As a blogger and reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of testing and reviewing my fair share of new smartphones. Like most people, I tend to get the most excited when a flagship phone lands on my desk, like the LG G3 I covered a while back. But of course, not everyone has the resources or the inclination to spring for a top of the line phone, so I’m also happy to get the opportunity to tell readers about an entry-level device, like the HTC Desire 510.
Admittedly, I’m an Android fan, and I love to get my hands on new devices, most of which I genuinely enjoy playing with and testing. So I set aside the current debates of which of the latest releases are loaded with the best specs, to spend some quality time with a budget phone, and put myself in shoes of a first-time, non-power-user. The Desire 510 is being marketed as an affordable prepaid phone ($9 / month) through Sprint, Virgin, and Boost.
As usual, I took this phone out for a field test in my travels for the last week or so, before writing this piece. Let’s take a look at how it did on the road.
HTC Desire 510: The Basics
The Desire 510 has a form factor which will look familiar to anyone who has used recent HTC releases, such as the HTC One M8 or its younger cousin, the One E8 (which has also recently arrived in my test lab, and which I’ll be reviewing soon).
The front of the phone reveals the same bottom bezel which some people have complained about in other recent HTC phones. I don’t personally feel that it ruins the design, though I know it’s somewhat controversial. The body of the phone itself is polycarbonate with a dull finish. It looks cheaper and less classy than the M8, but the rougher surface gives some added grip traction, which I like.
The phone fits comfortably in the palm of my hand, and the top power button and side volume button are easy to access. The front face houses microphone, earpiece, camera, and light and proximity sensors. There are no off-screen buttons. The standard Android buttons are a part of the 4.7 inch display.
On the rear face are a speaker and the camera lens. The only wired connections available are a 3.5 mm audio jack on the top edge, and a micro USB port on the bottom edge.
Visuals: What’s On The Screen
Though I loved this phone when I took it out of the box, my opinion started to slip downward as soon as I powered it on. The display could be called “basic” at best, with FWVGA (854 x 480 resolution). This display is quite outdated and noticeably weak in comparison to qHD displays on the market.
To put this in context, this is the same level of display we saw in the original Motorola Droid, which was released in 2009. It’s intended to be a cheap phone, so I could consider this to be a viable concession to cost-savings. It’s usable, though it’s certainly not going to win any awards.
The Desire 510 comes with HTC Sense as well as Blinkfeed, its portal for news and social media streaming. I’m not a huge fan of either, but these aren’t the focus of my review. Use these if you like them. If not, there are a host of other homescreen replacements and apps to manage your streaming feeds.
I found the interface in general to be rather cluttered. The icons seem big and clunky for the screen. Maybe that’s because the font seems large, perhaps to accommodate the low screen resolution. The homescreen is filled with icons for apps like Spotify and NextRadio, which aren’t actually installed, but are just links to the Play Store where they can be downloaded. The apps drawer has more of these. I’d rather have kept the screen cleaner and more minimalistic.
One immediate annoyance was that the first notification I received was an ad for a game (actually another link to the PlayStore), which was 3 to 4 times the size of a standard notification.
The camera, while nothing to boast about at 5 MP, actually produced some decent photos. I’ve included a couple that I snapped at the Javits Center in NYC at the Interop NYC conference yesterday that I’m actually rather pleased with. The front-facing “selfie” camera is a wimpy .3 MP, and like the video recorder, it leaves much to be desired.
Running The HTC Desire 510
Call quality was reasonably clear and decent. Wi-Fi calling is available, and the phone easily connected to my home network. So, as a phone, it functions well. But how did it do with more of the stuff we all want smartphones for?
The Desire 510 may be a low-priced phone, but in its belly lies a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. It may be only the Snapdragon 400 at 1.2 GHz, but it’s a quad-core, and the Desire 510 is touted as the cheapest phone with a quad-core processor. And it does its job well.
Despite the extremely low amount of RAM, a mere 512 MB, the Desire 510 has the speed to handle most standard daily tasks. The interface is smooth and never seems to lag. I took the phone on the road with me, and was able to run Google Maps, which tends to be a resource hog, as well as Spotify, which I listened to through a bluetooth headset, and it never faltered except when I drove through low coverage areas.
The 2100 mAH battery seemed to last forever on standby. It made it through a day of use on the road with power to spare.
Despite its speedy CPU, which made some tasks a pleasure, it didn’t take too long in my field test before I found the biggest challenge with the Desire 510: its limited storage. Some of the literature I had seen about this phone mentioned 8 GB of internal storage. But the device I got to test has only 4 GB, which appears to be standard for the American release.
In my testing, I did a few basic steps which I always do when I try a new device: connect it to my Google account, and install a few apps to try out. Well, with the Desire 510, it didn’t take too long before I was faced with an error message telling me I had insufficient storage space to download a relatively small app.
A quick trip to the Settings / Storage screen showed that I had indeed used up all of the available 4 GB of internal storage. Fortunately, the device has a micro SD card slot, with a capacity of 128 GB, so I thought that once I put the card in, I’d be OK. Unfortunately, here wasn’t much that I could move to the SD card. Note the mysterious 2.91 GB of “other” in the screen shot below.
Eventually, I did a factory reset to wipe everything clean, and changed all the settings to save everything to SD. Still, I was already at 3.1 GB out of 4.0 GB total. 900 MB of free internal space to play with isn’t much in this day and age, but again, I figured the SD card would be the saving grace.
Again I installed a very few apps, though the phone itself auto-updated quite a few. So by the time I tried to update something, I was faced with this:
And indeed, storage was filled up again.
And when I clicked on the link to “Make more space”, well, you can see how many files there were to remove to clear space.
The HTC Desire 510 is really a strange hybrid beast. HTC obviously put some thought into this device, and putting a quad-core processor in an inexpensive phone was a great move. But, while I know that memory, both RAM and storage is an area in which money can be saved, it really ruined the device in this case.
No matter how well the CPU runs, despite the surprisingly decent camera for its cost and specs, I can’t recommend this phone because the lack of storage is a major failure. I was surprised at how well 512 MB of RAM functioned, even in these days of phones with up to 3 GB of RAM, but I don’t know what they were thinking when they set up the storage this way.
4 GB is a paltry enough amount to start with, but there’s obviously a fair amount of bloat there. Just what is that 2.9+ GB of “other”? The phone isn’t rooted, so I couldn’t get any meaningful information from a file manager.
But here’s my main concern. I know my way around Android phones pretty well, having handled quite a few of them over the past five years, and I’m a rather technical user. If the phone is giving me this level of challenge, what about the first-time smartphone buyer, at whom this phone is obviously targeted, trying this as an entry-level phone?
To an inexperienced user, the phone will seem perfectly usable right out of the box. But after a week or two of use, and installation of a few apps, they’ll be out of storage, and frustrated with their inability to use the device for much more than making calls. Neither the OEM nor the carriers are providing an SD card with the phone, so users will have to figure that out for themselves. And even if they do, they’ll still be in the same predicament I found myself in.
In closing, while I applaud the effort to load a quad-core chip in the Desire 510, it’s not a viable option because of the absurdly small amount of storage. While it’s easy to have a good first-impression of this phone, it did not stand up to field testing, which is the main reason I do the latter type of review.
There’s clearly a need for an affordable entry-level Android phone in today’s market, but I don’t think the Desire 510 fills that niche. Frankly, I think it’s a device like this that would lead an entry-level user, who doesn’t have the resources or the inclination to buy a flagship phone, to give up on Android, and instead spend even more of their hard-earned money on an iPhone, because they’ve heard that it works right out of the box. For slightly more money, there are numerous more viable Android phones available.