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HTC Desire 601 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • BoomSound twin external speakers

The Bad

  • Low internal storage
4

The HTC Desire 601 is a mid-range 4.5-inch phone that’s a rung down from the HTC One Mini but a couple of notches up from the Facebook-centric HTC First. A respectable set of features, including a 5-megapixel Full HD camera and 4G support come along for the ride.

While the Desire 601 isn’t made out of high-grade metal, the matt finish of its plastic curves are easy on the eye, and HTC has also paid attention to how things look on the screen as well as on the outside.

The Sense 5.0 user interface, featured on the 2013 flagship HTC One, is laser-sharp, sophisticated and easy to get to grips with. Factor in the 5-megapixel camera and 4G support, and this is shaping up to be a quality mid-range mobile.

That’s the HTC Desire 601 in a nutshell. Read on to see how it stacks up and why it’s like a backwards version of the Weeping Angel villains from Doctor Who

Design and display: Fantastic Plastic

Stylewise, the HTC Desire 601 does an excellent imitation of the HTC One. The display area is topped and tailed with silver bookends housing microdot speaker grilles, while at the base of the phone there are two soft key controls for back and home sitting either side of the HTC logo, just like on the One.

The smooth corners of the edges are mirrored by the curves on the back, which gives the Desire 601 a kind of Bauhaus feel; a sensation accentuated by the red lowercase ‘b’ Beats Audio logo at the bottom. But where the high-end One is forged from premium metal, the Desire 601 is instead hewn from plastic.

The plastic body thankfully doesn’t bring to mind the sticky, tacky glossy feel associated with other phone makers. Plastic sometimes equals naff – the Desire 601 is anything but.

Weighing 130 grams the Desire 601 feels lightweight and airy. We don’t fancy its chances in a drop test, so if you’re the kind of klutz that’s always dropping stuff we’d recommend you get a case.

The review model we received had a tendency to pick up marks easily, and like black marks on a white car, dirt really stands out. This is nothing a brisk clean with a microfibre cloth (or if you’re a slob, your clothes) won’t fix, but it does leave us wondering how the Desire 601 might look after a couple of year’s service. Again, sheathe your 601 in a case if you’re precious about superficial damage.

In terms of controls and ports there’s all the regular features; a 3.5mm jack on the top for headphones and a micro USB port at the base for charging and connectivity. A volume rocker sits on the right hand side and a power button sits up top, next to the headphone jack.

Let’s take a closer look at that 4.5-inch screen. qHD panels have a tendency to look washed out and dull; that’s not the case here. Admittedly, with a pixel count of 245ppi, the Desire 601 can’t hold a candle to some of the higher end phones on the market right now, but that’s just as strong as the likes of LG’s G Flex.

It doesn’t matter a great deal if you simply want a phone for general everyday use either – web pages, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter are all as detailed as they need to be.

If you want to play high-end games or watch HD video then the Desire 601 will probably disappoint; it doesn’t do as good a job of displaying rich media in the same way that the Motorola Moto G, which has a 4.5-inch 720p HD (1280 x 720) screen can and for less – the Moto G is at the time of writing almost £100 cheaper.

User interface: Sense is working overtime

Some Android phones are given a visual overhaul that amounts to little more than a lick of paint and a fresh set of strings. In many cases, the result is a horrible, hot mess. In virtually every case we wish that manufacturers would just leave Android alone (vanilla Android isn’t terrible to look at – at least not these days) as they invariably screw things up. That’s not the case with the Desire 601.

With Sense 5.0, not only has HTC given Android a laser-sharp visual overhaul, it’s also stripped down the functions to the bare essentials.

The Desire 601 lets you populate up to four blank homepages with app icons and widgets, aligned to a 4×4 grid. While you don’t have the option to add more, this ought to be enough living space for most people. To save on space, you can also arrange apps into separate folders, having all of your games, camera apps and social apps tucked away in their respective drawers.

HTC Desire 601 screengrab 01HTC Desire 601 screengrab 02HTC Desire 601 screengrab 03HTC Desire 601 screengrab 04Swiping once to the left from the default home page takes you to BlinkFeed – a news aggregator. Instead of simply displaying headlines from your preferred news sources BlinkFeed renders everything in a much more visual manner, pulling in photos and creating a magazine stand effect.

There’s plenty of other neat touches such as the ability to jump to a power control menu – which lets you quickly toggle things like WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS – from the notifications bar you pull down from the top of the screen. Utilitarian while being slick and sophisticated, the Desire 601 puts everything you need at your fingertips and adds a dash of style.

Performance: Steady, but not superfast

The HTC Desire 601 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.4GHz dual-core chip and 1GB of RAM keeping things running.

In normal people speak, this means it’s absolutely fine for handling everyday tasks like browsing the web, checking emails and getting into with arguments about the TV Licence fee with uppity sour-faced libertarians on Twitter.

Playing high-end games with like Dungeon Hunter 4 and Asphalt 8 is when the limitations of the Desire 601 begin to show. Whenever there’s a high concentration of sprites on the screen, you can feel the phone beginning to show signs of strain as it struggles to keep everything moving nicely.

It’s not so bad that either of these games were totally unplayable (far from it) but it’s obviously not as comfortable in this role. For the casual gamer fond of flicking through Candy Crush Saga or Cut the Rope on the commute home, the Desire 601 will sort you out.

We’ve not encountered any huge issues of instability with any apps or services on the Desire 601. Generally speaking the performance of the phone is as smooth and easy on the eye as the body itself. It’s really not up to handling detailed, complicated games with aplomb and as Android games become more advanced you get the impression that the Desire 601 will be left behind. As we said, casual gamers won’t notice or even care.

Web browsing is also super speedy if you’re in a 4G catchment area, and Three customers rejoice, as you’ll essentially be getting 4G for free when it rolls round to your neck of the woods.

Cameras: Solid, but not superb

The 5-megapixel camera features autofocus, touch to focus, an LED flash and BSI (Back and Side Illumination) which lets more light hit the sensor in gloomy areas. You can record video at a range of resolutions including 720p HD (1280 x 720) and 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080).

As well as recording Full HD videos, the HTC Desire 601 also features something called Zoe mode. Zoe (as in zoetrope) is an advanced burst shot mode. Zoe takes multiple pictures and then stitches them together to create a three second video. 

This allows you to pick the best shot from the bunch as well as watching little Vine-style videos. It’s a great idea for group shots of friends as you can eliminate any pictures where one person is blinking or has their eyes half shut. Zoe shots also have the added effect of playing back when you scroll through your gallery, animating your photo albums. It’s not a feature for use in all situations but it’s a nice touch. Check out our separate video guide to HTC Zoe for a more thorough look.

The pictures we’ve shot on the Desire 601 are generally good – colours are natural and not overly warm or exaggerated. We’ve found that noise is an issue, even in areas with an abundance of natural light. This becomes immediately apparent when you zoom in to take a closer look. Crispness and detail are occasionally lost in some pictures too – look at the text on the side of the Openreach van below to see what we mean.

We imagine than most people will be pleased with the quality of the photos you can take on the Desire 601 but others expecting scintillating detail every time might be better off forking out for an HTC One or going for one of Nokia’s higher-end PureView Lumia phones.

The single LED flash is just about powerful enough to illuminate darkened rooms and bars. Night time shots aren’t that amazing if we’re honest; the noise issue becomes even more apparent here.

The Desire 601 doesn’t feature continuous autofocus, which would mean filming moving objects would be tricky, but HTC has added touch to focus to video recording so you can adjust focus on the fly yourself. Unfortunately, this has the added side effect of producing a kind of blinking/trombone shot-type effect as the camera adjusts. 

Full HD is captured at 30fps and the playback quality on the Desire 601 is OK, but not mind-blowing. For example, the HTC One records Full HD video at 60fps. Open the review of the HTC One below and compare the two video examples for a better comparison.

Thanks to the limitations of the Desire 601’s screen, you can’t fully appreciate the quality until you get the files off of your phone and watch it back on an HD monitor.

Finally, there’s a front-facing VGA camera for video calls and taking vanity shots of your own face. In terms of how well the Desire 601 stacks up as a selfie machine, judge for yourself here.

Multimedia and Storage: Double plus Boom, but only 4GBs of room

The Desire 601 prominently features two speakers at the top and bottom. HTC calls this BoomSound, the idea being that when you’re holding the phone in landscape mode when you’re watching a film, you get an ad hoc stereo system. A pocket home cinema, if you will. The Desire 601’s external speakers certainly are impressive.

Let’s be clear, the sound quality is in no way as good as what you get from the flagship HTC One or even the HTC One Mini. The bass response is weak too, which makes the Desire 601 sound comparatively tinny. It’s still head and shoulders above what most phones of a similar price point can offer. It’s loud, guaranteed to turn a bedroom into a mini party and annoy the hell out of everyone else on the bus.

For those who don’t like to blare their music out through the speakers the entire time, you’ll be happy to learn that music through the headphones sounds great. For those who like to turn it up to eleven the Desire 601 will please. At full whack, music didn’t distort on any of the higher-end headphones we tested it out on (Skullcandy Smokin Buds, V-Moda Remix Audio and Beats Solo HD).

Curiously, despite the Beats Audio branding, we couldn’t get out pair of Beats cans to fully work with the Desire 601. The control unit could pause tracks fine but we couldn’t remotely adjust the volume, which is odd.

On paper, you get 8GB of storage, but only around 4GB of that was available to us from the start. It didn’t take us long to fill this up with music and photos. Thankfully you can pop in a microSD card, expanding the storage by up to 64GB. Invest in a memory card, as you’re going to need one.

Battery and Connections: A reverse Weeping Angel with a micro USB port

The Desire 601 is a backwards version of those Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. That is to say, when you’re looking at the phone, the battery drains like there’s no tomorrow. When the screen is off and the phone is on standby mode and you’re not looking at it, then the battery decay ceases.

Of course, this isn’t something that’s specific to the Desire 601 – virtually all phones these days exhibit this schizophrenic battery behaviour. It’s just that it seems particularly pronounced on the Desire 601.

Maybe it’s got something to do with the power saving mode which disengages data connections during long periods when you’re not doing anything. Have a look at the histograms – those almost flat areas indicate where we kept the Desire 601’s screen off and the phone inactive for a while.

Officially, the Desire 601 gives you 440 hours of standby time and 12 hours and 48 minutes of talk time. In our experience that’s about right. With 4G turned on, there’s additional strain placed on the battery. Luckily you can easily turn 4G off in the settings if your tank is running low.

The fastest download speed we were able to suck down from EE’s network maxed out at 12.16Mbps. Perhaps not so mind-blowing but still better than some people’s fixed line broadband connections.

Conclusion: Highly Desirable, but maybe not the One for everyone

The HTC Desire 601 is a solid and stylish – if ultimately average – mid-range phone, aimed squarely at the pockets of those who want a respectable device but don’t want to (or can’t) stump up for a flagship. It boasts expandable memory (up to 64GB), an OK camera with the quirky Zoe feature and powerful external speakers, not to mention stylish and sexy design.

Of course, you have to consider the competition, and the Desire 601’s nearest rival is the Motorola Moto G. At £150 SIM free, the Moto G is almost £100 cheaper than the Desire, with better performance and a sharper screen. Sadly it’s not as stylish and the camera isn’t as enjoyable or functional.

Another phone to consider instead of this is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. It’s roughly the same price right now (£240-£260 SIM free) and comes with a bigger camera and a more vibrant AMOLED type display. Of course we don’t think it’s as easy to use as the Desire 601, nor as nice looking.

The real question you should ask if you’re in the market for a mid-range Android phone is – do you value elegance and ease of use over power and specs appeal? Once you’ve answered that, the choice of which phone to go for should be obvious.

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