The HTC Desire 530 is cheap at just £129 and it seems to be aimed at the youth of today. But expectations of what a budget phone can do are rapidly evolving, and it’ll take more than a splash of paint and a lanyard slot to get down with the kids.
The 5-inch, 720p screen, 8MP camera and 2,200mAh battery are perfectly respectable specs for an entry-level device, but anyone seeking decent performance is not going to get it here, because the Desire 530 is hamstrung by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor and just 1.5GB of RAM.
With the excellent new Moto G4 (£169) hitting the market to join the surprisingly decent Wileyfox Swift (£129) and the cheaper Moto E (£100), not to mention a wave of Chinese newcomers, the HTC Desire 530 really has its work cut out if it expects to attract an audience.
The HTC Desire 530 is actually a really nice size, and it feels very comfortable to hold. The body is a single piece of moulded plastic that curves round to meet the 5-inch display at the front.
The bezels round the display are quite big, and there’s an HTC logo at the bottom. You’ll also find speaker grilles top and bottom, and the front-facing camera lens at the top-left. It looks pretty good from the front.
As you might expect, there’s a micro USB port on the bottom edge, and a standard 3.5mm audio jack up top.
The left spine is home to a fiddly flap that opens to reveal your SIM and microSD card slots, but switching to the right things start to get funky – or ugly, depending on your tastes. The volume rocker is at the top, and then there’s the textured, bright orange power button, which stands out like a sore thumb.
On the back you have the option of going for HTC’s Micro Splash finish. Apparently each design is unique, but they all look like a child has flicked coloured paint at the phone. There’s white with coloured speckles, or black with coloured speckles.
My review unit obviously refused to join the paint party, however, because it’s a uniform dull, dark grey. You can also get the Desire 530 in plain white.
On the back there’s a camera lens at the top-left corner which juts out, ensuring that it’s the first thing that comes into contact with any surface; it’s also great at collecting dust and pocket lint. The flash is just below it, while at the bottom-left there’s a strange puncture mark that turns out to be a lanyard slot.
If you like to wear your phone around your neck, or maybe tie it to your wrist, so that it doesn’t go missing, HTC has you covered.
Budget phones tend to be a little chubby, but the HTC Desire 530 isn’t too bad at 8.3mm thick. It weighs in at 140g, and it’s just the right size for easy one-handed operation.
At first glance the 5-inch super LCD display, which has a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, seems reasonable. But then you turn the phone on.
Many high-end phone displays have gone beyond 1080p now, but it’s not the 294ppi (pixels per inch) resolution that’s the problem with the Desire 530 – on a phone this size it actually looks reasonably sharp.
The real problem is that it’s incredibly dull, even when you crank the brightness up to full. It also has terrible viewing angles, which darken even further with the slightest tilt. If you want to be able to see the screen outdoors you’re going to have to angle it precisely and max-out the brightness; and even then, frankly, it still looks terrible.
This is also an issue for the Moto E, but spend a little more on something like the Moto G4 and you can get a display that won’t drive you mad.
The main reason to consider the HTC Desire 530 is definitely its price. At £120 it’s a budget contender from a well-known and well-respected brand, and on paper most of the specs look quite good for the money; however, there are lots of hidden disappointments.
And there’s one glaring problem, in the shape of the bargain basement Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor and stingy 1.5GB of RAM, as a result of which the HTC Desire 530 is slow – very slow. We’ll get into just how slow it is in the next section.
For this phone to win on price it has to compare favourably to the competition, and it just doesn’t. You can get a better display or more processing power without spending any more money, and that’s a serious problem.
The one thing the Desire 530 arguably has going for it is the design. They’re not to my taste, but some people might find the Micro Splash finish and the lanyard slot appealing or useful.
The HTC Desire 530 is certainly a better-looking phone that many of the chubby budget offerings on the market and it would beat the Moto E hands-down in a beauty contest.
It also feels solid and comfortable in hand, and the build quality is decent.
HTC Sense and Android Marshmallow
In addition to the designer back, the HTC Desire 530 also offers some cool customisation options in its Sense UI, which sits atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It’s very easy to theme the phone and get a look that you like.
On the other hand, HTC’s Sense 7 is very intrusive. There are suggestions you don’t need for apps to download, widgets that automatically populate themselves with the apps you use, and an alarming array of bloatware. Swipe left to right, for example, and you’ve got Blinkfeed.
Considering that this is a slow phone with just 16GB of storage, a lighter touch would have been appreciated – the app drawer is more than two full pages before you even install anything.