By Anupam Saxena
HTC Desire 816 is part of the Taiwanese device maker’s mid-range smartphone lineup. The company is now banking on this very segment to revive its fortunes in addition to riding on the critical acclaim that its flagship phone, One (M8) received. With Desire 816, HTC is perhaps looking at offering a feature-complete, yet affordable, big-screen smartphone to consumers. Does it succeed? We try to find out in our review.
Build & design
HTC Desire 816 essentially follows the same design philosophy as the company’s flagship phone, HTC One, complete with front dual stereo speakers. However, unlike the One’s all-metal chasis, Desire 816 is made of plastic.
Since the phone sports a big, 5.5-inch display, the overall footprint is also larger compared to One. Having said that, it doesn’t look unwieldy like One Max and people with small fingers will also find the phone’s use manageable.
It sports a unibody form factor with rounded corners. Although made of plastic with a glossy finish, the build quality is pretty good and exudes a premium feel. In fact, it reminds us of Apple iPhone 5C.
The display is flanked by dual stereo BoomSound speakers on both sides. The speaker grill fits in a single line, with bigger holes unlike the One’s grill that is spread over four lines. The 5MP front-facing camera lens sits above the display and is prominent.
Just like HTC One (M8), this phone doesn’t sport physical keys at the front and uses on-screen keys for navigation.
The left edge of the phone features the Power/Screen lock and the volume rocker keys that offer decent tactile feedback, while the right side sports a plastic flap that hides two nano-sim card slots and a microSD card slot. We found the positioning of the power button a bit awkward. It’s more towards the top and is on the right side, making it cumbersome to use.
One of the sim card slot supports both CDMA-EVDO and GSM-HSPA sim cards, while the other one supports a GSM-only sim card.
The 3.5mm headset jack sits at the top while the micro-USB port is placed at the bottom edge.
The back of the phone features a 13MP rear camera and LED flash. It sports a glossy finish, but it is designed such that smudges are not easily visible.
Overall, Desire 816 feels durable as HTC has used quality plastic material.
The front of the phone is dominated by a 5.5-inch Super LCD 2 display with a resolution of 720 x 1280pixels. Although, the number of pixels packed are less due to the large size of the display, we did not notice any pixilation and images and text appeared sharp and crisp.
Watching videos and movies is a pleasurable experience thanks to the phone’s big screen. Having said that, a single hand usage becomes a little difficult due to its large form factor.
Viewing angles were also good and colours appeared vivid, though not as vibrant as that on HTC One (M8). Under-sun legibility was good.
Unfortunately, Desire 816’s display doesn’t come with Gorilla Glass protection, so you’ll need a scratch guard, or be careful about protecting it from keys and coins.
HTC Desire 816 comes with Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the latest version of the OS with Sense 6, the new version of HTC’s custom UI, running on top. The software on the phone is very similar to the one on HTC One (M8), HTC’s flagship phone for 2014.
However, unlike One (M8), Desire 816 does not offer support for gestures like ‘double tap to unlock’ and ‘swipe to unlock’ to a home screen/Blinkfeed. The gestures would have made more sense on 816 given its bigger form factor and the awkward placement of the Power/Unlock key.
While the UI looks very different from stock Android, we quite like the Sense 6 interface. It doesn’t look very different from that of the previous version of Sense.
It sports the on-screen navigation keys which hide while playing games and using apps that make use of Android’s new immersive mode. For more on the user interface, you can check out our HTC One (M8) review.
Camera Unlike HTC One (M8), Desire 816 doesn’t feature an UltraPixel camera. Instead, it includes a 13MP BSI sensor with f/2.2 aperture and a 28mm lens.
Unlike HTC One (M8), Desire 816 doesn’t come with HTC ImageChip. This means that features like the Zoe mode are not included and the camera takes extra time to process the image after capturing it.
Images shot with the phone in optimum light looked great. Colour reproduction, exposure and contrast were just right and images looked natural.
However, the same can’t be said about low-light photos (without the use of night mode) which looked noisy and lacked detail. The camera also offers Panorama and HDR modes.
It is capable of capturing 1080p videos and did not disappoint us in terms of audio and video quality.
Desire 816’s front-camera has a 5MP sensor with f2.0 wide angle lens for taking selfies. It also includes a timer switch and touchup feature for enhanced selfies. The phone clicks good-quality selfies and offers a number of options to eliminate blemishes, fix red eye and whiten skin tone.
HTC Desire 816 is powered by a 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor and 1.5GB RAM. Even though it is a mid-range device, the 816 never felt underpowered with the hardware being capable of supporting multitasking and gaming without hiccups.
We did not notice any lag while launching and switching between apps, editing photos, browsing the web, clicking pictures, watching high definition videos, or playing graphics-heavy games.
In synthetic benchmarks, the phone scored 20,623 in Antutu, 12,653 in Quadrant, 1466 in Geekbench 3(Multi-core) and 58.1 in Nenamark 2 benchmark tests.
We were able to play videos of popular file formats without any issues. Additional file formats can be played through third party video player apps. The phone also comes with FM Radio.
HTC Desire 816’s front stereo speakers offer enhanced sound quality in addition to delivering sound that’s much more powerful and clear compared to many phones.
Call quality was excellent and the phone works well even in weak signal areas. We also observed that 816 catches even weak Wi-Fi signals. The phone comes with GPS and A-GPS for navigation and maps, and it was easily able to lock a signal.
It supports Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX codec support. This allows the phone to deliver CD-like sound over Bluetooth (usually, the sound quality deteriorates over Bluetooth). We found that the phone offers good sound quality even when connected to a Bluetooth stereo headset.
But the thing we liked the most about this phone is its battery backup. The phone comes with a 2600mAh battery and will last you more than a day with moderate to high usage including about one to two hours of making calls, playing games, clicking some pictures, listening to music and browsing the web; and about one-and-a-half day if you don’t play games or watch multimedia content.
Just like One (M8), the phone comes with an Extreme power-saving mode, activating which will make the phone’s battery last much longer. The mode restricts background data and offers access to Phone, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Calculator apps.
We were able to play games like Subway Surfers, Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8(with Visual Quality set to High and Engine at 100%) without encountering any frame drops or freezes. The phone tends to get a little warm after long gaming sessions.
Desire 816 is a capable mid-range phone that offers almost all features you’ll care about. If you can’t afford One (M8) but want a similar experience, this is the closest you’ll get by shelling out less than Rs 24,000. All the more better if you’re a fan of big displays.
The phone is well-built, sports a decent display, offers good performance, great battery life and comes with the tag of a premium brand. The enhanced audio quality and multimedia experience is the cherry on the cake.
We have no qualms in recommending the phone over others in the same price range and feel that it is a value for money proposition. If you want an even bigger phone, Sony Xperia T2 Ultra is an option but you’ll need to spend about Rs 1,000 more. However, that phone comes with a slightly inferior chip and an older version of Android.
You can also take a look at Moto X if you’re okay with a smaller screen and want a near-stock Android experience.