Forget iPhone, feel the Desire

New best friend: On almost every entry-level; features, user interface, screen quality, web browsing - the HTC desire steals the iPhone's crown.
New best friend: On almost every entry-level; features, user interface, screen quality, web browsing - the HTC desire steals the iPhone's crown.

There's no better evidence that Google's Android platform has come into its own this year than the HTC Desire, writes ASHER MOSES.

I've been waiting to get my mitts on the device ever since February, when I first had the chance to play with it during HTC's launch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Now that I've used it for an extended period, I'm blown away.

For a long time I've been reluctant to swap my BlackBerry and its superb physical Qwerty keyboard for a touchscreen phone.

But with the Desire, HTC has succeeded in creating a phone that's almost as good for business messaging tasks as a BlackBerry while offering all of the features of an iPhone - and then some.

Vodafone and Telecom wouldn't say whether they were bringing the HTC Desire to New Zealand, but it is available from parallel importers for about $1300.

The Desire uses the latest version of the Google software, Android 2.1. Using the phone is extremely zippy thanks to the fast 1GHz Snapdragon processor and the crystal clear 9.3-centimetre multi-touch screen, which is bigger and and crisper than the iPhone's 8.9cm display.

My favourite feature of the Desire is the HTC Sense interface, which allows for seven separate home screens that can be adorned with widgets, shortcuts and programs.

To avoid the laborious process of cycling through each homescreen individually, a neat Leap feature lets users jump instantly to any of the seven home screens.

Unlike the iPhone, the Desire's user interface is customisable.

There are scores of pre-installed applications and widgets, including Facebook, Peep (HTC's Twitter app), Google search, Maps, YouTube, music player, video player, calendar, stock charts, photo album, messages, an analogue clock and a "News" widget that can be used to subscribe to feeds from your favourite sites.

The FriendStream widget is superb, aggregating all Facebook, Twitter and Flickr posts in a single stream so users don't have to open up separate applications for each.

The Weather widget is another favourite, brought to life by animations such as virtual raindrops splashing the screen in wet weather.

If you're missing any apps, there are almost 30,000 to choose from on the Android Market. The raw number of apps pales in comparison to those in Apple's App Store, which has 150,000, but you'll easily find an app on Android for any task you want to perform.

As Android continues to gain in popularity, the number of apps added to the marketplace each week is exploding. Developers have warmed to the platform because they don't have to deal with Apple's draconian app approval process.

There's no physical keyboard, but the large screen allows for a full on- screen Qwerty keyboard in both landscape and portrait modes. Typing long messages on a touch screen takes some getting used to but the Desire's large software keyboard is about as good as it gets.

The fast web browser is one of the Desire's biggest selling points, and Adobe Flash support (lacking on the iPhone) means all videos and ads built into web pages render perfectly.

All major video and music formats are playable on the phone. It feels great not to be locked into Apple's iTunes ecosystem and the big bright screen is better for watching clips than most phones on the market today.

The included 5-megapixel camera with flash and video recording offers passable image quality, but colours are drab and the overall quality is nothing compared with the cameras built into many Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones. Still, it's better than the iPhone's 3-megapixel camera with no flash.

The battery should last a good day or a day and a half, but, like most touchscreen handsets, you'll want to charge the phone at night.

Google's Android is set to take the world by storm this year and the HTC Desire is a perfect example of what the platform is capable of.

The Press