Once a nondescript OEM, HTC has swiftly transformed itself into one of the world’s most reputed smartphone manufacturer and vendor. It ain’t surprising that this Taiwanese was both Google’s and Microsoft’s preferred partner when they were launching Android and Windows Phone 7, respectively. HTC is one of those rare “smartphone only” vendor, which has managed to carve a niche for itself in a low-volume, high-margin operation. Where other vendors are able to come out with variants (upgrades) of their existing smartphones, HTC offers a complete portfolio of smartphones with varied form factors and features. The HTC Desire Z belongs to the former, with its ‘Z’ hinge for a slide-out QWERTY keypad. Also Read - HTC U11+ Review: Small improvements make a large phone
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In true HTC tradition, the Desire Z does not scream for attention with any dramatic curves or a riot of colours. In fact, from the front, it bears a striking resemblance to the Desire, albeit a thicker one. Its 3.7-inch 480×800 pixel display is now a standard fare for most smartphones and so are the four faux buttons below the display. The optical trackpad is an oddity in this day and age – I do not remember using it even once during the month that I have used the device as my primary phone.
The battery cover on the rear has a brushed metal finish and can be opened by a latch on its lower left edge. The 5.0 megapixel camera with flash has a dedicated trigger next to the latch. A volume rocker key, power button, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a microUSB port flank the other edges. Tipping the scales at 180 grams and a thickness of 14.16 millimetres, the Desire Z is no featherweight. However, the entire package feels good to hold and has survived a few falls too.
Like I mentioned earlier, the USP of the Desire Z is its Z-hinge mechanism, which is quite similar to the one found on the Nokia N97, N97 mini and more recently, the E7. Many American and European users have complained that the Desire Z’s slide mechanism is a bit loose and the keyboard slides out on its own. I have not faced any such problem. On the contrary, I found it just right, especially after using the E7, which takes quite an effort to slide open.
The Desire Z’s keyboard is among the most spacious ones I have come across on a phone. The Z-hinge mechanism ensures that the top row does not get cramped by the edge of the display. The designers at HTC have managed to add a couple of programmable keys and a dedicated ‘menu’ key – which in my books is a must for every Android smartphone with a keypad. Then there is an ‘@’ key – very handy while tweeting and sending mails. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the complete package, though the keys could do with some more give.
HTC started the trend of skinning operating systems with custom user interface with it Sense UI and has almost perfected that art. I say almost as initially I found the system to be slightly sluggish. There were times when the text message menu would take over a minute to open and at times when it used to crash all together. Things were even slower when I slid the keypad out and the display would take eternity to change into landscape mode. Probably, the lords at HTC’s HQ in Taipei heard my plea and pushed a minor software update (some 43 MB) that improved things dramatically. The update (1.82.720.1) not only made the UI much smoother but also added a few tweaks to it. The text select tool is now much more user friendly. The biggest update has been on the camera UI but more on that later.
Apart from Sense UI, another area where HTC is working hard is widgets for Android. Probably, HTC fears that Google would end up controlling the extent to which vendors can skin the UI and widgets could be the next best thing. Plus deeply integrating Sense UI into the operating system makes it harder for HTC to update its devices to the latest version of Android. There are some 72 different HTC widgets to choose from – ranging from ‘Call Mom’ to ‘Fake Call’ to ‘Quick Record’ – and more can be added from the HTC Hub by signing up for a HTC Sense account.
The Desire Z runs Android 2.2.1 on a Qualcomm processor clocked at 800MHz with 512 MB of RAM and 1.5 GB of internal storage. The processor did seem to lack juice to keep up with the seemingly heavy Sense UI but the OTA patch update did the trick. The 5.0 MP camera gave pretty good results in broad daylight. The update also gave the camera UI some eye-candy with icon-based menu for effects. It shoots videos in 720p resolution.
We had no problems with call quality or connectivity but the onboard speaker is just not good enough for speakerphone conversations. I was slightly disappointed to find a 1300 mAh battery under the hood, which is good enough to barely see through a day of heavy usage (two mail accounts, one Twitter account and 2 hours of calls). The backup almost halves on 3G, which makes me wonder why HTC did not go for a bigger battery.
Available at a street price of approximately Rs 25,000, the Desire Z is a pretty good option for those looking for a relatively high-end Android smartphone with a QWERTY keypad. At the moment, the only other option would be the Motorola Milestone, which has also been bumped to Android 2.2 recently. But for those users for whom the keypad ain’t a priority, I’d suggest they wait for the likes of the Samsung Nexus S or the Sony Ericsson XPERIA arc, which offer better features and design at a slightly higher price.