Superfast 4G LTE has long been a luxury feature only found on top-end phones with lofty price tags. It’s steadily become more affordable over the past couple of years and is now beginning to be found at the budget end of the market as well.
The HTC Desire 510 is just such a phone. This 4.7-inch Android KitKat device doesn’t have the most impressive specs around — an 854×480-pixel display and 1.3GHz quad-core processor certainly won’t spark much excitement among the tech elite — but at only £90 on pay as you go with O2 in the UK, it’s an extremely affordable entrance into the world of 4G LTE.
In the US, you can pick up the Desire 510 from BestBuy on the Sprint network for $1 up-front on a $9 per month contract. Australians can nab the phone for AU$179 on pre-pay from Telstra.
If you’ve been eagerly eyeing the sleek metal curves of the HTC One M8 , but don’t fancy its massive price tag, the Desire 501 won’t be the affordable replacement you’ve been hoping for. It’s a chunky beast, measuring 10mm thick and weighing a fairly hefty 158g.
Although the front has a speaker grille above the display — reminiscent of the “BoomSound” speakers on much of HTC’s pricier range — it’s generally a very uninspiring design. The back panel’s matte plastic cover provides nothing of any interest, particularly in the black colour scheme I saw. The white version you can see on HTC’s website looks a little prettier.
Still, it’s difficult to demand too much effort in elaborate, fancy designs for such a cheap price. It’s certainly functional and its chunky size makes it easy to grip. It definitely feels like it can take a few knocks and bumps without shattering into smithereens.
The speaker isn’t as loud as the two powerful ones on the One M8, but it’s louder than you’ll find on many phones, and its forward-firing position means the sound isn’t muffled when you lay it flat.
The top edge is home to the power button — a more awkward location than on the side, in my experience — while the volume buttons are on the left edge. The back cover is removable, providing access to the SIM-card slot, the removable battery and the microSD card slot. You’ll probably want to get a microSD card too, as the 8GB of built-in storage won’t last long once you start downloading apps and games.
The 4.7-inch display has a resolution of 840×480 pixels, which is the absolute minimum I’d expect to see on any smartphone, even at the budget end of the market. Less than HD, it results in a pixel density of 208 pixels per inch — way below what you’ll find on the One M8, the One Mini 2 or the Desire Eye .
Of course, those phones cost way more than the 510, so I can’t in all good conscience expect the same quality display on such a cheap phone. The UK-only EE Kestrel is £10 more expensive, but has a slightly higher 960×540-pixel resolution. The 510’s screen is adequate for the absolute basics. Text is sharp enough to read easily enough, but it has a definite fuzziness to it that you won’t see on higher definition panels.
It’s fairly bright at least, managing to counter much of the reflections from our office overhead lights. Colours are a little cold, but I’ve certainly seen worse. If you only really want a smartphone for texting, Twitter and a spot of light gaming every now and then, the screen will be fine.
The 501 runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is a couple of versions old now, but forgivable, given the cut-down price. HTC has applied its Sense software over the top, so the interface looks identical to the one you’ll find on the top-end One M8.
It has the standard Android multiple homescreens, but to the left you’ll find Blinkfeed. This is HTC’s news aggregator service, which pulls in the latest articles from a variety of sources you can choose from as well as updates from your social networks. It’s basically the same as the app Flipboard — if you’re keen on that, you’ll appreciate having Blinkfeed on your homescreen. If you’re not, you can get rid of it.
I’m a fan of Sense as it’s easy to navigate and doesn’t come preloaded with a tonne of extra apps that make it cluttered and confusing — as I see on Samsung’s and Sony’s phones. The settings menu is simple to use too, making it easy for even Android novices to alter aspects of the phone.
Processor and battery performance
A Qualcomm snapdragon 410 processor is at the heart of the phone. It’s a 1.2GHz quad-core affair, with 1GB of RAM. That isn’t a particularly impressive engine, but again, acceptable given the low price. It achieved 1,357 on the Geekbench benchmark test and 11,921 on Quadrant, putting it above the LG G3S (1,299 Geekbench, 8,273 Quadrant), which is really good, considering it’s over £100 less.
Navigating the Sense interface is mostly smooth and trouble-free, apps and menus open quickly, and video streaming from Netflix is handled fine. It’s also able to turn its hand to some light gaming. The addictive game TwoDots played fine and although demanding racer Asphalt 8 didn’t play with very high frame rates, it was at least still playable. It’s certainly not the most high-performance processor around, but it has enough juice to make light work of the everyday basics.
A 2,100mAh battery provides the juice, which is a decent sized unit, considering the low power demands of the display and the processor. On our battery drain test — looping a video at half brightness until the power runs out — the 510 lasted a little over 12 hours, which isn’t too bad at all.
With careful use, you won’t struggle to get a day out of the phone. As always, it depends on exactly how demanding you are. To get the best battery life, keep the screen brightness down (this is always the biggest power drain), avoid anything demanding like video streaming until you’re home and turn off Wi-Fi and GPS when they’re not in use.
On the back of the phone is a 5-megapixel camera. That’s a low resolution, but, like most of the phone’s specs, you have to cut it some slack when you’re paying so little. Its megapixel count alone should be enough to indicate that this isn’t a phone for photography enthusiasts and indeed, the images it takes aren’t really suitable for anything more than sharing with your immediate family.
This shot of a fruit and veg stall has a fair exposure, but the meagre amount of megapixels means the image is very low quality, with an overall lack of clarity.
This picture of a disreputable-looking London pigeon is pretty dark overall and again, there’s a lack of clarity and definition. As long as you take your shots in bright daylight, they should be usable for sharing on Facebook, but this is really a phone you should buy only if you don’t care about having a camera.
The HTC Desire 510 doesn’t have the slick metal design or high-end camera of its flagship brother, the One M8, but its display and processor are perfectly capable of tackling the everyday essentials. Best of all, it’s equipped with 4G LTE for super-speedy data and it’s extremely affordable. If you’re after a cheap 4G phone, the Desire 510 is definitely worth checking out.
The 4G version of the Motorola Moto G is still one of the best affordable phones around and is worth considering as an alternative if you can stretch your budget a bit more. It can be picked up on Amazon SIM-free for £140 or $180, which is quite a bit more cash, but does have a larger, sharper display and a better camera.
In the UK, mobile network EE has its own budget 4G phone, the Kestrel, which has similar specs, but an ever so slightly higher definition display. It’s available for £100 on pay as you go and is worth looking at if you want to join EE’s 4G network.