The HTC Desire 816 is a mid-range 5.5 inch smartphone that attempts to maintain the unique styling of HTC’s recent high-end devices, while hitting a considerably lower price point of less than $350 US. The specifications have generally been toned down in order to reach this level of affordability, but has HTC managed to strike the right balance needed to bring us a ‘best-in-class’ device? Allow Mobile Geeks to shed some light…
The HTC Desire 816 is at least the tenth smartphone from the Taiwanese manufacturer to carry the Desire name, following on the path of the original Desire handset that really put the company on the map back in 2010. Since then we have seen more Desire branded phones than you can shake a stick at, with the Desire HD followed up with the Desire S, Desire V, Desire C and several more; arguably HTC’s muddled Desire branding was indicative of a company in search of direction. With the HTC One and the recent One M8, the company has convinced us that it is back on track, producing two absolutely stunning devices that have won the hearts and minds of many Mobile Geeks, myself included.
HTC Desire 816: Hardware Overview
In terms of pure hardware, the HTC Desire 816 hits a pretty well balanced mid-range sweet spot fairly and squarely on the head. An LCD 720p display is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.5GB of RAM. The rear camera is a 13MP shooter coupled with a LED flash, while the front selfie cam has a 5MP sensor. The device runs Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat with the new HTC Sense v.6 on top.
HTC Desire 816: Specifications
• 5.5” LCD 2 (720 x 1280)
• Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (MSM8928)
• Adreno 305 GPU
• 1.5GB RAM
• 8GB Internal Storage
• microSD up 128GB
• 13MP Rear Camera with LED Flash
• 5MP Front Camera
• Wi-Fi b/g/n, DLNA
• Bluetooth 4.0
• GPS, A-GPS & GLONASS
• 156.6mm x 78.7mm x 8mm
• 165 grams
• 2,600 mAh Battery (non-removable)
The Desire 816 has almost all the features that you would want from a 5.5 inch Android phablet. The omission of NFC support aside, the spec list is solid in all areas, if not exceptional.
Here is an in depth video of the HTC Desire 816 that you can also enjoy, featuring Nicole Scott and myself.
Design and Build Quality
The Desire 816 attempts to give you a larger phablet device with similar styling to the HTC One, only in plastic, not chiseled aluminum. You are not getting a uni-body chassis, but you do get a similar rounded and curved pair of BoomSound speakers above and below the glass display. The back of the device is actually flat and not convex as we saw with the One M8. The plastic finish attracts fingerprints in their droves, especially the black version we tested.
If we continue with our comparison to the One M8, we can tell you that the in-hand feel is utterly inferior, and of course the main reason for this is the nature of plastic as a substance – it simply cannot compete with the feeling of metal in the palm of your hand. There is also a slightly creaky feeling to the device if you give it squeeze – it almost feels like it there is space between the battery and the back cover. We have experienced this kind of issue before on other devices (the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 springs to mind…) but the fact that the back cover does not come off and the battery is non-removable is a bit of a head scratcher.
The frame of the device feels pretty robust however, and appears to be made of rubber coated aluminum, giving the overall feel a non-slip texture that feels good in the hand. The nano SIM card and microSD slots are accessible via a flap on the right side edge of the device – nail biters may have issues getting the flap open. I guess the motivation for the flap is to add some level of protection to the relatively sensitive SIM slots – the device is Dual SIM capable btw, however our sample allowed access to only one. The flap seems to make a good seal, but there is absolutely no talk about IP certification, water or dust proofing. The flap feels well made however and gives the right side edge a less cluttered feel.
One other design decision that I think is very apparent upon your first hands on with the device is the fact that the power button and volume rocker have been placed on the left side of the phone. I have had issues with HTC in the past and their tendency to be inconsistent with button placement – the HTC One power button is on the top left corner, the HTC One M8 places it on the top right side, go figure – so once again I feel that they have thrown an unnecessary curve ball at their user base.
Nicole found that the left edge buttons are reasonably accessible via fingertips, but I have continually been frustrated and found my thumb searching in vain for buttons that are not there. Left handed people will perhaps feel that this is a phone finally designed with them in mind, but I would add one caveat to that; most people just get used to the buttons being positioned a certain way, and I’m guessing most lefties would still need time to adjust to the left side positioning.
Overall, the build quality and design ethos of the device may divide opinion somewhat. If you don’t like the plastic feel of the device and you like the power and volume rocker buttons in a more conventional right side configuration, you may pick up the Desire 816 for the first time, then quickly put it down again.
However, the weight for a 5.5″ device is excellent at only 165 grams and the balance is right too. My initial misgivings began to wane after a few hours with the device, which is well made and solid feeling.
HTC Desire 816 Gallery
The HTC Desire 816 uses a 5.5 inch Super LCD2 capacitive screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (HD 720p) offering a pixel depth of 267ppi. The screen looks good, colors are vivid and punchy enough, the images are sharp and clear. However, put it side-by-side with several of the AMOLED 1080p devices we have around the office, and you will notice the difference immediately. One noticeable difference is the level of brightness, in outdoor situations the Desire 816 handles itself well, but a few extra lumens of brightness would do it no harm.
Overall the 5.5 inch display is actually quite impressive, the viewing angles are good, the 720p resolution still looks sharp to the eye. Larger screen in the past have tended to look slightly pixilated on some cheaper phablet devices, but here the pixels are well defined and crystal clear. For a device at the advertised price point, the display here is impressive.
Unlike the UltraPixel technology we saw employed on the HTC One and One M8, the HTC Desire 816 opts for a more traditional MegaPixel sensor. It probably comes as no surprise that the depth sensor fitted on the One M8 is also missing here – what you are getting on the Desire 816 is something of a much more familiar flavor with a 13MP rear shooter accompanied by LED Flash and a 5MP seflie cam on the front.
In terms of camera features HTC have managed to pack most of the stuff that we have we come to expect from the company; within the camera app you can adjust ISO and exposure levels and white balance settings, plus an array of fun filter settings that you can play around with in real-time, not too dissimilar from Instagram filters. Within settings you can crop, adjust size and resolution and you can also configure your volume rocker to be used in capture and zoom work. All settings can be saved, so that once you find the right configuration for a certain type of shot, you can easily load it again.
Features that adjust focus, ala ‘UFocus’ on the HTC One M8 are not present, and although we see a place where the HTC ‘Zoe’ feature is supposed to be, on our device it was simply missing. Expect an update from HTC with the ‘Zoe’ app available from Google Play.
Generally speaking, the sensor on the Desire 816 does very well in a decent environment with plenty of light, taking some really good quality pics. In lower light conditions it tended struggle a little. When you crop a photo, you may notice that the shot is a bit noisy, caused by the longer shutter speeds allowing for more noise and leakage. Good conditions will produce good pics. Demanding conditions will see the Desire 816 do less well.
Check out the Full HTC Desire 816 Camera Shot Gallery:
HTC has blown the legs off the old adage that mobile phone audio sucks. The BoomSound speakers on the HTC One and HTC One M8 are nothing short of exceptional, offering a much louder, clearer and bassier audio experience than any of us thought possible just a few years ago. With the HTC Desire 816 we are really happy to see that HTC have once again provided a great experience that also uses dual stereo speakers on either end of the 5.5 inch display. Not quite as loud as the One M8 we tested a few weeks ago, but still a truly great experience, especially in gaming where a rifle shot in a 3D shooter is convincingly loud and explosions shudder and rumble.
The rise of powerful yet portable Bluetooth speakers in the last year or two indicates to me that micro-level speaker technology is getting better and better, with significant progress in the raw materials and components used. HTC are clearly doing more than any other manufacturer to exploit these new technologies to the hilt, and the Desire 816 can stand proud in this regard.
The HTC Desire 816 runs on the Snapdragon 400 platform from Qualcomm with the MSM8928 quad-core 1.6GHz system-on-chip supporting LTE 4G. The Adreno 305 GPU takes care of graphics and media, a lesser variant of the Adreno family which includes the Adreno 330 that we see on Snapdragon 800 and 801 platforms. HTC decided to go with 1.5GB of system memory, which should be more than sufficient.
The uptake of all this is that while the Desire 816 is not going to win any benchmark competitions this year, don’t be fooled into thinking it is a slouch either. The user experience with Android 4.4 is slick and smooth with virtually zero lagginess.
In terms of performance benchmarks, you can check out our article on the issue which goes into a little more detail.
You can also watch a video we made running our standard benchmark suite on the Desire 816:
Here is a table that compares the benchmark scores of the HTC Desire 816, with the Sony Xperia Z2 (Snapdragon 801) and Xiaomi Redmi Note (MediaTek Oct-Core).
Xperia Z2 / HTC Desire 816 / Xiaomi Redmi Note: Benchmark Comparison
|Sony Xperia Z2||HTC Desire 816||Xiaomi Redmi Note|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||26.9fps||5.9fps||NA|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||18753||4839||6008|
|Sunspider (lower is better)||762.4||910.2||1316.9|
The results indicate that the flagship Snapdragon 801 is streets of ahead of both the Snapdragon 400 and the MediaTek Octa-core platforms. It is interesting also to see MediaTek showing strong in 3DMark and GeekBench Multi-core testing where those extra cores are making a difference.
Check our video of the Desire 816 playing Anomaly 2 and several others in our full assessment below:
Catch the full gaming video review here:
The HTC Desire 816 is equipped with a non-removable 2,600mAh battery. As I mentioned earlier the actual chassis design is clearly not unibody, the back panel is a separate piece, it even feels as if the there is space between the back panel and the internals. In this light HTC’s decision to forgo a removable battery and back panel seems a little odd.
Consider my reasoning: I would accept a non-removable battery in unibody case – i.e. one piece designs like the HTC One devices and the iPhone, but I feel slightly cheated when plastic panels are present, and I’m not allowed in. I can see no logic for this except that HTC is following the path and direction set by the HTC One series, a path where the user has long accepted that batteries don’t come out and SIM cards are loaded on the side. If that is the reasoning, then for me it is at least questionable logic that drives it.
In terms of capacity too, we have seen 5.5 inch devices such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note pack a larger 3,200 mAh battery, so the Desire 816 does seem a little under spec and weak in this area. The larger battery arguably translates into a heavier device – the Redmi is 35 grams heavier than the Desire 816 interestingly, so perhaps device weight was considered a priority over battery life.
Regular users should have no problems getting a full day of light-normal usage from the HTC Desire 816, but as Nicole reports in the video, heavy users may find it falls short of a working day. There are two power saving options however; regular power saving will optimize your Desire 816, helping stretch the battery out for a day, while Extreme Power Saving will help stretch those last few bars to the maximum.
Straight off, I admit to being disappointed with a paltry 8GB of storage which prove a hindrance generally, especially when installing larger games, especially now with Android 4.4 which restricts microSD card installs. There should be a law that states all smartphones and phablets should have at least 16GB!
Consider that Anomoly 2, a popular action strategy game requires up to 1.5GB of storage space. The HTC Desire 816 when fresh out of the box (i.e. factory reset) has just under half of its 8GB capacity used up with the Android 4.4 OS and default apps, leaving a little under 5GB for all other apps and associated data. After installing three games of a similar ilk to Anomaly 2, we found that the device was indeed struggling.
The HTS Desire 816 runs the same HTC Sense v6 that we first encountered on the HTC One M8 a few weeks ago. Not a great deal has changed here on the Desire 816. BlinkFeed is once again present on the left of your home screen by default, but I don’t want to bash HTC too much about pushing their own app eco-system, because compared to several other Android device manufacturers, they have learned to reign in their ambitions somewhat.
This is in evidence if you look at the choice of widgets available; the vast majority are the familiar Google app widgets that we all know and love. Generally however, the apps from HTC apps we do encounter on the device are well presented and stylish, keeping a simple unfussy approach that is not quite as Zen as the ASUS ZenUi, or as flat as the new Samsung approach, but it looks fantastic and performs very well here.
HTC Sense UI v6 Gallery
For now we will keep to what I refer to as local pricing and with HTC being a native of my current home Taiwan, I feel referencing NT dollars to be entirely apt. The HTC Desire 816 is available here for sum of NT9,900 (which translates to approximately $330 dollars) with a pricing of 379 Euros in Europe. We have yet to see the Desire 816 arrive in the US and UK however.
So how does the NT9,990 price tag compete here in Taiwan where Xiaomi have already started to make serious in roads with two devices that I think really put the HTC Desire 816 in perspective. The budget 5.5 inch Redmi Note will retail for less than half the price of the Desire 816 when it arrives later this year, while the Mi3 currently retails for NT8,200 direct from the Xiaomi website.
In terms of hardware, the Mi3 is a real gem, sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and a full HD 1080p screen. It’s chiseled good looks are pretty impressive too. The Redmi (Hongmi) Note is the same 5.5 inches in stature as the Desire 816 and not far behind in terms of the processor, cams and 720p display (in theory at least) – yet it will be half the price that HTC is asking for the Desire 816!
The HTC Desire 816 is not without its issues; the slightly creaky plastic case design and the paltry 8GB internal storage are the two issues that I think really would deter me from making a purchase. No doubt many users will also find the camera to be average at best, the mediocre batter life and odd button placement just too much to bare.
This all sounds harsh, because the HTC Desire 816 is a reasonably solid phablet, and as I concluded in the game review, the device had potential to be a real gaming and media powerhouse with its good quality display and incredible sounding speakers. Alas, the small internal storage makes it a tough ask for serious gamers to consider (although more savvy Geeks will find a way around the Kit Kat microSD restrictions… more on that another day).
As discussed above, the asking price is also a big ask considering the slew of high quality alternatives available at the moment, not just from Chinese players like Xiaomi, One Plus and others, but also competitors closer to home like Asus and their ZenFone 6 phablet which hits an aggressive NT6,000 (approx $200 US) price point.
Just 6 months ago the HTC Desire 816 would have hit us as being a solid contender in the mid-range phablet / large smartphone segment, but today the feeling is one lacking in such enthusiasm. Here’s why:
a) the entry-level segment is has improved in recent months – e.g. the Hongmi Note, while b) the high-end is getting cheaper – I refer you to the OnePlus One and the Mi3. The middle ground seems to be shrinking, and HTC will have to modify their strategy once more to accommodate these shifts.
Have HTC taken a misstep with the Desire 816, or have market forces conspired against them on this one? I think you could probably say that both factors combine to make the HTC Desire 816, a difficult device to recommend with too much enthusiasm right now.