Review – HTC Desire 816

Callum Tennent
September 1, 2014

[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]



OS Android 4.4 KitKat

Processor 1.6GHz quad-core

Screen 5.5 inches

Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels

Memory 1.5GB RAM

Storage 8GB

Micro SD compatible? Yes

Camera 13MP rear-facing, 5MP front-facing

Video 1080p

Connectivity 4G

Dimensions 156.6 x 78.7 x 7.9 mm

Weight 165g

Battery 2,600 mAh

[alert type=alert-blue]Introduction[/alert]

HTC is moving in a very positive direction. The company’s finances may be erring on the bipolar side of late, with the company in recession one minute and glorious resurrection the next, but your average consumer should have nothing to fear.

We loved the One M8, we were rather fond of the One Mini 2, and we’re pleasantly surprised to say that this, the HTC Desire 816, is a device which ties this new HTC family together nicely.

[alert type=alert-blue]Design[/alert]

HTC - Desire 816 rear

With the flagship and the compact out of the way, the Desire 816 is here to fill the role of the ‘phablet’. It certainly fills it alright, in a literal sense no less – the Desire 816 absolutely enormous. It’s got a 5.5-inch display (that’s half an inch larger than the One M8), which is par for the phablet course at this point. Combine it with an even larger body though and you get one seriously large handset.

At 156.6mm it’s a whole 10.3mm taller than the LG G3, a handset with the same sized display but markedly thinner bezels. The result is a device which may be a little difficult to manoeuvre with one hand for some. The ergonomics of the Desire 816 make up for that a little, though, with nicely rounded edges that grip well and a perfectly flat ensuring that you’ll rarely find yourself worried about dropping it.

Whilst it certainly looks nice, with a consistent minimalistic smoothness to the design, something does feel a little off about the build quality. If you were hoping for a metal unibody like that of the One M8 family then you may be disappointed – the Desire 816 is plastic all over. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but if you put a little pressure on the handset you can feel it creaking and bending in your hands, and the volume rockers sit ever-so-slightly loose in their housing. Its by no means a deal-breaker, but it does betray the device’s midrange pricing.

It’s also curious that HTC should choose to make a handset entirely of plastic but not make the back casing removable. It’s not even unibody plastic, but the back is firmly fixed in place, meaning the battery is non-removable and irreplaceable. It could have been a nice bonus, especially on a device which has the potential to drain at high usage, but instead we’re stuck with one of the worst features of the One M8 without that glorious metal upside.

[alert type=alert-blue]Screen[/alert]

HTC - Desire 816 front

Just as the handset still looks good, though, so does its 5.5-inch display. On paper we were worried to see that It only has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (as opposed to 1920 x 1080 full-HD), but in practice you would be hard pushed to notice that. It’s more than bright enough and sharp enough to enjoy HD movies to their fullest, and games look exactly as intended.

[alert type=alert-blue]Performance[/alert]

It’s a bonus that those games perform exactly as intended, too, for the most part. Despite the fact that it only packs a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, all but the most demanding of games will run on maximum graphical settings. More importantly though, day to day usage is an absolute breeze.

This was quite possibly the key factor in what set apart the One M8 from its other flagship rivals. It’s simply the smoothest experience on Android, and it does wonders for the ecosystem. It’s a relief then that we can say the same of the Desire 816. A device of its price doesn’t need to do the difficult things exceptionally well, but to nail the simple things is a must. It does so with aplomb.

[alert type=alert-blue]Camera[/alert]

HTC - Desire 816 camera

The only time the lack of processing power rears its ugly head is with the camera. Just what is it with HTC and cameras? How can you create such an excellent device in every other area only to fall at such a simple hurdle? First there was the ‘ultrapixel’ fiasco with the One M8, which saw HTC essentially hamstringing its finest devices by insisting on not using conventional megapixels. Whilst we didn’t mind much, the hardcore photographer would no doubt be put off by its unconventionality and resulting flaws.

Here on the Desire 816 we have a camera which can at times by noticeably slow – mostly with its shutter speed. If you’re not in a hurry though you can get some decent snaps out of it. It uses a 13MP lens rather than an ultrapixel variant, so results are pretty much as you’d expect from a generous, if not exceptional, snapper.

[alert type=alert-blue]Apps[/alert]

The rest of HTC’s default apps work a treat, though. As with many custom Android user-interfaces used by manufacturers, whether or not you find it better than stock Android is purely a matter of preference. We still like HTC’s Sense UI more than any other out there, though, and the apps which accompany it tend to enrich the experience rather than take away from it.

BlinkFeed still occupies the page one swipe to the left of your home screen, creating a customised newsfeed from all of your favourite media outlets. We’ve said it before, but once you get accustomed to having it available to you you’ll never want to consume information any other way. Think of it as a content-heavy Twitter with all of the Instagram posts of your friends’ lunches removed.

There’s the HTC migration tool to help anyone transferring from an iOS device, a fully-featured photo and video editor, an in-car mode for safe, easy use, and an extreme power saving mode for when you want to conserve battery.

Not only is that last one a useful feature to have, but the Desire 816’s battery life is pretty great even without it. Whilst power consumption is often the first concern when checking out a phablet (bigger screen = more power-hungry), you needn’t worry about that here. Even with a day of heavy use you’ll get just as much out of a single charge as you would from devices with considerably smaller displays.

When you factor in the Desire 816’s dual front-facing BoomSound speakers, an HTC device trademark, the feat is all the more impressive. The effect of the BoomSound speakers can’t be understated either – their volume and clarity are unrivalled, and give a wonderful edge to media playback and gaming.

[alert type=alert-blue]Conclusion[/alert]

When you consider that you get all of these great features for under £300 (or less than £20 per month on a 24 month contract), the Desire 816 is a remarkably attractive device. Of course it won’t satisfy those looking for a flagship handset, but if you want a phone bigger than your budget you won’t find much better.

The camera and build quality are a let down, but sacrifices have to be made somewhere to keep the costs down. It looks the part though, and runs so well that all but the most hardened of tech-heads would probably be none the wiser to its mid-range internals. The Desire 816 rounds off what can be considered a very successful core product range for HTC in 2014. Here’s hoping 2015 can be even better.

About the Author

Callum Tennent

International playboy/tech journalist.

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