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Hands On with the HTC Desire 626S and 520/526

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Jul 15, 2015, 2:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

HTC today announced several new additions to its Desire line of mid-range Android handsets. These devices tout style and affordability with a middling set of specs. More importantly, they'll be sold by virtually all U.S. carriers. Here are our initial impressions.

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HTC showed us several new phones that are headed to U.S. carriers in the weeks and months ahead. They are low-cost handsets that will mostly be available from pre-paid carriers. The Desire 626S is a bit more mid-rangy, while the Desire 520/526 are entry-level. Here are our initial thoughts.

Desire 626S

The 626S is the more capable of the phones announced today, and also the more attractive. Like last year's Desire Eye, it has a colorful, two-tone design that is offered in a range of appealing combinations. HTC said each carrier will have its own, unique variant of the phone. For example, Sprint is going for a white-on-white look, while MetroPCS is going for a brown/orange look.

The front of the 626S will look familiar to anyone who's seen an HTC handset in recent years: it has a large screen with large top and bottom bezels and matching grilles. At a glance, you'd be easily fooled into thinking the 626S has HTC's signature BoomSound stereo speakers. Sadly, you'd be mistaken. The grille in the bezel above the screen houses only the earpiece speaker and the grille in the bezel below the screen houses only the microphone. I get the idea, which is to keep the phone in line with HTC's design language, but it really looks like the phone has stereo speakers when it in fact does not. Shady.

With a 5-inch screen, the 626S is a good-sized phone. It's not too big, not too small. The side edges are all rounded and smooth, which helps make the phone more comfortable to hold and use. The Desire 626S is made from polycarbonate materials and has a plastic frame, plastic rear plate, and glass front. The frame is generally one color while the rear plate and front are opposing colors.

Quality of the units on-hand during our meeting with HTC was uneven. The Sprint model had tight seams all the way around, but the T-Mobile model showed gaps here and there. The plastics have a nice feel to them thanks to the matte finish. I don't think anyone will have trouble sticking the Desire 626S into their pocket. The size and shape are condusive to easy use.

The 720p HD LCD looks good. The resolution works with the size well, and I thought it was sharp. Brightness was fine, though colors appeared a bit muted to my eyes. For this class of device, the screen is certainly acceptable.

There are no physical controls on the front fact, which means the only two buttons are located on the right side. The volume toggle is positioned closer to the top and the screen lock button is in the middle. Both have a good profile and excellent travel and feedback. These buttons were easy to find and use.

I disliked the hatch protecting the SIM and memory card slots on the left edge. It's gigantic and unappealing to use. There's a large notch carved out to help your thumbnail locate it, but it takes away from the visual cleanliness of the side edge. The stereo headphone jack is on top and the USB port is on the bottom.

HTC embedded the 626S battery, which is sure to annoy some people. The rear plate is firmly attached to the phone, so no swapping batteries for you. The rear cover on the Sprint model was matte, but the rear cover of the T-Mobile was shiny. The camera module and flash are in their usual spot near the top.

The phone ships with Android 5.1 Lollipop and the most current version of HTC Sense. That means the software is identical to that found on the One M9, released earlier this year. HTC would not commit to updating the phone to Android M. The phone felt speedy enough when paging through the user interface, but HTC warned us that the software wasn't 100% final.

In all, it's a decent little phone aimed at mostly at pre-paid buyers.

626S  

Desire 520/526

The Desire 520 and 526 are almost identical, save for some spec and minor design differences. The 520 is headed to Cricket and the 526 is headed to Verizon Wireless, both as exclusives.

HTC is all about design, which to me means these handsets were designed by some other company. They don't even come close to offering the attractive look that HTC's other phones have. They are plain and boring.

526  

These entry-level Desires are compact and cheap-feeling to me. In fact, I'd say these are among the lowest-quality handsets I've ever seen from HTC. The rear shell, in particular, came across as flimsy and it didn't fit the frame tightly. The shell itself wraps around to form a portion of the side edges, so it is a significant piece of plastic. It is black and has a matte finish. The shape of the curved side edges is minutely different when comparing the 520 directly to the 526.

The smaller screen on each means HTC was able to keep the proflles small and easy on the hand. The screen is swimming in a sea of bezel. HTC pulled the same fake BoomSound speaker trick with these handsets, too, which have two speaker grilles in the plastic frame that runs around the outer edge of the phone.

There are no buttons on the face of the phone. The 520 has a 4.5-inch screen and the 526 has a 4.7-inch screen. The resolution is FWVGA on the former and qHD on the latter. HTC wouldn't let us turn these handsets on, so we can't offer an opinion about the quality of the displays. I do like the gray plastic rim that travels around the outside of the front face, which helps break up what would othertwise be a boring black visage.

HTC covered the side edges in a glossy black material, which contrasts with the matte finish of the rear shell. The screen lock and volume buttons are on the right edge. They are hard to find and feel incredibly cheap. I was disappointed with their quality.

Aside from the screen, the other minor design difference between the two is the camera module. The 526 model has an ovular design that encompasses both the lens and flash, while the 520 model separates the two, each in its own circle.

520  

To put it plainly, I am not impressed by these two handsets. I understand what entry-level phones are and the price points in which they compete, but HTC is treading dangerously close to the bottom here — especially when you weigh the quality of handsets from competing brands ZTE, Huawei, and Alcatel OneTouch.

HTC said carriers will announce individual pricing over time.

Family Photo  

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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