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HTC Desire 500 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Beats Audio response

The Bad

  • Low internal storage

The HTC Desire 500 is a relatively inexpensive mid-range phone aimed at the type of buyer who wants something solid, but not necessarily cutting edge. 

We’re seeing many phones of a similar ilk these days, whether they’re scaled down versions of flagship models or they’re aggressively discounted higher-end phones like the Motorola Moto G

Given that HTC already has dipped its own toe in the mid-range waters with the likes of the HTC One Mini and the HTC Desire 601, what has the Desire 500 got to offer prospective buyers? The current asking price is around £200. Is it a bargain or should you take your money elsewhere? 

Design: Smooth operator

Like all HTC phones, the HTC Desire 500 is something of a looker. The exterior is fashioned from shiny, reflective plastic. The model we were sent has a red trim running around the edge which gives it a McLaren F1 feel. There’s an all-black edtion too and a blue-accented white model, which we were able to get up close and personal with during our earlier hands-on session. 

The flexible plastic shell peels off the phone, revealing the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card tray. Tiny holes have been drilled into the top and base of the plastic shell for the speakers, echoing the styles of HTC’s higher end phones, which lends the Desire 500 a bit of class – although anyone hoping for BoomSound will be disappointed. Only that HTC stalwart Beats Audio is present and correct.

Measuring 132 x 67 x 9.9mm it’s a good size. It fits comfortably in one hand, unlike some of the freakishly big phones out there (LG G Flex, we’re looking at you). 

Though the glossy plastic is a bit fingerprinty, the glass cover gives the phone a solid feel. We’d hesitate to say ‘premium’ but there is something about the Desire 500 that makes it feel more expensive than a £200 phone probably has a right to. 

Screen: WVGA? SRSLY? 

The HTC Desire 500 rocks a 4.3-inch screen which unfortunately suffers a low resolution of 480 x 800 (WVGA). With a meagre pixel count of 216ppi (pixels per inch), we found that web pages, photos and video look rather grainy.

By contrast, the Apple iPhone 5S has a smaller screen (4-inches) but a higher resolution (1136 x 640) meaning you get more detail per inch (326ppi). Of course, the iPhone is much more expensive –  it’s a bit unfair to compare a high-end £550 Apple phone with a mid-range £200 HTC phone, so let’s take a look at the Motorola Moto G, which costs around £130-£150. This has a 4.5-inch screen which boasts a resolution of 720p HD (1280 x 720) and a ppi count of 329 – higher even than the iPhone 5S.

Then there’s the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini, which has a smaller 4-inch screen but the same 480 x 800 resolution of the Desire 500, giving sharper images. And the Smart 4 Mini costs just fifty quid.

In plain English, the HTC Desire 500’s screen simply does not offer amazing levels of detail. For everyday tasks its fine – text on messages, emails and web pages is easily legible. But if you don’t want to feel like you’re being punched in the eyes when thumbing through a BuzzFeed listicle, look for something with a higher res screen. 

Visibility is OK indoors, but in sunlight it’s not very good. Even with the brightness on max the screen can’t contend with the mimsiest British excuse for a sunny day. On cloudy overcast days, visibility isn’t fantastic either. 

OS and interface: HTC’s sensible Sense stylings 

The HTC Desire 500 is an Android phone and as such gives you access to the Google Play app store and comes with features like Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube built in. 

Aside from that, the Desire 500 does what HTC arguably does best; takes away Google’s Android interface and replaces it with HTC Sense. 

HTC hotwires the Android UI, turbo-charging the essentials and dispensing with anything extraneous. You get a very sharp and polished interface to play with and customise almost any way you like. 

As usual, four functions – phone dialler, text messages, browser and camera – are pinned to the bottom of the screen, giving you constant instant access to the essential features. Thankfully you can rearrange and replace these as you like – in our screenshots above you can see that we’ve swapped out the default browser for Chrome. 

As well as this you also get a page dedicated to HTC Blinkfeed, a sort of Flipboard-style news aggregator which you can set to collect Facebook and Twitter posts from your friends and followers, as well as pull in headlines from a strong selection of publications. Blinkfeed now supports RSS too, giving you greater customisation.

Performance: Quad-core power for the fore

HTC has stuffed a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chip in here with a clock speed of 1.2GHz plus 1GB of RAM. That’s pretty impressive for a phone in this price range, and it gives the HTC Desire 500 just enough power to play games that demand powerful processors to handle high frame rates, like Riptide GP2, Dungeon Hunter 4 and Asphalt 8

In all honesty, people who want to play games like the ones we’ve just mentioned probably won’t be buying a Desire 500. The good news is that if you’re more of a casual gamer, the likes of Cut The Rope and Candy Crush Saga won’t feel sluggish at all. 

For everyday tasks, the Desire 500 handles email, web browsing and social media admirably, provided you’re connected to good, fast WiFi.

Sound quality through the single external speaker is pretty good. It’s not as floor filling as the BoomSound speakers of other HTC phones, and turned all the way up there’s distortion on the bassier parts of sounds, but at this price point it’s an admirable effort.

Sound quality through headphones is better. Switching on the Beats Audio setting gives the whacks up the bass a fair bit, which is a good or a bad thing depending on the quality of your headphones. Cheaper headphones tend to rattle when you pump up the bass like this, but fancier cans seem to be able to handle it fine.

Cameras and video: Cam ci, Cam ça

The Desire 500’s camera prompted something of a Gallic shrug from the faces at Recombu Towers – it’s OK. Not terrible, but not amazing. 

Thanks to the power of the quad-core chip, you can quickly launch the camera app from the lock screen, perfect for quick-draw photo opportunities. You’ve got the option to adjust basic things like exposure, sharpness and white balance from a set of menus that are altogether too fiddly for their own good.

Alongside this there’s an HDR mode, sweep panorama and anti-shake. There’s also a smile detection mode for those without a steady trigger.

Ultimately, however you spin in, the pictures you take are going to end up with an awful lot of noise in most situations. The Desire 500 fares best in well-lit areas, although in locations where there’s too much light, details become lost. Shots taken at night are often noisy, a problem that affects most mid-range mobiles.

Unlike other phones from the HTC stable, you don’t get the trademark HTC Zoe mode. This is a cool burst mode-esque feature that shoots Vine-style mini videos and is on mid-range phones like the One Mini and the Desire 601. For some reason HTC Zoe hasn’t come to play on the Desire 500. 

You can record 720p HD video which looks passable on the Desire 500’s screen. As we mentioned earlier, the low resolution of the screen means you don’t get an accurate sense for how good your would-be viral hit will actually be ‘til you get it onto a desktop computer. It’s a common gripe we have here – phones betraying the power of their cameras with low-res screens. 

Finally, there’s the front 1.6-megapixel camera. This selfie snapper isn’t the best at producing vanity shots; as you can see from the results below it made this writer look like he’d spent far too long on the sunbed. 

For a £150-£200 phone you really shouldn’t expect to be able to take any Pulitzer winners. If your expectations don’t extend beyond taking some pretty average snaps then you should be happy. 

Multimedia and Storage: Just 1GB available – thank the gods for microSD

On paper the HTC Desire 500 gives you 4GB, but so much of that is taken up by system data that only around 1GB is actually available to you. Thankfully, the HTC gods have smiled on us and added a microSD slot – which can take cards of up to 64GB in size – so all’s not lost. 

The expandable memory means it can also moonlight as a portable MP3 player if you’re after a phone to listen to music on. 

That said, app data and other information which you can’t move over to the microSD memory card will soon fill the HTC Desire 500 up. 

If you’re intent on playing games and using apps you’re going to spend time having to juggling data and making sure you’ve got enough room for everything. 

Battery and connections: Even without 4G, battery life sucks

The battery drains like burlap sack with a hundred holes in it. We’re supposed to get 12 hours of talk time on 3G according to the official specs – you’ll be lucky to get anywhere near. After six hours of web browsing and checking emails, we found ourselves on the highway into the 20 per cent danger zone. 

Unless you work at a desk or anywhere you can easily leave your phone on charge this could be a problem. 

It’s worth mentioning that at least the Desire 500’s battery is removable, meaning you can pop in a spare, but in this day and age, you really shouldn’t have to. More to the point, do you know anybody who actually does this? 

The HTC Desire 500 isn’t a 4G phone, unlike the similarly priced Desire 601. This means that you’re missing out on the perks of 4G, faster web browsing and the ability to download apps and upload photos in seconds as opposed to minutes. The top download speed you could hope to get on the Desire 500 is a mere 7.2 Mbps – you can’t even access the fastest 3G speeds on this, let alone 4G.

Otherwise the connections of the Desire 500 are pretty standard for this day and age; WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) Bluetooth 4.0, micro USB for charging and data transfer and DLNA for streaming media to bigger displays. 

Verdict: We Desire to buy something else

So, should you buy an HTC Desire 500? If you’re of the TL;DR persuasion and we’ve just caught you at the end of this review, you’re probably going to want to know if it’s as good as other phones in the same price range. 

It’s actually a bit more expensive the Motorola Moto G, the benchmark by which all budget Android phones should be judged right now. Is it as good as the Moto G? For the most part, no. The screen resolution is way lower, which makes a real difference when it comes to browsing the web, playing video files and ogling your photos. 

The battery life of the Desire 500 is also not as good as the Moto G’s. In fact, the battery of the Desire 500 is pretty damn awful. However, the Desire 500’s skimpy internal memory can thankfully be expanded, giving it an edge over the Moto G, which comes in 8GB and 16GB flavours, but doesn’t give you the option to add more headroom if you need to. 

If you’re not fussed about browsing the web or anything other than texting, calling, snapping the odd pic and playing music the Desire 500 is adequate, but let’s face it, who buys a smartphone and doesn’t want to get online?

If you’re in the market for a phone like this, we recommend that you take a look at the slightly more expensive HTC Desire 601 or the slightly cheaper Moto G instead.



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