HTC Desire 816 hands on: the 'flagship' mid-ranger


For a good part of the last year, Taiwanese HTC has been in something of a paralysis, or so it seemed from the outside. It truly felt like HTC wasn't sure as to what exactly it was doing wrong, and more importantly -- what its next step should be. As we started drawing ever closer to the end of 2013, however, it became apparent that HTC has realized which way the wind's blowing, and will not simply sit and wait for the inevitable. Instead, series of moves have showcased that HTC is both cutting its loses, and making more calculated bets, but at an altogether different table. The mid-tier one.

But marching a massive portfolio of products towards enemy lines isn't going to work on its own -- HTC's Desire range may be well-built, but it lacks a 'wow' factor. HTC needs a hero mid-ranger, the type of device that is cut from the cloth with rival Motorola Moto G. It's unlikely that the the company will completely abandon its premium pricing model, but it sure feels like HTC will be trying very hard to make the Desire 816 the hero mid-ranger that it needs to be. We had a first meet with the 816, and here are our initial impressions.

Design


Wow! We know aesthetics are a subjective matter, but we find it hard to imagine somebody could argue the looks of the Desire 816. It's like HTC took the best from the One, and strived for the most minimalist design possible. And it worked like a charm! 

Apart from the massive screen at the front, there's basically no ornamentation to speak of with the exception of the two front-facing HTC BoomSound stereo speakers. These have gone through a transformation from previous models, and are now much more minimal in their appearance and size. At the back, we have a virtually empty glossy shell made from polycarbonate, with the rear camera and flash  stacked on top of each other at top rightmost. The left side holds the volume rocker and power buttons, both of which felt nice to the touch. On the right, we have an inconspicuous flap that holds the slots for the microSD card and nano SIM.

Obviously, the materials used in the construction of the Desire 816 are a far cry from the aluminum-clad HTC One, but we nevertheless admired the build of the 816. It may not feature as premium materials, but it felt sturdy and reliable, which is what matters in the end.

Display


We weren't allowed to turn on the display on the Desire 816 since it was an early, pre-production unit, but hey, at least we can regurgitate the specs and say a word about what they mean.

There's no running away from the fact that the Desire 816's 5.5-inch display puts it into the phablet league. With a resolution of 720x1280, or 267 pixels per inch, it's not going to be among the most detailed screens out there, but it should prove sharp enough for a pleasant viewing experience. 

Interface


Again, we couldn't get to see the interface of the Desire 816, but the press release issued by the company did note that the phone will come pre-loaded with Sense 5.5. We aren't told the exact version of Android that the manufacturer's skin will be put on top of, but we're guessing that HTC will try and get the handset Android 4.4 KitKat-ready by April, when the Desire 816 will supposedly launch globally.

Processor and memory


Qualcomm seems to have cemented its spot as the main provider of mid-range chips as of late, for we've seen quite some devices ship with a version of its quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip as of late. The Desire 816, as you've probably guessed, makes is no exception. It's powered by four power-efficient, 1.6GHz ARM-A7 cores and an Adreno 305 GPU. Built on a 28nm process, we've seen the chip handle itself quite well in the past, and it brings the added benefit of 4G LTE radio.

The HTC Desire 816 is no wimp in terms of memory, either. The company has fitted a 1.5GB RAM unit inside, which should prove more than sufficient for everyday multitasking.

Camera


HTC's approach to the camera on its flagship One smartphone has been quite controversial. Instead of opting for the highest possible megapixel count like its competitors, it went down the complete opposite way with its UltraPixel technology. Many of will breathe a sigh of relief once they register this: the Desire 816 comes equipped with a 13-megapixel camera with f/2.2 aperture and an LED flash. The camera can shoot 1080p video, and we're expecting the usual software goodies, like HTC Zoe, to be on-board.

Up at the front, we have a 5-megapixel, f/2.8 wide angle lens unit, capable of 720p video capture. It goes without saying that the Desire 816 sounds like the perfect tool for the selfies-obsessed out there.


Expectations


HTC made it crystal clear that it is going to be betting on the Desire 816 to get the company back on track to recovery. So much so, that the company dedicated its entire event at the MWC 2014 to the handset, essentially ignoring its other new device -- the Desire 610. We're told to expect an extremely competitive, mid-range price point, though that's still fairly ambiguous. 

The "flagship mid-ranger", as HTC calls the Desire 816, will be first made available in China in March, and a month later -- in April -- for the rest of the world.

Related phones

Desire 816
  • Display 5.5 inches
    1280 x 720 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP (Single camera)
    5 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
    1.5GB RAM
  • Storage 8GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 2600 mAh
  • OS Android 5.0 Lollipop
    HTC Sense UI

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