Review: HTC Desire Z

I recall getting an extremely expensive Symbian based Nokia corporate ‘slider’ phone some six or seven years ago. The keyboard was tiny but had a good action, the screen mostly green but very clear. Back then it was the pinnacle of smart-phone design and of course it looks like a steam engine in comparison to current phones; except HTC believes the ‘slider’ with hard keyboard still has a market…
‘Slider’ phones with hardware keyboards are much less common than they used to be thanks to some excellent touch screens with soft keyboards. It may be me, but I think they’re making a comeback. I’ve never got past the disadvantages of smudgy fingermarks on the touch screen or the fact there’s no feedback from glass. Lately, HTC has brought the physical keyboard to Android.

The HTC Desire Z is one of a growing line of high-quality Smart-phones. It’s been available a while now (first available in volume, November 2010). With a second-generation Snapgragon processor at 800MHz rather than the usual 1GHz, it runs adequately with HTC’s Sense on Android (more later), so long as you don’t overload it with downloaded apps.

‘Slider’ phone isn’t really the right description for a device that pivots the two parts of the body on a rising ‘Z’ hinge mount. This way there’s no raised rim getting in the way of the keys. It helps the visual looks of the phone. The downside is the snap-shut mechanism which has a tendency to snap shut it you grip the edges in the wrong way. Yes it protects the keyboard but can be rather inconvenient and makes you look like a bit of an idiot in public. It means a slightly thicker, chunkier chassis than the standard Desire model, but if you insist on a physical keyboard, this is an option.

The other worry is the assembly of moving parts in a small chassis. The hinges are unfortunately made of plastic and whilst HTC’s engineering has stood up to a few months careful use, I’ve heard less favourable reports of breakage by heavy handed users. It feels like it might break any minute. It’s not the best phone to use in a harsh environment where, say, dust or sand can get into the mechanism.

The keyboard itself is the ‘chiclet’ or island type, with individually spaced membrane keys, dedicated white function keys on either side and two programmable keys. This is well supported by HTC Sense, HTC’s value-added skin for Android. Sense automatically flips the screen into landscape mode when you slide the keyboard. In practice, the keyboard isn’t tall enough to spread the rows and the keys themselves are rather small, stiff and demand a precise press in the centre to register. It’s far from the solution for extensive typing, although thumb typists may get on better.

HTC Sense appears to be like Vegemite, users either love it or hate it (many flashing stock Android over the top). It has all the glossy widgets and HTC Android apps of the rest of their phone range, which makes it an attractive phone for both consumer and corporate markets. It’s proved a strong selling point with few drawbacks to push users to flash stock Android over it.

The screen was outstanding at time of launch, now fairly standard for phones of this size. HTC includes screens that are bright and clear; at 3.7inches and 480 by 800 pixels it’s standard resolution for the Desire range; noticeably larger and clearer than the baby phones such as the Wildfire, however physically smaller than the standard Desire phone.

The Desire Z has a 5Mega-pixel camera with autofocus and LED flash. Taking stills at 2592х1944 resolution, motion video recording is good for 720p HD, in adequate video quality, smooth and judder-free.

This device has a square optical track-pad. This has been disappointing in various models, HTC itself has flipped between this and the small round infra-red trackball control.

The ‘Car Panel’ apes the style of a sat-nav with six large icons – remind you of Windows Phone 7 tiles at all? These work with the HTC navigation app which has a paid upgrade for extras over that you’d get from Google Maps for example.

Connectivity includes Wifi B, G and N, Bluetooth, GPS and HSDPA. There is a DNLA option enabling you to stream media to other devices with t he right add-on module.

The Desire Z was one of the first in the range to access the website which provides internet telephony functions, remote backup, remote wipe. These are corporate Windows Phone functions now in the consumer market.

The downside at launch was the price, but with subsequent models coming through in the last few months, the sparkle of the new offers little (Android 2.3 aside) that the Desire Z can’t provide. It’s now a good-value mid-price option in most carrier’s ranges and can be picked up on short contracts with cheap data plans. The real question is whether you can live with the novelty hard keyboard on those hinges? A standard HTC Desire does all the Z does with a better processor but without the extra size, weight and complex assembly. AJS

Qualcomm Snapdragon processor 800 MHz
Memory 1.5Gb plus 8Gb micro-SD card
Operating System: Android 2.2
Display 3.7in at 480 x 800 pixels

Bundled Applications
-Adobe Reader
-Amazon MP3
-Blocked Callers
-Car Panel
-Flashlight (uses the built in flash)
-FM Radio
-Friend Stream
-HTC Hub
-HTC Likes
-HTC’s own mail client
-Google Maps
-Android Market
-Google Navigation
-Google News
-Voice Recorder
-Voice Search
-WiFi Hotspot

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