HTC Desire 500 Review

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IMG_0032 copy So HTC, we meet again. Now though, it is time to adjust focus from their flagship ‘One’ lineup and take a look further down the pecking order at the reprisal of their Desire branding in the form of the Desire 500. With styling reminiscent of last year’s One X, the Desire sits comfortably in the £200 budget ballpark, but does it stand out against metallic might and strong competition? Read on to find out for yourself.

 

External

Gone are the days when smartphones at the lower tiers have to look and feel cheap, and the Desire 500 is a great example of this.  On the white model I was reviewing (which is UK exclusive to Carphone Warehouse), there’s hints of the One X, nods to the Desire U and yet it manages to still feel like a fresh new design amongst what has been a huge list of HTC handsets that have passed through since the original Desire came to market.

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IMG_0038 copyThe red edging on the phone looks fantastic, and as well as dividing the white polycarbonate shell hast nestled in to it the various buttons and ports, most noteworthy of which is the volume controls.  They’re not just buttons plonked on like an afterthought, but actually are part of the red trim itself with the white plastic dividing the up and down keys.  It feels really tactile and is probably one of my favourite volume configurations of late. Up top the power button sits where you’d expect along with the headphone socket, whilst on the bottom edge there’s the micro-USB.

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Round the back, the bright white of the smooth polycarbonate is somewhat reminiscent of Samsung’s galaxy phones, with the camera and LED flash surrounded by a little chrome.  Towards the bottom there’s the rear speaker grille and Beats audio branding – which will likely be the last outing on any HTC handsets.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Desire 500 isn’t a sealed unibody as seen on the rest of HTC’s range, and the rear place can be removed to access the battery as well as micro-SIM and micro-SD slots.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the phone’s dimensions. It comes in at a very similar size to the HTC Mini measuring 131.8 x 66.9mm, but as you’d expect from a lower spec phone, it’s a little thicker at 9.9mm.  It’s also light without feeling too cheap at just 123g.

 

IMG_0064 copyInternal

Of course with a lower price-tag comes lower specs, but the 500 still manages to feel like a snappy performer thanks in part to the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor. Clocked at 1.2gHz it doesn’t break any speed records but equally manages to handle most tasks admirably thanks to the addition of 1GB of RAM and the Adreno 203 GPU.

For power HTC have packed in a reasonably large battery with a capacity of 1800mAh, which considering the phone’s lesser specifications makes for a rather healthy running time considering it’s the same size as that found in the One Mini and considerably larger than an iPhone 5 or any number of mid-range phones – let alone budget rivals.

Screen quality is as you’d expect with most phones of this price (save for the remarkably priced Moto G), the Desire 500 packs a 800*480 resolution screen, which doesn’t look awful but clearly shows up the pixels next to HD-screened compadres.

Photographic smarts come from a 8MP rear camera and a 1.6MP front-facing camera.  Video is limited to 720P but still looks reasonable.  It’s not quite of the quality of the UltraPixel sensor found in the One series, but it actually still managed to produce some reasonable shots which you can see below.

Lastly there’s all the other standards including 4GB of storage which thankfully can be expanded by a further 64GB of micro-SD, N-grade Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, FM-Radio and more.  You won’t be getting 4G speeds on the go as there’s no LTE radio, but all the 2G and 3G bands are supported which should keep things speedy enough in HSPDA areas.

 

 

Benchmarks

I’ve never used a phone with the Snapdragon 200 prior to the Desire, so I was interested to see what is now considered to be a relatively low clocked processor compared against it’s higher clocked quad-core smartphones.

Firstly as always, I ran SunSpider as my first test, to find out how well Javascript is crunched in a browser environment.  It also gives some idea of app performance as a lot of apps are written in Java, but should as with any benchmark be taken with a proverbial pinch of salt. Although the browser appears to be snappy enough in day-to-day usage, the benchmark really put things in to perspective, with the faster quad-core processors showing what is truly possible with significantly faster scores.

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Next up, Browser Mark 2.0 gives us a more thorough comparison of a variety of browser-based performance tests.  This includes WebGL, HTML5 and other technologies that are becoming more and more relevant to mobile browsing.  In these tests, the Desire 500 was not left quite so far behind and showed itself still capable of rendering all the tests at a reasonable pace.

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The first, and oldest of the 3D tests I run still gives quite a wide range of scores.  In this chart, the S4 is the highest performer, even though my HTC One scores higher, I excluded it because I didn’t want to make it a chart entirely of HTC phones… I’m no fanboy.  The Desire delivered a relatively predictable score, though I had thought it might have done better due to the lower resolution screen than the other phones on test.

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A rather more demanding test, Futuremark’s 3D Mark tests really push mobile graphics to the bleeding edge with some spectacular real-time rendered space scenes, particle effects, dynamic lighting and other graphics usually reserved for console and PC gaming.  As was expected, the Desire fell well short of other phones in the comparison, and could only just play the extreme tests at anything close to a watchable frame-rate, scoring almost half that which the HTC One and Samsung S4 managed.

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Finally, Antutu Benchmark ties up all the loose ends with a range of CPU and GPU tests to give a good overall picture of the phone’s performance.  As expected, the Desire 500 yet again lagged behind the top fliers, but was surprisingly close to the score of the HTC One Mini, which sports a higher clocked Snapdragon 400 and beefier Adreno 305 processor.  I put this disparity mostly down to the lower resolution of the Desire leading to some inflated scores in the 3D parts of the test.

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Software

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The Desire 500 runs the now slightly-outdated Android 4.1.2 with Sense UI 5.  It’s not quite up there with the latest iterations of Android and Sense you’ll find on the HTC One and One Max, which are both now on Android 4.3 with Sense 5.5. Having said this, HTC has still kept almost all of the features you’d find in the bigger brothers including BlinkFeed.

The downside of the slightly older software, but also the lack of UltraPixel camera means there’s much less to do on the photographic side of things, with a lack of Zoe mode being one of the most notable omissions.

If you’ve seen widgets used on the lock screens of the big boys, then that’s another feature you’ll sadly miss.  Fortunately you can still pick from a range of lock screens including productivity, so you can still get information on your awaiting social interactions at a glance.

Everything else is present and Sense is still (in my view) the best skin that any manufacturer has applied to Android, managing to enhance Android rather than clutter or spoil it.  Even on the lower clocked processor though, Sense still runs incredibly smooth.

Worth a mention is the inclusion of Office file compatibility thanks to Polaris Office.  It is capable of viewing Powerpoint, Excel and Word files as well as giving you the option to perform basic edits.  It’s something that is often left out of so-called flagship phones, so it’s a welcome addition at this end of the pack.

 

Camera

IMG_0060 copyAfter the fever that surrounded HTC’s antics with UltraPixels and all, the Desire 500 is left out of the party and is instead left with a more normal 8MP sensor that was used in other phones such as the 8s and 8x Windows Phones that couples a f/2.0 lens with the proprietary HTC imaging chip and an LED flash.  It’s technically capable of 1080p video but has been pegged back to 720p @ 30fps to ensure the video remains smooth on the lower specs.  The front-facing camera doesn’t let the side down too badly either, with a 1.6MP sensor that’s also capable of 720P video.

The results may not quite match the One series for low light performance but otherwise gives some really well coloured results that can be very impressive at times, without being unnecessarily over-sharpened.  There’s occasional bleeding of some edges, but for a relatively budget smartphone snapper, I was suitably impressed.

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Plenty of modes are available including HDR and Panorama, along with continuous autofocus and burst modes for good measure.  The only downside of continuous autofocus is that you’re relying on the camera doing the guess work for you, so personally I preferred to use the tap-to-focus mode that yielded much better results.

 

ConclusionIMG_0021 copy

It’s been seemingly one PR disaster after another for HTC in 2013.  Execs running amok, financials letting the side down and a less than rosy outlook for the Taiwanese outfit.  Despite all of this, they’ve managed to push out some truly excellent, stylish phones in the form of the One series, which has trickled down to phones lower in the range such as this. With the red hints and shiny yet tactile build, the Desire 500 is set to stand out from the crowd, despite being built from more affordable plastics.

It’s not without flaws though, the 4.3″ screen feels a little let down by the 800*480 resolution – It would have been nicer to see a compromise of a qHD screen to keep things looking sharp.  The inbuilt storage is pretty limited – to a point that I thought was reserved for the Chinese chaps such as Huawei.  Thankfully the Micro-SD storage mostly alleviates this point, though app storage might become limited after a while.

Overall, the Desire 500 is for those looking for a lower-end smartphone that can still stand out from the crowd and feels well made to boot.  It’s not out to impress with thoroughbred performance, but the Sense experience is still very smooth and the games I tried still worked happily on the WVGA screen.

If you’re taking a first leap in to Android without breaking the bank on a flagship device, you could do far worse than consider this little object of Desire.

 

Positives

+ Stylish red design accents.

+ Surprisingly good camera results.

+ Smooth Sense UI experience

+ Expandable storage – huzzah!

 

Negatives

– Screen resolution could be better.

– Limited inbuilt storage

8

Price: 4GB model SIM-Free (black) for around £210 or Free on contracts from just £15 /month from Carphone Warehouse
More InfoHTC
Operating System: Android 4.1.2
Size: 31.8 x 66.9 x 9.9 mm at 123g.
Extras: Wi-Fi (802.11 A/B/G/N), GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, 1.6MP front facing, 8MP rear, both with 720p video.
Battery Life: 1800mAh.
Memory: 4GB onboard storage, 1GB RAM, up to 64GB via Micro-SD.
Processing: 1.2gHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chipset with Adreno 203 GPU.
Screen: 4.3″ IPS-LCD capacitive touch-screen, 800*480 resolution, 16M colours.

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