If you haven’t seen of HTC’s wallet-friendly Desire phones in the wild, you probably will soon — they’ve been doing great for the ailing smartphone maker overseas and they’re picking up steam on our shores, too. Since HTC could use some more of that momentum, it’s gearing up to release four more Desire models — the Desire 520, 526, 626 and 626S — in the United States with the help of almost every carrier you’ve ever heard of.
Before we go any further, here’s a crash course in Desire philosophy: It’s all about making cheap phones that don’t suck. That means solid build quality, attractive designs, and the same software features you’ll find on higher-end HTC phones. Every once in a while you’ll see HTC take the formula in some odd directions (we’re looking at you, Desire Eye), but general it’s just lots of modest hardware. All of these Desires, for instance, are built on the foundation of Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 210 CPU. All of them have 8-megapixel rear cameras. All of them take microSD and microSDXC cards up to 2TB in size.
The rest of the particulars vary depending on the whims of the carrier selling these things. Consider the Desire 520 for a moment. This Cricket exclusive comes with a pocket-friendly 4.5-inch screen running at a paltry 854×480 resolution, all wrapped in a palm-pleasing soft touch finish. The Desire 526, on the other hand, is the odd one out when it comes to looks; Verizon seemed to prefer a rounder aesthetic with curved bezels that run around the 4.7-inch qHD screen. It’s also got 1.5GB of RAM in there, giving it just a little more oomph than its other 520-series cousin.
Then you’ve got the Desire 626 and 626S sitting at the top of this class. Both are kitted out with 5-inch, 720p screens but the differences are there if you know where to look. The most glaring variances? The prepaid-only 626S has 8GB of storage and a 2MP front-facing camera compared to the 16GB/5MP camera setup on the 626 that’s hitting AT&T and T-Mobile. (Just to make things a little more confusing, there’s already a version of the 626 floating around Asia with a divergent design and a completely different chip inside.)
Still, they’re arguably the fanciest of HTC’s new quartet, and after a little hands-on time they proved themselves to be worthy little devices… as long as you keep your expectations in check. First, the good: they feel surprisingly sturdy given their all-plastic construction, not to mention almost shockingly light. HTC’s always done well as a purveyor of polycarbonate phones and it’s frankly nice to see that even the cheap stuff avoids feeling chintzy. Both devices run without too much trouble either, though they’re not as immediately snappy when responding to touch inputs as other low-cost phones are. HTC’s desire to keep costs down are most apparent when you start eyeing up that 720p screen — text and visuals are mostly crisp, but the look is little muddy overall and there’s plenty of apparent grain on the edges of letters and icons. Still, the 626 and 626S will be tidy little packages if they get the aggressive price tags to match; now we’ve just got to wait for all those carriers to get a little chatty.