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HTC Desire 816 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £270
inc VAT

The HTC Desire 816 is a superior budget phablet that's relatively inexpensive and will keep going all day


Processor: Quad-core 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, Screen size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,280×720, Rear camera: 5-megapixel, Storage: 8GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 157x79x8mm, Weight: 165g


Phablets have been domianted by one smartphone lately and that’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 4But while it’s easily the best large-screen phone you can buy today, it’s also one of the most expensive, with SIM-free prices currently sitting around £600. That’s a lot of money to pay if all you want is a big screen, but luckily that’s where the HTC Desire 816 comes in. Its 5.5in display may not be as large as the Note 4’s, but at £275 SIM-free, the Desire 816 is considerably cheaper, making it a great budget option if you want a phone with an oversized screen.

The bezels round the screen are chunky, particularly at the top and bottom of the phone where you’ll find the Desire 816’s dual BoomSound speakers, but its smooth, glossy chassis and rounded corners make it very easy to hold. The Desire 816 is admittedly a little slippery compared to phones with matt backs, but it never actually slid out of hands.

The 5.5in 1,280×720 display looks great. This is the same resolution as the 6.3in Samsung Galaxy Mega, but as the 816’s screen is a little smaller it has a higher pixel density of 267 pixels-per-inch (ppi) compared to the Galaxy Mega’s 233ppi. This means text appears sharper when browsing the web, and the Desire 816’s peak brightness of 388.62cd/m2 made it easy to use outside in bright sunshine.

We were pleased with the 816’s colour accuracy as well, as our colour calibrator showed it was displaying 90 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut. This is just behind the HTC’s One (m8)’s colour accuracy score, so you can be sure that colours will look just as rich and vivid as the very best flagship phones. Contrast was also good, measuring 1,243:1, but the Desire 816’s black levels were a little more mediocre, measuring 0.31cd/m2. This means blacks may appear slightly grey at times, particularly when the phone is set to its maximum brightness, but the 816 is certainly no worse than other mid-range handsets in this regard.

The Desire 816’s quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor may not sound particularly apt for a phone of this size and price (the cheaper Motorola Moto G also uses this processor, for example), but HTC has increased the processor’s clock speed to 1.6GHz rather than the typical 1.2GHz, giving the phone a boost in raw performance speed.

Paired with 1.5GB of memory, the processor’s extra speed certainly helped in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks, as the Desire 816 completed the test in 1,060ms using its default browser. This is roughly 100ms faster than HTC’s more expensive One Mini 2, which uses a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, and it’s also marginally quicker than the Galaxy Mega.

Image-heavy pages such as those on The Guardian and BBC News desktop websites were a bit jittery at first, but scrolling up and down became a lot smoother once the page had fully loaded. There was a bit of stutter when we zoomed in and panned around, but this eventually smoothed out as well.

The Desire 816’s Adreno 305 graphics processor is well-equipped for games and heavy-duty apps, and the phone scored 5,885 (roughly 26fps) in our 3DMark Ice Storm test and 34.2fps in Epic Citadel at Ultra High quality. This once again puts it a little ahead of both the Samsung Galaxy Mega and the One Mini 2, so the Desire 816 should be more than capable of handling any app currently available on the Google Play Store.

All this power doesn’t come at the expense of battery life either, as the Desire 816’s huge 2,600mAh battery lasted an impressive 13 hours and 47 minutes in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to half brightness. This is actually twenty minutes longer than the One (m8) and three hours more than the Galaxy Mega, putting the Desire 816 firmly ahead of its main competitor. The Desire 816 also has two dedicated power saving modes to help it last even longer, so you should definitely be able to use the phone all day without having to worry about returning it to the mains mid-afternoon.

On the back of the phone is the 816’s 13-megapixel camera. On Auto mode, image quality was fantastic. Even in bright sunshine, the sky wasn’t too overexposed and while colours were occasionally a little muted compared to shots we took on the Motorola Moto X at the same time, there was plenty of detail present and road signs were sharp and legible.

HTC Desire 816 camera test01In Auto mode, colours were a little dark underneath the bright sunshine, but there was still plenty of detail present

HTC Desire 816 camera testSmaller details such as street signs and paving stones are all visible at full resolution

Other camera modes include night, sweep panorama, anti-shake, portrait, landscape, backlight, text, macro and a Full HD video mode, but it was the Desire 816’s HDR mode that impressed us most. This produced well-exposed shots without drastically altering the camera’s colour accuracy, resulting in much more natural looking photos compared to the Motorola Moto X. It’s a shame you can’t adjust the white balance, ISO and EV values or add filters in anything other than Auto mode, but it’s a small price to pay for such a great camera.

HTC Desire 816 camera test with HDR mode01Turning on HDR mode produced much clearer skies that were better exposed and colours were a lot less muddy

HTC Desire 816 camera test with HDR modeHDR mode’s brighter colours also helped images look more defined and detailed than the shots we took on Auto mode

The HTC Desire 816 is one of the best budget phablets we’ve seen. With superior performance and battery life to the Samsung Galaxy Mega, the only Android phablet that stands in its way is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4. The Desire 816 may not have the Note 4’s 2,560×1,440 resolution display or top of the range performance, but it does have price on its side. If you don’t want to spend roughly £600 SIM-free or upwards of £40 per month on a Note 4 contract, the Desire 816 is for you.

ProcessorQuad-core 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Screen size5.5in
Screen resolution1,280×720
Screen typeLCD
Front camera13-megapixel
Rear camera5-megapixel
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Wireless data3G, 4G
Operating systemAndroid 4.4.2
Battery size2,600mAh
Buying information
Warrantyone-year RTB
Price SIM-free (inc VAT)£275
Price on contract (inc VAT)Free on £23-per-month contract
Prepay price (inc VAT)N/A
Part codeDesire 816

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