Telstra Desire – Not an iPhone killer

I have been given a HTC Desire handset by Telstra free of charge to review. The comments below expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion.

After a week of playing with the Telstra Desire I’ve made some summary conclusions, the phone is awesome, but definitely isn’t the iPhone killer reported by many media outlets.

Why?

Despite trying to soften Android’s image with SenseUI and make it appeal more broadly, the Android interface is still relatively convoluted and the management of applications in the background from using battery is too complicated to appeal to the iPhone users who just want to jump in and out of their favorite app.

Essentially, the two phones are competing in the same broad (smartphone) market, but have different targets. Android is great once you spend some time customising it and setting up the widgets and learning how to get the best out of the HTC Desire’s battery life, but is slightly bewildering at first where some of the advanced settings hide to tweak certain non-obvious options.

That said, the problem with managing application settings is mostly due to the HTC Desire’s battery life, which once the device is optimised (try the video here for tips) is fine for casual to moderate use but heavy use will require more than daily charging.

After my daily tweet-heavy commute (even while listening to MP3’s at the same time) which lasts about 75 minutes in the morning I’m left with 70 percent battery life, by 5pm I’m down to 60 percent and if I keep up the tweeting on the way home am down to 30 percent. This has improved on initial performance, suggesting the battery needs to go through a few charge cycles to get up to speed.

This battery life is generally acceptable, though once long life extended batteries are available after-market I anticipate purchasing one.

Why?

The HTC Desire is an extremely powerful device, but in order to get acceptable battery life one needs to wind back all the awesome features, sure I can selectively turn them on as needed, but that level of granular control should be unnecessary. I want the phone to go all out with background data and services all the time.

Battery issues aside

The HTC Desire rocks, but takes some getting used to (about 48 hours till I was around most of it), I came from Windows Mobile (HTC Touch Pro) which also had its own version of SenseUI installed using the latest WinMo 6.5.3 Rom’s. While there are certainly some elements in navigation carried over SenseUI is more or less a completely new beast on the Desire.

Most difficult to come to grips with was the reliance on the ‘back’ navigation element, once accustomed to it it makes a lot of sense, with applications designed using a hierarchical structure with screen taps opening up into new windows to the right of the application, with the back button taking you up (or to the left) a level in the navigation (or back to the original application if another had been launched.. for example clicking links from Twitter opens the browser, back returns to the Twitter client).

This differed from Windows Mobile’s reliance on hacked task manager applications to emulate an equivalent of a desktop task-bar. It’s an improvement, but I still like the option of viewing all currently running applications (possibly via the notifications bar) and switching between them rather than fishing around for the application’s shortcut on the home screen (is there an App for this? I haven’t looked too hard..).

Applications are plentiful, of generally high quality and have all the necessary bases covered, so I’m not left wanting for anything not covered in the Android Market.

The included browser is great, flash-lite integration works well, opening videos in the integrated player. Streaming works well on NextG but isn’t perfect while on a moving train, and overall the NextG network performs better than my home ADSL connection (which is unfortunately 1.5Mbit) when using the speedtest app.

Conclusion

HTC’s Desire hardware is awesome, battery life needs work, especially if you want to take advantage of all the advanced Android features. HTC’s SenseUI more or less just gets in the way of Android, but It isn’t necessarily worse, just different.

Would I recommend the HTC Desire to you?

Depends who you are, if you just want a mobile phone that does all the latest cool stuff that all your friends are talking about without worrying, iPhone is probably for you. If you are willing to spend some time getting used to and setting up the device so it best fills your needs, you will be better served by the HTC Desire.

Having a community of #telstradesire reviewers also going through the process with me at the same time certainly helped however, as tapping into that communal resource over niggles I was having certainly eased the transition.

I anticipate exploring the opportunities for hacking the #telstradesire and replacing the stock Telstra Android ROM on the device after the review period (we are asked to keep the devices unmodified during the review) so hopefully I can better comment on the full potential of the device once exploring this possibility at a later date.

Welcome your comments!

15 thoughts on “Telstra Desire – Not an iPhone killer”

  1. I’ve had mine a few weeks now, and I’m still loving it.

    I agree with you though – in my opinion it’s more suited to gadget freaks than it is to the average joe who wants a phone that can play mp3s and watch videos.

    The battery life isn’t amazing no, but for me it’s fine because whenever I’m at my computer during the day, I have it plugged in via USB, charging away.

    Lookin forward to getting the latest version of Android, 2.2 (froyo) when HTC release it sometime in June.

  2. That battery life doesn’t sound any worse than my couple of month old iPhone 3GS. If I don’t charge it at work during the day, I’m perilously low by the time I get home. Of course, it’s even worse when I use something battery-intensive like Runkeeper, which seems to drain about 30% charge/hr.

  3. I tend to agree, but it COULD have been an iPhone killer if it wasn’t for all the battery bs. I always left GPS, Data & Wifi on all the time with my iPhone, if i did this on the Desire i wouldn’t even get an entire day of life.

    Prior to owning an iPhone 3G for 2 years i’d used various HTC winmo phones, every single one of them suffered from what i’d term after using the iPhone as “stupidly high battery usage”.

    The battery is the only reason i consider it not to be an iPhone killer.

  4. Based on your battery comment can we assume you will continue to use it? Will it become your primary phone? I couldn’t spot your final call on that in the review.

  5. I fully agree with you on this review. I would recommend the Desire / Android to someone who wants to have the full control experience and the iPhone to the other 90% of people out there who want a phone that everyone else has.
    After 1 week with my (not a Telstra) Desire, I love it!

  6. Sounds like you are being a bit harsh on the battery. My iPhone – while I don’t have to constantly fiddle with the settings – is not a whole day experience.
    Admittedly it is being used a LOT – twitter, email, web, some games – but your experience doesn’t sound any different from my experience.

    There is a lot of excitement about the desire, the new one I forget the name of, and the Samsumg i9000. Android is pulling all the right moves. Sure, Apple has the iTunes/ecosystem going for it but it is definitely game on.

  7. I have yet to see a modern smartphone where the battery doesn’t suck. A few tricks – when you’re not using it, switch off 3G. This is the single biggest win. In the settings -> power you can see what’s using the power. Finally, consider spending $60 on one of the Logitech USB batteries. Its about the same size as the Desire/N1, and will give you about another 1/2 – 2/3 of a full charge. Dick Smiths sells them, in the iPod/iPhone accessories section.
    You should also find Froyo/2.2 gives significantly better battery life – although heavy use will still hammer the battery.
    (Disclaimer: I work for google, but not on Android)

  8. Try an app called juicedefender. I use it on my Nexus One, and even running Froyo and burning up the usage I pull about 17 to 20 hours before I hit red.

  9. Yes, but you would have to reboot to switch, and its going to be much less convenient to charge a second battery…. I just plug the Logitech into a USB charger alongside the phone

  10. Juice Defender is the best app for keeping the Desire going all day. I have WiFi and GPS off most of the time. WiFi is off because the phone has problems switching from WiFi to 3G.

  11. be glad you have the HTC Desire.

    battery life is dire on a Samsung i5700 Galaxy Spice on eclair (2.1).

    my partner’s HTC Desire shows 40% battery life after 12 hours when mine is flat!

  12. I get about 10-12 hours of constant mp3 play back, wifi on, internet browsing time to time and playing asphalt 5 once in a while, before my desire says, 14% battery left!!
    but true, with iphone, its much better batery life.
    only 3 problems i have with my desire are
    1. battery life – can be managed
    2. memory – cheap to buy a micro sd
    3. no skype yet – coming on the market within this year
    oh yeah, i have the telstra desire un rooted. its a pain cz they still didnt release the Froyo update. gonna root soon. 😛

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