What is the HTC Desire 310?

The HTC Desire 310 is HTC’s lowest-cost smartphone. It’ll cost you around £110 SIM-free, putting it in direct competition with our budget favourite, the Motorola Moto G.

You might see it as a simple upgrade to last year’s HTC Desire 300, but it also adds-in most of the software features seen in top-end HTC phones like the HTC One M8. For people who like that HTC software flavour, the Desire 310 is worth checking out, although it doesn’t really rival the very best budget phones out there.

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HTC Desire 310: Design

The HTC Desire 310 is one of the tougher-feeling affordable phones. While the footprint is fairly small thanks to its 4.5-inch screen, the 140g weight and 11.3mm thickness give it a similar chunky and hefty feel to the Motorola Moto G.

Poke the plastic battery cover in the wrong place and there’s still bit of flex, but construction is a cut above a cheaper phones like, for example, the Sony Xperia E1. A lot of the phone’s hardy feel comes down to what covers the front of the screen rather than the back, though.

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The front of the HTC Desire 310 is Gorilla Glass 3, the kind of toughened glass used to protect the displays of most £500 phones. It’s super-tough, super scratch-resistant and doesn’t bend under the pressure of your finger, giving the _phone_ a reassuring immovable feel.

If you’re wondering why your friend’s expensive _phone_ feels nicer than your one, Gorilla Glass 3 may be part of the reason why. While other low-cost phones use treated/toughened glass, few at this price use real Gorilla Glass. We should say, though, that the Motorola Moto E and Moto G do.

Rather like Nokia’s recent budget Lumia 630, the Desire 310 doesn’t just come in the normal black and white shades. You don’t get a wide choice, but there’s a striking red model available as well as the black/white ones.

It’s not just a case of the colour being applied to the back cover, either. The front speaker grille and the ring around the camera lens on the back are also matched to the red rear in our review model, providing a couple of little visual touches you don’t often get in very cheap phones.

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Touches like the Gorilla Glass and extra visual flair make the HTC Desire 310 feel like it is almost (if not quite) a mid-range phone. Its construction is cut above some, say, £80 mobiles.

Pop the back off with a fingernail and you’ll see the full-size SIM slot, the space where the second would sit in the dual-SIM model (not widely available in the UK at present) and microSD card slot. One of the key advantages of the HTC Desire 310 over the original version or the Motorola Moto G is this slot, although it’s needed as with just 4GB of memory the Desire 310 is very storage-poor.

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HTC Desire 310: Screen

Where the HTC Desire 310 lags behind a bit is its screen.

It has a good-size 4.5-inch LCD display. This kind of scale offers a great balance between making things like games and browsing fun while keeping the phone small enough to make it easy to handle. Size isn’t the issue. As, has already been mentioned, the Gorilla Glass layer gives the Desire 310 screen a great feel too.

It’s pure display quality that isn’t quite competitive enough, now we’ve been spoilt by the Motorola Moto E and Moto G.

The Desire 310 has a 854 x 480 pixel TN-type LCD screen, where these days we’d ideally like to see HTC use a 720p or at least 960 x 540 pixel IPS screen.  

These cut backs on resolution and panel type both have knock-on effects on image quality. First, let’s deal with resolution.

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We’ll hand it to HTC – the Desire 310 uses a higher-quality TFT LCD than most cheaper mobiles, helping it to avoid looking too soft or making the space between pixels too apparent. However, nothing is sharp or pristine. It’s most obvious when you’re browsing, as text is a little pixellated.

Until fairly recently, we wouldn’t have complained too much about this. It used to be the norm in phones below £200 or so, but over the last year we’ve started to see budget phones offer much better sharpness than is afforded by the 218ppi of the Desire 310. Want that bit of extra screen zing? Check out the EE Kestrel, the Motorola Moto E and G, and the Alcatel One Touch Idol S (sadly not that readily available in the UK any more).

Using a TN-based panel exacerbates the HTC Desire 310’s screen issues. Viewing angles aren’t anywhere near as good as they are in an IPS display, with contrast shift causing colour inversion when the phone is tilted forward.

We will admit that this isn’t something you’ll naturally do often, but it does mean you can’t really share videos all that well when you hold the phone in landscape orientation – the screen will look pretty rubbish to anyone sat to the to the left or right. It’s also not great if you’re playing a game where you have to tilt the screen, as you see the limited angles altering the look of the screen with every move.

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Daylight readability isn’t great, either. Reasonable top brightness means it is usable on a sunny day, but we took the HTC Desire 310 out and compared it to the budget champion Motorola Moto G and found the Motorola much better at coping with bright daylight.

Rather annoyingly, there’s no automatic brightness setting on the HTC Desire 310 either, which means you need to manually alter the backlight when you go outdoors. When HTC has added extra flashy bits like coloured speakers grilles, leaving this completely basic bit of hardware out seems very odd.

HTC Desire 310: Software and Apps

One of the key selling points of the HTC Desire 310 is that you get most of the software benefits of something like the HTC One M8 in a much lower-cost package. They share the same core HTC Sense UI, although where the Desire 310 has version 5.1, the One M8 uses the more advanced version 6.

The version of Android used here is also rather old. You get Android 4.2.2 rather than the latest Android 4.4. While each new version offers numerous improvements, using quite an invasive custom UI can often fill-in the gaps. And HTC Sense changes Android quite a bit.

There’s nothing that makes the interface feel truly alien, but if you’re switching from another Android phone, you’ll definitely notice a few changes. The apps menu looks rather different, for one, and the pages of apps scroll vertically rather than horizontally. Getting used to this is a bit like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road when you’re on holiday: a bit weird at first, but you soon acclimatise.

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The lead part of HTC Sense is not a stylistic change like this, but BlinkFeed. This is a separate home screen that gives you updates from your favourite sources, whether from websites or social networks. Or both.

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When Samsung tried to do this with its Magazine UI, we were not fans. However, we like HTC’s (longer-running in fact) take on the idea. It has a great visual style, using images whenever available, and as it scrolls quickly in pages with a thumb-flick, it almost feels like flicking through a digital magazine.

Don’t like the idea? HTC has also made it easy to turn BlinkFeed off, giving the Desire 310 more of the feel of a standard Android phone.

General performance is very good in the Desire 310 too. There’s no annoying navigation lag, as there is in so many other budget phones. And that is despite the phone using a MediaTek processor rather than the more popular Qualcomm Snapdragon type.

It’s nice and snappy throughout. However, we did notice a few little annoying usability problems. First, the software soft keys eat into the screen a fair bit. They are given a lot more space than, for example, the Sony Xperia E1’s or Nokia Lumia 630’s. We found that we often pressed them accidentally when typing on the keyboard, leading to the the phone skipping back to the home screen.

The keyboard itself has a few problems too, as it does in any HTC phone – they all use HTC’s own one. It’s far too easy to press the language select button, meaning you end up wondering why the Desire 310 keeps on suggesting French words for your emails roughly once a week. Our tip – consider switching to the standard Google keyboard, available from Google Play.

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HTC Desire 310: Games and Performance

Most of the interface problems are tweak-able or things you’ll get used to, and otherwise the phone is pleasant to use thanks to the solid performance.

So why is performance good when some other budget phones struggle? The main reason beyond more careful software tweaking is that the HTC Desire 310 has 1GB of RAM instead of 512MB. More RAM comes in very handy when moving between apps. Make sure you do get the 1GB version as there’s a 512MB Desire 310 for territories other than Europe, and it’s sure to be a bit laggy. This should only be a problem if you’re importing or buying from eBay.

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The HTC Desire 310’s CPU is pretty capable, too. It uses the Mediatek MT6582M processor, a quad-core 1.3GHz number that is roughly comparable with the Snapdragon 400 used by the Motorola Moto G.

However, the Mali 400MP2 GPU is a little less competent than the Adreno 305 used by the Snapdragon 400, and we did notice that gaming performance was slightly less consistent than it was in the EE Kestrel or Moto G. Can it handle games like Real Racing 3 though? Absolutely, it runs fine, with just slight frame rate inconsistency.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark, the HTC Desire 310 came out with 1,178 points, very similar to the scores of Snapdragon 400 phones. Despite using a Mediatek processor, its performance ranks among the top phones at the price.

HTC Desire 310: Camera

The HTC Desire 310’s camera is a real mixed bag. Looking at the specs you wouldn’t expect much. It has a 5-megapixel rear sensor, no flash and a basic VGA front camera.

Its no superstar, but some elements are better than much of the competition. The most obvious is speed.

While the front camera is shutter lag-tastic, the HTC Desire 310’s main camera is very fast indeed. There’s even a ‘zero shutter delay’ mode that makes shooting even faster. It makes other £100 phones like the Lumia 630 and Motorola Moto G look positively slovenly.

Speed matters too – it’s what makes shooting with a mobile phone so much fun.

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In other respects, the HTC Desire 310 camera is very limited, though. As already mentioned, there’s no flash, and no autofocus. Part of the reason why the phone is so quick is that it does not focus – the lens’s focusing is constant, fixed.

This is sadly common among sub-£100 mobiles, but it’s disappointing to see it in an otherwise-OK-ish camera phone that costs more than £100. A fixed focus makes it impossible to take pictures of anything too close up – you’ll need to be around a metre away (rather than about 10cm in most autofocus phones).

Image quality is not great either, but the HTC Desire 310 is actually significantly better than many at this level. Processing doesn’t leave shots looking weirdly ‘painted’, dynamic range is better than some and while lower-light shots are predictably noisy, photos hold onto their composure much better than, for example, the Sony Xperia E1.

Here are a few samples:
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The camera isn't super-sharp, but there is an OK amount of detail on offer in good lighting. Note that the swans are overexposed, though.


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Again, detail is good and the exposure is more even here. There's obvious purple fringing, though.

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Lower-light photos are much grainier, but as long as you stick to dusk rather than night, you can produce some usable results.

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Note how the Desire 310's shots have quite a nice warm tone.

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Here's the HDR mode in action. It's not great, but is still handy.

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Here's how the fixed focus limits your shooting. Close-ups are not possible.

The camera app is one part that the Desire 310 doesn’t share with the HTC One M8, though. Here you get a pretty basic affair with HDR and panorama modes, but no extra fun filters or more creative modes.

It’s all about speed here. And it’s something, but not enough really.

Given the relatively low-res photos, you might be surprised to hear that the Desire 310 can capture video at up to 1080p resolution (using the 3gp format). Don’t get too excited, though, the actual level of detail captured is not a patch on that of more expensive phones – it looks as though it has been upscaled to 1080p.

HTC Desire 310: Battery Life

The HTC Desire 310 has a 2,000mAh battery that you have easy access to – just pop off the back and it’s there. Battery performance is decent too.

What the HTC Desire 310 is good at is holding onto its charge when you’re not using it. Overnight the battery level barely drops at all, and it’s the same when the phone is idling in your pocket.

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However, it’s not quite so good when the phone’s actually doing something more taxing. Browsing will kill the phone in about five hours, streaming from Spotify with the screen off ate almost 20 per cent charge in about an hour, but you can get around eight hours 20 minutes of video playback off a charge:

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With a bit of careful use you can get a good day and a half's use, thanks to the efficient standby mode. It's roughly on-par with something like the Motorola Moto E.

However, there are also no advanced power-saving modes in the settings menu. In other phones these do things like restricting data access while the phone’s in standby. Here you’ll have to do anything like that manually, and flicking data on and off continually is not much fun.


HTC Desire 310: Call and Sound Quality

The HTC Desire 310 predictably lacks a lot of the whizz-bang extras seen in HTC’s more expensive phones, and it doesn’t have the stereo BoomSound speakers we loved so much in the HTC One M8 and HTC One Mini 2.

Instead, you get a much more traditional rear mono speaker. It’s not harsh-sounding, but doesn’t really elevate itself to high above the generally-rubbish mobile norm either. Top volume isn’t too great and there is, as usual, zero bass. It’s good for listening to a tune while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, but that’s about it.

Call quality is better, though. The call speaker has a nice warm tone, with more body than most phones in this entry-level class. We could still do with a bit more top volume, but this is generally the case. Maybe we’re just getting on a bit.


Anything else to consider?

The HTC Desire 310 is not a 4G phone. Its mobile internet tops out at HSPA 3G. A few months ago we’d have thought this was almost too obvious to state, but we’re starting to see super-cheap 4G phones pop up, like the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 and EE Kestrel. With the 4G version of the Motorola Moto G available for just a few tens of pounds more, some of you might want to consider investing in this sort of future-proofing.

There are also a few little extra connectivity bits missing, such as NFC and an IR transmitter. But then they are never usually seen in phones of this class anyway.

 

Should I buy the HTC Desire 310?

The HTC Desire 310 is a bit of a missed opportunity. Instead of establishing HTC’s position among the more exciting budget phone makers – just as some budget phones are kicking things up a notch – the phone only makes half of the improvements we’re looking for.

Using Gorilla Glass and paying at least some attention to design are positive steps, but the bog-standard LCD display and fixed-focus camera just don’t cut it in this post-Moto-G world – not when you’re asking for over £100 for the privilege.

However we can’t forget that the budget Motorolas are true outliers at this point – no big-name phone can touch them for value, you need to head to an ‘own brand’ phone like the EE Kestrel to get close elsewhere. Sony and Samsung offer nothing as competitive, either. If you must have a phone from the ‘big three’ phone-makers, we think the Sony Xperia M2 is worth the extra outlay. However, it’s the Moto G that really knocks the HTC Desire 310 out cold.

Verdict

The HTC Desire 310 has good software and offers decent performance at the price. However, the camera and screen are weak points, and as they’re both pretty important, this is not going to be remembered as an HTC classic.

Next, read our best mobile phones round-up