What does $179 buy you in a phone? The answer is apparently 4G, and now Telstra is joining in with the whole budget 4G movement, with a small, fast, and relatively cheap HTC handset.
A final Desire for the year, the 510 takes the Desire phones we’ve been seeing all year, applies some changes, and drops the cost for a different market.
Let’s start with the screen, and here you’ll find a 4.7 inch display running the resolution of 854×480, producing a pixel clarity of 208 pixels per inch, well below the 325 pixels per inch Apple has previously used in Retina screens, with the exception of the iPhone 6 Plus which goes beyond this.
Under the display, you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, 1GB RAM, and 8GB storage with room to move via a microSD slot that can be found when the back is removed.
Google’s Android 4.4.2 “KitKat” runs out of the box here, working with HTC Sense, making it a relatively up to date handset.
Connections are relatively standard for an entry level phone, with the exception of one, and while you won’t find 802.11ac network connectivity here, you will find the regular 802.11b/g/n WiFi, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and Category 4 4G LTE capable of download speeds up to 150Mbps and upload speeds as high as 50Mbps, network dependent, of course.
You’ll find two cameras here, with a 5 megapixel camera on the back without a flash, and a 0.3 megapixel camera up front capable of capturing in VGA’s 640×480 only. Both can capture video, and you’ll find support for Full HD’s 1920×1080 on the rear camera, with VGA possible from the front camera.
Few buttons can be found on the phone, especially now that HTC is more reliant on Android’s on-screen soft buttons which change with the phone depending on what is happening on screen. As such, you’ll find two hardware buttons here, with a power button up top and a volume rocker on the right edge. All remaining buttons are software based and found at the bottom of the screen when the phone is on, including back, home, and multitask.
Ports are equal to the physical buttons, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB port found at the very bottom.
The back of the phone can be removed, revealing the battery, the microSIM slot, and the microSD slot.
The battery on the HTC Desire 510 is rated at 2100mAh.
Design-wise, HTC isn’t treading any new ground here, with a slightly rubberised matte plastic smartphone with rounded edges that comes off looking like a slightly thicker version of HTC’s mid-range Desires — the 610 and 816 — or maybe a matte Nokia Lumia or Apple iPhone 5C.
It won’t win any design awards, but it is simple and unobtrusive, looking like the common definition of a smartphone with little more to it.
Over to performance, and for the most part, the Desire 510 is a surprising performer, relying on a newer variant of the Snapdragon chip the company also used in the HTC One Mini 2, which paired with a gigabyte of RAM actually handles itself quite well. In this phone, you’re seeing the Snapdragon 410, which apparently is just different enough to make a budget phone perform like a mid-ranger, and even boast a modicum of 64-bit processing, though we’re not seeing anything to really take advantage of that yet.
That said, you’re not going to use this phone for a ton of gaming, but it’s a relatively snappy machine, letting you run apps without many slowdowns, opening and closing with ease, and a very recent version of Android complete with that HTC Sense overlay from the other 2014 HTC phones that generally makes the entire thing feel relevant.
HTC’s Sense offers widgetised home screens, the Flipboard inspired Blinkfeed news and social reading screen, drop down menus, and a lock screen that can take you straight to the home, Blinkfeed screen, or the last app you were in.
Adding to that feeling is the 4G performance, which isn’t a statement you get to say often about phones in the budget category of the market.
Granted, this is fixed to the Telstra network, but thanks to the technology found in both the phone and the network, you’ll find speeds ranging between 20 and 50Mbps, with tests for this phone conducted in Sydney and support found on the phone for a Category 4 4G network, meaning speeds of up to 150Mbps down are, in fact, possible.
Even the battery helps the performance, with as much as two days possible from our tests, which involve talking on the phone, sending messages, emailing, web surfing, social networking, taking pictures, and listening to music. If you’re a power user, this is probably the wrong phone for you given its entry-level status, but you will find a full day is possible from even the most demanding budget buyer, while most people should see close to the full two days.
Not too shabby.
The 8GB of storage in the phone is welcome, too, but more so we’re delighted to see a microSD slot, because 8GB isn’t enough when movies, music, photos, apps, and games all take up a rather large amount of space. You won’t find a microSD card in the box, though, so don’t expect one.
What you will find in the box had us scratching our heads, not because it wasn’t welcome, but rather because it was unexpected.
You see HTC actually includes a microSIM converter in the box, which astounds and delights us. For those who don’t know, there are two types of SIM regularly being used out in the world today, with the microSIM replacing the standard miniSIM we’ve been using for years upon years, and the nanoSIM generally being the card style of choice for most handsets.
If this all sounds like gobbledygook, all you really need to know is that the majority of budget and mid-range handsets rely on microSIM (though all Samsung phones, even the flagship ones used it this year, too), while the majority of flagship phones this year used the smaller nanoSIM format. To make it even easier, the Apple iPhone 4, 4S, and recent Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 handsets all rely on the microSIM card, while the Apple iPhone 5, 5S, 6, 6 Plus, as well as Sony Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact, Motorola’s X 2013 and X 2014, and the HTC One M8 saw the smaller nanoSIM variety.
But the Desire 510 is budget device and so uses the microSIM variety, harking back to the good ol’ days when the Desire phones were pretty much reliant on the microSIM format.
That means you have to use a microSIM card, or not, as the case is with the Desire 510, which goes out of the way and includes a microSIM converter in the box, and is actually the first phone to do so.
This is one of those bonus items you never expect to find in a phone box, and is something reviewers generally buy quite a few of as they tend to break easily.
Even more interestingly, the converter HTC includes is a little different with a thin backing to it, making it less likely to break. We’re not sure how many phones will handle its level of tolerance for the plastic backing, but we’re delighted to tell you it certainly works with the nanoSIM we were using, meaning anyone with a recent SIM — micro or nano — will be able to use it in the Desire 510: if you have a nanoSIM, you use this converter, and if you have a microSIM, you merely slot it in the way you normally would (without a converter).
But not all is awesome on the phone, and you can’t really expect it to be the case when the thing caries a $179 price tag.
First there’s the screen which is so mediocre, it beggars belief that HTC thought it would be suitable in a phone.
Sure, it’s $179, so therefore it needs to be said that the Desire 510 gets classed in the same area as a budget phone, but it’s so cheap that there are so few angles on this device that don’t render washed out, we are genuinely shocked.
You don’t even have to worry about the pixel clarity, because with a resolution of 854×480 on a 4.7 inch display, the screen isn’t super sharp, with 208 pixels per inch. You will spot the pixels if you look, but with weak viewing angles, you won’t be searching for sharpness, because you’ll be trying to find a good angle to view the screen at.
If it’s on your desk and you look at it down, good luck seeing the screen. If the Desire 510 is ever so slightly out of a direct line of sight, you won’t see it either, and it becomes wash out central.
It’s a surprise, because decent screens aren’t a hard item to come by, and budget phones are allowed to use decent equipment, they really are.
Then there’s the camera which, once again, makes you wonder what HTC was thinking. Again, it’s a cheap device, but again, it’s pretty obvious how cheap it is when you see how old school a module HTC has thrown in the device.
On the one hand, there’s both a 5 megapixel rear camera and VGA (640×480) front camera, so you do have both types of cameras if you need them, something few budget phones tend to include in the pack.
But on the other hand, there’s no flash nor is there no auto focus, with a fixed focus that you can’t change at all, meaning you won’t be taking decent photos at all, and bringing up a question of how a 5 megapixel camera with no focus controls is a good inclusion.
We suspect the crowd screaming “wow, this isn’t much for a 4G phone!” will see the 5 megapixel camera and just go with that, assuming 5 megapixels isn’t far off from the 8 found in the iPhone 6, but really, there’s not much going on here with the camera.
There is no doubt that HTC’s Desire 510 offers up value, with a fast 4G connection at a budget price, but at what cost?
The screen on this handset is truly a shocker, and makes using the phone not so much of a joy or even a mediocre experience, but more something you’ll want to put away the first glance you get.
One of the reasons people want 4G is because the high speeds mean YouTube can be streamed without excess caching and blocky viewing, and Instagram and Facebook can download quickly, as well as other bandwidth intensive apps loading without problems.
But with such a disastrous screen, you don’t get the experience of looking at videos or pictures easily. Rather, you get a screen that makes you wonder what HTC was thinking believing this was acceptable.
At least the battery will keep you going for a full day, possibly even two, but there are phones out there offering better total experiences, and while the performance on the Desire 510 isn’t half bad, that screen is a shocker, and makes the whole thing hard to recommend.
UPDATE (December 20, 2014): We’re not quite sure what happened there, but we got the price severely wrong. What we originally said was $99 is in fact $179. Apologies, all. The review has been updated accordingly, as has one of the ratings.