HTC is rightly proud of its aluminum unibody construction method. It goes beyond what other manufacturers do -- such as Nokia with the aluminum-clad N8 -- by using just one piece of the lightweight metal, which is wrapped around the phone's internal components and acts as both its case and frame. On the Desire S, there are a couple of plastic-covered rear compartments, one to accommodate the 5 megapixel camera, LED flash, and loudspeaker, and the other to permit access to the 1450mAh battery and SIM and MicroSD card slots. The latter chunk of soft-touch plastic also acts as the Desire S' antenna. You might expect the move to a metallic construction to incur some penalties in terms of weight and bulk, but the Desire S is five grams lighter than the original Desire at 130g (4.59oz), 4mm shorter at a height of 115mm (4.7 inches), and just slightly thinner and narrower than its predecessor. Another appreciable upgrade over the original Desire is that the display now sits closer to the glass at the front of the phone, eliminating what was a noticeable distance between the two on the older device.
In day-to-day use, we found the Desire S stupendously easy to operate, thanks to its well curved back and subtly protruding bottom end. It's the old chin design that the Hero and Legend sported so proudly, but done much more delicately. The 3.7-inch screen size makes it easy for most thumbs to reach both the top left corner and the Search capacitive button on the lower right without resorting to the use of a second hand. That's a marked improvement in ergonomics over the original Desire and even betters the Incredible S. The verdict on the Desire S' physical characteristics, therefore, is an uncomplicated two thumbs up, however there's one small software foible that we must relate. The capacitive Android keys -- sorry, Desire fans, no hard buttons or optical trackpad here -- don't always light up when they should. That becomes a pretty major problem when using the phone in the dark, as without a visual or tactile indicator of what you're about to press, the only information you can get from those keys is the haptic feedback after
you've pressed one. In our experience, the determinant for whether the backlight would come on seemed to be sheer randomness, and we've heard of others having the same issue so can't put it down to just having a defective unit. Still, that strikes us as an eminently correctable flaw, even if it's a frustrating one while it persists.
Delving inside the blue-hued aluminum body, you'll find Qualcomm's extremely popular MSM8255 system-on-chip, which you may also know as the second-generation Snapdragon. In our Incredible S review, we took a look at its performance relative to the older 1GHz part and found it to be approximately 15 percent faster
. In general use, the chip proves itself perfectly capable of handling Android's demands, making HTC's Sense UI look light and airy. 768MB is a generous chunk of RAM to include as well, as it's 256MB more than competitors like Sony Ericsson are bundling with this particular Snapdragon part.
The loudspeaker doesn't actually go up all that high, but it has a pleasing, almost surprising, clarity to its output. Bass, however, is as absent on the Desire S as on any other smartphone's speaker. Carrying out the now auxiliary function of making phone calls is also no problem for the Desire S -- it neither sets itself apart in terms of call quality / reception, nor trails the pack.
Perhaps the biggest fault one could find with the original Desire was its short battery life. It gave you a great screen to look at and a ton of capabilities to exploit, but nowhere near enough endurance. Thankfully, the newer Snapdragon hardware is much more efficient with its energy use and makes the 1450mAh cell inside the Desire S look like a standout. It had no trouble matching the similarly specced Incredible S for runtime and you can rest assured that you'll get a busy day's worth of battery from it. With lighter use, there's no reason why you won't be able to go a couple of days between recharges.
The Desire S makes use of the same Super LCD tech as the Incredible S, leaving us to only echo what we said of its bigger sibling. You get vibrant, well saturated images, which also benefit from excellent viewing angles. The only weakness is readability in direct sunlight. One thing we omitted to mention in the Incredible S review was that the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass, a feature that has naturally been included on the Desire S as well. We've made no secret of our admiration for the Gorilla tech, which you may check out in the demo video below. We'd do one for this particular handset as well, but doubt HTC would appreciate us trying to destroy its tenderly crafted device.
Aside from their divergent dimensions and construction materials, the biggest difference between the Desire S and Incredible S is in their camera sensors. It's not always true that more megapixels equal better image quality, but in this case, the 8 megapixel imager on the Incredible S is markedly ahead of the Desire S' 5 megapixel unit. You won't notice this advantage while perusing images on the phone itself or even when sharing them over the web at resolutions of 1 megapixel or below (e.g. 1280 x 720), but if you care about quality at the full 2592 x 1552 size, you'll be left a little disappointed. HTC very actively compensates for camera noise by blurring areas of similar color while simultaneously sharpening edges where it finds them. For the most part, this software solution to an underwhelming sensor works very well, but photography purists will be cringing, and so will anyone else who might be interested in taking broader shots and cropping them down to the areas of interest. Chromatic noise also makes an unwelcome appearance but does so relatively rarely and is hardly noticeable in lower-res pictures. The Desire S' camera can be considered great at 1 megapixel resolutions and merely okay at the full 5.