HTC have always been three of our favourite letters across price-points, so you can imagine our delight when we heard we were going to get a low-cost phone running Ice Cream Sandwich, packing HTC's trademark high quality design and Sense 4.0 this summer. The HTC Desire C is that handset and low and behold, it runs the same version of Android as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and offers the very same interface as the HTC One X, One S and One V. All for £180, there must be a catch.
HTC Desire C: Design
With its design looking rounded, simple and minimalistic, the HTC Desire C resonates pebbly phones of old like the Palm Pre and HTC Explorer. Full soft-touch encasing, metal strip surrounding the fascia and 3.5-inch screen come together with red accents and light weighting. All this results in success for HTC and an air of cohesion not seen on many handsets in the budget phone market.
There's a volume rocker to the right, a 3.5mm headphone jack up top along with a power button and a micro USB port to the left. Flipping the HTC Desire C over and the 5-megapixel camera, loud speaker and beats audio insignia take centre stage. Removing the back cover reveals the removable battery and micro SD card slot not to mention a large amount of bright red plastic.
HTC Desire C: Screen
The screen however isn't quite as polished. HVGA spread across 3.5-inches doesn't scream sharp, it screams pixels. It isn't terrible by any means though, offering particularly good viewing angles and contrast when compared to other handsets in the price-range such as the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2. The size also makes for pretty comfortable typing and it's responsive to the touch.
HTC Desire C: User Interface
Finally. An Android handset that costs less than £200 packing Ice Cream Sandwich - it can be done. What's more, it has HTC's Sense 4.0 on board. Samsung - you hear that? Sense 4.0. The latest Sense, unifying the experience across all the current gen HTC devices.
Sure it's simplified for the lower spec of the device. No leap mode (pinch to overview all the home screens) and a few camera options lacking, but aside from that, the core Sense 4.0 experience is in-tact - loads of widgets and clean new interface.
The keyboard is great in terms of spacing for a 3.5-inch phone. That's largely due to the HVGA aspect ratio giving you a lots of width in portrait. That said, it omits the option to turn on the Swype style input offered by the One series in the settings. So good overall, just not good with a cherry on top.
HTC Desire C: Camera and multimedia
5-megapixel fixed focus doesn't scream quality from the offset, but the HTC Desire C camera performance isn't totally without its merit. For starters, you get a UI not too dissimilar to that of the One Series. This translates to intuitive and functional. In good lighting, pictures come out well exposed with ok detail levels. Naturally being fixed focus it won't play nice with macro. Noise handling is pretty dire unfortunately as you'll be able to make out from the samples, and with no LED flash to compensate, that's just something you'll have to put up with if you opt for the Desire C.
Video is recorded at VGA resolution and output isn't stellar, best suited to the phone and Whatsapp / MMS. Thanks to the intuitive controls, there isn't a video mode, just a video button that starts recording when pressed.
HTC's Sense 4.0 music player sits on the HTC Desire C along with their Beats Audio EQ. This ensures base is ramped up and general volume exceeds that of most phones when your headphones are plugged in. Loud speaker quality is also decent, though covering up the small speaker inhibits the sound quite a bit. In turn it can be a challenge noticing the phone ring in a pocket unless at max volume with vibrate on.
HTC Desire C: Connections and storage
Physical connections are limited to a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro USB port. That said, the HTC Desire C packs a wealth of wireless connections: 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and finally NFC for all you contactless pioneers out there.
Expandable by microSD card slot, the HTC Desire C comes with 1GB of usable storage on board and you can add another 32GB. There's also 25GB of complementary Dropbox storage with every purchase for 2 years making for an ample cloud based solution.
HTC Desire C: Performance and battery
This is where the puzzler lies with the HTC Desire C. We got generally smooth performance across the UI. Games like Angry Birds Space and Temple Run ran without much stagger and the only noticeable occasional slow down we saw was when we were touch typing and the keyboard was catching up. But the HTC Desire C has a 600MHz processor in it, amongst the slowest in an Android phone today. That it manages to perform relatively smoothly a week in is impressive in itself. It doesn't however fill us with confidence for anyone taking the Desire C out on a long contract, especially at the asking price of £180.
Battery life is respectable thanks to the 1230 mAh cell on board. It will comfortably last a day with moderate to heavy use and two if you go easy on it. Call quality is decent, though audio isn't as sharp as on more premium handsets.
HTC Desire C: Conclusion
All in all the HTC Desire C is very close to being a recommended handset, but falls short thanks to the humble 600MHz processor, mediocre camera and HVGA screen. It does get a lot right, we love the design with its red accents and think HTC did a great job getting Android 4.0 and Sense 4.0 on their lowest end handset. For an extra £20 though, a Sony Xperia U will offer dual-cores, a superior screen and a 5-megapixel camera with auto-focus. £80 less will get you a Huawei Ascend G300, also packing better core specs. So while the Desire C looks good and will be the option for anyone who wants NFC and ICS at the sub £200 mark, it isn't representative of the best value out there for the rest of us. Once the price drops a bit, it'll be a much easier sell.