We thought HTC might have a strong Mobile World Congress - and thankfully, we were right. Confirming numerous rumours that have been doing the rounds in the build up to MWC, today HTC showed us two premium new Android handsets and I must admit: I'm extremely impressed with both of them.
This is the handset which has been most leaked up until today. I'd signed an embargo, so kept quiet but can now reveal this follow-up to the Hero is a real cracker.
The first thing you'll notice is the finish. Carved from a single block of aluminium it feels luxurious, much like a hybrid between the first generation iPhone and a MacBook - but with carefully placed rubber grips, so it feels solid and doesn't slip in-hand. The lower of these grips can also be removed to swap out the battery (a nice idea Apple?). The controversial 'chin' is still present, but slightly reduced while there is a move to an optical trackball with a surrounding ring that acts as a physical button.
Aside from the redesign, the first thing you'll notice is the move to a gorgeous AMOLED 320 x 480 capacitive, multi-touch display, while there's a speed boost to an ARM11-based 600MHz CPU. Elsewhere you'll find a 5MP camera with LED flash, HSDPA/HSUPA, WiFi (b/g), GPS, a 3.5mm headphone jack and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Omissions? Still just 512MB of onboard storage.
Equally important, is the jump to Android 2.1 which brings about an overhaul of the company's popular Sense UI. Major changes include the ability to split contacts into groups and separate them by widgets, a 'Friendstream' which integrates Facebook, Twitter and Flickr updates into a single stream and the ingenious 'Helicopter View' which gives a live overview of all the homescreens when you use the pinch gesture on any one of them. This is likely to become a popular thing for owners to fiddle with in idle moments!
Touchdown? Either late March or April and I expect it to outsell hotcakes.
I said in my MWC Preview that there would be a rush of Nexus One clones and that's exactly what we have with the HTC Desire. In all fairness, HTC built the Nexus One so it isn't overly surprising. Consequently, like Google's handset the Desire has a similar look and uses the same 3.7in AMOLED multi-touch display, a Snapdragon chipset with 1GHz CPU and matches the connectivity, optical trackball and camera with the Legend.
Sadly it also copies the minimal 512MB of memory, but despite this does have one huge weapon: Flash Lite 4. Consequently video plays happily without the need for external apps and, contrary to what Apple preached with the iPad, this is the best mobile web experience to date.
Lastly the Desire will also carry the same Android 2.1 and Sense UI enhancements as the Legend, though notable additions I didn't mention earlier include the implementation of much requested 'list views' for email and calendar entries and a clever browser tweak whereby selected text can quickly be searched for in Wikipedia, an online dictionary or sent to Google translate. Personally I think this should be implemented in SMS and emails too, something HTC liked as an idea.
Availability? 'Q2' is all HTC would say, but this is one smartphone it looks well worth waiting for.
Lastly some Sense UI news and HTC has confirmed to me that both the Hero and Eris will be getting updates to Android 2.1 rolled out over the course of the next month. Availability will depend on networks accepting the upgrade, but hopefully they will use common sense. Hopefully...
(Note: the picture above features the Legend, Desire and HD Mini for comparison's sake)
Update: T-Mobile and Orange have confirmed the Desire will be coming to their UK networks. Given the lustworthy nature of these phones I'd expect to see most networks take a keen interest.