HTC Desire 520 review: A cheap Android device that sacrifices too much

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The Good The HTC Desire 520 is affordable and compact Android smartphone with loud front-facing speakers. It also includes a microSD card slot and user-replaceable battery.

The Bad The screen is dull, battery life is short, and the plastic casing feels cheap. There's a noticeable delay when switching between apps and scrolling through the home screen.

The Bottom Line Don't be fooled by the Desire 520's low price. You can get a better-performing phone if you are willing to spend a little extra.

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5.4 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Camera 5
  • Battery 5

Review Sections

I've played with and reviewed more phones over the past five years than I can count, almost all of which were running Android. No phone has made a lasting impression quite like the HTC Desire 520, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

HTC's latest budget-friendly smartphone is one of the cheapest available. You can pick it up from Cricket Wireless, an AT&T subsidiary, in the US for $100 with activation; the next rung up costs almost twice the price. It's also available on Optus in Australia for AU$199. It doesn't currently sell in the UK, but the US price converts to about £65.

On the surface, the phone looks appealing to average consumers. An affordable and pocketable 4.5-inch device with a quad-core processor and 8-megapixel camera. What's not to like? It's when you dive deeper that you see a dated operating system, limited storage and poor battery life. While it may be cheaper than the competition, the Desire 520 sacrifices more to get there. For that reason, I can't recommend it.

The Desire 520 looks like many of HTC's other smartphones, albeit an inexpensive, plastic version that feels cheap, attracts greasy fingerprints, and lacks personality. The phone is available in a single color -- slate gray -- and doesn't feature any colorful accents. It's small, which makes it comfortable to hold, but the sleek backing caused it to slip from my hand more than once. The camera lens also protrudes slightly from the back, which worries me when I place it down on a rough surface.

Looking at the outdated screen isn't much fun. The 4.5-inch display is dim, colors are diluted and text can become pixelated when you zoom in. To add some context, this is the same resolution as the original Motorola Droid , which came out six years ago in October 2009. There is a bright spot, though: the 520 features the company's trademark dual front-facing speakers, which are surprisingly loud.

HTC has outfitted the 520 with Android 5.1 Lollipop software and HTC's Sense interface layered on top. It's unclear if it will ever be updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is just starting to roll out now. I prefer stock Android, but the Sense experience isn't bad and it does give you access to HTC-exclusive features like Blinkfeed (a news aggregator app) and Zoe (a camera app to create moving images, similar to Apple's Live Photos feature).

However, Sense does gobble up most of the phone's 8GB storage, leaving you with 3.25GB of storage for all of your apps, music, videos and photos. Luckily, there's a microSD card slot under the back cover for added storage. Like many other recent budget-friendly phones, the Desire 520 lacks NFC, which means you can't make mobile payments through Android Pay.

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