Wednesday, September 4, 2013

HTC Desire 600 - dual SIM device review



The HTC Desire was HTC's well known flagship in 2010, since then their flagship brand was replaced by the One series, however due to its successful history the Desire name is still being used for the mid to low end range releases. If you want the short version of this review: The best thing about the Desire 600 is the build quality, it's a mid-range premium phone.

A Mid-Range Premium

Shortly after the release of the One, HTC announced the Desire 600 dual sim with many of its big brother's features - mainly HTC Sense 5, Blinkfeed and Boomsound. It also includes Video Highlights, but omits the Infra Red blaster and Ultrapixel sensor (2.0µm). Instead, it's replaced with a standard 8MP BSI camera sensor (1.4µm) and the first version of the HTC ImageChip - this also means that the Zoe features are lost in the process. It joins the fleet of other HTC dual sim specialists like last year's Desire SV and One dual sim (limited to specific markets).

Design & build quality

Being mid-range doesn't prevent it from carrying HTC's renowned build quality and in fact the device has some impressive highlights: the screen is protected by a robust metallic frame which also houses the dual speaker grilles, this in turn is surrounded by a plastic bezel with a very convincing brushed metallic finish.

The black version is full black contrasted with a glossy speaker frame, matte brushed bezel and a back cover with a matte grained finish which does a very good job of resisting fingerprints. Unfortunately the back's finish feels slightly irritating to the touch and fails to provide maximum grip.

The white version on other hand has a more daring and different finish, it has the speakers' frame coated in red, the brushed bezel painted in silver and smooth glossy white plastic for the back cover. 

The plastic back cover is removable: it's pretty solid but as is typical with such removable covers, it can creak under pressureBeneath the cover cover lie two microSIM slots and a microSD slot as well as a replaceable 1860mAh battery - like everything HTC the interior has surprisingly fine fit and polish.

The camera lens and LED flash are covered by a protective glass bevelled inwards which should prevent it from collecting scratches

The buttons have a nice, solid feel as well. The power button is at top right; volume rocker on the right hand side; and the capacitive buttons are similar to the One, with 'back' on the left, 'home' on the right and the HTC logo in between. The rest is taken care of with gestures. Finally a 3.5mm audio jack is located at top left, and the micro-USB port is on the bottom.

All in all this is a very well built device with a sharp look (especially the black version). The slim tapered edge is reminiscent of the black HTC 8x and compared to competitors' mid-range devices, the Desire 600 build quality and design are miles ahead.


Boomsound versus Boomsound

The Desires 600 sports the HTC One's star feature, dual frontal stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers. This is "only" a mid range phone so you might expect less quality, compared with its big brother: but far from it! Compared to the One flagship it's just a notch lower in loudness and noticeabley less bass. Curiously while the One sounds significantly better with beats audio, the Desire 600 actually sounds better once the default beats enhancements are disabled: leaving it enabled seems to result in a more hollow sound. With this said, the quality is still excellent for its range, beating flagship devices from opposing brands.

If you would like to know more about the HTC One's phenomenal sound quality be sure to check our post: HTC One review - part 2: Hardware

Display, 4.5" Super LCD2 at 245ppi

The screen is another quality seeker on the Desire 600: despite a qHD resolution (960x540), it's running on a 4.5" panel which results in a respectable 245ppi pixel density. The display still inherits all the other Super LCD2 merits from last year's flagship the One X (720p, 312ppi) which  was lauded for its screen quality. Thanks to optical lamination it has excellent view angles and deeper blacks; there is no gap between the glass and LCD itself which makes the screen appear afloat. While not as sharp, colorful or contrasted as the One X, the screen is still significantly better than the Pentile Amoled qHD screen on last year's premium One S.



Camera, 8MP with last year's killer features

Instead of the ultrapixel (a low-light loving sensor with 2.0µm pixel size), the Desire 600 uses a standard wide angle 8MP BSI sensor with 1.4µm pixel size, but keeps the same f2.0 aperture and 28mm unique wide angle lens as the flagship. It also includes the older HTC ImageChip from last year's flagships which gives us powers like HDR, burst shooting and VideoPic (take still shots during video capture) as well as super fast shutter/focus, slow motion video and flash metering: however it loses all the fancy Zoe features, which are enabled by a newer ImageChip 2 on the HTC One. Video recording maxes out at 720p; most likely due to the lesser capabilities of the Snapdragon 200 SOC.

Daylight pictures are of good quality but slightly hurt by HTC's default aggressive digital sharpness: thankfully you can always reduce sharpness using the Image Adjustments menu in the camera app. In terms of low light it's perfectly usable when scaled down, especially indoor shots but 1:1 detail gets seriously degraded due to the smaller pixel size. Unfortunately HDR; which was flawless on last year's HTC One X; fails to do a good daylight job here (curiously it's the same issue as on the HTC One). On the other hand there is a great "HDR low light" feature in Sense 5: when used alongside the LED flash, the camera snaps two shots - one with flash and another without for mixed exposure, it gives far superior results to the washed out colors of standard LED flash photography. 

HTC Sense 5 in duality 

The tested device was preloaded with 1.17.707.3 firmware (Android 4.1.2) & HTC Sense 5.0. This is the same well praised UI from the full fledged HTC One; it is a known quantity by now so let's focus on the advertised features of the Desire 600, BlinkFeed, Video Highlights and dual SIM convenience.

Blinkfeed is HTC's version of Flipboard, it compiles news and posts from various sources (including your social media) in a nice scrolling layout embedded as the main home screen. You can't disable Blinkfeed - but you can set another home screen as your main one, and Blinkfeed will get moved to the right: you can also disable it further by removing newsfeed sources. 

Video Highlights is a feature which automatically compiles a video reel from your photos and videos in your phone's gallery. This works based on an event's time and location (you need to select your gallery content to be sorted by events). You can choose different preset themes for different effects and music. This is all done in real time and it works surprisingly well considering the modest Snapdragon 200 SoC in this phone. If you like the end results you can then save it as an H264 MP4 video to keep or share.

The two Sense 5 features which are missing compared to the HTC One are Sense TV and HTC Zoe, which rely on the One's hardware (IR blaster and ImageChip2).


The way the dual-SIM functionality works is interesting; Sense 5 was revised with this in mind. For example, you can choose Slot 1 or Slot 2 straight from the dialler - and an improvement over the Desire SV is that you can now receive notifications about two calls at the same time... you can even answer both calls and the first one will be placed on Hold. Throughout the UI there are other optimisations to help you use both numbers without mix-ups.

One thing to keep in mind about a device in this range: while it will surely receive maintenance updates from HTC, unlike the high end phones don't expect a long term commitment regarding Android (or maybe even Sense) updates.

In terms of connectivity, only one of the two microSIM slots supports 3G/3.5G (HSPA) - the other only supports 2G/2.5G (Edge). The Desire 600 also includes GPS/GLONASS, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 with APTX support.

Performance, a slow quad core 

Here we arrive at my main niggle with this device: while it is mid-range it's still not an entry level device - and priced at around 400$ we should expect a decent performer. Unfortunately this 1.2ghz Snapdragon 200 SoC variety includes quad A5 cores and an Adreno 203 GPU along with a 1GB of DDR2 RAM. The quad will certainly assist in multitasking preventing long waits or hangs (which means it does well in certain benchmarks) but in terms of raw processing power the A5 is merely adequate and the entry level GPU is overstretched by the qHD resolution. This is why the Desire 600's UI is nowhere near as snappy or smooth as the HTC One Mini. You'll find that you can improve the smoothness of the UI by enabling "Force GPU" and "Disable HW overlays" from the hidden developers options. 

For those interested here are some benchmarks and system details:




Gaming, an entry level GPU

Given the affordable price, excellent stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers and a good quality screen, you can enjoy casual gaming on this device and lighter games. Temple Run 2 ran extremely smoothly in medium graphics mode (laggy if raised to high): but heavier 3D games like Fast & Furious 6 had most graphics intact, yet with a very poor frame rate. Ripetide GP2 ran with most fancy graphics enabled but at a poor (unplayable) frame rate: however reducing the game resolution or graphics effects from the in-game settings did improve things. 

In order to assess the GPU let's check the following GFXBench comparative, this is run onscreen since it reflects actual 3D gaming at the device's native screen resolution:

HTC One, T-Rex HD 15fps, Egypt HD 40fps (onscreen FHD - Adreno 320)
HTC One S, T-Rex HD 11.3fps, Egypt HD 28.4fps (onscreen qHD - Adreno 225)
HTC One Mini, T-Rex HD 9.3fps, Egypt HD 24.2fps (onscreen HD - Adreno 305)
HTC Sensation XE, T-Rex HD 5.9fps, Egypt HD 16.3fps (onscreen qHD - Adreno 220)
HTC One X, T-Rex HD 5.5fps, Egypt HD 15fps (onscreen HD - Tegra 3)
HTC Desire 500, T-Rex HD 4.7fps, Egypt HD 11.9fps (onscreen WVGA - Adreno 203)
HTC Desire 600, T-Rex HD 4.0fps, Egypt HD 10fps (onscreen qHD - Adreno 203)
HTC Sensation XL, T-Rex HD 3.1fps, Egypt HD fail (onscreen WVGA - Adreno 205)
HTC Explorer, T-Rex HD 0.9fps, Egypt HD 3.5fps (onscreen HVGA - Adreno 200)

You can clearly see the Desire 600 is around the bottom of the list: its modest GPU is over stretched by the qHD resolution. Adreno 203 seems to have been updated over the old Adreno 205, it fares better on the WVGA Desire 500, but it's nowhere near as fast as the Adreno 305 on the HTC One Mini or Galaxy S4 Mini/Duos - and the HTC One's graphics power seems like a distant dream.

Battery life

The included 1860mAh battery sounds good on paper but in practice with dual SIMs and data connections fully engaged you will be lucky if it lasts you the full day. Of course your mileage will vary but connectivity is the biggest drainer here - use with care.

Conclusion

The most impressive aspects of the HTC Desire 600 are design; build quality; sound and screen quality. There is no doubt HTC can design and build phones better than most - even if mid-range, even if plastic. Couple that with an impressive list of features thanks to HTC Sense 5, plus some unique hardware, and you have a really nice, slimmed down, affordable HTC One experience with an added dual SIM functionality: a "reason to buy" for many.

I can not but wish it had the Snapdragon 400 with dual Krait cores and Adreno 305 instead of the average SoC it's carrying, quad core or otherwise, it would have been a killer mid-ranger. Surely this must be the reason why HTC just announced the Desire 601 with Snapdragon 400 (and there are rumors of a dual sim variety).

Alternatively if you are around this budget and dual sims are not required, you can simply buy last year's flagship the HTC One X (or One X+) and update it to Sense 5: you would have an acclaimed smartphone with a vastly superior speed, screen and camera.

Hardware Summary:

+ Excellent build quality and design for the price
+ Excellent stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers
+ Good quality screen with excellent view angles
+ Dual SIM convenience with good UI integration
+ Impressive automatically generated Video Highlights in the gallery
+ Speedy camera thanks to HTC ImageChip

- Low End Snapdragon 200 SOC despite a quad core CPU
- Struggling Adreno 203 GPU for qHD resolution, limited gaming
- Slippery back cover

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Official HTC Desire 600 dual sim Specifications:

SIZE: 134.8 x 67 x 9.26mm
WEIGHT: 130g
DISPLAY: 4.5" qHD Super LCD2

CPU SPEED
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 200, quad-core, 1.2GHz
PLATFORM
  • Android™ with HTC Sense™
  • HTC BlinkFeed™
ROM/RAM MEMORY
  • Total storage:  8GB, (available capacity varies)
  • Expansion card slot supports microSD™ for up to 64GB additional storage (card not included)
  • RAM: 1GB DDR2
NETWORK
  • 2G/ 2.5G - GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 900/1800/1900 MHz
  • 3G/ 3.5G - UMTS/ HSPA: 900/2100 MHz with HSDPA up to 7.2 Mbps
  • Dual SIM (microSIM) with ‘dual active’ support
SENSORS
  • Accelerometer
  • Proximity sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
CONNECTIVITY
  • 3.5 mm stereo audio jack
  • NFC capable
  • Bluetooth® 4.0 with aptX™ enabled
  • Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • DLNA® for wirelessly streaming media from the phone to a compatible TV or computer
  • HTC Connect
SOUND ENHANCEMENT
  • HTC BoomSound™
  • Dual frontal stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers
  • Studio-quality sound with Beats Audio™
CAMERA
  • 8 MP camera with auto focus, LED flash
  • BSI sensor, Sensor size 1/3.2"
  • Dedicated HTC ImageChip
  • F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
  • Smart Flash: Five levels of flash automatically set by distance to subject
  • Front Camera: 1.6 MP with BSI sensor
  • 720p video recording
  • Gallery with Video Highlights and HTC Share
  • Continuous shooting and VideoPic
  • Slow motion video recording with variable speed playback
MULTIMEDIA
  • Audio supported formats:
  • Playback: .aac, .amr, .ogg, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .wav, .wma
  • Recording: .aa
  • Video supported formats:
  • Playback: .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .wmv (Windows Media Video 9), .avi (MP4 ASP and MP3) Recording: .mp4
LOCATION
  • GPS/AGPS+GLONASS (for Russia & EU)
  • GPS/AGPS (for Asia & others)
BATTERY
  • Removable rechargeable Li-polymer battery
  • Capacity: 1860 mAh
  • Talk time: Up to 11.1 hours for WCDMA Up to 11.4 hours for GSM
  • Standby timev:  Up to 577 hours for WCDMA Up to 539 hours for GSM