HTC Desire VC on Neotel hands-on

Neotel launched the HTC Desire VC on its network today, promising subscribers a “mobile smart landline” with GSM capabilities when they are out of CDMA coverage.

Since the operator is classified as a “fixed wireless” network, it’s value proposition is offering landline call rates on a smartphone, with a GSM fallback.

Neotel’s data rates are also very competitive against those offered by South Africa’s mobile network operators.

Combining this with a smartphone offering that has a SIM slot for a normal GSM network seems like a winning formula. The question is, how good is the smartphone?

Price vs feature set trade-off

The biggest thing to keep in mind about the HTC Desire VC is that it is not a high-end smartphone.

Specifications HTC Desire VC
Dimensions 119.5 x 62.3x 9.42mm
Weight 118g with battery
Operating system Android 4.0.3
Display 4″ WVGA (480×800)
Rear camera 5MP
Front camera None
Storage, internal 4GB
Storage, expandable microSD
Processor 1.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
Graphics Adreno 200
Battery 1,650mAh
Cellular data CDMA2000 1xEV-DO, GPRS
SIM type RUIM card, Mini SIM
HTC Desire VC press shot
HTC Desire VC

Even when it was launched last year, the single core 1GHz Cortex-A5 Qualcomm system-on-chip, 512MB RAM, and 4GB internal storage would have put the device firmly in the lower end of the mid-range smartphone category.

When asked about their decision to go with the HTC Desire VC, Neotel’s chief of business solutions, Abid Qadiri explained that they were looking for a cost-effective, but fully-featured handset with dual-SIM capability.

HTC is also a recognised brand name in the smartphone space and Neotel wanted their new service to be as “top of mind” as possible, Qadiri said.

Neotel SIM
Neotel SIM
NeoSmart packages Neotel minutes Data SMSes Price
NeoSmart 299 100 1GB 100 R399
NeoSmart 399 200 2GB 200 R499
NeoSmart 499 300 3GB 300 R599

Design and construction

While the HTC Desire VC won’t stand toe-to-toe with the likes of the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, HTC One X, or Samsung Galaxy S3, it is still a well-built device.

As is typical of HTC, the power/wake switch can be found on the top edge of the device, along with the headset jack. The micro USB port is on the left edge and the volume rocker on the right.

The bottom edge is empty, but for the fingernail groove to peel the back cover off.

Matte and textured, the back of the HTC Desire VC makes the device easy to grip, and you also don’t feel like you’re going to snap the cover when you peel it off.

HTC Desire VC back
HTC Desire VC back

Dual SIM capabilities

With the back cover off you can remove the battery and insert your microSD card and two network cards: Neotel’s RUIM on the left, and your GSM network of choice on the right.

Both the RUIM and SIM use the mini SIM form factor which has been largely abandoned in today’s high-end devices.

These SIMs are both active, and HTC Sense running atop the Android operating system (Ice Cream Sandwich version 4.0.3 at launch) lets you choose which network you want to use when you call, send SMSes, or use the Internet.

Where the dialler used to simply have a “dial” button, there are now two green buttons labeled “CDMA” and “GSM”.

Call quality on the device through either network was acceptable, though as with any other wireless service, it is dependant on the signal quality in your area.

The SMS messaging app now has two send buttons, also letting you choose which network to send any particular message over.

For data, you select a preferred wireless network rather than selecting which SIM to use every time the phone needs a data connection.

HTC Desire VC retail box contents
HTC Desire VC retail box contents

Software and performance

Aside from the special dual SIM features, the Desire VC is a normal HTC Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) device.

As one might expect from a slightly older device with mid-tier specifications, it isn’t the slickest experience on the market.

This is reflected in the benchmarks, which suggest that the the HTC Desire VC should perform below the level of the HTC Sensation, but outperform the Nexus S, Huawei U8860, and Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S.

Our benchmark results were as follows:

  • AnTuTu (3.1.2), average of 5 tests: 3890.6
  • Smartbench 2012 Productivity Index: 829.2
  • Smartbench 2012 Gaming Index: 1548.2
  • Vellamo HTML5: 680
  • Velamo “Metal”: 321

The device isn’t that old, and the processor not that slow, and so it performs well enough.

For the most part the HTC Desire VC is fine to use, with the occasional user interface hiccup or sluggishness that can be frustrating, but not so much that the device is unusable.

HTC Desire VC retail box
HTC Desire VC retail box

Data features

Since the HTC Desire VC is a normal Android ICS device, it offers wireless hotspot capabilities that lets up to five other devices connect to it via Wi-Fi.

If you’re in a Neotel coverage area this can be a very useful feature.

Unfortunately the HTC Desire VC doesn’t offer anything better than GPRS connectivity on GSM networks, which makes it difficult to recommend to replace your current smartphone.

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HTC Desire VC on Neotel hands-on