What is the HTC Desire 816?

The HTC Desire 816 is a 5.5-inch Android smartphone with a similar stature to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but at a fraction of the price. Available to buy for around £300 SIM-free, it’s a big colourful _phone_ competing with handsets like the One Plus One and the 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1320. Despite its plastic body and mid-range _phone_ specs, there’s plenty of positives that make the Desire 816 a great value phone if you prefer your phones king sized.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus One vs Nexus 5

HTC Desire 816: Design & Features

If you are on the lookout for a big phone, HTC has done a pretty good job of making this an attractive phone to own. There’s no metallic frame like the more expensive HTC One M8 or its smaller clone the HTC One Mini 2, opting instead for a combination of a glossy polycarbonate plastic non-removable back with a matte finish around the sides and the front of the phone, but it's a nice looking phone.

It’s available in a six pastel shades, including white, black, red, dark blue and green, giving it a similar kind of finish to the Nokia Lumia 1320 smartphone, one that doesn’t feel cheap or nasty to hold despite being plastic. Helping its cause further is the slim, 7.99mm thick frame and curvy corners; combined with the featherweight 165g weight, the HTC Desire 816 isn't as arduous to carry around as its imposing size suggests.

SEE ALSO: Best Android Phones Round-Up

HTC Desire 816 hands-on images 7

There are some issues we noticed, though. For example, the on/off button and volume rocker sit up on the top left edge, making it very difficult to reach with one hand. It also becomes a problem when you are trying to take a picture in landscape mode, as it’s often easy to accidentally put the screen into standby.

Getting the Nano SIM in place was a frustrating experience, too, and took several attempts to get it firmly in place before locking it away out of sight. You won't have to this often, though, and it's great to see a microSD card slot hiding behind the same hinged plastic flap. There's space for another SIM card here, too, though it's blanked out on our version.

SEE ALSO: HTC One M8 vs One Mini 2

HTC Desire 816 hands-on images 10

HTC Desire 816: Screen

The HTC Desire 816 has a 5.5-inch screen with a 720p HD resolution and a pixel density of 267ppi. That puts it into the same screen size territory as something like the LG G3, but with a resolution more like smaller phones like the Moto G and the One Mini 2.

It's clearly not a patch on the 1080p HD screen of the Galaxy Note 3, but the Desire 816’s Super LCD2 is a nice screen on which to watch videos, read web pages and play games. Maximum brightness is not as great as the One M8, but viewing angles are good and it's easy enough to view outdoors. Black levels are strong, too, making it ideal for films, and on the whole colours appear nice and accurate.

It's sharpness and clarity where the Desire 816 loses out to something like the 4.5-inch One Mini 2 (326ppi), but it's a tolerable difference provided you're not precious about it or used to smaller, higher-resolution phones. The relative lack of sharpness is only clearly evident on text and icons, and only when you look closely.

It's a very responsive screen, too, as it handles screen swipes and actions with no issues at all. Resolution aside, then, it's a very decent screen, particularly considering its size and the relatively cheap price you pay for it.

HTC Desire 816: Android and Apps

It’s pleasing to see HTC maintain largely the same UI experience throughout its line of handsets, with the Desire 816 running the new Sense 6 overlay on top of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. It’s not Android 4.4.3, though, and we have no word on if/when one could appear.

Much like the One Mini 2, you will have to make some compromises here with the Desire 816 missing out on Sense TV thanks to the lack of a an IR blaster, HTC Zoe video and shooting modes and a series of gesture controls that quite frankly most will be able to live without. In fact, most of the omissions will not adversely affect enjoying the still slick, fluid operating system.

What is carried over are the software keys, replacing the hardware buttons, that require a swipe up from the screen to reveal them, and the improved Blinkfeed is still the focal point. It combines all of your social feeds, news and calendar appointments into a single feed, which sounds like the perfect all in one solution. But it’s a feature that’s going to divide; we’d lean more towards swiping left to see Google Now as, while it doesn’t pull in social feeds, it does present important information in a more digestible and intuitive way.

Apps are largely the same you’d find on the One Mini 2, including HTC’s dedicated software for using the phone in the car for navigation, a Parent dashboard, Polaris Office 5 and the HTC music application. Most are likely to bypass most of these in favour of Google’s own native applications, most of which are on board.

The 8GB of built-in storage doesn't leave much space for apps, but the microSD slot makes up for that.

Desire 816 photo samples 6

HTC Desire 816: Performance

The Desire 816 is powered by a 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU with 1.5GB RAM and the same Adreno 305 GPU found inside the One Mini 2. While its all undeniably mid-range, it’s fast enough to keep things running smoothly with very few signs of a struggle.

It does miss out on the Motion Launch processor and the Snapdragon 801 CPU featured in the One M8, although most will be able to live without the benefits of a dedicated processor for tracking movement. It handles gaming like Real Racing 3 with few problems and doesn't strain when running multiple apps.

For reference, in the Geekbench 3 benchmark it scores 1,111 in the multi-core test, which is in the same ball park as the Moto G (1,155) and the One Mini 2 (1,120). That’s no real surprise when you realise how similar the specs are and in all instances it’s the ideal amount of power needed for the Desire 816 to cope with most tasks.

HTC Desire 816 hands-on images 2

HTC Desire 816: Sound Quality

The good news is that the front-facing Boomsound stereo speakers included with the One M8 and the One Mini 2 are present, so there’s no sound muffling issues here and they are still head and shoulders above other smartphone speakers for listening to music or watching a film.

They are by no means perfect and sound a tad erratic at the top-end, but for power, loudness, bass response and richness they offer satisfying audio and are without doubt a standout feature for the Desire 816.

The camera set-up is pretty much identical to the One Mini 2 with a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel front facing camera, both of which are capable of filming in Full 1080p HD.

It also uses the same camera app, with an interface that can be fiddly to switch between modes when you are trying to take a picture. This also means, that another new HTC handset misses out on the Duo Camera technology featured on the M8, but as you’ll see from our One M8 review, it’s far from a perfect feature on HTC's flagship phone anyway.

So the decision to go for more megapixels instead of larger ones is not necessarily a bad move and in the right conditions you can capture reasonably sharp, colourful images. Unsurprisingly, it’s on par with the One Mini 2’s camera in most departments, particularly in HDR mode and in Macro performance where it excels.

While low-light performance on the One Mini 2 particularly stood out, the Desire 816 finds it more of a struggle with the focus and sensor slow into action, which often leaves images overexposed.

It’s a similar story with the front-facing camera, where selfies are generally accurate but lack a little vibrancy,

The main video camera, meanwhile, is not the best performer, producing quite juddery, blurry footage. Audio capture is reasonably decent, but on the whole it's a little underwhelming.

Desire 816 photo samples 2

Main camera in automatic mode delivers good colours but on closer inspection does produce some noise, while the sky is blown out.

Desire 816 photo samples 1

In HDR mode colours are more vibrant  and the sky is fixed now, which is exactly what a good HDR mode should do.

Desire 816 photo samples 3

In low light, the camera is slow into action and struggles to stay in focus

Desire 816 photo samples 4

Colours in this photo are generally good and accurate, but it could be sharper and the camera doesn't deal well with the bright ambient light in the background.

HTC Desire 816: Battery Life

Keeping the Desire 816 going is a non-removable 2,600mAh capacity battery, which compared to batteries on similarly sized phones like the One Plus One (3,100mAh) and the Nokia Lumia 1320 (3,400mAh) is on the small size.

But you do get the same Power Saver Modes and extreme power saving modes featured on the One Mini 2, and the former is crucial to getting a day’s use out of it. In general use for browsing, gaming and streaming content, it's largely fine but it can't match the impressive stamina levels of other big phones.

In video testing, running a standard definition video downloaded from the Google Play Video app with 50% brightness, it managed on average 9 hours and 30 minutes, so it’s good but not the best you can get. When you need to quickly charge from a fully flat battery you can expect around 15% of life, so it’s a slow charger and takes roughly 3-4 hours to fully restore the phone’s life.

HTC Desire 816 hands-on images

HTC Desire 816: Call Quality

The performance here is not too different from the One Mini 2, where calls are audible and don’t suffer from any signal dropouts but clarity is not fantastic and calls can sound slightly muffled. But it’s fine speaking in busy environments, like pubs our outside busy tube stations, and the microphone puts in a strong performance making it overall good, but not excellent.

HTC Desire 816 hands-on images 1

Should I buy the HTC Desire 816?

If you want a big phone on a budget there are very few ways to fault the Desire 816. The plastic body is surprisingly attractive, the 720p HD screen and speakers make it a great place to watch video and the overall performance from gaming to camera quality is solid. Our only real gripes are with some of the design decisions, particularly the positioning of the buttons, while the battery life is not in the same league compared to similarly-sized handsets.

For the same £300, its nearest competitors for size and specs are last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the Nokia Lumia 1320, while the much talked about One Plus One has far superior specs. This puts the Desire 816 in a slightly awkward position. It's a solid, enjoyable phone at a decent price, but it doesn't stand out in particular way to say you should go out buy it without further consideration.


The HTC Desire 816 is big phone that’s offers some of the best qualities of the One M8 in a cheaper but still attractive plastic body. It lacks a standout feature, but it's a good phone that won't let you down.

Next, try our round-up of the best mobile phones or our Android 4.4 tips, tricks and secrets