Smartphones come in all sizes these days, they also come in at all different price points. Many wireless carriers will carry flagship devices like the HTC 10, HTC One A9, Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, but they also want some of those "cheaper" smartphones. Since most of the customers that walk into their store are not looking to spend a ton of money on a new smartphone. That's where the budget-friendly HTC Desire 530 fits in. The HTC Desire 530 is available at T-Mobile and Verizon here in the US, but is available unlocked elsewhere in the world. It's a $159.99 smartphone, and its specs definitely show that. Despite being only $159, how does the HTC Desire 530 stack up? Is it worth its price? Let's find out in our review.
The specs for the HTC Desire 530 includes a 5-inch 1280x720 resolution Super LCD display, that gives us a 294 PPI and a 66.2% screen to body ratio. It's powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 210 (MSM8909) which is a quad-core 1.1Ghz Cortex-A7 processor and it's paired with the Adreno 304 GPU. Backing that up is 1.5GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. HTC does include a micro SD card slot here.
Camera-wise, there is a 8-megapixel shooter around back which features a f/2.4 aperture. The Desire 530 does have a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter with a f/2.8 aperture. Both are capable of recording video at 1080p and include auto-focus. connectivity includes WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.1, A2DP, A-GPS and GLONASS. All of this is powered by a non-removable 2200mAh battery and Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Sense 7.0.
This is a T-Mobile variant of the HTC Desire 530, so naturally it does support all of the bands for T-Mobile and MetroPCS usage. You'll also be able to use it on GSM networks around the world. The following bands are found on the unlocked or international model of the HTC Desire 530.
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 850, 900, 2100
LTE Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28
In the box
There's not much going on in the box here. Right on top is the HTC Desire 530. Below that is your usual paperwork, including a quick start guide and your SIM card if you are switching to T-Mobile or needed a new SIM card. Also included in the box is your wall charger and USB Type-A to micro USB cable. That's about it for whats in the box. However, HTC did add something extra to the presentation of the box here. Since this is the "Sprinkle White" color of the HTC Desire 530, they have made the box match the color of the device. So the box is white, with "sprinkles" on the front of the box. It's subtle, but pretty cool looking actually.
The display here is a 5-inch 720p Super LCD panel, which may sound like it's pretty bad, but it actually isn't. Since this is just a 5-inch display, the pixel density is still 294 pixels per inch. Not the same as what you'd get from a smartphone that costs around $700, but still pretty decent. The display here works pretty well outdoors. We were able to play Pokemon GO on the Desire 530 without having any issues in seeing the display. That's important, because many times you'll be using your smartphone while you're outside and if you can't see the display, what's the point of having the device?
Colors are pretty spot on, with this panel. It's a Super LCD panel, so we aren't going to see blacks as dark as you would on an AMOLED display, unfortunately. But those looking for the natural colors, this will work well. Not to mention the fact that HTC does allow you to change the color temperature of the display in the settings. You can make the display warmer or colder, unfortunately, there is no option to change other aspects of the display like saturation and such. But this is better than nothing.
Typically, with smartphones in this price range, we see a pretty terrible digitizer underneath the display. The digitizer is what registers your finger touching the display. So every time you press a button on the screen, the digitizer is what tells the device that the button was pressed. Fortunately, there were no issues with the digitizer here on the HTC Desire 530, although we did notice that it was sometimes tough to scroll in Pokemon GO, especially after playing for a good bit. However that can likely be attributed to the game making the device warm - as we've seen the same thing happen on the Nexus 6P.
Something that HTC has been known for, over the years, is their build quality. And that's no different here with the Desire 530. While the Desire 530 isn't made of aluminum like their higher-end HTC 10 is, it's still quite premium, for its price range. It's sporting a polycarbonate unibody here, which is plastic but it's not that shiny plastic that leaves all sorts of fingerprints all over the device. In fact, the HTC Desire 530 doesn't pick up fingerprints at all - other than on the display, but every smartphone picks up fingerprints there. The sides of the device are a bit curved, from the back. It's nothing like the Galaxy S7 or Galaxy Note 5's curves, but they are definitely there. Because of that, and the placement of the camera, it does protrude a tiny bit. But the camera does have a nice ring around it to protect it from getting damaged.
Button placement on the HTC Desire 530 is about what you'd expect. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, with the volume rocker above the power button. With this particular Desire 530, the power button is a reddish-orange color and a bit rigid. Making it easier to tell it apart from the volume rocker. With the volume rocker being black. It definitely stands out from the white frame and back color here. But the colors do match the "sprinkles" found in the color palette. The left side of the device houses the SIM card and micro SD card slot. There is also a slot for a second SIM, but on this T-Mobile model, that second slot is not usable. However the Desire 530 is a dual SIM smartphone in other countries. The bottom houses the micro USB port and the top houses the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Also on the back, there's a place where you can attach a lanyard - which is included in the box - to the Desire 530. Something that not everyone will likely want to use, but it is available for those that want to use it. Since this phone seems to be geared more towards children or teenagers, the lanyard could help keep the phone in their hand and not on the ground. The front of the Desire 530 has the 5-inch display, with on-screen buttons and a front-facing speaker for HTC's BoomSound. More on that speaker and BoomSound in a bit. The chin and forehead bezels are gray, which looks nice with the color palette on the Desire 530, but it would look better if it were black to blend in with the black frame around the display. The bezels are still pretty thick, even for a sub $200 smartphone. Of course, part of that is due to the front-facing speaker being there.
Build quality here on the Desire 530 is top notch. It's tough to say that anything in its price range offers a better build. A polycarbonate build that feels solid, yet light, and comfortable in the hand. With it being a 5-inch display, we did expect it to be a bit smaller in the hand. But again, we have to remember that it does have BoomSound which takes up more space, with the speaker being on the front of the device. Overall, HTC surely has hit the ball out of the park with the build quality on the Desire 530. We came away more than impressed here.
Performance and Memory
Inside, there is the Snapdragon 210 processor. Which is Qualcomm's lowest end chipset, featuring four Cortex-A7 1.1GHz cores and the Adreno 304 GPU. Suffice it to say, we weren't expecting anything spectacular from the Snapdragon 210 inside the Desire 530. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Now this isn't going to outperform the Snapdragon 410, 617, 820 or even MediaTek's Helio P10 and X20, but it is definitely capable. With this being clocked at 1.1GHz, the processor is definitely slow, but not unusable. Although we wouldn't recommend playing many games on it, at least not graphic intensive games.
The Desire 530 also sports 1.5GB of RAM. Definitely not suitable for hardcore users, but 1.5GB of RAM definitely goes a lot further with Marshmallow than it did with earlier versions of Android. But don't be surprised if you run out of RAM or your applications in the background close from time to time. On average, we used around 60-70% of the available RAM on the Desire 530. Which is a bit lower than you'd probably expect, especially seeing how much RAM is here.
When it comes to performance, the Desire 530 definitely isn't going to win any awards, and nor should you expect it to. But it does enough to get by. This smartphone isn't made for hardcore or heavy users, but the processor and RAM does enough to check your email, Twitter, Facebook, and even play Pokemon GO. Surprisingly, Pokemon GO played pretty well on the Desire 530. Although it did still kill the battery fairly quickly, as expected.
As usual, here with the HTC Desire 530, we ran AnTuTu, GeekBench and 3D Mark on the smartphone. Given its internals, it did score about where we expected it too. Which was below most other smartphones, even recently reviewed smartphones. You can see the results from all three benchmarks down below.
Phone Calls and Network
Since this is a T-Mobile smartphone, we did use the device on T-Mobile for about a week. We made plenty of phone calls and used their 4G LTE network, and found zero surprises. We had no dropped calls, and those on the other end said we sounded fine. Since this is a T-Mobile branded smartphone, you do get WiFi Calling here, as well as Voice Over LTE and HD Voice. Which were definitely apparent during our testing. Voice Over LTE had zero issues, calls went through without an issue.
When it comes to data, we got pretty much the same speeds that we do on our daily driver (a Nexus 6P on T-Mobile) in the same areas. So there are no issues here with the 4G LTE radio, nor the WiFi radio as WiFi speeds were also comparable.
Another thing that HTC is well-known for, is their audio. BoomSound debuted with the HTC One M7, way back in 2013, and is still present today, although the meaning has changed a bit. BoomSound is here on the HTC Desire 530, although it's technically only available through the headphone jack. There is a front-facing speaker, located below the display, and it gives us a great experience. The sound out of that speaker is pretty great, but there's not much to say about the volume of the audio coming from that speaker. It's pretty quiet, but at least you have "quality" audio coming out of there.
In the settings, there is an option for BoomSound, which only lights up when you plug in a pair of headphones. Unfortunately, that's all there is to BoomSound. There's no equalizer that you can use to adjust the sound to be the way you want it, or anything of that nature. That's something that audiophiles won't like particularly. But it is what it is, unfortunately.
Typically, a smartphone with a 2200mAh battery would automatically be written off as having a terrible battery. But that's not the case here with the HTC Desire 530. Since it does have a 5-inch 720p display and a very low-powered processor, that 2200mAh battery actually does fairly well. We were able to consistently get over 3 hours of on-screen time here, and could likely push it to four hours. Also important to note here that this does include a decent amount of Pokemon GO usage. So if you aren't a Pokemon GO player, you'll likely be able to get at least four hours, and maybe even five hours of on-screen time here.
There's no form of Quick Charge here on the Desire 530, but with it having such a small battery, that doesn't really matter. The HTC Desire 530 can charge its 2200mAh battery fairly quickly, so having Quick Charge or not isn't really a deal breaker, in our eyes. The battery can get you through a full day and then some. So just charge it up at night and you'll be good to go.
For those that might be worried that the HTC Desire 530's battery cannot get you through the full day, HTC has included a couple different power saving modes here. There's your regular power saver mode, which you can have set to turn on when you drop to 15%. This will conserve CPU usage, limit location services, reduce screen brightness and turns off vibration feedback. Then there's extreme power saving mode. Which takes things a bit further. You can opt to turn this on at 20%, 10% or 5% left.
Lately, HTC has been taking a step back with their software, and lining it up a bit closer to stock Android, which is Google's vision of what Android should be like. But there's no doubt about it, Sense is still Sense. However, it is a whole lot lighter weight than it was a few years ago. That's definitely a good thing when it comes to the Desire 530 and it's fairly low-powered processor. But HTC has still included all of your favorite - or maybe not-so favorite - features of Sense. Including things like BlinkFeed, Themes, and more. HTC's app drawer is still a vertical scrolling drawer, that is paginated, and it includes quite a bit of bloat apps, thanks to T-Mobile. The T-Mobile apps installed here include Amazon, Device Unlock, Emergency Alerts, Mobile Hotspot, T-Mobile, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail. All of these (except Device Unlock) can be disabled in settings.
When it comes to Themes, HTC has continued to make their theme engine better and better. There are a bunch of themes you can choose from, some that HTC has made and some that designers have made. Not to mention you can create your own theme. You can also piece together parts of themes like the wallpaper, icons, sounds and even fonts. So you can truly make your theme your own. Now, if you want to just change up the color palette of the system apps and such, you don't need to jump into the theme store. Just go into Settings > Personalize, and you have the option to "Change Accent Colors" right there. Additionally, you can change your wallpaper, add apps and widgets and control ads that are shown in BlinkFeed from there.
BlinkFeed has also changed over the years. Of course, the biggest change is that HTC has inserted ads into BlinkFeed, but you do have the option to turn off these ads, if you wish to do so. BlinkFeed is basically like an RSS Feed, but it brings in content from several social networks as well as publications. You can also include your calendar, so you can stay up-to-date with what's on your agenda. Blinkfeed allows you to add your Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. But they also support Mealtime and Watchup. Mealtime will give you recommendations for restaurants, cafes, and bars that are around you, while Watchup gives you the latest videos from many of the top news networks like CNN, Fox, NBC and others. It's a quick and easy way to stay up-to-date with what's going on, no matter what network you use or don't use that often. If you don't want to use BlinkFeed, you can remove that page from your launcher as well.
The camera experience here on the Desire 530 will be pretty familiar, if you've used an HTC device recently. The UI is pretty plain, with most of the settings that you don't use too often, tucked away. However, you do have quick access to flash, HDR and the camera switcher. So you can take a selfie nice and quick. There are only three modes included on the Desire 530's camera, which include the Selfie mode (aka the front-facing camera), Camera and Panorama. Nothing fancy whatsoever. The shutter can be a bit slow with the Desire 530 camera, although it's not much of an issue unless you have HDR on. With HDR on, the shutter becomes very slow. And this is due to the processing that it does after it takes the picture. So it's not ideal for doing burst shot.
When it comes to the actual pictures and videos taken with the camera on the Desire 530, they actually come out looking pretty decent. Of course, these images aren't going to rival the Galaxy S7's camera, but for a smartphone in its price range, it performs quite well. Now if you check out the images in the Flickr gallery below, you'll notice that some of the pictures have quite a bit of noise in them, even ones taken outside in direct sunlight. It doesn't appear on all of them, but ones that aren't macro shots, it appears to be worse on. And whatever you do here, do not zoom in to take a picture, it just completely falls apart. Again, that is to be expected, since this isn't a high-end sensor.
Build Quality: There's likely no other smartphone in this price range that feels as solid as the Desire 530.
Battery Life: It actually outperforms some flagship smartphones, although that's likely due to having less tasks going on in the background.
BoomSound: While it's not the same as the HTC 10's BoomSound, it's still pretty awesome to have it on such a cheap smartphone.
Price: It's at a good price point, although for what we have here, it could probably be a bit lower.
Camera: I'm still a bit in the middle here, with the camera. As it seems that it can take decent pictures, but other times it just fails miserably.
Fingerprint Sensor: There isn't one. Now normally I wouldn't bring it up, but ZTE just launched a $99 smartphone with a 6-inch display and a fingerprint sensor. So there's really no excuse for HTC not having one here.
Carrier Availability: The Desire 530 is available at T-Mobile (and launching today at Verizon) here in the US. That's a bit of a downer for HTC. Especially if they were hoping to sell tons of these smartphones. The better idea would be to sell it unlocked on their website.
Going into this review, I was actually expecting a sluggish performing smartphone with a poor camera on the back. Luckily that wasn't the case here with the Desire 530. Now the Desire 530 isn't going to be a smartphone that should be bought for anyone that is a heavy user, or plays a lot of big games. But for someone who is an average user and just wants something more basic with a decent build quality, it's a good and capable smartphone. HTC should have put in a higher-powered processor here though, a Snapdragon 410 would have done well powering the Desire 530.
Should you buy the HTC Desire 530?
This is a tough question. There's so many variables here. The HTC Desire 530 isn't a bad phone by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not the best phone either. If you aren't looking for a phone that is sold by T-Mobile (and are open to unlocked smartphones) I'd say look at the Moto G4 or Moto G4 Plus, both of which we just reviewed. They start at $199, and offer a whole lot more than the HTC Desire 530 does. But if you want something that's T-Mobile branded - perhaps for WiFi Calling, Voice Over LTE or any other T-Mobile feature - then the HTC Desire 530 is priced pretty well, for what it is.