In terms of tools, all the basics are there: You get the same set of scenes (Night, HDR, Sweep panorama, Anti-shake, Portrait, Landscape, Macro and more) except for the M8's Manual mode. All the fun filters are present, along with ISO settings, exposure compensation, aspect ratios and 10 levels of skin beautification. Sadly, you don't get dual-capture or spherical-panorama modes, though the latter is probably for the best -- it would be too painful to use with the Desire 816's sluggish main camera. In short: You might want to look into other options if you're used to a speedy camera.
Performance and battery life
||HTC Desire 816
||HTC One mini 2
||Sony Xperia T3
|3DMark IS Unlimited
|SunSpider 1.0.2 (ms)
|GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen(fps)
SunSpider: Lower scores are better; results compiled on Chrome.
As I mentioned earlier, HTC's done a good job keeping the Desire 816 running smoothly most of the time (with the exception of that poky camera). Thanks to a 1.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip and 1.5GB of RAM under the hood, the phone has no problem handling basic tasks, as I've confirmed with my few weeks of usage, and the benchmarks above agree as well. Of course, the Desire 816 is no 3D beast, but like the One mini 2, it still runs Asphalt 8: Airborne and Real Racing 3 smoothly even on the highest graphics settings. I should also add that those front-facing stereo speakers make for a great gaming experience.
The advantage of mid-range processors is that they sip much less power than their flagship counterparts, and this is certainly the case with the Desire 816. While 2,600mAh may seem like a small cell for such a big phone, it often lasts the entire day with at least 20 percent of juice remaining, and that's with LTE radio connected most of the time to fuel my social networking and BlinkFeed addiction, as well as the occasional YouTube or Bluetooth music-streaming session. This gives me some leeway for using the phone as a WiFi hotspot. For the sake of benchmarking, I ran our standard battery-rundown test (video looping with WiFi enabled, and screen brightness set to 50 percent) and managed to squeeze out nine hours and 39 minutes of life. Not bad at all.
There are actually very few 5-plus-inch LTE phablets in this price tier, and they might not even be available in your area. For those residing in parts of Europe and Asia, the first one that comes to mind is Sony's similarly priced Xperia T3 (pictured above). It's slimmer and lighter, at 7mm thick and 148g, and it has similar specs as the Desire 816, except most are downsized a little: There's a slightly smaller 5.3-inch IPS screen with the same 720p resolution. It's also powered by a Snapdragon 400 chip, but clocked at 1.4GHz, not 1.6GHz. Then again, that might make up for the smaller 2,500mAh battery. The cameras are the ones that really let this Sony device down: On paper, the 8MP/1.1MP combo instantly loses appeal when compared to the Desire 816's 13MP/5MP counterparts; plus based on our quick comparison, the Xperia T3's cameras suffer from a lot of compression, noise and even slower capture speeds, albeit sometimes producing more vibrant colors. No thanks.
Another similarly priced and specced device is Samsung's 5.25-inch Galaxy Grand 2. Don't be mistaken: Instead of the original specs from November, I'm referring to the upgraded variant with a 720p screen instead of a WVGA one, and it also packs an LTE radio this time. Alas, the 8.95mm body is a tad thicker due to the removable 2,600mAh battery (a potential hazard for others, given the recent reports of Samsung battery fires), but that's no worse than the quad-core chip being clocked at just 1.2GHz. Also, the phone only has 8MP/1.9MP cameras, though I've yet to test their quality.
Of course, if you can manage to get your hands on it, there's always the OnePlus One, which offers flagship specs for the same price. The 5.5-inch screen comes with a much higher 1080p resolution, and the 13MP/5MP cameras are more responsive with better image performance. The obvious trade-off is that you'll miss out on HTC's Sense UI, but then again, some people may prefer CyanogenMod's more basic Android interface.
HTC deserves some credit for finding a niche space to compete in, and it's done so with some success. In general, the Desire 816 came out as the most ideal choice among similarly specced Android phablets: It has better camera specs, front-facing speakers and a slick UI. It's even a better deal than the One mini 2, which is essentially a slower Desire 816 with a smaller screen, plus a smaller battery, in a metallic chassis -- the part that HTC's charging you the premium for, yet it's not quite the same smooth finish as the M8's.
Of course, the Desire 816 isn't perfect. As on the One mini 2, the cameras are sluggish and sometimes unpredictable, but when they do work, the photos come out nicely. That's pretty much the only thing that's stopping me from totally falling in love with the phone. The Desire 816's only real threat is the OnePlus One (and eventually the Xiaomi Mi 4 in select regions), but given that it's still a rare item, HTC should seize the moment, put up a good fight and fix those camera bugs.