HTC Desire 500 review: Burning like fire?

Reviews Paul Briden 18:38, 22 Nov 2013

HTC's making a bid for the affordable Android space with the HTC Desire 500. Is it going to pay off?

Typical Price: 
Reasonable performance, Decent screen, Very good camera for the price
Poor battery life, Far too little storage
Not a bad attempt by HTC but the appallingly low onboard storage kills it. Other handsets in this price point offer better value

While the limelight of the mobile tech industry remains the exclusive territory of brawny flagship devices, as Android’s ever-growing market share expands off the back of more affordable smartphones manufacturers are becoming more interested in offering appealing handsets at lower price points.

HTC’s Desire 500 is one such phone, with a SIM-free RRP of £199. That is an appealingly low price tag, but does the device offer good value for money? Let’s find out.

HTC Desire 500 review: Design and build

Life might not exactly be peachy for HTC right now but at least the phone-maker can stand up and say it’s still one of the better manufacturers around when it comes to making phones which actually look good. The HTC Desire 500 may be at the cheaper end of the smartphone spectrum but this doesn’t mean that less effort has been made in the design department.

The polycarbonate outer shell has a nice solid feel without wobble or squeakiness during handling, it's also lightweight and well balanced. The Desire 500 sports a gloss finish and although it is available in black, as you can see from the photos, Know Your Mobile’s review unit is one of the two-tone white variants, in this case with a blue metallic surround which looks rather striking. This colouration extends to the camera port and logos on the back panel.

The surround itself, as well as looking jaunty, houses various ports and buttons, but one of the coolest design features appears in a surprising place: the volume rocker. The humble volume rocker is not usually an area of phone design which gets that much love, but here it’s the focus of attention.

That colourful surround’s only break is where it meets at the volume rocker, in the usual place, about a quarter of the way down the right-hand side of the phone. Here you’ve got two arrow-shaped ends of the surround facing each other, and in fact each arrow is one of the volume keys. The keys fit flush to the phone and have a really nice and solid operation.

While the volume rocker scores points, the power key sadly loses them again. It’s not in a particularly easy-to-use location for either hand, being seated along the top edge, and also fits flush – but here this is detrimental as it further compromises ease of use.

I also can’t help but be frustrated by HTC’s continual use of two capacitive control keys at the bottom of the phone. Capacitive is fine, of course, but as a long-term Android user I really feel the absence of that third button.

All that’s really left to say of the Desire 500’s exterior is that it’s rather cool the way the display seems to perch atop the chassis and it features a quirky lip above the screen with a punched speaker grille.

The back panel is removable and inside you’ll find SIM and microSD card slots as well as a removable battery pack.

HTC Desire 500 review: Display

Display is usually a strong suit for HTC and the Desire 500’s touchscreen appears a reasonable offering on the whole.  It’s a 4.3-inch TFT with an 800x480 pixel resolution at 217 pixels-per-inch (ppi).

The colour, brightness, contrast and clarity are all good, very good, in fact, but it does begin to lose its edge compared to other devices.

Holding the Desire 500 side-by-side with HTC’s much more expensive One Mini shows it’s not far behind in terms of colour, brightness and contrast, but colours are noticeably less vivid and sharpness on the One Mini is much better.There is some discernible fuzziness on the Desire 500, however, and alongside the cheaper Motorola Moto G the Desire 500 looks a good deal duller and a bit blurrier.

Still, from a practical point of view it’s a capable little screen with good viewing angles and it’s quite usable outside in brighter conditions.

HTC Desire 500 review: Storage, connectivity and web

The Desire 500 loses points big time when it comes to storage. It has a paltry 4GB onboard, but by the time you take Android Jelly Bean and HTC Sense 5 into account, as well as some added apps, you’re left with around 2GB to play with.

Naturally, this fills up quickly, so it’s just as well that there’s a microSD slot for cards up to 64GB, otherwise music, photo and film enthusiasts would be royally screwed. Gamers may remain in this unfortunate state, however, as Android has restrictions in place on adding games to external storage.

I managed to cram Muffin Knight onto the onboard space but anything bigger such as Dead Trigger or Real Racing simply isn’t going to fit and good luck if you want more than a handful of games and/or apps installed at once.

Without a microSD card onboard I couldn’t even capture screenshots for this review, which is pretty atrocious really.

Most damning of all is when you once again compare the Desire 500’s storage to similarly priced competitors. Motorola’s Moto G is actually cheaper and offers more space, either 8GB or 16GB and with much less bloatware to eat into it.

Connectivity wise the Desire 500 is pretty standard stuff. Being a cheaper model it has no 4G, which is fine as those looking for a budget solution are unlikely to want costly 4G contracts anyway when 3G will serve perfectly well.

For 3G is supports HSDPA/HSUPA on 900 and 2100 bands, which basically means you’ll be able to get up to HSPA+ 3G quite reliably. There’s also Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Hotspot and DLNA, plus Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB and GPS.

For web you’ve got Google’s Chrome browser or HTC’s built-in alternative. The browsing experience on the Desire 500 is not great, however, because while the handset can maintain a connection to networks quite well it doesn’t seem to hook up particularly fast. This also has a noticable effect on web-dependent apps such as Facebook and Tumblr.

This real-world experience is reflected in the benchmarks too. In Sunspider, Chrome showed one of the slower scores I’ve seen in recent months at 1708 milliseconds (ms) and on one occasion around 2020ms.

Vellamo’s HTML test was a bit kinder ranking it with a score of 1547, higher than the old model Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 on Android 4.3, but still quite far down the list.

HTC Desire 500 review: Camera

HTC has proved once again why having an f/2.0 aperture and back-illuminated sensor is, when done right, a good thing.

This may not be a fancy pants Ultrapixel configuration but the 8-megapixel sensor with 720p video capture performs quite well on the whole with better-than average low-light performance, good colour, contrast and dynamic range, and reasonable levels of sharpness and clarity.

It is not earth shattering, by any means, and there is some discernible noise, but for a handset at this price point it is much better than expected and really quite adept on the whole.

Stills and video both look good here, and for most users sharing snaps on social media it should fit the bill quite happily.

HTC Desire 500 review: Software

The Desire 500 runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with HTC’s custom Sense 5 UI layered on top. This is pretty much everything we’ve seen before and it’s a very different affair from stock Android.

Fonts and icons have been changed and now present you with a contrasting white on grey palette perforated by a few splashes of blue and green in places, it’s quite clean and tidy, but a bit monochromatic apart from your choice of brightly coloured wallpaper to pep things up a bit.

The drop-down notifications menu lacks a quick settings suite as found on the One line as this isn’t at the 4.2 Jelly Bean level just yet.

The full settings menu differs tremendously from stock Android with a bright white background and separate settings categories. Changing the wallpaper happens here under the Personalisation tab.

One of the more prominent screens in Sense 5 is BlinkFeed, this is HTC’s aggregation feed of social networking, photos and news which is your homescreen by default. You can switch the default homescreen, however, and perform a variety of other functions with a pinch gesture or long press on the homescreenUnlike the newer Sense 5.5 you can't switch Blinkfeed off.

The customisation menu appears showing homescreen preview panels in the top third of the display and your suite of apps or widgets in the lower two-thirds, here you can also add new homescreen panels or remove existing ones.

The app drawer operates in much the same way as stock Android, though it looks very different and features a permanent clock widget at the top. Dragging the app list all the way to the top brings up a set of filter and search tools.

Lastly, the multitasking carousel is accessed via a double tap of the home key. It operates similarly to stock Android with swiping of active app windows closing them or a tap opening them in full screen mode, but the visual style abandons the carousel and favours a grid of tiles.

Generally speaking I would describe Sense 5 as being very easy to use and there’s no doubt it has a striking visual design. Much of Google’s stock functionality comes though despite HTC’s tweaking under the hood. Naturally it still has access to over 700,000 apps on Google Play, as well as a wealth of film, book, magazine and music content and app-based streaming services.

Google Now is also present and correct as a useful digital assistant on your daily commute, for weather reports and so forth. HTC includes a number of bonus apps, with a suite of productivity tools such as Polaris Office, a PDF viewer, Dropbox (25GB) and a notes app. There’s also a car mode app and a kid mode app.

HTC Desire 500 review: Hardware and performance

Even with a lower-end handset such as this, Qualcomm chips are still the name of the game for the current Android crop. This time it's a chip the company has tailored specifically for more affordable devices, the quad-core Snapdragon 200.

It’s based on older ARM Cortex-A5 architecture, clocked at 1.2GHz and comes with the use of 1GB of RAM plus an Adreno 203 graphics processing unit (GPU). General operation is fairly smooth, impressively so, as you skip between menu screens and multitask with only the most minimal of blips.

Likewise, more intensive tasks such as streaming video and gaming are also generally quite good, though prone to the occasional jitter. I played Muffin Knight and found there was some slight snagging but on the whole it was pretty snappy.

In short, while you can’t expect flawless performance for the majority of your interaction with the phone, it should be relatively satisfying overall. It’s difficult to make a call on more intensive games and apps such as Dead Trigger, because the phone simply doesn’t have room to install them.

For the benchmarks, Antutu gave it a score of 11547, below HTC’s older flagship, the One X. Vellamo ranked it similarly low on the chart with a score of 338, while on Quadrant it wasn’t too far behind the One X with a score of 4375.

On the hardware front, it’s worth pointing out just how ridiculously powerful and clear HTC’s speakers are on the Desire 500.

It’s just as booming as other Beats Audio equipped offerings from the HTC in its premium device range and is sure to shake the whole household awake when your alarm goes off, but makes a neat little music and media player or speakerphone when called upon to do so.

HTC Desire 500 review: Battery

Battery life is often lacklustre on higher end handsets so it’s perhaps not surprising that the HTC Desire 500 doesn’t fare too well here. It features a 1,800mAh removable battery pack, which means you can carry a spare for emergencies should you wish.

In the Django Test (watching the entirety of Django Unchained’s 2.45 hour runtime from 100% on full brightness and with Wi-Fi and mobile data toggled on), the Desire 500 had 32% charge remaining by the end of the film.

That means you’ll probably get similarly high levels of drain watching two regular length films back-to-back, or gaming over the same period.

Compared to other members of team KYM, my typical daily usage isn’t that intensive and mainly involves social networking, messaging, browsing and the occasional call. I tend to put handsets thourgh a heavier period of use first thing in the morning, but moderate use in the day and at night. I also threw in a spot of gaming on this occasion for good measure with the aforementioned Muffin Knight.

With power saver turned off, full brightness and both Wi-Fi and mobile data I managed to get home at the end of the day with 40% charge remaining. But, it definitely needed to go on charge again by bedtime and throughout my time with the phone there were plenty of occasions where it needed a charge as soon as I got in the house after a normal day.

Oddly, switching power saving mode on and auto-brightness did little to improve this and I ended the working day at about 42%.

HTC Desire 500 review: Conclusion

Overall I’m quite disappointed by the HTC Desire 500.

It looks and feels like a great little phone, but it’s impossible to view it in isolation and on the current market there are choices which present better value for money at (and in fact below) this price point.

This comes down to a few decisions on HTC’s part which seem more than a little misguided. For example, we have a really rather good camera but such a miniscule (almost unusable) amount of storage space, and I’m sure the majority of potential buyers would have preferred it the other way around.

It really boils down to what you get for your money.

Motorola just announced the Moto G, which may have an inferior camera, but it sports a larger battery pack, a faster processor, a larger, sharper and brighter screen, and stock Android.

Add to this the fact it starts at £135 for the 8GB version (double the Desire 500’s starting figure) or £159 for the 16GB compared to £199 for the 4GB Desire 500 and HTC’s proposition is looking very, very shaky. Then there’s the fact that on the Desire 500 you can only use about 2GB of the built-in space, while much more room is made available on the Moto G’s bigger memory to begin with.

Note that these are the official RRPs, some stores and networks will be offering lower prices too.

Long story short? If HTC took this back and stuffed a truck-load more storage inside, with the better camera and microSD I think it could get away with offering it at the current RRP.

The alternative is to slash the price considerably. Both would be better.

As the situation stands I can’t really recommend the HTC Desire 500.

READ NEXT: Nexus 4 review


Length 131.8mm
Width 66.9mm
Thickness 9.9mm
Weight 123g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 4.3-inches
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £199
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 8-megapixel
Video Resolution 720p
Flash LED
Zoom Digital
Music Formats MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV/FLAC
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Yes
Radio Yes
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