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HTC Desire 816 review

HTC recommends you gloss regularly

HTC Desire 816 review
HTC is bigging up the plastic fantastic

Our Verdict

Muscling into the mid-range market, the Desire 816 is a big smartphone which strikes a good balance between price and function. It draws on HTC's strengths, and manages not to compromise in too many areas, making it great value.


  • Dual front-facing speakers
  • Reasonably priced
  • MicroSD card support
  • Big 5.5-inch screen


  • Gloss plastic
  • Non-removable battery
  • Power button placement
  • 720p resolution

Can HTC conquer the middle of the market with the Desire 816? This is an interesting smartphone with respectable specs and an attractive price tag, so where are the compromises?

A plastic body, mid-range processor and 720p display weigh up against dual speakers and a decent 13MP main camera backed up by a 5MP selfie special. All of this can be yours for around £300 (about $500, AU$550) off-contract.

There's no shortage of competition in this space from a mixture of mid-rangers and discounted flagships of yesteryear.

It will have to tempt prospective buyers away from similarly priced phones like the Nexus 5, the Moto X and the OnePlus One.

There are also direct mid-range competitors with larger displays like Samsung's Galaxy Mega and the Nokia Lumia 1320.

HTC Desire 816 review

Not everyone is willing to blow hundreds on a cutting edge masterpiece of design like the HTC One M8, so there's definitely a market for a smartphone like the Desire 816.

HTC figures that demand starts in Asia, where the 816 was released in March and extends to Europe, where it's rolling out now. There's no word on whether it will land further afield just yet.

The first thing that strikes you about the HTC Desire 816 is its size. This is a big phone. Flagship screens are growing bigger generally and putting into doubt the idea that anything between 5 and 7 inches is a phablet.

HTC Desire 816 review

This has a 5.5-inch screen in a big plastic slab of a body. It makes the Sony Xperia Z2 look small.

Shooting for the middle of the market means corners have to be cut somewhere. You won't find the high-end design of the One M8 here, although the Desire 816 does sport the same rounded corner profile and front-facing Boomsound speakers. Instead of grills there are larger machined holes to mark the speakers, which look quite good.

HTC Desire 816 review

The bezels round the screen are fairly large. The small HTC logo at the bottom and the front-facing camera at the top left are the only other details.

Things are similarly sparse on the back, with a camera lens and flash at the top left corner and the lowercase HTC logo again, this time larger, in the middle of the non-removable back plate.

HTC Desire 816 review

You have to reach up to the top of the left spine to find the power button and that ensures that one-handed operation is beyond you, unless you're a basketball player. The volume rocker sits below the power button and it's split into two large buttons which feel a little loose.

Up top you'll find the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. At the bottom there's the microUSB port.

HTC Desire 816 review

On the right side there's a plastic flap that you can open with your fingernail to reveal various ports. There's one for your nanoSIM, a microSD card slot, and a mystery port in the middle that leads to another dimension (it's actually for a second SIM card for markets getting the dual SIM version, but it's blocked up on my review unit).

Sadly the flap doesn't mean that the HTC Desire 816 is waterproof, but you won't change your SIM or microSD card often, so it's a nice way to tuck them out of sight.

HTC Desire 816 review

My review handset was white, which did a pretty good job of hiding the fingerprints and smudges that will no doubt find plaguing the colour versions.

It's a comfortable phone to hold, but it's definitely on the big side and will be unwieldy for some. It's pretty slim at 8mm, but it is 156.6mm tall and 78.7mm across. It's also pretty heavy at 165g.

HTC Desire 816 review

Glossy plastic doesn't get much classier than this, but it's still glossy plastic. The materials, build quality, and colours remind me of Nokia's Lumia line-up.

The HTC Desire 816 is clearly no flagship design, but to be fair it doesn't carry a flagship price tag either.