- Dependable performance
- Well-built, smooth plastic body
- Above-average main camera
- Low pixel density
- Poor battery life
- Misplaced capacitive keys
With its stylish polycarbonate build, powerful chipset and surprisingly capable camera, the HTC Desire 816 offers plenty of value at a midrange price.
If I were to describe the HTC Desire 816 in a nutshell, I would say it’s a midrange phablet that offers much more than that classification suggests. It’d be a stretch to call it the best 5.5-inch handset around, but for a deliberately mid-tier device it brings fantastic power, a modern design, and updated software from both Google and HTC itself. Still, this big fella isn’t without its flaws, especially when it comes to battery life and a display that will look increasingly outdated as time goes on. Let’s give HTC’s midrange flagship — which is currently available in the $350 range or its equivalent in European and Asian markets — a closer examination.
Build and Design
Weighing in at 165 grams, the HTC Desire 816 is on the lighter side for a 5.5-inch phablet. HTC has achieved this by fitting the phone with a plastic unibody frame instead of a metal one. It still borrows the look and design language of other modern HTC devices, but it feels significantly different than what we’ve come to expect from the company that makes phones like the One (M8).
The polycarbonate coat is glossy and something of a fingerprint magnet, but it’s smooth, and it encompasses all four edges of the device in a manner reminiscent of the iPhone 5c. Even without aluminum, the Desire 816 is sturdy and well-built, and it leaves the impression that it is a high-class device compared to the range it actually belongs to. It is far from cheap-feeling.
Touring around the device, the top and bottom bezels of the Desire 816 are not too thick considering the space needed for both front-facing BoomSound speakers, and the sides are appropriately slim as well. HTC’s devices are generally designed to be tall yet thin, and the Desire 816 fits that profile to a T; at 157 mm (6.17 inches) high but just 7.9 mm (0.31 inches) thick, the device fits nicely in the hand compared to other phablets.
That doesn’t mean that most people will be able to use it comfortably with one hand, though, and the fact that the phone’s three capacitive control keys (the usual Home, Back and Tasks) are situated on the display rather than the screen doesn’t help matters either. That’s an unnecessary waste of display space used to flaunt HTC’s own logo rather than serve any actual purpose.
The Desire 816 is a tall device, as noted above, and that may be due to HTC (finally) moving the Power key away from its usual unhandy position on the upper edge to a more practical spot on the device’s left side. It’s a positive change overall, but the button is still located a bit too far up, often making it so you’ll have to stretch your thumb out to reach it. The volume rocker is easier to use, as it’s located just under the Power key on that same left edge. One excellent design detail is that all these keys are made of metal, not flimsy plastic, and are varnished in the same color as the plastic body (which can be black, white, red, grey, or green, by the way).
The device comes with microSD and nano-SIM card slots, both situated along the right side under a flap that keeps things feeling smooth and, like the keys on the opposite side, are also the same color as the phone’s body. It’s interesting that the phone uses nano-SIM cards (like the iPhone 5s) instead of micro-SIMs considering how big the Desire is, but that decision doesn’t result in any practical disadvantages either way. At the bottom of the phone you’ll find a MicroUSB port, while your typical microphone and the 3.5-mm audio jack are on top. The back includes the camera and a LED flash, located near the upper left edge.