If we look at the 10K-15K price bracket, HTC doesn’t have any product offering worth considering right now. As far as Android handsets go, Sony’s Live with Walkman is still the best offering here followed closely by the much older, but still relevant Samsung Galaxy Ace. LG has introduced a new handset for this price bracket, the E612, which looks pretty good on paper. HTC's Wildfire and Wildfire S too were in this price range but neither of them did very well. So there was opportunity for HTC to swoop in and fill this gap, effectively grabbing some lucrative marketshare in this segment, which is what they hope to achieve with the Desire C. This budget droid is a slightly beefed up version of the HTC Explorer with Beats Audio thrown into the mix. Let’s see if it’s good enough to take the crown from Sony.
Design and Build
The design and feel of the phone is heavily inspired from the Explorer. The Desire C has the same pebble-shaped rubberized body except for the addition of the chrome strip that sits along the bezel. The phone feels light at just 100g and is very comfortable to hold. The rubber back also adds to the grip so it won’t easily slip out of your hand. We have the three capacitive buttons in the front and a proximity sensor and ambient light sensor but no front camera.
The microUSB port, volume rocker and power/sleep buttons are placed along the sides along with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The placement of the ports and buttons are quite ergonomic and everything is within reach. In the back we have a 5MP fixed-focus camera and the speaker grill beside it. The Desire C is available in different colour trims, out of which we like the black and red theme the most. The rear panel snaps back to reveal the removable battery, SIM card tray and a microSD card slot. Overall, HTC's done an excellent job with the design and build of the phone.
We were quite surprised to see HTC bundle Android 4.0 along with Sense UI on a phone powered by just a 600MHz CPU. By today’s standards, this is way too underpowered and usually one expects phones that cost around 6-7K to use this kind of CPU. And it’s not like it’s a new one either, HTC has used an older MSM7227A SoC with an even older Adreno 200 GPU. Thanks to the 512MB of RAM, the UI is manageable and while it’s not the best ICS experience, you won’t find yourself tearing your hair out either. With Sense 4.0, you get all of the bundled apps we’ve see in phones like the One S, One V, etc.
The 3.5-inch screen features a resolution of 320 x 480, which is a bit low so icons and menus are not the sharpest but not too bad either. There is a major colour banding issue, which is very noticeable across most colour backgrounds, especially white and black. We'd have expected HTC to fit a better quality screen for the price tag they've attached to this phone, but sadly they haven’t. Multi-tasking is present as well, with the dedicated task switcher key.
You get the new media player thanks to Sense 4.0, which is a complete overhaul of their previous versions of Sense. We now have TuneIn Radio, SoundHound and 7digital, which are integrated into the default music player. A simple tap fetches you the music info, the option to purchase music, find lyrics and similar artists as well as locate tour dates. A couple of them, including the similar artists and music info proved to be quite useful to get more out of your existing music library. There aren’t any equalizer presets any more - you only have the options to enable or disable Beat Audio. The audio quality is good but for more flexibility in tweaking the sound, we’d recommend something like Poweramp.
The stock video player will only playback MP4 and AVI and that too only up to 480p. 720p will playback but with a lot of stutter. The Beats Audio option is available in the stock video player as well. HTC doesn’t bundle the Beats in-ear headphones anymore so to get the most out of it, we’d recommend a good pair of IEMs.
The Desire C is a quad-band GSM phone; however, it only supports HSDPA 900 and 2100 for 3G. Still, you have support for 14.4Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up which is more than decent. You also have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.0 but no NFC. Thanks to ICS, the stock browser does a good job of rendering webpages but it’s noticeably slower when loading image heavy sites. The images and text in webpages have some noticeable jaggies around them even after zooming in due to the low resolution of the screen.
Social networking integration is done well - thanks to Sense - with the dedicated pre-loaded apps as well as Friend Stream that consolidates all your data into one single feed. It also lets you post to multiple sites from the app itself. Google+ Messenger has been included as well. The stock keyboard works well, however; it feels a little cramped in portrait mode. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any lag while typing on the keyboard and the response is quick.
The pre-loaded apps in the Desire C include 7digital – a music buying app, Dropbox – for your cloud needs, Facebook, as well as productivity apps like eBuddy XMS, Polaris Office, Navigation, HTC Hub, Tasks and Teeter.
The camera is the most disappointing feature. While it is a 5MP shooter, HTC in their infinite wisdom, have decided to skip auto-focus, which makes it next to useless. Pictures are blurry and you’ll never be able to get any sort of detail from this sensor. Outdoor shots are somewhat passable but overall, it’s really disappointing. Video recording is present up to VGA resolution. The quality of the video is not the best and there’s a lot of noise that creeps into the video even with plenty of ambient light in the room. Had HTC only added auto-focus to the camera, the quality would have been a lot better.
The Desire C is fitted with a 1230mAh battery which lasted for 5 hours and 30 minutes in our video drain test. This is pretty average at best and under heavy usage, you find yourself reaching for the charger at the end of the day. With an hour and a half of calls and audio streaming thrown into the mix in our loop tests, the phone lasted for roughly 5 hours.
HTC has priced the Desire C at a street price of Rs.14,000, which is simply too expensive for what essentially feels like a sub-10K phone. HTC may have increased the screen size but the display seems even worse than the Explorer since the resolution has stayed the same. The two major deal breakers here are the lack-lustre camera and the ancient processor. The silver lining (if you want to call it that) is that you do get Ice Cream Sandwich which is kind of a big deal for a phone this slow.
I strongly feel HTC has squandered a major opportunity here and the Desire C is not winning any awards for them. Sony’s Live with Walkman may have a slightly smaller screen, but it’s better than the Desire C in every other area, not to mention a pending update to ICS. HTC could have run away with the market with this phone had they done their homework and put some more thought into the Desire C. I wouldn’t recommend this phone at all right now - perhaps one day when it falls below the 10K mark and eventually replaces the Explorer.
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