Smartphone screens really have stepped up a gear as of late and the Desire S doesn't buck that trend. The 800 x 480 pixel panel is incredibly bright when needs be, produces strong vivid colours, has a very high contrast ratio ensuring whites are white and blacks are black rather than shades of grey, is pin sharp and its viewing angles are excellent – there's almost no colour or contrast shift when viewed from even the most acute angle. Some may lament that this is an LCD panel rather than AMOLED, which pumps the colour saturation and black levels up even further, but we certainly aren't among them. The only issue we did have was that the automatic screen brightness setting (the mean level of which can't be adjusted) was too bright when sat in a dimly lit living room.
The touch sensing of the display is also excellent with the glass providing an effortlessly smooth surface for your fingers to glide over. Helping it feel so responsive is the phone's processor, which is a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255. This is a second generation Snapdragon that features the improved Adreno 205 graphics processor, which helps keep all the phone's interface animations super slick. Comparing to an older generation Snapdragon powered phone, the difference is clear with the older device having what was almost a signature Android sluggishness to interface elements as compared to the latest iPhones. The faster GPU will also help keep 3D games and other 3D apps running smoothly.
The CPU itself is only single-core so inevitably is trumped by the raft of dual-core phones that will be hitting shelves soon. However, the true advantage of these two-chip phones isn't yet known. While some apps will be developed to utilise the extra power, the general phone interface doesn't see any benefit. When playing with the likes of the Motorola Atrix, LG Optmus 2X and Samsung Galaxy S II at various trade shows in the last few months we didn't find them noticeably faster than single-core 1GHz phones for day to day tasks. Indeed we're sure some of the credit must go to HTC for optimising the phone's firmware to run super fast. Something that's demonstrated by the fact this phone can boot up in around 7 seconds compared to the 30+ of most Android devices. That said, we'd still recommend you wait and get our full verdict on the dual-core wonders before deciding.
As we've come to expect of HTC phones, the Desire S has a heavily customised version of Android running on it. Sadly it's based on the 2.2 version so lacks the few most recent interface tweaks, support for NFC, and improved copy/paste features of Android 2.3. However, not only will an update arrive eventually but in the interim this phone doesn't really feel like it's lacking any.
Seven homescreens are what you have to choose from, with three either side of the default central one. As ever you can fill these with widgets, app shortcuts and app folders and HTC makes this process particularly easy by having a dedicated button in the bottom left for personalising your homescreen styling.
HTC also has some of the most stylish and useful widgets going, with its signature clock and weather viewer and FriendStream social network feed. In truth, we're not ones for using many gadgets as they tend to suck up battery life, affect performance and offer limited functionality compared to the full app but we're always happy to keep the HTC weather and clock app, it's just that good.
Other changes include the redesigned button layout along the foot of the screen. We've mentioned the personalisation button and to the left are buttons for the dialler and the main menu/app launcher. Tap on the dialler and as well as being presented with a set of buttons for tapping out a number you can also see your contacts list hidden behind. Simply grab the list and start scrolling and the dialler will disappear leaving you to effortlessly scroll through your contacts. You'll also find, once you've logged into your myriad email and social networking accounts that your contacts have been populated with profile pictures and info from those accounts.
One annoyance we did have with this interface is that it's all too easy to accidentally start calling a contact, rather than simply opening the contact to have a look at their information.