jump out of focus just before the shot was taken. There are many settings and tricks included which will help in some conditions, but I don’t tend to look deeply into camera settings because I believe that most other people won’t. I suspect that with some work I could improve my snaps immeasurably, but I don’t like to have to work to capture a decent photo.
Video recording is not too bad, but in my five test videos I wasn’t completed satisfied with the output given that this phone is capable of 720p recording. The ability to manually focus using a tap on the screen is useful, but was a feature I had to use every single time.
Video playback is really very good indeed (despite a quirky software interface) and the YouTube experience is one of the best I have enjoyed on a mobile. For good measure, DNLA streaming is included which is a useful feature to impress your friends with. Music quality is also very good through headphones (not the supplied ones of course) and for the first time ever I would put this phone above the iPhone 4 in this area. It is simply breathtaking how good the music playback is and I have personally not experienced this quality on a smartphone to date.
So why has it only got 8/10 for media? The reason is simple, but sadly it is one that affects many aspects of using this phone- the external speaker. It is remarkably tinny and also does not have a high volume, and when you do crank it up to the max it manages to sound distorted and too quiet which is not an easy trick to pull off. I presume this to be because of the hardware design and the need for a smaller speaker, but it is noticeable when using the phone in loudspeaker mode and the free Navigation service, which is excellent in every other respect.
Smartphones are used more often than ever to project sound without headphones and it would have been good to see HTC do a better job here, particularly on a phone that is so wonderful for all other aspects of media.
Call / Signal Quality (8/10)
Call quality to the ear is very good indeed and I could quite happily manage long conference calls with this phone. Through headphones it is even better with a crisp and deep sound that belies the speakerphone. It is a very good caller, but the speakerphone problems are as described in the Media section.
Signal quality surprised me as well and I managed to get an HSDPA signal most of the time which is high unusual for me. This is important because a phone with an inconsistent antenna usually equals a phone with inconsistent battery performance.
Heavy use will of course weaken the battery performance, but even on a day when I pushed the Desire Z really hard I ended up with just over 10% remaining. The next day I used the phone normally and was left with 40% battery which is slightly better than what the iPhone 4 can do. Having said that, each phone is optimised for different tasks in terms of battery so you mileage will vary somewhat. I would count myself as comfortable with the battery here though.
There is so much to say about the HTC Desire Z and while I don’t tend to do long technical reviews covering every aspect of a smartphone, there is some temptation to do this here. The Desire Z has a lot going for it and is more than capable of delivering everything you could possibly need a smartphone for. It is extremely well built and the keyboard is a genuine enhancement that will bring customers to it who may not have considered Android before.
The camera is likely better than I managed to make it, but the speaker is weak to say the least. If you do not use the external speaker on a smartphone often I am fairly sure that you would be pleased with the Desire Z. It highlights how far HTC has come and is also an excellent vehicle to carry Android 2.2. It is, believe it or not, the only smartphone so far to make me question my iPhone 4 ownership.