HTC was once the darling of the smartphone world, and could seemingly do no wrong. Then along came Samsung and put a bomb under that concept – and HTC has struggled ever since.
It’s not that the company has produced bad handsets. This year’s most recent HTC phones, the HTC One and One mini, have both been good. But they’ve not been great, or clear market leaders, and that’s what they really need to be if they’re going to earn acclaim and take momentum away from Samsung. And, arguably, HTC has kind of lost the plot with its BlinkFeed user interface element which I’ll get to in more detail later. The point is – it’s no longer okay to be good enough.
The Desire 500 is in some ways an attempt by HTC to reinvent itself. The weight of the Desire name is impossible to ignore – it was the original Desire that helped cement HTC as a market leader, and the name has popped up a fair bit since.
But much more than that, the Desire 500 is being pitched as a phone that offers good performance at an acceptable price point. Clove, who sent me my review sample, is selling it for £226 sim-free, yet it has a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. That seems like an amazingly good deal. However, it is important to note that not all quad-core processors are the same – the one in use here is right at the bottom of Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon range. With 1GB of RAM in support it is a long way from the leading edge.
Still, quad-core it is, and it does a reasonable job. The most demanding games will be a struggle to play on this handset, and apps didn’t always load as quickly as I would like – but nothing I found while using this smartphone was a disaster in performance terms. And it’s always good to bear in mind that this phone costs a shade over £200, so you can’t expect the Earth.
HTC has done a nice job in the looks department. There are two versions of the handset available – Clove sent me the blue and white one rather than the boring black one, and I’m happy about that. The bright blue edging strip and highlights on the back make a real change from more bland designs.
I’m not sure I like the shiny white of the backplate – soft touch is my preference. But I could live with it, and overall this is a phone that feels solid rather than cheap. The way the screen sits proud of the chassis will irritate some people, though I didn’t find it a serious issue.
However, there is one design annoyance. At first the handset looks like it has a unibody design, but it doesn’t. The backplate is more of a cradle than a flat back. It goes all the way round the edges of the phone, and it curls right over the short top edge. It’s very difficult to get off, and I felt as though I might snap the phone completely every time I removed it.
I wouldn’t want to be removing the back to get to the battery, microSIM and microSD card too often, and that means hot-swapping microSD cards, even though it can be done without removing the battery, is not advisable.
Buttons and connectors are unsurprising in their locations with the microUSB port on the bottom, headphones on the top along with main power, and volume on the right edge. The buttons are very flush to the chassis and not easy to find by touch. In fact the volume buttons are integrated into the blue edging, making for a neat design touch but a less than satisfactory tactile finish.
There are only two touch buttons beneath the screen – back and home. It’s not an arrangement I like and not one I want to see again. Having to double tap the home button to get at the app switching feature is a nuisance, and I did miss that third button.
Inside this shell there’s a 4.3in display with a resolution of 800 x 480. That’s not the best of resolutions, no, and nor is it great in sunshine outdoors, but it is fine for the general reading of text and web pages. Video looks okay, too, and colours are rendered well enough. It’s not outstanding, but it is perfectly functional.
Nor do I like BlinkFeed, HTC’s all-singing news aggregator. It sits on a home screen bringing together your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr feeds, and can add in news from a range of services. But you can’t select the services, instead having to pick from a predefined set. HTC really should allow you to remove this widget rather than have it clutter up one of the three available home screens.
The photo and video based Zoe is another feature of Sense 5 that is present here. It is a mix of burst mode and video shooting that produces short animated clips which can be brought together as films and shared on YouTube. It is fun to use, but I am not sure it has real long-term staying power as a feature. You don’t have to use it, though, and the rest of what the camera offers is reasonable. 8-megapixel stills of nice quality and a fair range of shooting options and effects should allow you to have a bit of fun or take some snaps for Facebook.
Because this handset comes in at not much more than £200, HTC has cut some corners. I’ve already mentioned the screen as one of these – another is the amount of on-board storage, of which there’s only 4GB. Checking right out of the box, my review sample had just 1GB of this available.
Now, you’ll probably steer clear of those processor sapping mega-games I mentioned earlier that could be sluggish runners, and you’ll be able to fit a lot of smaller apps into that space, but still, it’s the absolute minimum HTC could have got away with.
The quad-core CPU toting HTC Desire 500 might seem like a bargain at this price point, but it has a bottom drawer quad-core processor. While I do like most aspects of the design of this phone, its internal memory shortage and slightly below par screen do it no favours.
Manufacturer and Model
HTC Desire 500
GSM 900/1800/1900; HSPA 900/2100
1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
4.3in, 800 x 480
131.8 x 66.9 x 9.9mm
Android 4.2, HTC Sense 5