Software, Wrap Up
Out of the box, the HTC Desire 816 runs Android 4.4 with HTC’s custom Sense 6.0 skin. The vast majority of the software is identical to what was found on the HTC One M8, so if you want to get an idea of what this smartphone is like to use, head over and check out the software section of my One M8 review.
While many of the One M8’s software features have made the jump to the Desire 816, including BlinkFeed and the pleasantly-skinned standard applications, some haven’t made the cut for hardware reasons. One such app is Sense TV, as the Desire 816 doesn’t have an infrared LED to control home entertainment devices.
The keyboard on the Desire 816 is the same HTC-made keyboard that I’ve come to love in past devices, and thanks to the large display, it’s even easier to use. Some manufacturers reduce the size of the keyboard on large-screened handsets, often making them less usable, but I’m glad this hasn’t happened with the 816.
Many of the settings from the HTC One M8, such as Do Not Disturb mode and HTC Connect have made the transition to the mid-range Desire 816, although you don’t get Motion Launch. With the One M8, Motion Launch allowed you to turn on the device by simply double-tapping the display, which negated the issues associated with the poor button placement. The Desire 816 suffers from poor button placement, which is where Motion Launch could have helped.
There’s also still the issue of having duplicate apps for some things, such as having both Chrome and Internet for web browsing, or having the Gallery and Photos apps for viewing images. This is more an issue with Google’s restrictions on OEMs and the GMS package, and something I hope will be addressed in future Android versions, as constantly having to select which apps to use detracts from the overall experience.
Wrap Up: A Solid Mid-Range Contender
Despite some flaws, the Desire 816 is a very capable large-screened smartphone for its decidedly mid-range price. HTC hasn’t skimped on optimization or hardware in a number of departments, resulting in a handset that’s more compelling than what the company has dished up in this market segment in the past.
It may be powered by ‘only’ a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC, but the performance around the OS and in games is great, often matching it with the top-end phones. Most of the software found on the One M8 has made the transition as well, so you largely get the same basic experience as HTC’s fantastic flagship.
The main reason to buy a Desire 816 is its large display, and HTC has really delivered without breaking the bank. The 5.5-inch Super LCD 2 panel is bright and looks great from every angle, displaying images with decent color saturation and contrast. The panel’s 720p resolution is quite good as well, as not all smartphones of this size and class pack HD displays.
Both cameras on the Desire 816 are more than serviceable, being able to capture fairly good images when the conditions are right. There’s no Duo Camera or UltraPixel sensor to create cool effects or improve low-light photography, but the basic camera application gets the job done. And what you do get hardware-wise from HTC’s high-end phones is BoomSound, which as always delivers a top-notch smartphone sound experience.
The one area that, surprisingly, has let the Desire 816 down is the design. The phone is simply too large for the display, with unnecessary bezel bulking up the handset and causing it to be more cumbersome than it should be. The build quality isn’t great either, thanks to a glossy, cheap plastic back panel that isn’t joined to the rest of the body as well as it could be.
Regardless, for $325 unlocked and outright, the Desire 816 is worth considering if you want a large display on your smartphone but don’t want to spend as much as a Galaxy Note 3 or LG G3.
Pros: Large, high-quality display on a mid-range handset. Decent performance and battery life. BoomSound is always a welcome addition. Affordable price for the hardware you get.
Cons: Build quality is lacking, and the design makes the phone too cumbersome.