HTC Desire 816: Australian Review

Can a mid-range phone really be better than its big brother? At this price, it's certainly possible. Meet the HTC Desire 816: your new phone at half the price of a flagship.

What Is It?

The Desire 816 is a 5.5-inch, mid-range phone from HTC.

It’s loaded with a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 8GB of on-board storage (expandable up to 128GB with a microSD card), and packs a 13-megapixel camera punch.

The Desire 816 is on sale right now at Optus retailers around the country, and it’s shockingly good value.

You can nab one for $5 extra per month on the $35 Optus MyPlan, or just buy the device outright for $398.

What's Good?

It's interesting to note, despite the fact that the Desire 816 is meant to be a mid-range handset, how it seems to best the flagship HTC One M8 when viewed side-by-side.

First of all, the Desire 816 is massive. It may even be the biggest phone HTC has ever made, and that's great. In a world of Galaxy Notes and Xperia Z Ultras, it's about time HTC built something gigantic to keep up. The One M8 is only 5-inches. That's one in the 816's column for size.

The screen on the 816 is only 720p, but that doesn't phase us: it's one of the brightest and most vivid displays we've yet seen on a phone this size. It's great to look at. It even has one of the best white balances we've seen on a screen: not to cool, not too warm. Just right. Let's call that one even between the One M8 and the 816.

Another point for the 816 comes in the form of the camera: it's packing a 13-megapixel sensor, compared to the 4-megapixel "Ultrapixel" sensor on offer from the One M8.

The pictures the 816 snaps are beautiful, high-res images that look amazing in well-lit situations. And because the sensor is much larger on the 816 than on the M8, photos look better at crop. The M8, however, does take better low-light shots.

Me? I'm a little biased, I admit, simply because I prefer higher resolution shots that can be cropped versus smaller sensors that can take better low-light photos. If you want decent low-light shots, buy a real camera.

The 816 also matches the M8's 5-megapixel front-facing camera for all your selfies. It's a fantastic camera module on both.

The battery on the 816 also lasts longer than the M8 thanks to a lower resolution screen and slightly slower processor. We got three days out of the device before we were scrambling for the charger. You get 4G support as well, which is always nice to see on a mid-range handset.

BoomSound speakers are present on the 816, and they're even louder than the speakers on the One M8 by virtue of being larger. They lack bass, but that's not a huge issue.

All this excellent gear for the the sub-$400 price is amazing. It's one of the best value phones on the market right now.

What's Not So Good?

It's not without issue, however.

The HTC Sense 6 software found on the One M8 is present and accounted for on the Desire 816. You get Blinkfeed, new wallpapers and nice new animations, all built on top of Android 4.4.2. That should be the end of the software conversation, but it just isn't.

The software is buggy, freezes often and can be an all-out nightmare to use. I had to take three tries at setting up the device when we got it out of the box, after it kept freezing at different screens. First on the restore from backup screen, then on the HTC Advantage set-up screen, and finally on the Google account set-up screen. Once you get through the initialisation process, the phone runs pretty well from a software perspective. The only real concern we had on the go was slightly slower animations than we're used to.

The only other issue we found is the placement of ports and buttons. Everything feels a little out of place.

The microSD card slot, and SIM card slot are both hidden behind a flimsy door on the top-right of the device. Common sense dictates that the volume rocker should probably go there. Instead, the rocker is on the left hand-side of the device, below the power button. You'll always be looking on the wrong side of the device for the buttons that matter to you.

Furthermore, the headphone jack is weirdly off-centre. Rather than situate it on the top-middle of the device or on the far-right or far-left, it's just sitting in no-man's land on the top of the device. It's frustrating for OCD-types such as myself.

Should You Buy It?

Software issues can be fixed in time, and you can certainly get used to button positioning. That just leaves you with a fantastic handset for a great price.

If you're after a cheap phone that doesn't compromise on the internal hardware, you can't go wrong with the HTC Desire 816. It's even a solid competitor to the current cheap phone yardstick: the Nexus 5. The Desire 816 has the Nexus 5's number when it comes to camera, screen size and expandable storage, and for roughly the same price, too.

We love the HTC Desire 816, and you will too.

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