At 14mm deep, the Desire Z is a chunky handset, compared to the Desire HD’s 11.8mm, although comparative to the 13.7mm of Motorola’s excellent Milestone 2, which also has a pull-out QWERTY. Weighing 180g, it’s quite heavy, but is still slim enough to fit into a pocket.
The screen is surrounded by a aluminium trim, matched by an aluminium battery cover, elsewhere there’s a darker grey, rubberized coating on the handset. It feels solid and well built, but again lacks the wow factor of the HTC Legend.
In common with other Android handsets, you get Home, Menu, Back and Search touch controls along the bottom of the screen, although the strip the controls are on is a little too slim if you’ve got large fingers.
There’s also a square touch pad, which functions a bit like a joypad; move your finger left and right to scroll through the homescreens, it works in both orientations, although there’s quite a distinct movement to master. Elsewhere there’s a 3.5mm jack, microSD port and a microSD slot alongside 1.5GB storage.
HTC Desire Z: Keyboard and email
However good virtual keyboards have become - and HTC has developed some of the best we’ve seen on smartphones - for many people a solid keyboard is essential, especially if you type lots of text messages and emails.
The keyboard slides out vertically using a unique ‘Z’ hinge, referring to the shape of the hinge used between the keyboard and the top section with the screen. After initially trying out the hinge in September we were a little worried about its durability, but over the days we’ve been using it, it feels strong, although we'd still treat it with care. There’s little danger of the screen accidentally sliding open like with some smartphones.
Spread over four lines, the QWERTY has dedicated full stop and comma buttons easily reached using your thumbs, while numbers are accessed by holding the FN key down. Keys are small, but with ample space between each one, while the soft rubber coating ensures comfort even for long emails. Two shortcut keys located on the bottom right can be used to assign Apps and Shortcuts
The Desire Z is clearly designed for regular emailers. Sync multiple email accounts including Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo as well as Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Choose to display selected or all accounts, each distinguishable using different coloured tabs.
HTC Desire Z: Interface
Like the Desire HD, the Desire Z is equipped with HTC Sense. Customise five homescreens with apps and widgets, which you can organise into folders.
HTC Sense syncs social networking accounts like Flickr, Facebook and Twitter accounts, while Favourite contacts are now displayed alongside status updates. As well as syncing your contacts with each account and your phonebook, it automatically links connections, although on occasion you’ll need to do this manually.
The new Notification bar is a welcome addition, letting you quickly swap between icons of previous applications, alongside connection information, new messages and email.
Running an 800Mhz processor, the Desire Z never feels slow, although flicking through homescreens it's perhaps not as quick as the Desire HD, but this is a very minor gripe.
HTC Desire Z: Screen and browser
The 3.7-inch screen has a resolution of 480x800, the same as the Desire and Desire HD, although it’s bright and text is sharp and a cut above most handsets, it doesn’t come close to the dazzling whites and deep blacks you’d get with the Apple iPhone 4 or AMOLED Samsung Galaxy S. Web pages in particular have a yellowish tint that you only notice when you put the Desire Z next to an iPhone. However, this is probably a harsh comparison, because so few phones have Retina displays or AMOLED screens.
Although not as generous as the Desire HD’s screen, it’s still a good size for video. HD clips look fantastic, as sharp and detailed as you’d expect. You Tube fares less well, it’s a little soft, but fine for casual use. Support for Flash 10.1 lets you playback a host of videos, including those on T3.com Elsewhere, when browsing pinch to zoom works very well and text re-wraps exceptionally quickly.
HTC Desire Z: Camera and video
The Desire Z is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera, which despite having less pixels than the Desire HD’s 8-megapixels, will comfortably produce 13x10-inch prints
Photo enthusiasts will appreciate a solid shutter, alongside a virtual one. Autofocus is quick (and you can tap to focus) but there’s slight lag between depressing the shutter and the photo being taken, it’s not terrible by any means, but certainly not fantastic for fast-moving action.
Photos are fine, without being fantastic. Colors are bright, detail is sharp, especially close-ups, you can make tweaks to the sharpness, contrast, exposure and saturation. Like the Desire HD we found Auto white balance produces the most accurate results, Daylight looks unnatural. Be careful using the ISO settings, noise is really visible around ISO 400 and ISO 800 is practically unusable. The single - instead of dual - flash is surprisingly powerful, so the Desire Z will easily illuminate a small room.
720p footage isn’t fantastic. Although it’s smooth and bright, detail seems soft and lacking definition, for example in one test shot leaves on a tree appear so soft they tend to blur into each other and in another you can’t see the fine detail on brickwork on a house. So if 720p video is your forte, we’d suggest the iPhone 4 or Samsung Galaxy S instead.
Like the Desire HD there’s no HDMI, instead you can transfer files using DLNA.
HTC Desire Z: HTC Sense and conclusion
Elsewhere Fast Boot launches the phone within seconds. Battery life isn’t as disappointing as the Desire HD, but you’ll still need to charge it every evening.
You can read more about HTC Sense.com in our HTC Desire HD review. It's an online portal where you can download additional content, such as apps, wall paper and music, as well as wiping your phone remotely or making it ring, even when it’s turned off (although we’ve yet to get this working with the Desire Z or Desire HD). It’s probably best viewed as a nice extra rather than essential feature.
Anyone who’s struggled with a virtual keyboard will appreciate the Desire Z, the QWERTY keyboard is excellent and although the handset is thicker than rivals, it’s doesn’t add that much bulk. HTC Sense is excellent as always, it’s intuitive and offers lots of customisation.
OK, the screen is smaller than the Desire HD, but we don’t think that’s a big deal browsing and HD movie playback are both excellent, it not market leading. While we welcome the HD 720p movie mode, it's not the best we've seen, but it's fine for casual use. Plus, it’s highly unlikely you’d buy the Desire Z for it’s multimedia capabilities, it’s primarily an emailing and messaging phone, and an excellent one at that.
HTC Desire Z release date: out now
HTC Desire Z price: Free on contracts from £35, around £430 sim free