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HTC Desire 530 review: HTC’s Moto G rival falls flat

Alphr logo Alphr 11-03-2016 Alan Martin

Five years ago, the HTC Desire was among the top dogs in the world of Android smartphones. In 2012, however, HTC’s One brand of phones took over at the top of the company’s range, and while the Desire name lived on it did so in a mid-range capacity.

The HTC Desire 530 takes the series even lower, a budget handset costing £120 that competes at the bottom end of the smartphone market with the Moto Es, Honor 4Xs and Wileyfox Swifts of this world. Does the Desire’s impressive heritage shine through in this budget incarnation?

HTC Desire 530: Design

When it comes to design and appearance, the HTC Desire 530 is an HTC product through and through. There’s no mistaking this handset for the iPhone 6s, as with the HTC A9, and a number of clear design cues that have been part of HTC’s DNA since the launch of the HTC One remain.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The corners are gently curved, the screen is bookended by two black bars, one bearing the HTC logo, and flanking these at each end of the phone is a funky-looking seven-pinhole speaker grille. The bezel is about as thick as it is on the ageing HTC One m8, measuring a couple of millimetres on either side, but this isn’t obvious until the screen is switched on.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The back is smooth plastic, and our model arrived in plain black, a far cry from the colourful, dotty designs showcased at MWC. As our colleagues at Expert Reviews mention in their review, the Taiwanese manufacturer made a big thing of its ability to apply colours to the plastic back at varying degrees of pressure for an attractive paint-speckled effect, so it’s baffling we were sent the plain grey-and-black one to look at.

The only splash of colour is the phone’s bright orange plastic power button, but despite that mild disappointment, the HTC Desire 530 is a reasonably attractive handset.

HTC Desire 530: Screen

For the price, the screen is a capable performer. It’s a 5in, 720p display, and while it won’t challenge the top dogs in terms of quality, for a £120 smartphone it does well enough. It reaches a not-particularly-bright 318.67cd/m2, but the all-important sRGB coverage hits a decent 87.6%, while contrast reaches a respectable 1,029:1. Those numbers are pretty good considering the price.

How good, though? Well, let’s compare it with its main rivals in the price bracket:

HTC Desire 530

Honor 4X

Moto G

Moto E

Wileyfox Swift

Brightness

319cd/m2

581cd/m2

339cd/m2

362cd/m2

552cd/m2

sRGB gamut

87.6%

79.6%

85.4%

95.2%

79.2%

Contrast

1,029:1

1,240:1

1,061:1

1,010:1

961:1

So next to its peers, it’s a bit dimmer, with above average colour performance and good contrast. Not a bad start.

HTC Desire 530: Performance

Performance, however, is where things begin to slide, and they slide fast. The HTC Desire 530 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor running at 1.1GHz with 1.5GB of RAM. That’s the older version of the processor in the Microsoft Lumia 650, which reviews editor Jonathan Bray described as “horribly underpowered”.

Now, I’ve reviewed and used enough phones to know that you typically get a honeymoon period off the back of a fresh install, where everything is buttery smooth, no matter how good the internals.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Not so with the HTC Desire 530; it feels laggy straight out of the box. Swapping between menus, typing in URLs – everything is affected, and juddering and jarring is not a rare experience. It’s a frustrating handset to use.

This is confirmed by the benchmark tests we put it through. The Geekbench 3 single-core test brought back an incredibly disappointing score of 300, and a multicore score that wasn’t that much better at 989.

The latter is the lowest score I’ve seen in that particular test; in fact, only one other handset has failed to break the four-figure barrier in Geekbench’s multicore test in recent memory: the eminently forgettable Samsung Galaxy Young. So bad were these scores that I ran the test again. And again, after a restart. It actually came out marginally worse.

HTC Desire 530 rear at an angle© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited HTC Desire 530 rear at an angle

These benchmarks have thrown up peculiarities before, not playing nice with certain handsets, so we have a second set of tests, designed to test gaming performance.

Unsurprisingly, the HTC Desire 530 once again failed to set the world on fire, achieving a mere 4fps in the Manhattan 3 onscreen test, and only 1.7fps in the offscreen test. These are more ‘normal’ scores, however, bringing the Desire 530 level with its peers.

Here’s another table for you, comparing benchmark results with the same phones as before:

HTC Desire 530

Honor 4X

Moto G 3rd generation

Moto E 2nd generation

Wileyfox Swift

Geekbench 3 single-core

300

547

532

470

471

Geekbench 3 multi-core

989

1,580

1,598

1,397

1,288

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, onscreen

4fps

Would not run

3.7fps

6.4fps

4.1fps

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, offscreen

1.7fps

Would not run

1.7fps

1.8fps

1.8fps

So it’s about what you’d expect in the graphics department given the price, but the overall sluggishness means there’s no reason to pick the Desire 530 over its rivals in terms of performance.

Battery life is nothing to write home about, either. It lasted 9hrs 20mins playing video at a brightness of 170cd/m2 before packing up. That’s pretty average, but well behind the Moto G (11hrs 12mins) and Moto E (13hrs 30mins). Without a removable battery, the HTC Desire 530’s battery life will also deteriorate over time, with no option for you to replace it.

HTC Desire 530: Camera

Alas, things don’t pick up with the camera, which is an 8-megapixel job. The overall colour temperature of photographs captured with the phone feel quite cool, but this isn’t a problem in itself.

It’s the generally poor auto-exposure and lack of detail in snaps that’s the big letdown. Even well-lit outdoor photographs captured with the HTC Desire 530 were soft and smeary, and in poor light things got worse. The front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera suffers from the same problems.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The HTC Desire 530 is a budget phone, and I wasn’t expecting great things, but the slightly more expensive third-generation Moto G proves that cheap doesn’t have to mean low quality in the camera department. Sadly, the HTC Desire 530 simply isn’t up to scratch in this regard.

HTC Desire 530: Verdict

The HTC Desire 530 is a disappointment. It looks the part, and the screen is pretty decent for a £120 handset, but things fall apart as soon as you use the thing for any length of time. It’s laggy, sluggish and has a distinctly average camera.

These kinds of limitations would have been perfectly acceptable a few years ago, when “budget handset” was code for “cheap and nasty”, but we’re now inundated with good-quality low-cost smartphones, and almost all of them are better than this one.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The Moto E is slightly cheaper and offers better performance, a higher-quality screen and incredible battery life, while the Honor 4X and Moto G offer significantly more bang for your buck if you can stretch your budget a little further.

Compared with these phones, the HTC Desire 530 looks a little lost at sea and leaves me hoping it’s just a blip; fingers crossed I won’t be left similarly disappointed by HTC’s next flagship.


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