Reflected Sun Fire. A photo taken with Vignette on my HTC Desire.

It’s been well over a month since I bought my HTC Desire to replace my trustworthy Nokia E71. How am I getting on with it? Here’s my mini review of the handset and its Android operating system.

It’s all about integration

One thing that I have strived to do on the E71, and failed, was to have seamless syncing of data, and integration with the online services that I use. A combination of syncing my Apple address book with Google, and using iSync on my Mac to update the phone and vice versa didn’t always work out. It was still a manual process. I would invariably forget to do it. Things got into a bit of a mess, with plenty of duplicates. The Google sync on Android, with the HTC Sense tweaks, finally make this just work.

My contacts and calendars are in sync wherever I go, which is a revelation to me. I don’t actually have to do anything, which is how it should be. Sync is transparent. My Apple Address Book is set to sync with Google (but still backed up by Time Machine on OSX) and I’m very happy with how it all works. Of course, this is an Android OS feature and not unique to the HTC Desire, but very nice nonetheless.

The same sync happens with my Google Calendar – Apple Calendar is set to sync with Google, and the calendar on my phone is the same that I have on the web or my desktop. It’s great. And then there’s Gmail sync and Twitter…

It’s all about the battery life

So with all of this fancy syncing going on, with that lovely large high resolution AMOLED screen, how long is it before I’m searching for a USB port or a power socket? Initially, when I first got the phone, naturally I was playing with it all of the time. Downloading apps, playing with every feature to find out how it works. The phone didn’t last all day. In fact, far from it. It was just a few hours of constant use before I’d have to plug it in.

However, after maybe 4 or 5 charges, and a little less fiddling with the features, I found that the battery began to stabilise and last much longer. I set the sync frequency to be much less frequent for Twitter, removed Facebook sync, set Flickr and Exchange to be just once a day, and this has made a massive improvement. If the phone isn’t having to access the internet every 10 minutes, then you’ll notice that you can easily get through the day with it.

Other major factors that I have found are that in auto 2G/3G mode, the battery does last less than setting to be locked to either. Unfortunately I’m on the 3 network in the UK which requires me to have auto mode enabled, but when on holiday in Italy I switched data off on the phone (just using Wifi at the hotel) and locked it to 2G. The Desire’s battery lasted for a couple of days, even when using it to take around 30 photos a day. In ‘airplane mode’ the battery seemed like it could last forever (which is just as well given how long we were stuck on an aeroplane for, on the tarmac in Milan).

My HTC Desire’s battery can now comfortably last me a whole day, and often overnight as well, with a few hours the following morning before I realise I ought to plug it in.

It’s all about the screen

As I’ve mentioned, the HTC Desire has an 480 X 800 WVGA AMOLED screen. It’s beautiful. Reading text on it is so crisp, it’s no strain on the eye at all (for me, anyway). I downloaded the Aldiko ebook reader and Guardian Anywhere and reading content from both apps is simply a joy. I’ve even read a whole HG Wells book on it. I think that this is one of the best mobile screens available.

However, the screen does have a big weakness. Sunlight. I used to keep my phone on the minimum brightness level, until I found out that you can’t see anything at all on the screen bar fingerprints. You can’t see the controls to increase the brightness. Cue lots of shading the screen, or finding somewhere out of the sun to squint at the vague ghost of an Android OS so that you can crank it up to full brightness. Heavens help you if a call comes in or you need to make an urgent call with a dimly lit screen in full sunlight. I now try and put the phone onto auto brightness when I’m out and about (which isn’t always good for battery life, but at least it’s usable).

However, the beautiful fidelity of the screen, its sharpness and richness of colour more than makes up for this once you have learned how to work around the weaknesses.

So what about the Apps?

There are lots of amazing apps available for Android. Coming from an app-starved Symbian phone, it’s utter luxury. I’ve got apps for most things that I want to do with a phone, and I’ve only had to pay for one of them (the excellent Vignette for Android). It can be a bit hard to find decent apps, because the Android Market is littered with duplicate apps and those displaying photos of a dubious nature. But a bit of digging around using Google and by visiting the numerous Android blogs, it’s not hard to find out what apps are considered a must-have.

Highlights for me (in no particular order) are:

A proper Skype solution is sorely missing, sort of filled by “Skype for 3” here in the UK which is still rather crippled (and uses the cellular network to place and receive calls, and won’t accept calls from Skype online numbers). There will be an official Skype for Android to be released later in 2010, which will charge for calls placed over 3G. I don’t think I’ll touch Fring or Nimbuzz because of the way that they reset privacy settings (but I still need to check if this is still the case).

Conclusion

The HTC Desire is a great phone. The camera is fantastic, and made even better by using Vignette. The screen is pin-sharp (but not good in direct sunlight), and the battery lasts just about long enough to use it a fair bit in the day. The syncing is excellent – having Google Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Twitter always updated is amazing. The HTC Sense interface which sits atop Android is very well designed, and allows for a great deal of customisation – widgets, shortcuts to apps and websites – you can really make it your own. If you like to tinker with your phone, then it’s definitely for you.

It really does feel like a mini computer, a step towards that ubiquitous device that does it all reasonably well, and I’m really glad that I have one.