HTC Desire Z Review
HTC Desire Z is the Europe/Asia version of the T-Mobile G2, which we reviewed a short while ago. As heirs to the now legendary G1, the first ever Android phone, the Desire Z and G2 have a lot to prove already. Google’s mobile OS started out in a timid underdog manner, almost as a side project in a response to the then year-old iPhone, to become the mobile juggernaut it is now, in just two short years. G1 had a lot of geek-cred on its side, and received the attention of numerous rogue developers, who are usually attracted to underdogs. They put thousands of hours coding pro bono, just to feel a part of something new and unique.
Fast forward two years, and developing for Android is lucrative enough to have filled the Android Market with more than 100 000 applications. HTC is no more the obscure Taiwanese maker of Windows Mobile handset, but a smartphone powerhouse, that has been crowned among consumers as a king of design and software innovation, dishing out award-winning handsets as if there is no tomorrow. The HTC Desire Z is one of them, and HTC hasn’t spared a bunch of “firsts” in its hardware and software symbiosis, so let’s get to the skinny of its real world performance…
In the box:
- HTC Desire Z handset
- Warranty card and quick start guide
- Stereo headset with microphone
- AC adapter
- microUSB cable
- 8GB microSD card
HTC's build quality is legendary, and the HTC Desire Z makes no exception. The screen part and the battery cover are made of brushed aluminum, the rest is soft touch grey plastic to allow for signal to penetrate easily to the antennas. The phone is thin enough for a slide-out QWERTY handset, at 0.56” (14.1mm), but the heft is considerable - 6.35 oz (180 g) is no laughing matter. We usually say that a heavier feeling in the hand contributes to the overall impression of solidity, but here it's at the point of becoming unpleasant.
You can compare the HTC Desire Z with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
The display half is mostly occupied by the 3.7” Super LCD screen with 480x800 pixels of resolution. It has very good color gamut, improved contrast and viewing angles, and, at maximum brightness, is very usable in direct sunlight, compared to previous generation LCDs. Only Motorola's DROID army, and, of course, the iPhone 4, are trumping it in terms of resolution, but the technology used there is the same.
Embedded in the black frame underneath the screen are four tiny touch keys for the typical Android functions – home, menu, back and search. The other element below the screen is an optical trackpad, which allows you to swipe through the homescreens, navigate around in menus and websites, and press it to execute the desired action. It's a good way to lessen contact, hence smudges on your touchscreen, but its functionality in the homescreens is somewhat limited to just scrolling them left and right, so you'll have to inevitably use your fingers on the display there. When the alarm goes off, it lights up the area around the optical trackpad for some visual stimulation as well. The screen half also hosts the two-stage camera key at the right side, which needs to be held for a split second at full press to enter the camera interface.
The keyboard half is where the fun begins with the HTC Desire Z. We didn't experience any issues with the innovative Z-hinge in terms of efforts to push the screen half away, or snap it back into place – it feels elegant and solid at the same time. We see where HTC is coming from when it said this mechanism allows for the keyboard half to be almost flush with the screen, thus avoiding the thumb-bashing that usually occurs on QWERTY slide-outs. However, we don't think it is that much of an issue, and a simple spring-loading mechanism would have sufficed. We would get the point of a Z-hinge, if we could tilt the screen up, but in this case, meh, just one more thing that could easily break. Especially worrying is that the thin cable, which connects the LCD display to the chipset, is exposed upon opening and closing, but, hey, a company has to stand out somehow, right?
The keyboard itself left us with mixed impressions. It looked superb in pictures and in person – spaced out chiclet layout with four rows of keys is becoming the norm in physical keyboards, instead of a single sheet with buttons, and the HTC Desire Z is no exception. The space between the domed plastic caps, though, is not sufficient to have your thumbs dancing across the keyboard, while hitting the correct letter each time. The keys feel rather stiff on a new handset, and travel is a bit shallow in practice, there is an elevated rim surrounding the keyboard pit.
The notorious thumb-bashing occurs quite frequently when using the upper row. It would be funny to watch a typing competition between two gals with long finger nails, though. Other than those drawbacks, the keyboard has a nice layout, with programmable keys to fire up anything you choose, and function keys on both sides. Also, long-pressing a letter reveals its accented versions, so oftentimes you don't even have to change to the French layout to type in French.
The thicker keyboard half is where most of the other design elements are located – there is a whole piece volume rocker, and exposed microUSB port on the left side, a standard audio jack and lock/power key up top, and a latch slider for removing the battery cover on the right. The cover is made of brushed aluminum, and has a slit for the speaker grill. The back also hosts the 5MP camera with an LED flash up left, but there is no front-facing camera on the handset.
Great design by HTC, as usual - the HTC Desire Z is surely an attention-grabber with its brushed aluminum/soft touch coating combination, and the Z-hinge. The weight, however, is significant, when we consider that the physical keyboard is only decent, and we could have easily gone with just the excellent virtual one. What's a G1 heir without a keyboard, though?