With its all-metal design and full-HD screen, the HTC One is a stunning piece of kit, whether you’re a hardened tech nerd or a casual phone fan with deep pockets. If your budget is a bit tighter — or you simply have better things to spend your money on — the Desire 601 might be more up your street.
It has a 4.5-inch display, a capable dual-core processor, 4G LTE connectivity, and a decent 5-megapixel camera, all wrapped up in a body that’s taken design cues — such as the front-facing Boomsound speakers — from its bigger, pricier brother.
The 601 can be picked up in the UK on O2 for only £240 on pay as you go, or for free on 4G contracts starting at £28 per month. In the US, Virgin Mobile is offering the phone for $210 on its Beyond Talk plans, although other networks have yet to announce any plans to stock the phone. That’s a reasonable price, but with the excellent Motorola Moto G providing a higher resolution display and quad-core processor at half the price, are the speakers and 4G data speeds worth the extra cash?
With its dual front-facing speakers, it’s easy to see the family resemblance to the HTC One phone. Add to that the touch-sensitive home and back buttons beneath the screen and it’s quite easy to mistake the 601 for its more expensive sibling.
Turn it round, though, and it looks more reminiscent of the earlier HTC One X. Instead of metal, the Desire 601 has a plastic body with a black, rubberised finish. The back panel is broken by the HTC logo, a large camera unit with metal surround and the red Beats audio logo on the bottom. It might not have the same luxurious look and feel of the metal One, but it’s still quite attractive and the stiff plastic feels like it can take a few knocks.
Like the One, the dual speakers are positioned on the front of the phone, meaning the music is fired toward you, rather than away. It therefore doesn’t get muffled if you lay it flat on a table or if you wrap your hands tightly around it. They’re extremely loud as well, easily dominating the volume coming from my Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. As you’d expect, the sound still lacks bass, but it’s easily loud enough to hear Netflix shows in your kitchen over the sound of your frying pan.
At 4.5 inches, it’s slightly smaller than 4.7-inch One, making it marginally easier to hold in one hand. Even so, at 66mm wide and 134mm long, it’s not exactly tiny, so if you’re stepping up from an iPhone 4, you might want to practise your thumb stretching now. If you need something more hand-friendly, then the 4.3-inch HTC One Mini might be more suitable.
Around the sides you’ll find a volume rocker, power button, Micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The plastic back cover is removable, giving access to a microSD card slot as well as letting you swap out the battery. You get 8GB of storage as standard, which isn’t particularly generous, but you can at least install compatible apps to the SD card.
The 4.5-inch display boasts a 960×540-pixel resolution, which is a little low, particularly when you bear in mind that the Motorola Moto G has a 1,280×720-pixel display and costs half the price.
Although text and icons don’t have the same razor sharp clarity of the full-HD HTC One, they’re easily readable and for everyday tasks like tweeting or snapping pictures of your mates, you probably won’t be too aware of the lower amount of pixels. On the upside, it’s bright enough to counter the reflections from the CNET office lights and has a good enough handle on colour to do justice to your favourite cat videos.
Software and performance
It’s running on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which is a rather old version of Google’s mobile operating system. Sure, it’s an affordable phone, but I’d still like to at least see version 4.3 on board. HTC has slapped its Sense 5 interface over the top however, so it’s not immediately noticeable you’re on old Android unless you go into the settings to find it out.
It’s the same interface as you’ll see on the One, so if you’ve had a play with one in a shop, there’ll be no surprises here. As well as the large, minimalist menu icons, you’ll find the BlinkFeed scrolling news aggregator to the left of the home screens. If you don’t use a service like Flipboard then BlinkFeed’s constant presence might become annoying — particularly as you can’t get rid of it — but it’s at least an interesting way to keep track of your social networks.
Inside the phone is a dual-core 1.4GHz processor. That’s a big step down from the powerful quad-core chip of the One, but with a much lower price, you can’t really expect the same blistering speeds. In my own use, I found the chip to be adequate for most tasks. Navigating around the Sense interface was fairly swift, with only a mild bit of lag when going back to the home screen after being in an app.
It coped fine with editing photos in Snapseed, and watching “Toy Story 3” in Netflix (that’s right, “Toy Story 3” is on Netflix now) was smooth and trouble free. It did a fair job with demanding games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP 2. Both titles played fine for the most part, but in more intense moments — such as hitting the boost and flying over jumps in Asphalt 8 — the frame rate noticeably dropped. Hardcore gamers should look towards the more powerful flagship phones, but casual bird-flinging gamers are adequately catered for.
A 5-megapixel camera sits on the back of the phone. The HTC One might only have 4 megapixels to its name, but its pixels are apparently bigger and therefore let in more light for better pictures. The 601’s 5 megapixels haven’t been made any bigger than normal, but that doesn’t stop them from producing some decent snaps.
My first shot of St Paul’s Cathedral showed a satisfying level of clarity, with a good overall exposure. The colours aren’t particularly rich, but I was more impressed with colour balance on my second shot of these lovely spring daffodils.
Like the HTC One, the 601 has a bunch of extra camera skills, including a sweep panorama function and an HDR mode. It also has the “Zoe cam” mode which takes multiple photos at once to allow you to either remove a moving object or edit a moving object into an action sequence style photo. If you’ve got skateboarding friends, the Zoe cam may well come in handy.
The 601 packs a 2,100mAh battery which HTC reckons will provide up to 12.8 hours of 3G talk time. That’s not a bad estimate and from my own use, I’d say it’s pretty accurate. With moderate use — a bit of music on my morning commute, playing a few games throughout the day, using the camera and having my emails pushing through — I was still left with plenty of battery in the evening.
If you’re more demanding — keeping the screen brightness on max, streaming video all day and constantly trying to beat your high scores on Real Racing 3, you can expect the battery to trickle away pretty rapidly. You’ll almost certainly want to give it a boost in the afternoon if you’re hoping to have any juice left to get you through an evening at the pub. Even with moderate use, you’ll still want to give it a charge overnight.
With stylings taken from its luxurious big brother, along with a set of powerful speakers, 4G connectivity, a decent camera and an affordable price, the Desire 601 is a solid all-round Android phone. It’s let down by its older Android software however, not to mention its relatively low resolution display, but even so, if you’re after an attractive HTC with 4G and don’t want to splash out on the flagship, it’s definitely worth a look.