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Hands On with the HTC Desire 816

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Feb 25, 2014, 6:28 PM   by Rich Brome

HTC's first new mid-range phone of 2014 is a phablet, with a design that echoes the HTC One. The Desire 816 is almost as big as the One max in size (but not quite) yet thin and light, with a relatively premium design, 13-megapixel camera, and BoomSound speakers, for a low price. We check out the hardware in this hands-on.


The Desire 816 announced at MWC in Barcelona is officially for the U.S., but an HTC Americas executive has stated on the record that this phone - or something very much like it - will come to North America later this year.

That's good, because the 816 is a major new push for HTC. It's what they call a "mid-range flagship". Flagship usually means high-end, but in this case they mean a flagship for the Desire series, which could be described as their series of non-flagship phones. ("One" is their true flagship series.) In essence, the 816 is the flag-bearer for a new direction for the Desire series, and that's a good thing.

HTC Desire 816  

The Desire 601 (or just "Desire" for Virgin Mobile in the U.S.) is what really kicked off the lovely One design language filtering down to the Desire series, but the 816 cements and evolves that evolution in the product lineup.

The design of the Desire 816 is a blend of the One and the First, (both gorgeous phones,) but scaled up almost to the size of the One max. Every single corner and edge is a perfect quarter- or semi-circle. It makes for an elegant design. The back is glossy plastic, while the sides - which you touch most - are a nice-feeling matte plastic. The plastic - especially on the sides - has that solid unibody feel. It is not technically unibody, though, as the glossy plastic seems to be a separate part. Unfortunately, that part is fixed; the battery is sealed inside.

The body doesn't feel quite as nice as a true unibody phone, but it's darn close. It's one of the more confidence-inspiring phablet hardware designs we've held.

It's a large phone. Again, it's almost (but not quite) as large as the One max, an absurdly large phone. It's significantly larger than the One, which itself was too large for some people. So if you're not a phablet, move along; nothing to see here. But if you like phablets, this is one manages to be both thin and solid-feeling.

On one side are the side buttons. The lock and volume buttons are right next to each other. They are large, excellent buttons, far better than those on most HTC phones. It's good that HTC moved the lock button to the side (it's too hard to reach on the top of a phablet this size) but I do wish they'd put more distance between the lock and volume. It's not hard to confuse the two by feel alone. But again, they work well, and they have a pretty design; on the orange version the matte tops of the buttons are orange, while the chamfered edges are silver. It's a very slick design flourish.

The other side has a flap for the SIM and memory cards. We're not generally a fan of these kinds of flaps, but this is one of the sturdier ones we've seen. It's a solid chunk of thick plastic, attached to the phone with a thick strap of rubber that gets the flap out of the way easily, yet doesn't feel like it will wear out quickly.

The plastic from the sides curves around the front to meet the glass front. The glass is recessed maybe a third of a millimeter, just enough to keep it from getting scratched when placed face-down, but not enough to make side-swipes on the screen uncomfortable.

The 816 ships with some impressive specs, including a 13-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel (!) front camera. It also sports a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, LTE and HTC software features like the Zoe photo+video mode.

The 816 will ship with some new version of software that the company isn't ready to show off to us just yet, so we can't report on that. But we can say that it's a nice bit of hardware design.

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About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.


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