HTC Desire: Usability review

There are plenty of reviews for the HTC Desire out there, so this blog is going to focus on one area relatively close to my heart – user experience.
First though, a bit of background.
I’ve been looking for a new phone for a while now, and a way to replace my iPod Touch. Whilst the iPhone was the most immediate and obvious candidate, I avoided that choice for several reasons – not least of which was a desire not to simply follow the crowd. I also have to say I’ve been somewhat concerned of late over Apples approach to controlling content, usage and directions for its platforms.
So, I was looking for something else. My primary requirements were a good strong business phone (though server/corporate mail weren’t big issues for me personally), that could handle good music playing with the ability to watch a movie every now and then. I wanted an app market to ensure I could expand it a little, but apart from that I was relatively open to the options.
When I read reviews of the HTC Desire, I felt personally that this phone was going to hit all the marks. It had a good screen, music/video playing abilities, access to the Android marketplace, and initial reviews stated it was a well designed phone. When I finally got a chance to see one in action, I decided to buy and give it a shot.
I’ve had the phone for a little over two weeks now, and this review is going to focus on the user experience rather than the overall features of the device (which are covered more than adequately in other reviews here and here).
I’ve broken the review down into core areas as they apply to my own usage: moving around the phone, calling, entertainment, bells and whistles.
Moving around
Moving around the phone is actually one of the easiest experiences I’ve found on a phone in a long time. The Desire has seven home screens, which can be populated with any combination of shortcuts you wish to use – programs, content links or quick dials. A swipe moves you back and forth between them, and a pinch drops them as icons into a single screen so you can hop instantly between them.
There’s a Home hard button at the base of the phone, which returns you to the central home screen from anywhere, at any time. There’s also a Back key, which moves you back through any application or content page, one step at a time. This is extremely intuitive for moving within applications, for example backing out of menus/popups. There’s also a Menu hard button, which opens context-sensitive menus from most applications. This is slightly less intuitive (since you’re generally looking on-screen for your visual cues) but still works well.
Swiping up or down scrolls content, and this can move quite quickly and continues for a good length of time. This means that scrolling your programs takes generally just one downward swipe to scroll the entire list – negating the need to swipe again and again and again to keep it moving. There’s a central scroll button too, but this is slower and in my opinion a little less rewarding to use.
In general, this makes for an extremely fast and smooth method for moving into and out of applications on the phone. Everything can be reached within one or two clicks/swipes.
It doesn’t always work entirely smoothly though. At times you find yourself within an application, and pressing the Back button returns you to the Home screen, rather than moving back one screen within the application itself. This is a touch frustrating at times, particularly when navigating the calendar. Overall though, this is a minor gripe and doesn’t happen frequently enough to cause major pain.
SCORE: 9/10
The basic interface for making and receiving calls on the HTC Desire is good. A soft key appears on-screen for all home screens, that launches a dialler with a numeric pad. Type the first few numbers or the numbers corresponding to a name, and a shortlist of options appear. Click one and it rings. Or you can enter the number and it dials.
But all is not quite as rosy as it was with the general navigation – there’s a few gotcha’s here, waiting to catch you out.
The first issue I’ve found relates to contacts with multiple numbers. Many of my contacts have mobile, work and home number, which is not exactly out of the blue. The Desire allows you to create and store multiple fields of data for each contact, so this in itself isn’t an issue, until you try and dial.
The name appears in the matched list with one of the numbers showing, but not the others. Touch the contact and it will dial this number. Touch and hold, and it provides a context sensitive option allowing you to view or edit the contact, etc. Sliding left and right doesn’t work, this gets registered as a touch and starts dialling.
This meant it might automatically dial someone’s mobile, but wouldn’t give you the option of ringing them at work. For the first week I was reduced to going to People (instead of the phone dialler), finding and viewing the contact, and then selecting to manually dial their number from that screen – a complete pain.
It took me quite some time to realise that you needed to use the touch scroll button to move left or right through the different numbers – a far from intuitive option, since your finger is already on the touch screen scrolling through the matched numbers.
The second problem took me almost as long to solve, and I’m still not convinced I have it.
On most phones you can add a contact to a speed dial – though to be fair, this isn’t always easy to find (Sony Ericsson, you know I’m looking at you!)
I know there are speed dial options on the HTC Desire as pressing and holding 1 in the dialler launches a call to voicemail, but for the life of me I can’t find how to assign one. I’ve managed to find a way round this, by dropping shortcuts to common numbers on one of the home screens I’ve kept aside just for this purpose – but it’s not ideal.
SCORE: 7/10
One of the things I loved about my iPod was that it took complete control, and helped me manage my content.
But that’s also one of the things I disliked about it too. Whilst helping you out is one thing, barring you from using your own things goes a little too far.
The HTC Desire makes it extremely simple to place content onto your phone. With games there is the Android market, which offers a nice (though not exactly overwhelming) level of games to trial and download. Some of those I’ve tried so far are of a great level, and easily good enough to keep me busy when I fancy a challenge. Downloading and managing them is easy to do, and similar in approach to the iTunes store.
With music, photos and videos, the phone appears on your PC as an extra drive. You simply drag/drop the files you want onto the phone. Whilst this lacks the benefit of an automatic sync, it does provide all the freedom you could want in terms of what you copy and what format they use.
Playing music and reviewing photos are both pretty simple affairs, and all of the controls and options you’d expect are there. The same is also true for playing movies, although for some bizarre reason movies appear beneath the Photos application – if I hadn’t read that in a review, I’m not entirely sure I’d have found them.
Overall, the entertainment experience is a positive one.
 SCORE: 9/10
Bells and whistles
I use this category to describe features the device offers that go above and beyond what you might expect; the little touches that help push a useful device into an irreplaceable one.
This is a category where the HTC Desire is beginning to shine – at least based on my own experience.
When the phone rings, pick it up and the tune slowly fades out. If you have a ringtone set and you walk into a meeting, place the phone face down and it automatically switches to vibrate only mode.
Switch the phone on, and if it’s a cloudy day you’ll see clouds slowly move across the screen. Receive new emails or messages, and you’ll see notification appear at the top of the screen. Click and drag down, and a notification area appears telling you everything you’ve missed. Clear that, and they all disappear.
Type on the keyboard, and the phone will pick up the keys it thinks you meant to press, rather than those you actually hit. Nine times out of ten it guesses the right words, which is an excellent tool on a touch phone.
SCORE: 9/10
Overall, this is a phone that’s definitely worth checking out for user experience.
It’s not a complete winner, though. There are definitely some rough edges that are a little too hard to remove or can’t be taken off at all, and the phone makes hard work of a couple of basics that shouldn’t need it. But taken as a whole, it’s a great example of moving user experience forward without simply copying the competition.