HTC Desire 816 review: Classic HTC style with plenty of power

What's missing, however, are the gesture controls found on the One M8. You can't tap the display to wake up the handset. Nor can you turn the phone sideways and hold on to the volume rocker to turn on the camera. HTC feels it has to draw the line somewhere to separate its premium and midrange products, though it wouldn't surprise me if someone figures out how to port these features over (since they appear to be software-controlled) in a custom ROM.

Camera

Instead of the Ultrapixel camera found on the One M8, HTC chose to use a more conventional 13-megapixel shooter instead. Now, some of you may be thinking that this is an upgrade -- after all, one of the biggest complaints about the Ultrapixel camera is the lowly 4-megapixel resolution, so you'll get more details with 13 megapixels, right?

While you do get more detail, the images taken with the Desire 816 can be quite noisy. This is quite noticeable at 100 percent crop. That said, if you're always taking pictures with good lighting, you'll definitely appreciate having more detail in your images.

Do note that the fancy picture effects found on the One M8, such as UFocus, aren't available on the 816, though you do get some image filters. The "Zoe" feature is also missing, so you won't be able to take quick video clips for sharing. The camera is quick to take a picture, but there's a delay in shot-on-shot times.

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Indoor natural light (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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HDR test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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Indoor lighting (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 isn't the most powerful processor available, but that's the compromise you have to accept for the cheaper price tag. On the Quadrant benchmark, the Desire 816 did quite well, scoring 12,708 to easily surpass the two-year-old HTC One X. On the Linpack multi-thread test, the Desire 816 managed 288.813 MFLOPs.

I watched YouTube videos, surfed the Web and switched between apps with nary a pause. The only issue I encountered was the slightly slow camera shutter, as mentioned above.

Call quality

The call quality of the phone showed no issues at all, though the audio volume did seem a tad too loud. I found myself adjusting the volume down often.

Battery life

Equipped with a 2,600mAh battery (the same as the One M8), the phone certainly doesn't match up to slightly bigger phablets such as the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 and 5.9-inch G Pro 2 with their 3,200mAh batteries. And although this isn't the first HTC device to have a non-removable battery, I'd much prefer a removable battery.

That said, the Desire 816 lasted a day of moderate use -- that's with two email accounts, Facebook and Twitter on push. If you're a heavy user, you may want to carry a charger with you. Do note that there's the option to turn on an "Extreme Power Saving" mode that should hopefully help it last long enough to get you to a charging point.

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The Desire 816 has an embedded 2,600mAh battery. Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion

Packed with just enough features and power, the HTC Desire 816 is a great deal. Yes, its skin is plastic, but like Apple's much more expensive iPhone 5C, it's a well-made phone that will impress you with its build quality. And while it's no One M8, the Desire 816 comes with the slick Sense 6 UI and a 13-megapixel camera for those who prefer a higher-resolution image. Sure, you miss out on a few of the M8's goodies, but you get everything that really matters.

The Desire 816 feels like the right phone to spearhead HTC's effort to win more customers who can't afford its steely flagship. But as this part of the market gets more crowded with decent efforts from Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE, it has its work cut out for it. The company has a great approach to making phones, and it will be a shame if this new Desire stumbles at the starting blocks.

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