There aren’t many Android smartphones with QWERTY keyboards, so when HTC announced the release of the Desire Z in India, it was received with much appreciation. There’s a bit of history involved, too. The first Android handset – the HTC G1 – had a QWERTY keypad as well, and this is the first Android smartphone with one that HTC have released, since then. Things have changed, obviously, and the Desire Z brings FroYo goodness, an S-LCD screen and a whole bunch of other features to the table.

The Desire Z's many faces

The Desire Z's many faces

Let’s see how it fares.

Design and Build Quality
The first thing you notice when you hold the HTC Desire Z in your hands is how heavy it is.  This is in no small part thanks to the slide-out QWERTY keypad. Also contributing to that is the metallic finish that the front of the phone, as well as the battery cover has.

The 3.7-inch S-LCD capacitive touchscreen, running at 480×848, adorns the front of the Desire Z and is encased by Gorilla Glass, below which the four standard Android touch-sensitive keys reside. An optical trackpad is also present. The left side of the phone houses the volume rocker and the microUSB port, whereas the right has the dedicated camera key and also the back panel release. The power button and the 3.5mm jack lie on the top of the phone. The back has the 5 megapixel camera, with the LED flash right beside the lens.

The slide-out function for the QWERTY keyboard is rather unconventional and funky. Once you start sliding out, the display gets raised onto a rubbery hinge and then drops down. It doesn’t lock down though, and the rubbery hinge is a bit of a concern. It looks like it could wear down over time, but it’s still a very cool touch.

Check out the hinge

Check out the hinge

Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t feature a front-facing camera. But that and the bulkiness are probably the only negatives in the design of the Desire Z. It looks and feels very well built. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to drop it on concrete, but it still instills a feeling of solidness.

Features
Interface
The Desire Z has Android 2.2 FroYo with the HTC Sense UI on top. We’ve said time and again that we feel Sense is probably the best custom Android UI we’ve seen so far, and we stick to that. I hardly ever encountered any lag during the entire time I used the phone, and while the 800MHz processor doesn’t exactly make operations silky smooth, it doesn’t make it sluggish either.

That is in large part due to the super sensitive display. Even the minutest touches were captured and responded to by the screen, which led to an excellent multi-touch experience. Add to that the optical trackpad for scrolling and selection, and the Desire Z provides a very wholesome package as a smartphone.

Care for some QWERTY?

Care for some QWERTY?

Slide the keyboard out though, and the problems start cropping up. The phone does switch automatically to landscape mode (which is a big plus), but the issues start from there. The four-row keyboard, though it feels nice while typing, has a pretty poor layout. The shift and the function keys really should’ve swapped positions and the lack of a D-pad is criminal. It forces you to use the optical trackpad, which on its own wouldn’t have been a bad thing if my big thumb wasn’t hitting the damn touch-sensitive menu button right above it (on the left in landscape mode) every single time. That also makes you type with one hand most of the time, which kinda defeats the purpose of a physical keyboard. The presence of a dedicated menu button and two customizable shortcut keys are probably the only saving grace.

Overall, the OS and the interface are super as a normal touchscreen handset, but the keyboard is very disappointing.

Media
The inbuilt music player is pretty nice, but fell short in the loudness department. Of course, I tried giving it some artificial gain using Mixzing (which also gave me the graphical EQ settings Android desperately needs natively), but just as I thought it was going smoothly, the sound started cracking.

Video playback is excellent, though. The Desire Z supports DivX and XviD, as well as H264 videos all the way up to 720p. High-profile 720p H264 videos start framing though, so maybe the processor is just a little under-powered to handle those. Otherwise, videos look and play great on the Desire Z.

Stereo FM with RDS is also present, and it sounds pretty nice and clear when outdoors.

Connectivity
The Desire Z has everything you’d expect from a phone in this price range. 3G (HSDPA at 14.4Mbps), EDGE/GPRS support, WiFi connectivity, 3G WiFi Hotspot capability and also DLNA for streaming media to other DLNA-enabled devices. Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP is present too.

Friend Stream is awesome

Friend Stream is awesome

There are built in apps for Facebook and Twitter, though they’re a bit redundant with Friend Stream being bundled. The widget displays updates from Facebook and Twitter simultaneously, and is a very convenient one. Obviously, the other standard Google connectivity apps like Gmail, Gtalk, Places, Google Maps, Navigation etc are all bundled too.

Misc. Features
A lot of mobile phone standards present are present, and so are extras like Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files. But what steals the spotlight here is the HTCSense.com integration, which gives you some pretty neat features when using a desktop internet browser. If you’ve misplaced your phone somewhere, you can send it a command to ring – even if it’s in silent mode – and if you’ve managed to lose it completely, you can track it using GPS, lock it down completely or even wipe out all personal data from the device remotely.

It also includes features for call and message forwarding, backing up of contacts and messages and even allows you to send messages from your phone using your desktop keyboard! All in all, HTCSense.com is a great addition and with all new HTC devices sporting it, it’s a nice experience enhancer.

Gotta love the metal

Gotta love the metal

Camera
The Desire Z has a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash. Like all HTC phones, it has quite a range of options for pictures including white balance, exposure, sharpness, saturation etc. It also has a bunch of post-processing options, which can lead to some pretty hilarious pictures.

The picture quality is very middling. It’s neither excellent nor horrible, and sits comfortably in the middle, probably tilting a little towards the good side because of the customization. Outdoor pictures are a little better than the ones taken indoors, but there isn't a very big difference.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The camera also supports 720p video recording which is pretty cool. I tried it out and didn’t experience any kind of framing in the video, which is fantastic.

Battery
The 1300mAh battery serves the Desire Z well, even if it is a bit out of its league when put under heavy load. Heavy usage saw the battery die out in about a day, but medium (with some music and YouTubing thrown in for good measure) and light usage saw it last two and two-and-a-half days respectively. It’s not exactly winning (see what I did there?), but it’s decent nonetheless.

Closing Comments
The Desire Z’s USP, the QWERTY keyboard, lets it down. Sure, it functions very well as a smartphone otherwise, but would you really tolerate the extra bulk if the very reason for it is inadequate? At Rs. 24,999 though, you’d expect more from your phone. If you really need that physical keyboard, I recommend waiting and watching how the upcoming Motorola Milestone 2 fares. If not, you’re better off looking at the much better touchscreen smartphones on offer in this price range.

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