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HTC Desire 816 review: A decent phablet with a cheap data plan

Jared Newman | Oct. 15, 2014
HTC has joined the mid-range "phablet" fray with the Desire 816, a big phone-tablet crossover that costs only US$300 with no contract.

For software, the Desire 816 uses HTC's Sense 6 interface, running atop Android 4.4 KitKat. HTC's take on Android is a mostly pleasant affair, with useful add-ons such as a customizable quick settings menu, scheduled Do Not Disturb mode, extreme power saver mode and the BlinkFeed news ticker on the home screen.

However, the phone includes one rather annoying bit of bloatware called Qualcomm iZat. Its intended purpose is to provide indoor location tracking at places like shopping malls, but the app doesn't make any of this clear as it periodically bugs you with notifications. It comes off as creepy and apparently doesn't even work anywhere in the United States, making it a textbook example of how no to do pre-loaded software.

Tragically flawed camera

The Desire 816 packs an impressive-sounding 13-megapixel camera, but the photos aren't as good as the pixel count implies. While the camera had a fast shutter and was able to capture fine details, photos came out with a yellow hue, as if taken on an old Polaroid. The effect was especially pronounced indoors.

The front-facing camera--despite a generous 5-megapixel sensor--had similar color issues, and its field of view is only wide enough to fit a couple of people in the frame at arm's length. For mid-range phone that's otherwise so solid, the camera is one area where the Desire 816 is decidedly cheap.

If you can live with the camera and a few other shortcomings, the Desire 816 fares well as a budget phone for game and media junkies. For $300, it can stand in for both a smartphone and a tablet, and the service comes cheap on Virgin Mobile, whose $35 plan gets you 300 minutes, unlimited text and 2.5 GB of high-speed data. (An alternative plan for the same price includes unlimited minutes and 250 MB of data.) It could be the only device you need, even though it's far from being the best one you can get.


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