HTC Desire S review: HTC Sense 2.1, hardware and operation

UK network Three has loaned us another new Android phone to review, after our triumphant yet also bewilderingly useless look at the Samsung Galaxy Ace (1, 2, 3 & 4 ) a month ago.

This time we’ll be looking at and forming opinions regarding the HTC Desire S , the newer, smaller, button-less update of 2010′s staggeringly successful HTC Desire.


The HTC Desire was the phone that sold Android to both nerd and mainstream users across Europe last year, with its superb screen and polished HTC Sense user interface finally giving Android a phone that could compete with iPhone on both hardware and software terms.

But is there any point in the Desire S even existing now we’re all limp with lust over the dual-core HTC Sensation ? Let’s find out.


The Desire S is slightly shorter than the old HTC Desire, thanks to the removal of the physical buttons and optical trackpad. We have been resistant to the idea of capacitive buttons, but they’re very sensitive and reliable here and therefore easy to get used to.


In fact, going back to the old HTC Desire’s physical buttons now feels like going back to an old TV set with rotary tuning knobs – and Android 2.3′s text editing system is now good enough to render the optical pad less useful that it was, back when the Desire arrived running Android 2.1 last year.


The phone’s 3.7″ screen runs at the same 480×800 resolution of the HTC Desire, and is every bit as bright and sensitive to the touch. HTC’s own brightness widget won’t let you turn the screen down to its minimum brightness, though – that’s something you’ll have to use the Android power control toggle to do.


The Desire S has a “unibody” metal body, which means it feels tougher, more solid and classier in the hand. The flimsy rubber back was the old HTC Desire’s weakest design feature – that’s been bettered here. There’s also a front-facing camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, camera, LED flash and USB connection.

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The HTC Desire S arrives running Android 2.3.3 with the HTC Sense 2.1 user interface skin laid over the top. We’ve not yet reviewed an HTC Android phone, and are quite worried there’s going to be way, way too many features to cover here. HTC Sense is a sprawling, fantastic piece of software.

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First impressions are that the phone is even faster and smoother in operation than the HTC Desire. The screens slide about quicker. It feels rock solid in use and the updated HTC Sense flings the seven Home screens into view without glitch.

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The changes in the new HTC Sense skin are everywhere. The app drawer now scrolls down one entire screen at a time, making it easier for the EYE and BRAIN to keep track of the scrolling. Plus you’re able to sort apps by your most frequently used or the ones you’re personally downloaded.

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The Notifications bar has been totally reworked, now packing in so much more information it requires a tabbed system. A sliding top bar shows your recently used apps – like the old long-press on Home system – plus there’s a separate tab for toggling data services. There’s a feeling of needless duplication here, to be honest – how many separate ways to turn off the wi-fi do we really need?

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There’s a new Power Saver option which helps you keep your phone active when power’s running low. It’s customisable, too, plus you can have it activate when your battery hits between 10% and 30% of remaining power.

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Basically the HTC Desire S is ever so slightly better than last year’s HTC Desire everywhere you look. Slightly smoother, slightly faster, slightly more in the way of features – equals and all-round better experience.


20 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. I had a play with one of these in a CPWand it really looks the business. While the original looked functional, this looks slick in physical and software terms. I’d happily swap my Galaxy S for this while I would not have done so for the original Desire.

    • Gary C

       /  April 24, 2011

      Indeed. It’s sad that something this good is going to be totally overlooked.

  2. I feel everyone going mad over a phone that cannot do one thing an old touch button phone can do. you can see an old phone in very bright sunshine. try checking your email etc while your on a beach with the htc desire s or any other touch screen phone. its a fact its impossible to see much at all. the whole point of a mobile is so you can use it anywhere, do the people who design these phones live in the dark.

    • dave

       /  April 25, 2011

      Why would you be checking your email on the beach in the first place.

  3. JK

     /  April 24, 2011

    Might not be the fastest, might not be the thinnest, might not have the largest screen, but it is an incredibly well balanced, well thought out phone, with excellent aesthetics and ergonomics. Can’t wait for mine to arrive.

    PS: I’d love to see a Desire S2 or a Desire ST 6-12 months down the line with the same chassis, same screen size(but amoled maybe) and a dualcore processor.

  4. jonathan

     /  April 25, 2011

    Very fast and sleeky. But I am missing the amoled though.

  5. hecatae

     /  April 25, 2011

    techradar stated in their review there is an issue with the wifi, like the iphone4 death grip, can you check if you experience the same issue?

    [quote]The HTC Desire S has a death grip problem, similar to the iPhone 4′s much-publicised problems. In this case, it’s not mobile signal that’s affected, but Wi-Fi. The antenna appears to be mounted behind the plastic panel that houses the camera, and it’s extremely vulnerable.
    If you hold the phone in a normal landscape typing position your fingers will cover that spot, and the Wi-Fi signal will drop. If you place the phone on your body – such as resting it on your leg – facing up, the Wi-Fi signal will drop.
    How bad is the drop? If you’re right near the router, it’s unlikely you’d make the signal totally disappear in casual use, but we did manage to reduce some connections from the full four bars to none just by placing a palm against the plastic area.
    In more realistic use, a medium to low signal is likely to drop to zero within a few seconds of you covering the spot.
    Even placing the phone down on certain surfaces can affect things – we put the Desire S down on a magazine and saw the signal drop a bar on very strong networks. Picking it up less than an inch restored it. That small difference was enough to see some weaker other networks disappear when scanning. [/quote]

    • Gary C

       /  April 25, 2011

      Not noticed anything like that. I use it exclusively on wi-fi around the house and haven’t had a dropped connection yet. Been using it solidly for a good four days now.

      Just tried it, actually. If I wrap my hands around the end I can get the wi-fi signal to drop by one bar and occasionally two. But I suspect that would happen with any phone, wouldn’t it?

      • Wiliam18

         /  April 25, 2011

        I think the smart phone is OK and it is very fast for the dual core processor. This is a balanced kind of phone and i can’t wait to have it in my hands.

      • hecatae

         /  April 25, 2011

        seems fixed then, cant upgrade to August, waiting for the next review installment

  6. mike

     /  May 3, 2011

    htc desire is the best :)
    i like it ….

  7. aneela

     /  February 2, 2013

    i wantto buy htc desire s

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