One At Heart: HTC Desire 816 review

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HTC Desire 816 in hand

The HTC Desire 816 is an interesting device. It is clearly a “One” in heart and soul, but branded and marketed differently, and targeted instead at the mid-range market. In my opinion, it is even better value for money than the M8. You will want to find out why, so do come along.

Instead of a metallic body, it has a very nice polycarbonate shell that speaks class just as well. Instead of a 4 megapixel UltraPixel camera, it packs a 13 megapixel camera. But beyond those two key differences, it is to all intents and extents an HTC One in disguise.

The Desire 816 runs Android OS, v4.4.2 (KitKat) and HTC’s custom UI, Sense 6.0. The engine that powers it is a 1.6 GHz Cortex-A7 quad-core processor. It has a very nice 5.5-inch display with 720 x 1280 pixels. Then, the trademark front-facing loudspeakers are here too. You should listen to music through them to appreciate the huge difference in audio quality that they provide.

A quick run-down of specs:

SIM type: Nano-SIM/Single SIM
Network data: GPRS/EDGE/3G/LTE
Released: March, 2014
Dimension: 156.6 x 78.7 x 7.9 mm
Weight: 165g
Display: 5.5 inches, 720 x 1280 pixels, Super LCD
Memory: 8GB, plus micro SD card up to 128GB
Camera: 13MP back with LED flash, 5MP front-facing
OS: Android 4.4.2 Kitkat
Chipset: Qualcomm MSM8928 Snapdragon 400
CPU: Quad-core 1.6 GHz
GPU: Adreno 305
RAM: 1.5GB
Radio: Yes
Battery: 2600 mAh
Price: N58,000

You can get the full specs here.

UNBOXING

The packaging is rather lovely: a glossy white box with the brand name embossed in red. Accessories bundled include: USB cable and wall plug. Dazall.

HARDWARE AND DESIGN
HTC Desire 816 thickness
The Desire 816 is made of polycarbonate, and it is a very well built one. The design type is unibody, with a flap-covered slot for SIM card (cards in the dual SIM version) and memory card. At the top and bottom of the display are the stereo speakers. The unit we have here is the grey colour, which I infinitely prefer to the only other colour I have seen, white. I understand that there are red, green and black variants too.

There’s 8GB of internal storage and a micro SD card slot that HTC says can accommodate 128GB cards. The display is 5.5 inches in size, making this a phablet – and rather large. Most of the time, it is two-handed use and can be a little inconvenient. But that is subjective anyway. There is no Gorilla Glass. The display is quite good and sunlight legibility is fair, though not stellar.

SOFTWARE
HTC Desire 816 settings menu
The HTC Desire 816 runs Android 4.4.2 Kitkat with HTC’s custom interface, Sense UI v6.0. Sense UI lovers swear by it, and its haters curse it just as vehemently.

I particularly enjoy BlinkFeed, a custom news-reader that serves runs on the home-screen, turning the Desire 816 into a quick and easy news channel. You are able to pick different and multiple sources of news and information for BlinkFeed to pull from.

It seems that every manufacturer now provides an option to help users conserve power in dire situations. HTC has a Power Saver which works by slightly limiting CPU usage, reducing screen brightness, turning off vibration feedback, and turning off data connection when the screen is off.

Then for very extreme situations, there is the Extreme Power Saving mode. In addition to implementing a more severe version of what the Power Saver mode does, it also allows only essential apps to run. Those apps are:

  1. Phone
  2. Messages
  3. Mail
  4. Calendar, and
  5. Calculator

Everything else is shut off. In this extreme saving mode, this is what the homescreen UI looks like:
Sense Extreme Power Saving Mode
There is no multitasking available in this mode either. The drop-down menu too is disabled. All you have are just the bare necessities listed above. Yes; the HTC Desire 816 becomes more or less a feature phone in this mode.

But HTC isn’t done yet. There is a Do Not Disturb mode as well. Turning this on blocks incoming calls and turns off sound, vibration and LED notifications. The feature allows you to select certain contacts who can bypass this firewall and actually reach you when the mode is active. You can set an automatic Do Not Disturb schedule, say certain hours of the day when this mode runs without your intervention.

There is also compatibility with the HTC Mini+, mentioned here: A remote controller for your smartphone? All these special features are accessible from the drop-down menu on the Desire 816.

CAMERA
The 13 megapixel camera on the Desire 816 has an LED flash for low-light scenes. The camera is very good in adequate sunlight, and is fair in low light, without coming close to threatening any of the low-light champions in the Lumia range. I would take it over any 4 megapixel camera any day. Details are sharper and clear, naturally. The camera has an HDR mode and gives you access to manual controls, so you can tweak if you are a hobbyist. There is a 5 megapixel front camera for your selfies and video calls, and it really is a good one.

MULTIMEDIA
This is where the Desire 816 shines – audio reproduction and video watching. The front-facing stereo speakers (with built-in amplifier) are not a gimmick. The sound produced by the speakers – one located at the top of the display, and the other at the bottom – is distinctly superior to what you will hear on the regular mono speakers on most other phones. Once you go stereo, mono loudspeakers will never cut it again. Also, it is my opinion that the front is where a mobile’s loudspeakers belong. That way, one never needs worry about sound being muted when the device is put down on a desk or on a bed. Front-facing stereo speakers rock.

Watching video and viewing photos on the nice 5.5-inch display is a pleasurable experience too. The music player is nice and versatile, providing options to search, skip, repeat, as well as update album art, artist photos and lyrics. Very nice. There is an FM Radio built in too. The Desire 816 is a multimedia beast.

NETWORK, CALLS & INTERNET
The 816 is an LTE-enabled phone, so you can use that whenever your network switches that on for faster mobile internet. In the meantime, it supports GPRS/EDGE/3G/3.5G/3.75G as well, so you are good to go. You are able to peg your connection to 3G-only in the settings. This is a feature that I am always thankful for.

Note that while there is a dual SIM version of the 816, this review unit is single SIM though. It holds on to a network well and call quality is very good.

WiFi is present here, and the phablet can be used as a WiFi hotspot as well.

PERFORMANCE, APPLICATIONS & GAMING
HTC Desire 816 apps
Performance wise, the Desire 816 put up a jolly good show. The 1.6 GHz quad-core processor and 1.5GB of RAM deliver nicely. It is mostly very fluid and snappy in use. Raw benchmark tests produced the following results:

  • AnTuTu Benchmark: 20,881
  • Quadrant Benchmark: 12,664

Both are top results in its class. You won’t have to worry about sluggishness on this baby.

BATTERY
The 2600mAh battery in the HTC Desire 816 is not removable because of the uni-body design.

My regular use case scenario: active WiFi connection, light to moderate phone calls, two email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram synchronising and in use, BBM and WhatsApp active, and moderate web browsing. I almost never have to worry about the Desire 816 shutting down on me before the day is over. It is one of those devices with very good battery life. If you push it much harder, sure you will need to recharge before the day is over, but the average heavy user has little to worry about.

Battery life is one of the HTC Desire’s strongest points. It just isn’t quite up to par with what a battery champ like the Nokia Lumia 1520 offer.

MISCELLANEOUS
The default keyboard here is HTC Sense Input. While I love it and it works well, I very much prefer the new Android L keyboard with “Material” design. I installed that and have been typing away happily since.

There are quite a number of pre-installed apps: file manager, Flashlight, HTC Backup, Kid Mode & Parent Dashboard (for parental control if you have to let your child use the device), Weather, and Zoe. Zoe isn’t active yet on the device though. HTC Zoe is a camera shooting mode that records 3.6 seconds of HD video and 20 photos, the latter shot at 6 frames per second. The video starts recording and the photos start shooting 0.6 seconds before your finger presses the shutter so you don’t miss anything.

CONCLUSION
TECNO R7, Nokia XL, HTC Desire 816 - 400
I love devices that are great value for money. A friend of mine who owns an HTC One (M8) had a feel of the 816 and asked me, “Why did I spend so much on the M8 when I can get the same experience and even more on this?” I replied him that he paid over N100,000 for the metal body.

At N58,000 or thereabout, the Desire 816 is serious value for money. It is all that the One (M8) is and more. Yes; the processor is slightly weaker and you lose the metal body, but that won’t be an issue for many people – bargain hunters especially.

2 comments

  1. The 816 is a large device. I’ve giant paws and didn’t like how it felt. That aside its super cool.

    If one considers monster specs at budget pricing coming out of Asian territories then calling the mid ranger Desire 816 ‘value for money’ becomes debatable.

    Fly review Mo.

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