The HTC Desire Z almost got overlooked in all the hype surrounding the larger, more covetable HTC Desire HD back at launch in September. This phone is just as important however, giving many smartphone fans what they’ve been crying out for: top end hardware, software and a slide out QWERTY keyboard.
HTC hasn’t made one of these for an Android phone since the very first, the T-Mobile G1, more than two years ago, so it’s been one long wait for everyone who prefers typing with keys you can actually feel. Has it been worth it? Should you stick with your BlackBerry or creaking G1? Read on and find out in our full HTC Desire Z review.
HTC has never had any problems cranking out 3.7-inch screens stuffed full of colour, and indeed the 480×800 pixel screen on the HTC Desire Z looks like it’s keeping a rainbow hostage. It isn’t an AMOLED display as on the original HTC Desire, but blacks are lovely and once again websites are eminently readable. Pinch to zoom gestures work without the the slightest bit of judder, and the on screen keyboard is identical to that of the original Desire – excellent, in other words.
One issue we did have however was with the touch sensitive buttons below the screen. These are disappointingly unresponsive, something we thought HTC had fixed since it made the same mistake with the Google Nexus One at the start of the year.
We’ll dig deeper into the hinge and keyboard below, but the general build of the HTC Desire Z isn’t quite cutting edge. At 14.16mm deep when closed, it now feels a bit chubby, and if anything, it actually reminded us of the 18 month old HTC Touch Diamond2 Windows Mobile handset rather than a HTC Desire.
The ports are all in sensible places (micro USB for charging on the side, 3.5mm audio for your headphones on the top, and there’s an efficient optical trackpad those who like to make sure their emails are spelled correctly will appreciate for correcting any mistakes. But we’re not much taken by the metal back panel, which pops open with a large switch, and doesn’t quite sit snugly, meaning there’s a bit of rattle when you pick it up.
At 180g, it’s pretty heavy, but not distractingly so, and call quality was satisfactory, both through the earpiece and the speakerphone.
Android 2.2. with HTC Sense
There are no surprises here: the HTC Desire Z runs Android 2.2 with all the bells and whistles of the Desire HD. That means recent apps in the pull down notification bar, Sense cloud backup and location services, plus HTC’s own Locations app for navigation when there’s no 3G reception, and the excellent Search Anywhere universal search app.
HTC’s own Mail app for Exchange, POP3 and IMAP emails is still pretty ordinary, unlike the split screen client included on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but the People address book is still delightful, making a better stab at connecting contacts on different social networks than any other phone we’ve seen. The only real difference is that when you pop the keyboard open, it locks into landscape mode – for all the details otherwise check out our HTC Desire HD review.
Unfortunately, the bugs we encountered on the HTC Desire HD are still present too. The notification bar had a habit of getting stuck now and again, and HTC’s media streaming app, Connected Media, still doesn’t work on our network with our consoles and TV.
Otherwise though, it’s a fast, easy and friendly rendition of Android. It’s just a shame that unlike with American version (The T-Mobile G2), stock Android as Google meant it to be isn’t an option with the HTC Desire Z. It’s so hard to come by on Android phones these days, and would have been welcomed by purists. But HTC Sense is the best of the manufacturer skins, so it won’t be an issue for most.
The five megapixel camera doesn’t break from the norm for HTC shooters, which is to say, mediocrity. More of an issue than noise or the yellow flash however is the physical shutter button: it’s so tough to activate that you can quite easily move the phone as you fire, leading to unexpectedly blurred shots. But stay steady and it gets the job done in daylight. Like the HTC Desire HD, it does shoot 720p HD video, and this turned out pretty smooth, even if the auto focus once again lagged behind the HTC HD7‘s.
Top end Android phones with a hardware QWERTY keyboard are still pretty uncommon, but the HTC Desire Z has one, for all you eager emailers. HTC’s thrown some welcome buttons in alongside your usual alphanumeric keys, including two keyboard shortcuts and a search button.We’re also taken with the HTC Desire Z’s Tab key – you’ll often find yourself skipping text entry forms, and it’s certainly the speediest way to do it.
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However, the physical design leaves a little to be deZired (Sorry). While four lines means the space bar gets a welcome row to itself, the keys are a tad low, and we found it all too easy to press B instead of space. The letters also come very close to where the two halves of the phone meet, so if you have big thumbs, you’ll often hit this perpendicular edge instead a key on the top row.
While it’s easy to grip, and you can hit higher speeds than on the HTC Desire HD’s big touchscreen with a bit of practice, it’s nowhere near as speedy as the keyboard on the Motorola Milestone 2, and the excellent, raised five line board on the LG GW620. Still, it should get the job done for anyone not raised from birth on a BlackBerry, and can cope without the lack of a unified inbox in Gmail.
That cursed hinge
Look, how shall we say this? The HTC Desire Z’s hinge is a massive pain and easily its biggest failing. HTC has always made bad hinges on its phones (remember the floppy HTC Touch Pro2?), and with the HTC Desire Z, it’s shown no sign of changing.
It’s not your typical on rails number that locks into place. Instead, the screen raises up and then down again in an arc. Although the spokes are thin, they seem sturdy and we’re confident they’ll last the length of a two year contract. Your patience however, may not, and not just because you’ll occasionally pinch yourself shutting it (Which was mildly painful).
You see, the HTC Desire Z’s hinges are affected by gravity. When shut and held face down, you can see it droop by half a millimetre or so. Hold it upside down while slid open though, and you’ll really see the problem: the screen drops down and snaps shut. In other words, it’s almost impossible to use the physical keyboard when you’re using the phone in bed. Your partner might approve of you putting the HTC Desire Z down for once, but if you do like to rifle through emails now again, this is going to grate. Bad, bad bad HTC.
Battery life and performance
Good news: unlike the HTC Desire HD, you can easily get through a day of solid use with the HTC Desire Z. In fact, we got through two and a half days of casual use with WiFi and 3G both left on. In part, that’s down to the bigger 1300mAh battery (As opposed to the pathetic 1230mAh juicer on the HTC Desire HD), but it’s also down to the slightly scaled down performance.
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Unlike the Desire HD, the HTC Desire Z uses less memory (A still respectable 512MB of RAM) and a processor clocked at a slower 800MHz, compared to the HD’s 1GHz. Spec heads might frown, but we’d have to say these are worthy trade offs to make the phone last a day, and in truth, unless you’re going to do some seriously taxing multitasking, you won’t notice much difference: the HTC Desire Z is still extremely fast and we rarely noticed any difference, save perhaps slightly more judder and buffering time for Flash 10.1 video streaming, but no more so than the original Desire. Don’t let the numbers put you off: under the bonnet, the HTC Desire Z is still one of the most powerful Android phones yet.
We should also note that the HTC Desire Z has just as much app storage (1.5GB) as the HTC Desire HD. Between this and the ability to run some apps off an SD card in Android 2.2, most will struggle to fill the phone up with programs.
There’s plenty to moan about with the HTC Desire Z. The latest iteration of HTC Sense still needs bug fixing, the keyboard isn’t best in class, and we wouldn’t give that hinge the time of day if we met it in the street.
But right now, if you want cutting edge performance, the latest version of Android and a physical keyboard, you have very little choice, bar the Motorola Milestone 2, and you won’t see many networks stocking that directly. And it’s an excellent choice for the most part: we just wish that stock Android was an option in the UK too. If a QWERTY keyboard was all you were waiting for to jump smartphone ship, now’s the time to go Google.