[Editor's note: Our review unit is from China, and while it has Sense 5.5, it will be updated to Sense 6 'soon'. All Desire 816's purchased outside of China will have Sense 6 out of the box]
Typically when we think of midrange devices one of the first words that tend to come to mind is compromise. We think of lesser performance, lesser build quality, lesser specs, pretty much lesser everything. Now HTC, a company that is known for premium build quality, performance, and design, is looking to redefine the midrange game by bringing everything that you tend to expect from high end flagships in a more modest package.
HTC is looking to prove that just because a phone is “midrange” doesn’t necessarily mean that every single aspect of the phone has to be sacrificed, and if there is a company out there that could build a quality midrange phone it’s HTC.
Let’s take a look at HTC’s latest midrange offering with the Desire 816 in our full review.
The Desire lineup has always been very popular overseas and the 816 is no exception selling out extremely quick in countries like China during it’s initial launch.
Related: Best HTC Desire 816 Cases
We didn’t do an actual unboxing for the Desire 816 but the packaging was very typical HTC. Inside the box is the phone itself obviously and everything else was pretty standard like the micro USB charging cable, wall adapter, and the usual slew of reading materials. Unfortunately this phone does not come with any earbuds included, which HTC is usually pretty good about.
In terms of build quality the Desire 816 is a very solidly constructed device. It’s a unibody design that is made entirely of plastic with a glossy back that can be very prone to finger prints and a matte finish on the sides and front which I thought would get dirty easily, especially on this white model but it seems to have held up pretty well so far. It doesn’t hold a candle to the aluminum construction of the One M8 but the Desire 816 still feels very premium in the hand and could give other major flagship devices a run for their money.
There’s no denying that this is a large phone compared to most. It’s wide and tall and it’s a little on the slippery side making it hard to hold on to but it’s probably no bigger than a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. If you’re used to phones that size than you shouldn’t have any issues but it is larger than the Nexus 5 and definitely much larger than Moto X. Despite it’s size though it’s a surprisingly thin phone coming in at only 7.99 mm.
The top of the phone houses the typical 3.5mm headset jack with a noise cancellation microphone. The micro USB port sits on the bottom and then following along to the right side is a rather large flap that covers the two sim card slots and a micro SD card slot with support for up to a whopping 128 gigs of storage. And finally on the left side of the phone is the volume rocker and a power button that is awkwardly placed right above that took some getting used to.
I like that HTC put the power button the side but I would have preferred it to be on the right side or at least a little lower on the chassis so it’s easier to reach without having to shuffle the device around in my hand just to power it on.
On the front of the phone is HTC’s now tried and true BoomSound speakers which HTC made very popular with the One line up. Trust me when I say this – but there are absolutely no compromises with the quality of the speakers. They are very loud and produce a clean and crisp sound with just the right amount of bass and the size of the phone actually creates a very nice stereo effect when watching videos or listening to music in landscape.
HTC’s front facing BoomSound speakers are still the best speakers you can find on a smartphone so it’s nice to see them push this feature into their midrange line up.
Also on the front is the 5.5 inch LCD display coming in at 1280×720 resolution and even though this isn’t the highest resolution or pixel dense display, it’s still a great looking display. I would say it’s every bit as good as the One M8 minus the resolution obviously, and that features great color reproduction, wide viewing angles, and deep looking blacks for being an LCD.
The bezels around the display are a little large and you still get that bottom bar for a dedicated HTC logo just like you do on the One M8, but honestly it didn’t bother me all that much or detract from the viewing experience. Overall, it’s a great looking display with a size that is perfect for consuming media like watching movies or playing games.
Specs wise the Desire 816 is rocking a Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.6Ghz backed by 1.5GB of RAM, an Adreno 305 GPU and 8GB of internal storage. No, this phone doesn’t have the latest and greatest specs but with Android 4.4 KitKat having lower system requirements, this thing doesn’t need it. It’s still plenty fast in day to day usage and seemed to handle everything I threw at it with relative ease.
Apps opened very quickly, web browsing performance was great, and I had no problems playing graphically intensive games likes Shadowgun Deadzone or Dead Trigger 2. The overall experience has been smooth and responsive with very little lag.
The camera on the Desire 816 is also nothing to be overlooked coming in at 13 megapixels with auto focus and a single LED flash. Besides the BoomSound speakers, the camera is probably one of the best parts about this phone. When you fire this camera up for the first time you will notice that this is not the new Sense 6 camera but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Sense 5 camera software is still great and it will be very familiar territory for anyone that’s ever used the original HTC One. Thankfully, it’s only units sold in China that will feature Sense 5, whereas the rest of the world will receive Sense 6 out of the box.
The shutter speed isn’t instant but it’s still fast enough to fire off some quick shots in any given situation and there’s a lot of shooting modes and options to help you get that perfect shot. The photos come out looking very sharp and at 13 megapixels worth of resolution you’re going to be able to zoom and crop without losing much detail which is an important aspect to a lot of people.
Color reproduction is great as photos came out looking vibrant without looking overly saturated. Dynamic range is decent as the camera does a pretty good job of balancing out the lights and darks but every once in a while you’ll get that shot where the lights are completely blown out or there’s a lot of detail being lost in the dark. With an aperture of f/2.2 you can expect pretty good low light performance from this camera as well and you’ve got that same 5 megapixel front facing shooter from the One M8 for taking great looking selfies. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Overall this is a great camera on a supposedly midrange device and dare I say it but I think many people would have liked to see this camera in the One M8.
The battery capacity of the Desire 816 is rated at 2600 mAh, which happens to be the same size battery as the one found in the One M8. It is a non-removable battery which might be a deal breaker for some but I’m used to phones with non-removable batteries so it didn’t bother me at all. I had no problems with the battery life and was very impressed by the longevity of the battery on a single charge. During my first full day with this device I managed to keep the phone unplugged for a little over 24 hours before I had to put it back on the charger which wasn’t until early afternoon the next day.
I did the usual activities like text, check social networks, read emails, browse the web, watch YouTube, listen to music, you name it. I also spent a great amount of time testing out the camera so I was pleasantly surprised at how long the phone lasted even with such heavy usage on the camera. I didn’t do anything special to manage the battery life. With the exception of keeping the screen brightness low, I used this phone just like I normally would any other phone.
On the software side of things the Desire 816 is running the latest version of Android out of the box with 4.4.2 KitKat with Sense 5.5 and features on screen buttons just like the One M8 so it looks like HTC might be making the shift to on screen keys for good. It’s very surprising to see the Desire 816 ship with an older version of Sense and not the latest Sense 6 especially considering back at Mobile World Congress, HTC wouldn’t allow anyone to turn the phone on because it was running new software.
[Editor's note: HTC has confirmed that all Desire 816's sold outside of China will feature Sense 6]
It’s great that this phone ships with the latest version of Android but sadly, as our review unit was acquired out of China, it only has Sense 5.5. It still has features like Zoe, video highlights, and Blinkfeed on your left most home screen which I was unable to use because our review unit is the China model of the Desire 816 so all the news sources happened to be in Chinese. If you buy the Desire 816 outside of China, it will feature Sense 6 and will feature Blinkfeed in your language of choice.
If you’re wondering about connectivity this phone supports HSPA+ and LTE but the band support is rather limited. You’ll want to be careful if you do decide to purchase this phone as there are two models floating around out there. The EMEA model or Europe, Middle East, Africa and the China model, both of which support the same connectivity but on slightly different bands.
I can’t speak for the EMEA model but as far as the China model is concerned I was able to get great HSPA+ speeds on T-Mobile’s network but no LTE unfortunately. If you don’t mind HSPA+ than you shouldn’t have any problems using this phone on U.S. carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T.
The Desire 816 is available now internationally through various outlets such as Amazon ranging from 370 to 400 Euros and in the United States the only place that I’ve managed to find it is on Ebay for a little over 400 dollars. Not such a bad price in my opinion considering all that this phone offers even if it is “midrange.”
So there you have it for the HTC Desire 816. Overall, this is a fantastic phone and although it’s being pushed as a midrange offering I never felt that way about this phone during my time using it. It comes packed with a large and beautiful looking display with the premium build quality that we come to expect from HTC. You also get HTC’s BoomSound speakers with a pretty awesome camera that completes the entire package. If you can live without LTE and a lower resolution display than I have no reservations on recommending this phone and if there’s a midrange phone out there that’s worth looking at, it’s the Desire 816.