Review: HTC Desire Z

Our score: 5/5
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December 9, 2010 12:52 PM
 
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Published: December 8, 2010 11:00 PM
By Florence Legrand
There aren't many Android smartphones that offer a slide-out keyboard, but the Desire Z is HTC's second handset with a real keyboard alongside the virtual one on screen.

This high-end smartphone, running Android 2.2 Froyo, has been hotly anticipated for a while.  Is it worth waiting for?  And what about the new, updated version of HTC Sense and all of the personalisation it offers?  We'll let you know.


Solid and chunky

Because of the physical keyboard, the Desire Z was never going to be the thinnest or the lightest mobile out there.  It feels heavy in your hands or in a pocket, and at 180 g, it's heavier than both the Nokia N8 and the BlackBerry Torch.  When you first pick it up, the Desire Z feels solid and robust.

It's always difficult to look at the design of a mobile given how subjective personal taste can be, but we'd say the Desire Z pleased as many people as it put off.  Amongst other things, the grey finish looks like it would be at home in an anonymous bureaucracy isn't going to be a winner with anybody who wants a phone that they can show off.  On the other hand, people after a stylish look that won't clash with anything else might prefer it.

Whether you approve of the design or not, it's clear that HTC has once again produced a solid, well-made handset with an excellent finish.  The only exception is the back, made from brushed aluminum that's all to easy to scratch.  But for once, you don't have to waste time (or break a nail) trying to get the back cover off.  We're pleased to see the improvement, but we'll admit that we hardly change the SIM card or the memory every day.  The Desire Z comes with 8 GB, but it's still inconveniently located under the battery.

Let's pause for a moment and take a look at the 800 x 480 pixel 3.7'' Super LCD screen, which proved to be something of a pleasant surprise.  Recently, we were disappointed by the display on the Desire HD, but the one on the Z is really very good.  It reproduces colours very accurately-although it may look a little pale if you're used to the garish shades produced by other phones—and it has a more than acceptable contrast ratio for a smartphone.  How come the Desire HD didn't get such a good screen?

As an alternative way of navigating across your homescreens, menus or websites, there's a handy touch-sensitive cursor.  We found that we used it more and more as time went by and ended up hardly ever going back to the screen, especially when flicking one from link to another on websites.

Typing: could be better

Although the slide-out keyboard seems to be very well integrated with the rest of the phone, apart from the slightest of wobbles, opening the handset up takes a little bit of effort, and the two separate halves snap into place with an audible click, making it hard to access the keyboard if you're somewhere quiet.  Some people didn't find the opening mechanism particularly intuitive either.  Rather than just pushing the screen out of the way as you do with other handsets that have this form factor, you have to put your fingers on either side of the phone and then push (see video).  Once you've got the hang of it, this isn't really a problem.

The keys are a little too flat, but they're still much better than the onscreen keyboard in portrait mode; it's slightly better when you use it in landscape mode.

But is the keyboard any good?  We can't say we found it any more comfortable than others we've tried.  It's a long way off challenging the keyboard on a BlackBerry or some business-orientated Nokia phones, which all allow you to keep typing without having to look down at the keyboard.

There's plenty of space between the keys on the Desire Z, but they're too flat for our liking and don't go in far enough, although we're sure some users will prefer this.  We did like the shortcuts that you can program to launch your favourite apps and the backlighting, which means you can keep on using it in the dark.


 
Plenty of personalisation

HTC has clearly worked as hard as it can to keep the native Android interface out of sight underneath its own software environment.  Whether you like the look and feel or not, it's clear that HTC has managed to integrate its own software with the rest of the phone very well, and anybody looking to customise their phone as much as possible has come to the right place.


Seven different homescreens
The new version of the Sense interface builds on what was already there, but has been expanded to offer customisation in more areas than ever more.  Alongside a few nice tweaks like widgets, dynamic backgrounds, a tool that automatically lowers the volume of the ringer when you pick the phone up or the FriendStream service which aggregates your social network, HTC has added two brand new services.  They're called HTC Likes and HTC Navigation.  The latter is used for location-based services and is a sort of cross between Google Maps and Google Navigation.


HTC Locations

HTC Likes

HTC Likes, meanwhile, is an online community (yes, another one ...) where the most popular mobile apps are on display.  It's a way for HTC to save its users from spending hours searching for the right app in the Android Market.  You can add your own comments and reviews on your favourite apps.


  Notification area


Content is available for download from the HTC Hub
 
Like Apple's MobileMe service and similar offers from other manufacturers, HTC has included some cloud-based services, and this time, they're absolutely free.  As well as being able to download new ringtones, wallpapers and games absolutely free from the HTC Hub, new Desire Z users can register their phone by creating an account at HTCSense.com.

They can then use an online service to control their phone remotely by finding its location on a map if it's lost, wiping all of the data or making it ring (even if it's on silent).  It's also possible to handle contacts and even send text messages from the web interface.


 
If there's a downside to HTC Sense, it's that you can spend absolutely hours tweaking your phone's interface until it's just how you like it.  Be warned, it can become very addictive.

Overall, the Desire Z performs very well.  It reacts quickly to input from the touchscreen, even when several apps are running at once.  Unlike most of the smartphones we've seen recently, it doesn't have a 1 GHz processor; instead, it's running at 'only' 800 MHz using a new generation Qualcomm MSM7230 chip, but it works perfectly with both the OS and software running on top of it.

Multimedia in the balance


The Desire Z doesn't produce wonderful sound, and the irritating crackle common to almost all of HTC's phones is back.  The speakers are pretty mediocre, but are fairly powerful and you can turn the sound up quite loud for a phone this size.




 
There's nothing out of the ordinary about web browsing, and thanks to Froyo, you can access pages using Flash 10.1.  The quality of the screen improves the experience, and pages load quickly.  Although it uses a traditional interface to store your favourites and history, there's no problem with that.
 
Compare the HTC Desire Z to other cameraphones in our Product Face-Off


The camera offers a whole series of filters and other options to retouch your photos, and the results are pretty satisfactory, and about average for a smartphone.  Despite the presence of the LED flash, things get tricky when light levels fall so you'll have to put up with a lot of electronic noise.  It's worth pointing out that the Desire Z's cousin, the Desire HD, has an 8 Megapixel camera and does better in this regard.

You can catch a few slices of everyday life in 720p HD using the camcorder, and although it's not entirely invisible, there isn't too much jerkiness.

Let's finish by taking a look at the battery life, which, frankly, is no better than the competition's.  You'll need to charge the Desire Z every day, or slightly less than that if you only make moderate use of it.


 

5/5 HTC Desire Z DigitalVersus 2010-12-09 00:00:00

Pros

  • Form factor / finish
  • Screen: excellent contrast, accurate colours, bright
  • Sense interface: lots of room for customisation
  • HTCSense.com: great cloud-based services
  • Responsiveness / great GPS services

Cons

  • Keyboard: loud click when you snap it out, keys too shallow
  • Poor battery life ... like most other smartphones
  • Heavy
  • Audio output suffers from a constant crackle

Conclusion

The HTC Desire Z is an excellent smartphone that is so brimming over with services and widgets that anybody who wants to customise their phone as much as possible will clearly want one. Although it's a still a relatively small field, this is far and away the best Android phone with a slide-out keyboard.

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