HTC Desire U review

April 8, 2013
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    Ever since its flagship release, the HTC Desire series has always had something desirable for crowds of various types. One of HTC’s recent releases, the dual-core HTC Desire X for the mid-range market, has found a pretty yet less powerful sibling in the HTC Desire U.

    I’ve always admired HTC’s good sense when it comes to build quality and design, and the HTC Desire U, despite being an entry-level Android phone, is endowed with such qualities.

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    At the outset, the Desire U’s pretty externals have the tendency to make me wish that it also had pretty internals. The sad truth is that in the case of the beautiful HTC Desire U, beauty is just skin deep. But, that’s to be expected. This is a budget phone.

    What features can this beautiful budget phone offer you? Does its price tag justify the features that it provides? Find out more about the HTC Desire U in the rest of this review. You can also jump directly to our video review at the end of the post.

    Physical Build and Design

    Dimensions and Weight

    Length 118.5 mm (4.67 in)
    Width 62.3 mm (2.45 in)
    Thickness 9.3 mm (0.37 in)
    Weight 119 g (4.20 oz)

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    The HTC Desire U has exactly the same physical dimensions as the dual-core HTC Desire X and the dual-SIM HTC Desire V. The Desire U is 5 grams heavier than either of the two.

    As expected, because of its small form, it is a fit-in-your-palm-snugly phone. This also means that you can easily operate the phone with just one hand, and your fingers don’t need to stretch too far out just to reach the buttons.

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    The Desire U’s small size plus lightness contribute a lot to its pocketability. In an Android world where smartphones get bigger, the Desire U’s smallness is a breath of fresh air.

    Front

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    The overall feel of the Desire U’s front is not far from that on the Desire X or Desire V, and, expectedly so — after all, they belong to the same HTC Desire series.

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    There’s still the black bezel, with the silver HTC wordmark at the top and the capacitive navigation buttons at the bottom. The tiny phone speaker grille sits inconspicuously atop the HTC logo.

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    On my test unit — the black model — a shiny black frame surrounds the screen. I’m not sure whether this is plastic or metal, but as far as this unit is concerned, it’s of no big concern to me. Regardless, the black frame ensures smooth monochromatic continuity from the black-bezeled front, to the phone sides, and onwards to the back plate.

    As for the white model, mine eyes have not seen and mine hands have not touched it, yet based on the press images, the combination of black bezel, silver frame, and white back cover looks elegant.

    Sides

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    The phone tapers slightly at its top side, and tapers a bit more sharply at its bottom side, forming some sort of chin.

    The phone edges are all black, but they are of split texture. The shiny black frame from the front and the matte rubbery back cover meet at the phone’s edges, resulting in the split texture.

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    Just as in most other HTC phones, the volume rocker sits at the right side of the phone, within easy reach of the thumb (for right-handed people) or of the index finger (for left-handed people).

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    At the opposite side is the standard Micro USB charging port.

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    At the top side is the Power button, positioned so that the index finger of either hand could easily reach it. And, a little towards the corner is the headphone jack.

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    No port or button can be found at the bottom edge. Only the backplate notch and the microphone hole are there.

    Back

    I like the HTC Desire U’s back because of its simplicity. On my black test unit, the back is all black, with only the LED flash and the Beats Audio logo interrupting the blackness.

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    Carved concentric circles radiate from the metallic oval camera housing. The design adds a touch of class to an otherwise simplistic back cover.

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    And, right in the middle of the back is the glossy HTC logo, which appears to be made of black glass.

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    The mono loudspeaker grille sits at the left of the Beats Audio logo.

    Although the backplate itself is made of hard plastic, the back’s exterior has a soft-touch rubber texture, reminiscent of the texture on the backs of the HTC Sensation, the Sony Xperia T, or the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. Surely, the rubbery texture helps with traction, but I don’t find it extremely crucial in a light and compact phone such as the Desire U.

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    Yet, for me, the winning aspect about the Desire U’s back is its removability. The battery is also removable.

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    Under the backplate are the slots for a standard-size SIM and microSD card expansion. It’s ironic that smaller phones use regular-sized mini-SIMs, but bigger high-end phones use micro-SIMs.

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    The Vibration Motor is exposed. I don’t know why exactly.

    Unlike the backplate of the Desire X, the backplate on the Desire U seems to snap more snugly into place. It’s easier to snap off, too, because of the notch at the bottom edge.

    Screen and display

    Packing a 4.0-inch WVGA (800×480) Super LCD screen, the HTC Desire U’s display is a pleasure to the eye. It may not be the Full HD experience that you’d get from certain high-end Android phones, but with a pixel density of 233 ppi, the display appears very crisp and sharp.

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    The colors are rich and realistic, which may appear subdued and lacking in intensity and saturation compared to those on AMOLED displays.

    For an entry-level phone, the screen and display quality on the Desire U is quite a bargain.

    Processing Power

    Chipset Qualcomm S4
    CPU single-core 1.0 GHz
    GPU Adreno 200
    RAM 512 MB
    Internal memory 4 GB
    External memory microSD, up to 32 GB

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    The Desire U’s own package doesn’t specify which particular chipset model is in use in the device, but it does mention that a Qualcomm S4 is powering the phone. It’s a single-core processor ticking up to a maximum of 1.0 GHz. System info apps also report that a Qualcomm Adreno 200 GPU is onboard.

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    This is a functional configuration, but one that might leave you wanting. Although homescreen navigation appears generally smooth, Web browsing isn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be — particularly when zooming in or out of pages, as well as scrolling or panning pages.

    Navigating around the Settings menu shows signs of lag, and when opening a submenu, the phone stalls for about a second or two. Scrolling through apps and widgets often shows lag. Launching apps isn’t as smooth and snappy as on other HTC phones such as the Desire U’s sibling, the Desire X. Even tapping the capacitive Back button takes a moment or two before you can get a response.

    As for internal storage, the phone comes with 4 GB of it, but only about a quarter of that (1.0 GB) is user usable. Good thing that the phone can take in a microSD card of up to 32 GB additional storage.

    Benchmarks

    I performed some benchmarks on the HTC Desire X and got the following results:

    Benchmark Score
    Quadrant 1826
    AnTuTu 3985
    CF-Bench 2815
    Vellamo Mobile Benchmark HTML5 651
    Vellamo Mobile Benchmark Metal 322
    Geekbench 2 467
    Linpack for Android Single Thread (in MFLOPS) 25.661
    Linpack for Android Multi-thread (in MFLOPS) 23.13
    NenaMark 1 (in fps) 47.3
    NenaMark 2 (in fps) 19.7
    An3DBenchXL 22865
    SunSpider 0.9.1 JavaScript (in ms, lower is better) (using Google Chrome) 2917.4
    BrowserMark (using Google Chrome) 1598
    Google V8 Benchmark Suite (using Google Chrome) 553

    Battery Life

    Providing power to the HTC Desire U is a 1,650-mAh Li-ion battery pack, expected to power the phone for non-stop talk for up to 20 hours on a 2G connection and 10 hours on 3G.

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    To get an idea of how fast the Desire U’s battery drains, I subjected it to heavy use for a couple of hours. On the first hour, I played high-quality YouTube video non-stop, and on the second, I browsed graphics-heavy websites. All these while Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth were enabled; brightness level was maxed out; and the screen was not allowed to sleep.

    After about 2 hours and 20 minutes of such heavy use, only 51% of power was left. Under light to moderate use, the phone can get you through a work day, or even a few hours beyond it.

    Connectivity

    The Desire U’s network and connectivity features include the following:

    • HSPA/WCDMA (900/2100 MHz)
    • GSM/GPRS/EDGE (900/1800/1900 MHz)
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct
    • Micro USB 2.0
    • Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluetooth with aptX)
    • 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack

    To connect to a mobile phone carrier’s network, a regular-size mini-SIM (2FF) is needed.

    Camera

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    The Desire U has no front camera. But, it does have a 5-megapixel back camera with frontside illumination (FSI) and which is capable of autofocus. A single-LED flash bulb sits atop the lens, ready to provide extra light when needed.

    In low light conditions, the Low Light scene mode can help a lot. Below are photos of the same subject. One was shot with default auto settings (i.e., Low Light disabled); the next one with Low Light mode enabled; and the third one with Low Light disabled but with flash firing:

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    Enabling Low Light mode did brighten up the subject a bit, but in the case of the sample photos above, it wasn’t of great help. As can be expected of images captured with inadequate lighting, the photos turned out grainy, pixelated, and noisy.

    Used outdoors, where the lighting is adequate, the Desire U’s camera produces some really great shots:

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    The photos, of course, won’t compare to the output of a high-end digital camera or a DSLR, but for despite its being an entry-level device, the Desire U produces photos of acceptable quality. I noticed, though, that the colors appear somewhat subdued and more realistic.

    One disappointment I experienced while playing with the Desire U’s camera was the shutter lag. The phone takes about a couple of seconds to process a captured image. This is not a dealbreaker for most people, though. But, if you’ve ever used a zero-shutter-lag (or nearly-zero-shutter-lag) device such as the Galaxy Nexus, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

    As for video recording the phone’s camcorder can capture videos up to WVGA (800×480) resolution. Again, don’t expect stellar quality footage from this handset. At best, the video quality is functional and won’t be very sharp.

    Media Playback

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    An entry-level phone such as the Desire U is not meant for high-end multimedia consumption, but for basic music playback, it can provide pleasurable audio — thanks to Beats Audio integration. For music playback, the phone comes with HTC’s Music player app, which integrates both SoundHound and TuneInRadio.

    To be able to enjoy the deep basses and the crisp audio, you’ll need to plug in your stereo headphones. The mono loudspeaker at the back just won’t cut it, although it produces average-volume sound. Also, it’s a bad, bad, bad idea to cover the back loudspeaker grille with anything; you won’t hear sound if you do.

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    As for video playback, I tried playing both 720p and 1080p videos — no luck there, but that’s not surprising. The phone, however, can play 480p videos quite well. Just like on the Desire X, the video player includes Capture Mode, which lets you grab screenshots of the video currently playing. The video player also allows you to use Beats Audio sound enhancement or not.

    Software and UI

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    Much as I had wanted HTC to give its newest devices the newest version of Android (version 4.2, as of this writing), such a utopian wish tends to remain that — utopian and a wish. The Desire U comes with Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and laced with HTC’s Sense 4.0 skin.

    Being a Sense device, you can expect the experience to be similar to any other Sense device from HTC, especially those with version 4.0 and higher.

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    So, the lockscreen on the Desire U still has HTC’s signature metallic hoop plus app shortcuts. The mini music player, when active, still appears on the lockscreen, and you can drag the mini player into the lock ring to unlock the phone and instantly launch the Music player app.

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    App icons on the homescreen and the App Drawer look consistent with other Sense devices. There are 5 default homescreens, and neither of them is removable. You can’t add more either.

    The Multitasking/Recent Apps capacitive button serves two purposes: single tap to bring up the Recent Apps list (which isn’t three-dimensional like in the One X) and hold down within an app to bring up the Menu. The Favorites Tray (App Dock) still has 5 buttons, the middle of which is for the App Drawer and the four others are for whatever you want.

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    The Notification Shade stays consistent with the other devices. It is still accessible from the lockscreen, and is as empty as nobody wants it to be. HTC decides to skip putting on the Notification Shade what LG, Sony, Samsung, and other device makers consider to be a very handy feature — toggle buttons for accessing frequently used settings — preferring instead to keep the Notification Shade spic-and-span, with only a button for the Settings menu and a button for dismissing all notifications.

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    The icons in the App Drawer are arranged on a 4×4 grid. At the bottom is another familiar HTC thing — tabs. In the App Drawer, you’ll find tabs for All, Frequent, and Downloads.

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    The widgets aren’t in the App Drawer. In most other implementations of Android, they’re usually on a separate tab in the App Drawer. Instead, HTC placed them under the Personalize feature, accessible by long-tap from an empty space on the homescreen, from the Personalize app in the App Drawer, or from Settings > Personalize > Homescreen.

    What personalization options do you get on the Desire U? More than a handful, actually. Here are some of them:

    • Custom scene creation
    • 3 custom skins (themes)
    • custom wallpapers (either HTC-provided, or your own pick from your albums)
    • Toggle for app shortcuts on lockscreen
    • Lots of HTC widgets (many of which look very nice) that you can place on your homescreen
    • Ability to use third-party widgets for your homescreen
    • Drag-and-drop folder creation
    • Custom sound set creation
    • Custom ringtones, notification sounds, and alarm sounds

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    Support for live wallpapers seems missing on the Desire U. The usual way to choose a live wallpaper is through the wallpaper selection dialog in Settings > Personalize > Wallpaper, but the list on the Desire U doesn’t include “Live wallpapers.” But, when I installed live wallpaper apps from the Google Play Store and launched them, I was able to set them as default homescreen wallpapers. So, live wallpapers function after all, although HTC appears to have prohibited the unwary user from setting live wallpapers.

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    The keys of the virtual keyboard are cramped and can be hard to use in portrait orientation, but with the help of the keyboard calibration tool, I was able to “teach” the keyboard about my finger touch patterns. Plus, spelling correction and word completion tools also help a lot, especially since the small keys make mistyping frequent. Trace typing (similar to Swype) is also available, if you don’t feel like tapping. Or, you can use voice-to-text input, but this one needs an active Internet connection.

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    For security, you get the usual fare of screen lock types (lock ring, pattern, PIN, and password). Face Unlock is not available. SIM card lock is also another security option, as well as storage encryption. By default, installation of apps from non-Play-Store sources is disabled; this one’s a security feature, too.

    Pricing and Availability

    This is a budget phone, intended for and now available in Taiwan and China, with a competitive price tag of US$275 (non-carrier-locked).

    Video Review

    Find out more about the HTC Desire U in our video review on YouTube:

    Conclusion

    The HTC Desire U is an entry-level phone. It is a budget phone designed for people who don’t need the greatest, the biggest, and/or the fastest. This is not for folks looking for a phone to enjoy the bliss of HD, feel “smarter” with multitasking, or capture hi-def videos and photos. Rather, this is for people needing the basic smart features of an Android phone (e.g., SMS, phone calls, email, Web browsing, social networking, etc.) packaged in an attractively designed phone.

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    What say you about this budget phone from HTC? Is it something that might interest you if it hit your locality? What do you like or dislike about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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    Comments

    • nishantsirohi123

      i am not super rich but still would want a dual core device to fully enjoy android experience.
      Single core devices get sluggish after a while with apps running in background, even 1.7 Ghz samsung splus gets sluggish
      when anyone asks me which android device, i say whichever you go for just make sure it is at least dual core

    • http://nurudin.jauhari.net/ Jauhari

      This Device is awesome… for middle range maybe it’s the best

    • mixi oO

      I own its sibling, Desire X, overall it’s good but battery life is quite horrible.
      I can only wish HTC put bigger batteries on these Desire series.

    • Gabriel Rossi

      A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
      Just that =)

    • Tushar Srivastava

      The htc desire U has dual sim but in the images that are shown here it appears as if it is single sim.

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