Overview, Design & Software
Phablets - smartphones with display sizes of at least 5.5-inches - are typically positioned as high-end models with the latest hardware and software. However, there is a growing trend among phone makers to target the entry and midrange segments with large-screen offerings. Prime examples include the ASUS Fonepad Note 6 and ZenFone 6, Huawei Honor 3X, LG G Pro Lite, Nokia Lumia 1320, Samsung Galaxy Mega with LTE, Sony Xperia T2 Ultra, and Xiaomi Redmi Note.
The latest device to join the party is the Desire 816, which is HTC's first foray into the midrange phablet segment. HTC has gotten off to a good start in China where 50,000 units of the Desire 816 were sold in 10 minutes. What made the HTC Desire 816 so popular? That's what we intend to find out in this review. But before we delve deeper, here's a quick look at how its specs compare with the competition:
Marketed as a 'flagship midrange' phablet, the Desire 816 does have the looks of one; its design language is inspired from the premium One series with a unibody chassis. Unlike the aluminum-clad One smartphones, the Desire 816 is encased in a polycarbonate chassis. While the sides which have a matte texture, the rear has a glossy texture, which unfortunately, will pose a nightmare to anyone who can't stand fingerprints and smudges. All three colors of the phone face the same problem, although it is more apparent on the blue unit.
Similar to the Apple iPhone 5C, we feel that HTC did a pretty good job with the build quality of the Desire 816. It feels very solid in the hands and does not look as cheap as the other plastic phones in the market. The handling is quite excellent thanks to the matte finishing on the sides that provides a firmer grip.
The only physical buttons - the power button and volume rocker - on the Desire 816 are located on the left side. We had no problems accessing them and the buttons provided a solid tactile feedback when pressed. In line with the One (M8), the navigation buttons are implemented as contextual soft keys and adhere closely to Google's latest design guidelines.
On the right side of the device houses the microSD memory card and nano-SIM card slots. Interestingly, the review unit we had showed what was originally another nano-SIM card slot, but it was blocked. We were told by HTC that there are plans for a dual-SIM variant of the Desire 816, but actual availability is not confirmed at time of publication. We foresee consumers putting the memory card slot to good use as the Desire 816 only comes with 8GB internal storage. Having said that, the Desire 816 supports microSD cards up to 128GB.
The Desire 816 sports a large 5.5-inch Super LCD 2 display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels. Even though this display isn't full HD, it is still pleasing to look at. Pixelation is hardly visible and color reproduction is accurate with wide viewing angles. The bezels around the display are rather thick, but the Desire 816 is clearly not designed to compete for the title of having the thinnest bezel.
HTC BoomSound Speakers
One hallmark of HTC’s offerings across all devices released in 2014 is the inclusion of BoomSound. With regards to that, HTC does not skim on the quality of the BoomSound on the Desire 816, even though it is a midrange phone. When playing music or videos in a moderately noisy environment (such as a crowded food court), the sound output is audible, with little distortion or sound clipping. More importantly, the fact that the speakers are front facing meant that the sound output will not be muffled when the Desire 816 is placed on a desk.
Even faster (Cat 4) LTE
One feature we often saw missing on budget smartphones is 4G LTE connectivity. Fortunately, the Desire 816 is an exception to the rule, as it supports LTE Cat 4 speeds of up to 150Mbps. This allows the Desire 816 to stand out from the rest, and could be a deciding buying factor for those who have a real use case for a faster cellular data connection.
Locally, M1 and SingTel's 4G LTE networks are able to support Cat 4 speeds. Do note that the speeds are based on theoretical estimates; you're unlikely to attain such maximum download speeds due to prevailing network conditions.
HTC Desire 816 runs on Android KitKat 4.4.2, with their own HTC Sense 6 as an overlay. Starting from 2014, HTC has started to standardize the software features of their phones. As such, all the phones that have been released so far - HTC One (M8), HTC Desire 816, and HTC Desire 610 - have the same features and apps (if the hardware allows, of course).
For the full run-down of Sense 6, head over to our hands-on article with the One (M8) where we explored its major features. Do note that some features are not found in the Desire 816 due to hardware limitations such as Motion Launch Gestures.
One feature is the HTC Blinkfeed, which is shown by sliding the main home screen to the left. HTC Blinkfeed essentially shows feeds of supported social networks onto the main screen, all without having to go to the app.
Another feature that is common in HTC Sense 6 is the Kids Mode. What this mode modes is to lock down the phone, and only shows only children-friendly elements and apps. To go back to normal mode, the parent just need to enter his or her own year of birth.
One other interesting feature is the Extreme Power Savings mode. In that mode, most background services are suspended, and the CPU speed is lowered. Even the UI changes to one that allows only very basic usage of the phone, as shown above.
One last thing which is of interest to developers: being able to select the new Android Runtime (ART), an experimental runtime that is introduced in Android KitKat, and destined to replace the current Dalvik VM in the future. This is however still experimental, and some apps may break if they don't support this runtime. In any case, there's nothing for Desire 816 users to worry about, since ART isn't enabled by default.