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.
Performance and battery life
The HTC Desire 530 has a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 CPU clocked at 1.1GHz. It's paired with an Adreno 304 GPU and backed up by just 1.5GB of RAM. That's about as miserly as HTC could get, and it shows.
When you tap the recent apps button you have to wait a beat for the list to load. Tap the camera and it's ready to take a shot a couple of seconds later. Sometimes, when you hit the home button, it'll take a second or so to get there, and even then the clock and weather widget won't have loaded.
It's been quite some time since I had to use a phone as slow as the HTC Desire 530. I would not wish performance like this on my worst enemy.
Running benchmarks in Geekbench 3 confirmed the woeful performance, with a single-core score of 296 and a multi-core score of 966 – I ran the latter test twice more and it managed 992 and 987, for an average of 981.
That is awful. The Moto E averaged 1421 in the same test, and it costs £20 less than the Desire 530. The Wileyfox Swift scored 1330. Even 2014's EE Kestrel managed 1190.
In everyday use the HTC Desire 530 is irritatingly slow at every turn. Loading up the browser or tapping a link takes a beat longer than it should. Games take an age to load. You can play something like Asphalt 8 on this phone, but it won't go beyond medium graphical quality, and it's choppy at times.
It also turns out that, despite there being two speaker grilles, only the bottom one works with media. It's not very loud, and it sounds pretty tinny when you crank it up. Boomsound is reserved as a profile for headphones; none are provided in the box.
I found that video streaming through YouTube or Netflix worked fine, but the need to maintain the perfect angle for the display, and the poor quality of the sound, sucked the fun out of watching a movie on the Desire 530.
The Desire 530 also has only 16GB of internal storage, with 9.8GB available out of the box, although you can upgrade this by up to another 128GB via microSD.
The fact that the HTC Desire 530 is so slow means it's inevitably going to annoy you. It also doesn't help that taps are accompanied by a slow vibration, which sounds like an old man wheezing; it kind of adds to the sense that this phone is struggling.
The HTC Desire 530 has a 2,200mAh battery, which should be plenty of power to see it through a normal day, partly because it's only powering a 720p screen.
I found that it managed a full day easily without needing a charge, but that's partly because I didn't want to use it – more than once the sluggish performance prompted me to give up and do something else instead.
I found that the phone handled web browsing, messaging, and calls without any problems battery-wise, but gaming chewed through the battery pretty quickly. Playing Asphalt 8, it dropped by around 5% every 10 minutes.
Running our 90-minute HD video test at full brightness, with Wi-Fi on in the background, the HTC Desire lost 24% of its battery. By comparison, the Moto E shed 22% in the same test.
You'll find an 8MP main camera in the HTC Desire 530. It supports autofocus, has an f/2.4 aperture and also offers HDR.
In perfect conditions I was pleasantly surprised at the shots it managed to capture, but as with everything else it is very slow. The camera app is slow to load, the shutter speed is slow, and it takes a while to process images, especially if you take an HDR shot.
As soon as you try to take a shot in mixed light or low light the quality takes a nosedive. There's lots of noise, the detail is lost and everything turns muddy. I also found the Desire 530 struggled with close-up shots if the subject was very close.
The camera app is straightforward. You can turn the flash and HDR on or off. Your only other options are panorama mode or selfie, which switches you to the 5MP front-facing camera.
There's a handy timer and voice controls, but the quality of the shots the front-facing camera takes is poor. Selfies taken in less than perfect lighting conditions are going to look grainy and dull.
You get built-in photo editing, and HTC's Zoe mode for cobbling together highlight movies. These tools are quite fun – and you'll probably need them to lift your photos – but there's nothing here you can't get by downloading a third-party app.
Video recording is limited to 720p at 30fps, and the results are pretty poor.
The main problem with this camera – especially if HTC is hoping that teens will buy the HTC Desire 530 – is that it's so slow. If you have time then it's capable of decent photos, but capturing spontaneous moments is going to be virtually impossible.
And if selfies are at all important to you, then you also have to consider that the front-facing camera is not up to the task, and its low light performance is awful.
A youthful design and solid build quality ensure that the HTC Desire 530 makes a good first impression, but it's badly let down by weak specs and poor performance.
A 5-inch 720p display, an 8MP camera, and 16GB of storage with microSD card support all sounds good at a price point of £120, but you can't escape the sluggish Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 and the inadequate 1.5GB of RAM.
To make matters worse, even the components that look okay on paper are disappointing in practice.
The design is different, and the phone feels very comfortable in hand. It's solidly built, and some of the stylistic touches may well appeal.
It's good that the Desire 530 ships with the latest Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow on board, although Android N is just around the corner, and I wouldn't bet on this phone getting it.
Setting expectations based on the rest of the phone, the camera is actually a highlight. Even though it's slow and can't deal with low light, it is capable of capturing some decent photos, and it's far from the worst camera I've seen on a budget phone.
The Desire 530's performance is absolutely woeful. It used to be quite common for budget Android phones to lag and stutter, but that's no longer the norm. These days you shouldn't have to suffer just because your budget is limited – and you don't have to, because there are similarly-priced phones that perform much better.
The screen just isn't bright enough, and the fact that you have to view it head-on to be able to make anything out is unacceptable. If you want to be able to see what's on your display when you're outside, don't buy the HTC Desire 530.
I don't think 16GB is really enough storage, especially since you have less than 10GB free out of the box. It's good that HTC has included a microSD card slot, but using a card is going to inflict another performance hit on a phone that's already amongst the slowest I've ever tested.
I can sum up very easily by saying you should not buy the HTC Desire 530. HTC produces some great high-end phones, and even some decent mid-rangers, but this handset does not come close to competing with the current budget crowd.
For the same money you can get the Wileyfox Swift, which is better than the HTC Desire 530 in most respects. And if you can raise an extra £40 go for the vastly superior Moto G4, which beats the Desire 530 by miles in every respect. If money is really tight, save yourself £29 and pick up the Moto E, which also outperforms the Desire 530.
The unforgivably slow performance is more annoying than any other budget phone compromise, and it's liable to only grow more irritating with time as the Desire 530 fills up and ages. Don't do it to yourself.