While smartphone manufacturers continue to release faster and beefier versions of their flagship products, there is still a large portion of users who can’t always afford to upgrade their phones every few months. Or the portion of people who are looking for a good smartphone experience but in a more affordable package. This is where the mid-level smartphones come in, which often feature some decent specifications and designs, but with a few liberties here and there. The HTC Desire 816 is one such phone – not quite as flashy as the dominating HTC One M8, but still a decent phone with plenty to offer.
Build quality & design
Since this is a mid-range phone, you won’t find HTC’s sleek and sultry design cues here. Instead of an aluminum unibody as seen on the HTC One or One M8, the Desire 816 features a plastic body, with a glossy back and matte front and sides. It comes in a selection of colors, and my white review unit was excellent at hiding the smudges that I would normally see on my M8. Though the Desire 816 has a plastic body, it doesn’t feel cheap to hold, and generally has a fair bit of heft to it.
Along the left side of the device is the power button and volume rocker, while a headphone jack and microUSB sit at the top and bottom. On the right you’ll find a long plastic flap which hides the SIM card and microSD slots. There’s another SIM slot which was blocked in my review unit – that’s for territories that will be receiving the dual-SIM version of the Desire 816. You’ve got the two front-facing speakers as well which were seen on the original HTC One, although instead of a fine mesh grille, there are small holes drilled into the case.
There’s one obvious thing to say about the Desire 816 and that it’s a big phone. I’ve got pretty big hands, but even then it was a bit awkward to try and use this phone with one hand, especially trying to just turn it on. The screen measures 5.5”, and it’s certainly not something you’re going to be able to slip into your pocket very easily. The big screen is great for viewing content, but it just becomes so awkward to hold at times.
Powering the Desire 816 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor running at 1.6 GHzGPU, and 1.5GB of RAM. This of course can’t compare to HTC’s other flagship models, but it honestly doesn’t need to. Most apps run just fine on the Desire 816, and the phone’s UI showed no signs of lag anywhere. Some more complex apps or games may stutter a bit, but otherwise you’ll face no issues running apps or viewing content on the large display. The onboard 8GB of storage won’t last long once you install apps and content, so it’s a good thing that HTC have included a microSD card slot for additional storage.
One of the things you won’t get with the Desire 816 are the motion controls, which means you can’t unlock your screen by picking it up and swiping, nor can you activate the camera without first unlocking your phone. To be honest, these features can be overlooked by most users – it’s just that I’ve gotten so used to them from my One M8.
UI and Apps
HTC has implemented its Sense UI 6 on the Desire 816, which sits on top of Android 4.4.2. You’ll miss out on HTC’s great TV app since the Desire 816 doesn’t have an IR blaster, and even HTC’s own app store didn’t seem to have anything for the Desire 816. But you’ll still get the HTC Blinkfeed, which will aggregate social media and news posts for you in one convenient place.
Screen and Camera
The 5.5” screen sports a resolution of 720 x 1280, so while you’ll be watching content in 720p, it’s still quite decent. The screen brightness could use a bit of tweaking, as sometimes even at maximum brightness images seemed to be a little bit dull. But otherwise text is fairly crisp and clear, and the larger screen makes scrolling through images and websites a breeze.
The camera on the Desire 816 is 13 megapixels, which is different from the Ultrapixel camera found on the One. Even so, it’s quite capable at taking some great shots, but will often struggle to focus quickly on an object. But once you’ve got everything framed properly, you can takes some surprisingly good photos with this camera. You unfortunately won’t have access to HTC’s Zoe feature (the Zoe app is installed but says “coming soon” when you launch it), so you’re stuck with capturing regular photos until then. However HTC have included a bunch of filters and effects that you can apply to your photos to keep you busy. The front-facing 5 megapixel camera is also quite good, and is capable enough of taking good group shots and selfies. Both cameras get a little bit fussy in low light, so you’ll need to let the flash kick in every so often.
Sound & Call Quality
Because the Desire 816 features front-facing speakers and BoomSound, you’ll enjoy fantastic audio when watching videos or listening to music. It’s great that HTC chose to bring this stellar feature from their flagship One, as it really is a major selling point for the Desire 816. Call quality on the Desire 816 was good, if slightly muffled at times.
Heat levels & Battery Life
For such a large phone you’d think that there would be an equally large battery, but the Desire 816 hides a 2,600mAh battery which is surprisingly unimpressive. If you’re a heavy phone user and take a lot of photos or stream music on the go, you’ll quickly whittle down the battery before the day is done. But if you kick in HTC’s Power Saving mode, you’ll be able to last through the day with a few sacrifices here and there.
The HTC Desire 816 is a good mid-range phone that competes squarely against others in the market from the likes of Nokia or Lenovo. It’s certainly not as flashy as the HTC One, but that’s to be expected in order to keep it affordable. The size of the phone and placement of the power button is a concern, as you just simply can’t use this phone with one hand. But with a decent camera, great sounding speakers, and expandable storage, the HTC Desire 816 is a strong contender for an affordable mid-range smartphone, priced at AED 1,199.
+ Great speakers
+ Fuss-free design
+ Decent camera
- Awkward to use with one hand
- Screen brightness can be disappointing at times
- Average battery life