Now that 2 year contracts are the norm weíre experiencing an influx of mid-range phones for customers who want a subsidized phone, but donít want spend 80 bucks a month on service. Among the mid-range phones, two tiers are starting to emerge. Lower-end, mid range phones and higher-end ones.
Hereís the latest one from HTC, the Desire 601 it sort of slots in-between high and low end. It has LTE, a 960x540 display and stereo speakers like youíll find on a higher-end unit but the camera sensor is only 5 megapixels which you typically find on something cheaper. If you want something fancier from HTC thereís the One Mini which fits in between the Desire 601 and their flagship the HTC One.
In terms of competitors, the first two that come to mind are the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini and the recently released Motorola Moto G. After thinking about thereís also the Nokia Lumia 625 and maybe even the Google Nexus 4. Let's take a look at them.
Samsung Galaxy S III Mini:
This one is easy, the Desire has a pretty solid looking display - the GS3 has a very old school over-saturated Super AMOLED display which looks really grainy. I could list the other specs but the Desireís screen is in a totally different class. If thatís not enough the Desire ships with a newer version of Android, it scores better on benchmarks and has a better camera. Thereís no reason to consider the GS3 Mini unless you absolutely must have a Samsung phone.
Nokia Lumia 625:
Unfortunately I havenít reviewed the 625 yet so I canít say much about it. Itís worth pointing out that the 625 has a larger 4.7Ē screen though it has a lower resolution of 800x480. The Lumia 625 also runs Windows Phone (for better or worse - usually worse).
Motorola Moto G:
The Moto G is a much more intriguing choice. Letís get some specs out of the way first:
- 1GB RAM
- 5 megapixel cameras
- removable back covers
Moto G differences:
- 1280x720 display
- quad-core SoC
- Android 4.
- non-removable 2070mAh battery
- $199.99 off contract
Desire 601 differences:
- 960x540 display
- dual core SoC
- Android 4.2.2
- removable 2100mAh battery
- MicroSD slot
- Stereo speakers
- $299.99 off-contract
Hereís the thing, the Desire 601 is $299.99 off contract - $299.99 is a serious chunk of change. At that price, no oneís going to buy a Desire 601 off-contract. The Moto G on the other hand is $199.99 no contract. Thatís 2x the magic $99.99 mark but at $199.99, some people will think about getting the Moto G.
If youíre deciding between the two and looking to buy off-contract the Moto G is a no-brainer, the decision is more tricky if youíre willing to sign on for 2 years. First off, the Moto G is a TELUS exclusive, so if you want a subsidy on one youíll have to sign with TELUS or Koodo, while the Desire Iím reviewing here is on Rogers (and also available on Bell).
Now if youíre thinking of getting them on-contract the decision becomes more murky since they cost the same. The Desireís most important features are its MicroSD slot and LTE. The Moto G counters with a 1280x720 display, quad-core SoC and a more recent version of Android plus the fact that Motorola promises that it will receive a 4.4 update next year.
Motorola is also currently experiencing a halo effect because theyíre now owned by Google. Iíll be honest, I donít understand this. Itís not like the Moto G or Moto X are Nexus devices. When both were announced they didnít come with the latest version of Android. The only Google-y thing I can see on the Moto X and G (other than the fact that they run Android) is that they donít come with MicroSD slots.
Why do people care that Google owns Motorola? If anything, Google has pWn3d Motorola.
Andrew wrote a great piece on why the Moto G doesnít need a MicroSD slot. While he makes some good points I strongly disagree with him. The lack of MicroSD on the Moto G (which only has 8GB on TELUS/Koodo) keeps me from recommending it to anyone who plans on using their phone for more than just light browsing, or as a send and end device. Some apps can end up using far more storage than just the space their programs take up - while 8GB (actually around 5GB) will seem fine at first I think it will quickly become a nuisance.
While itís not a huge disadvantage, the lack of LTE on the Moto G does matter because LTE has much better ping times than HSPA, especially when signal is weak. Also, in Canada, LTE networks tend to not be as congested as HSPA (from my experience) so doing stuff like uploading pictures and video will be much faster.
Considering that these arenít high-end devices and the fact that both Ďonlyí have 1GB of RAM I donít think the quad-core SoC is a huge advantage. Most programs donít really make use of more than 2 cores anyways so a quad-core SoC is more of a nice thing to have.
The Moto Gís 1280x720 display is really nice - while the Desire also has a nice display the Gís is slightly sharper and makes the Desire look slightly washed out.
The Desireís camera is a little better than the Moto Gís. Itís not really a case of the Desire having a great camera but more a case of the Moto G coming with that is lousier (more of Googleís influence?).
Both device have removable rear covers. The Desireís cover is removable so you can change the SIM card, MicroSD or battery. The Moto Gís are removable because Motorola is making a wide variety of different coloured covers with different patterns. When it comes to customization, +1 to the Moto G.
In terms of how they feel the Moto G does have this solid heft to it so it does feel better in my hand.
Between the 2 of them, most people will probably pick the Moto G but I think the Desire 601 is a better choice mostly because of the MicroSD and LTE. The Desire does have a lower resolution screen but itís actually better paired with itís GPU. Letís not forget that the Desire has a removable battery.
The choice changes if youíre fortunate enough to be in the US you can pick up an unlocked 16GB, Moto G for $199. While it still lacks a MicroSD in this configuration, 16GB is probably enough for most users and makes the Moto G a good enough deal that Iíd pick that over the Desire. I guess the Moto G in Canada is just a bad deal - how unfortunate itís a TELUS exclusive.
Google Nexus 4:
The Desireís real competition is the Google Nexus 4. While the Nexus 4 lacks LTE, it has a nicer metal and glass body, and a higher megapixel camera which is also more sensitive. The Nexus 4ís screen is bigger, brighter, and sharper.
If you can find a Nexus 4 youíre probably better off getting that instead of the Desire 601.
If youíve played with a HTC One or a HTC One X then the Desire will be familiar. Basically, the front looks like a HTC One while the back looks and feels like a One X.
While the front of the One around the speakers employs a lot of metal, the Desire uses plastic instead. If youíve ever used a One youíll notice this immediately. It lacks the Oneís sense of occasion. Then again, so do most of the phones on the market.
Unlike the One, there are no hard edges on the side of the Desire so it feel fits really nice in your hand.
The back is matte polycarbonate. That means thereís no coating on it (I think) which gives it an interesting texture. It also means that if you drop the Desire and it chips the material underneath is the same as it is on top.
Just watch out, from my experience, dye may rub off onto the phone if you toss it in a pair of dark jeans. That said, the dye usually comes off if you remove it right away. Just wet your finger and use it to rub the dye off.
The face of the phone has stereo speakers or in HTC speak: ďBoomsoundĒ. No, it doesn't mean the speakers sound boomy. More on that later.
The back comes is removable. Youíll find the removable battery, MicroSD and Micro SIM card slots there. Check it out, you can also see the Desireís vibrator through the hole in the back.
HTC tries really hard to give their phones nice designs. so I find it really strange that the MicroUSB port on their phones is never in the center, itís always off-set. Its a really minor complaint but I just find it odd.
The screen measures 4.5Ē and has a resolution of 960x540. While 960x540 doesnít sound like much, to my eyes itís well suited to the screen size. It has a PPI of around 250PPI which still looks pretty sharp.
Itís actually a pretty nice display, viewing angles are very good. Colour looks nice though sometimes I wish it were a little more saturated. When I compared it with some other phones I have lying around I noticed itís not quite as bright - not to say that itís a dim display.
You get a 5 megapixel camera on the back. Itís kind of funny because the Desireís camera sensor actually has more megapixels than the flagship HTC Oneís 4 megapixel ĎUltrapixelí camera. Does this mean that the Desire has a 1 ľ ultra pixel sensor? Donít you love marketing?
You get a f/2.0 lens which is the same brightness as the HTC One.
The Desire has an impressive burst mode which is able to shoot at around 10 frames per second for up to 20 frames.
When it comes to cameras, more megapixels isnít necessarily better. The thing is, I find that the 8 and 13 megapixel sensors found on higher-end phones tend to be much more sensitive than the 5 MP ones you typically find on entry-level and midrange phones. When you use them indoors without a flash they struggle mightily if your scene isnít well lit.
So does that describe the Desireís camera? Unfortunately yes. It is a little bit better than the 5 megapixel unit you get in the Galaxy S III Mini but itís still a lot less sensitive than what youíd find on a fancier model.
The video mode is able to record at 1920x1080. Video quality looks okay and the microphone sounds fine.
Thereís actually a high speed video mode which records at 60 frames per second (I observed 51FPS) at 1280x720 and a slow motion mode which records at around 100ish FPS at 768x432.
These days Android phones usually have 3 buttons: back, home and a task switcher. The Desire only has 2 navigation buttons: back button and a home button. To bring up the task switcher you double tap the home button. The flagship One has the same setup. Iím not crazy about this setup though you do get used to it. The biggest problem with this setup is that if you donít read the manual it may take you a while to figure out to double tap the home button to switch tasks.
You get HTCís Sense which includes their Blinkfeed feature which is sort of like a fancy RSS reader. The problem with Blinkfeed is that if you donít use it, you canít disable it. It sits there taking up one of your home screens. Apparently newer versions of Sense let you remove Blinkfeed but the version present on the Desire Iím reviewing now doesnít have that option.
If you donít use Blinkfeed the only way to disable it is to use a 3rd party launcher. Thatís actually what I do with my HTC One
For some reason HTC thought it would be a good idea to have the app draw scroll vertically instead of horizontally like pretty much every other phone out there. The home screen allows for 4 rows of icons while the app drawer is only 3 rows wide so itís kind of disorienting.
If you examine the hamster turning the Desireís wheel youíll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC with dual cores clocked at 1.2Ghz with a Adreno GPU.
Snapdragon 400ís usually do fine in web browser benchmarks and in the case of the Desire this is true.
Where the 400 really differs from itís bigger brother the Snapdragon 600 and 800 is graphics performance and indeed the benchmarks reflect this even when you take into consideration the Desires 960x540 display. Just look at the difference between the Nexus 4 (which actually has a Snapdragon S4 Pro which is similar to a 600) and the Desire.
If youíre familiar with the HTC One youíll know that it has 2 sound enhancements: Boomsound and Beats. Boomsound refers to the stereo speakers (I think) while Beats is just a sound enhancer - itís like an equalization tuned for the hardware.
The Desire has stereo speakers but it lacks Beats. Does this make a difference? On the HTC One, if you disable Beats, the built-in speakers donít sound very special. On the Desire this is also the case. While the Desireís built-in speakers are relatively loud they donít sound very good. I found this is kind of frustrating - tuning the audio to sound better on a specific set of speakers canít be too hard so why didnít HTC just make their own setting?
I suspect itís a case of HTC wanting to differentiate their lower priced offers from the higher-end ones rather than a case of them not being able to make it sound better.
As a Phone:
The Desire Iím reviewing here is on Rogers. Iím not sure about the one on Bell but the only Canadian LTE frequency that the Rogers variant appears to support LTE on 2600Mhz. Rogers has deployed 2600Mhz across their entire LTE coverage footprint so itís similar to their Ďregularí AWS LTE. The thing is though, from my experience the 2600Mhz coverage isnít as dense as it is on AWS. For example, in my basement some phones can get LTE on AWS on Rogers while none are able to find it on 2600Mhz. So 2600Mhz sucks right? Not so fast. When you do get 2600Mhz it tends to be less congested and will almost always have faster speeds.
The Desire supports LTE speeds of up to 100Mbps.
RF performance wasnít as good as my iPhone 5s. In areas with extremely weak HSPA coverage I found the Desire cut out more.
As far as sound quality goes thereís a little bit of hiss whenever people talk.
Maximum earpiece volume is average - ditto for the maximum speakerphone volume.
The Desire is a strong entry in lower-priced midrange segment. It has a nice screen and decent battery life.
- stereo speakers
- slow and fast video modes
- Speakers donít sound that great
- HTC Sense
- Blinkfeed canít be disabled