HTC’s Desire 530 is just about as inexpensive as a smartphone in the U.S. can get. T-Mobile is selling it for $159 at full price, with HTC selling an unlocked version compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile for $20 more.
It’s a good looking phone, carrying over the same basic design found in previous Desire devices. Only now, the 530 features a white shell that appears to have been “splashed” with specs of orange and grey paint.
If you’re the kind to look over specifications before making a purchase, you’re likely to come away unimpressed—the same conclusion I’ve come to after testing the T-Mobile variant of the phone for the past week.
Setting proper expectations
It’s almost more difficult to point out weaknesses and gripe about a sub-$200 phone than a flagship caliber device due to the constantly present qualifier of “but it only costs $160.”
Even still, expectations going into reviewing a phone like the Desire 530 are relatively low. It’s a budget friendly device that’s not going to blow you away, yet it should provide enough performance for the casual user. And it does succeed in that regard… barely.
Equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor, 1.5GB of memory, and 16GB of internal storage, the Desire 530 is slow. There’s no other way to say it.
Its sluggish performance is noticeable from the start. The rather mundane task of setting up a device for the first time took longer than usual, with app installation being the main sticking point. I watched as some app updates, such as Gmail, took upwards of 5 minutes to install. And that’s after it was downloaded.
No matter the task, there’s a delay between tapping on the screen or navigation button and the action being completed on screen. Be it opening Chrome, waiting for the keyboard to show up after tapping on a text field, or opening the Settings app. Everything takes just a bit longer than it should.
I hate to harp on using Pokemon Go as a test parameter, but let me just say the Desire 530 couldn’t run AR mode. Almost immediately after pulling up the AR interface, an alert asked me to turn AR mode off to continue playing. Leaving AR mode enabled, despite the prompt, showed a Pokeball and a shadow off in the distance. I couldn’t find the Pokemon on the screen, no matter where I turned or looked with the phone.
Further adding to the 530’s performance woes is terrible battery life: it squeezed out just under four hours in the Geekbench battery run-down test. The 530 carries a 2,200 mAh battery (fairly small by today’s standards), but the Moto G4 line is within the same price range and offers a 3,000 mAh battery with results closer to seven hours in the same test.
In other words, be prepared to charge the 530 just after lunch in order to get through an entire day.
Crank the brightness to 10 and leave it there
HTC equipped the Desire 530 with a a 5-inch 1280x720 HD display. At first glance it seems to provide decent performance, but after using it for a week, I grew frustrated with how dull the display is. For the most part, I left auto-brightness off and left its set to full brightness at all times. Even then, the screen was sometimes too dim. Naturally, leaving a device at full brightness is also going to have an impact on battery life, but it’s one of the tradeoffs you are forced to make with the Desire 530.
The Desire 530 features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. I struggled to get consistent performance from either camera, with some shots captured worthy of sharing and saving, while others (like the selfie below) are better off deleted and forgotten about.
Just who should buy this phone?
I could see buying it as a teenagers first phone; one they can use to prove just how responsible they are (or aren’t) and then move up from there. Or for someone who wants a phone first, with the smarts second.
Even at that, there are better phones for just a little more money than the 530. Case in point: the Moto G4 ($199 at Amazon). You get a much better phone for $30 more, and it comes unlocked, ready to work on any wireless network (as opposed to just AT&T and T-Mobile for the unlocked Desire 530).
The only reason I can see someone buying this phone instead of the Moto G4 or G4 Plus boils down to personal style. Comparatively, the Desire 530 offers a bit of flair and style while the G4 line looks rather boring. Granted, you can purchase decorative backs from Motorola to add a bit of color to the phone, but the 530 looks good out of the box.
Outside of that, the Moto G4 and G4 Plus are worth the extra cost. The Desire 530 just doesn’t deliver on performance, whether it’s something as basic as waiting for an email to load or more taxing tasks such as quickly switching between multiple apps. You’re going to find yourself waiting for apps to load, pages to fill in, and eventually it’s going to get annoying.
It’s not an unusable device, but it’s not a pleasurable device to use either, and there are far better options.