Desire 601

In contrast to last year, HTC has kept its premium “HTC One” branding for only its top two smartphones in 2013, leaving the Desire series to occupy the mid-range and entry-level space. We’ve already seen Desires 200, 500 and 600 arrive in various European territories over the past few months, and now it’s time for a hero device for that product line. Enter the Desire 601.

Don’t be fooled by the small numeric difference between the Desire 600 and the 601 -- the latter is a very different beast. For starters, it’s packing a dual-core Snapdragon 400 CPU at 1.4GHz. That’s backed up by 1GB of RAM, the latest HTC Sense UI and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. If that sounds familiar, it might be because that’s the same hardware and software base found within the HTC One Mini.

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But the Desire 601 is positioned below the One Mini in HTC’s product lineup, and as such it sports a regular 5-megapixel camera instead of the 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” unit. (This gives you an increased megapixel count, but likely reduced low-light performance.) The metal unibody of the HTC One series has also been replaced with a polycarbonate shell, although it’s one of the nicest plastic chassis we’ve seen of late. The back has a very soft soft-touch finish (HTC says the specific texture is called “baby soft”), and a pleasing curve to it, making it incredibly comfortable to hold. In fact the whole phone is a more rounded than the "One" series devices, which have somewhat sharper edges.

Desire 601 Desire 601

Around the front are two loud “BoomSound” front-facing speakers, and sandwiched between them is the phone’s 4.5-inch LCD display. It’s got a qHD (960x540) resolution panel, which is perhaps the device’s biggest disappointment, but we have to admit it’s a pretty good-looking LCD with ample brightness and vivid colors.

When it comes to software, we’ve seen just about everything on here before during the course of reviewing the One and One Mini. On the Desire 601 you're getting the latest HTC Sense 5 UI, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and headline features like the BlinkFeed home screen experience and the HTC gallery app with Zoes and automatic video highlights. We’re pleased to report that in our short time with the phone we noticed no performance issues whatsoever. The Desire 601 seemed just as snappy as the HTC One Mini, no surprise, as it uses the same processor.

Desire 601

Compromises have to be made when producing a mid-level smartphone, and we think HTC's made some smart choices in what it's kept and what it's cut. The Snapdragon 400 chip in particular stands out as a component should stand the Desire 601 in good stead in the months and years ahead. Build quality, too, is reaffirmed as one of the company's strengths, with a high-quality matte plastic finish that's right up there with the latest stuff from Nokia. At the same time the "Ultrapixel" camera, a very mixed bag on HTC's high-end phones, has sensibly been sidestepped.

We should also that the Desire 601 is the first “Desire” phone to ship with LTE support, which is becoming increasingly important in the UK market as Vodafone and O2 (and eventually Three) join the 4G game.

So the 601 is the best-looking and most powerful handset yet in the HTC Desire range, a line it joins as a much-needed flagship product. Look for a European launch for the HTC Desire 601 in September in white, black and red color options.