HTC have managed to turn around their ailing fortunes in recent years, last year they struck gold with the HTC One M7, it won a plethora of awards and also managed to captivate the general public and took inroads from the likes of Apple and Samsung, they replicated that success again this year, with the excellent One M8, and now they’re looking to make inroads into the mid-market, the HTC Desire 816 is for the budget conscious individual who also wants decent specs and a bigger screen, can it live up to the hype of its more expensive sibling the flagship One M8? Let’s find out.
Design / Hardware
The design of the Desire 816 is pretty distant from that of the company’s flagship the One M8, where the One M8 has smooth aluminium curves, the Desire 816 is a little bit less imaginative, it’s more of a plastic rectangle than a chamfered square. It’s not even really an elegant plastic, like the HTC E8, or the unashamedly plastic IPhone 5C, it’s just plastic. A large piece of plastic at that coming in with a 5.5 inch display it measures in at 156.6mm tall and 78.7mm wide, it’s definitely not going to be to everyone’s taste and it’s definitely not a job for one hand, although the plastic does make it pleasant to grip, you’re still going to need two hands to operate this large fella.
One the left hand side of the device you’ll find the location of the power and volume keys, the phone is far too tall for a power button to be placed at the top, the placement of the buttons means when you do occasionally try one-handed operation it’s more than likely going to be with your left hand. Over on the other side of the device is the housing for a microSD slot which allows you to expand the memory up to 128GB and of course room for the sim card tray, which allows you to use the phone’s antennas.
The phone itself weighs in at 165g which is understandable due to the sheer size of the phone, round the back of the device the plastic becomes more glossy, which does give it a bit more of a premium look and feel, although it is a magnet for hand grease and can become unsightly and hard to handle after a while of use.
Keeping in line with HTC’s recent tradition of locating the speakers on the front of the device, the Desire 816 is no different, it provides a much better audio experience than if the speakers were located on the back or bottom of the phone and also has amplified sound, meaning watching and playing media is great.
Now, they say beauty is only skin deep, and what is happening under the hood is a lot more exciting than what’s going on outside, for a mid-range device the desire 816 has some pretty impressive specs, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset clocked at 1.6GHz and also 1.5GB of RAM for all your multi-tasking needs, I can say it easily glides through various apps and open tabs without any hiccups, there’s even an LTE radio for good measure just to make everything run that extra bit faster, sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re using a mid-range device, although the relatively low screen resolution of 267 ppi does help you remember what it is you’re using.
The software of an Android device is always the most polarizing feature, in regards to manufacturer’s UI you either love it or you hate it and the desire 816 is no different, it’s running the same version of Sense UI (6.0) as the company’s flagship the One M8, layered on top of Android 4.4.2, out of all the various software skins on top of Android, HTC’s Sense UI is definitely one of the best, with 6.0 being the best so far.
If you’ve used an M8 or looked at one in-depth, you won’t find much of a difference here, it’s packing all the same features, you can find HTC’s content section BlinkFeed by simply swiping to the left on your home screen, and the various video and photo editing tools baked into the gallery app, although there is notably less functionality without the duo-camera found on the M8, used for adding various depth and 3D effects to photos afterwards.
For some odd reason HTC has decided to not allow users to customize the lock screen and home screen wallpaper, which has been possible for a long time on smartphones, hopefully HTC will rectify this silly mistake in a software update sometime soon.
Performance and battery life
The Desire 816 is certainly a dark horse in the performance department, with its 1.6GHz snapdragon 400 processor and 1.5 GB of RAM, it does run surprisingly well, so much so you may feel like you’ve purchased a more expensive device, it’s no One M8, or any other flagship device, but it’ll run pretty graphically intense games no problem, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s great for watching multimedia, especially with the amplified front-facing speakers.
So, I know what you’re thinking surely there’s some catch, a cheap mid-range device which excels in the performance department, it must rinse the battery life and be dead by mid-day? Quite the opposite is true actually, the desire 816’s 2,600 MAh battery, which isn’t very big for a phone of this size, managed to last all day with pretty heavy use, most days it would still have between 20%-50% battery depending on how much I used it, but you could comfortably last a full day on one charge. If you’re buying a mid-range phone chances are you won’t care as much about the latest technology as people who wait in queues for flagships, so chances are you won’t be pushing the Desire 816 to it’s limits, meaning you’ll have plenty juice for your daily phone activities.
The HTC Desire 816 has some pretty high-end specs in the camera department, it does away with the M7 and M8’s concept of “ultra pixels” and just goes for good old fashioned megapixels in the back shooter, 13 of them to be exact and it does a good job for the most part. Round the front the Desire 816 has stuck with the M8 by having a 5 megapixel “selfie” camera, which has lots of detail, great for a front facing camera.
The 13 megapixel back camera is capable of producing some excellent shots both stills and video, well-lit indoor photos seem to bring out the best in the camera, with great colour reproduction and tons of detail, it can come out pretty underexposed when taking snaps outside, especially if it’s a bright day. Another area where it’s not that hot is night-time shots, which can come out looking pretty poor quality. The camera app itself can be incredibly slow at times, it is prone to crashing as well, hopefully the slowness can be put down to software issues and not hardware and be remedied with a software update.
As mentioned earlier, there’s also a ton of camera features baked into the app, like various filters, functions for making your skin look better, landscape mode, panoramic and so one and so forth, the Desire 816 does just have the one camera though, so you won’t have any of the duo-camera functions found on the One M8.
The HTC Desire 816 is fantastic value for money and if you’re after a large screen and great performance without the hefty price tag, this is the device for you. The Desire 816 is a workhorse of a phone, HTC are able to give you a highly specced device for a budget conscious price, by taking away the fancy building materials and just giving you what you need in an admittedly not so stunning package.
Although the Desire 816 does have its flaws inside and outside, but it’s what you have to expect from a mid-range device, and perhaps you’re barking up the wrong tree, if you want cutting edge software and hardware, as you won’t find it here, although what you will find is a great all round device, which will take good photos, give you excellent audio quality and last all day long for a very affordable price.