HTC’s done well to make a name for itself in the smartphone market over the past couple of years. Thanks to its One series, people are starting to take the company seriously. It leads the way in terms of build materials and quality and isn’t afraid to try new things. But in my mind, what HTC is doing in the budget-friendly areas of the market is far more interesting.
Last year I checked out the Desire 816 and came away impressed. This year I have the Desire 820, and again I find myself pretty pleased with the device. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges, but for the initial outlay (under $400 or £300), it’s a well-priced phablet and picks up where the 816 left off.
Which ever way you look at it, the Desire 820’s looks are striking. The glossy white plastic perfectly contrasts the brightly colored accents around the edges, buttons and camera lens. But it’s also impossible to get away from the fact that this is definitely plastic. It’s shiny to the eye and slippery to the touch, not at all helped by the slightly rounded edges on the back. Saying that, the unibody design is generally solid. The only part that feels slightly flimsy is the flap for covering SIM and microSD card slots.
As is typical for HTC, the bezels are positively ginormous. There’s more than a thumb’s width between the bottom edge of the screen and the phone’s chin. But there’s real purpose for this gap: HTC’s BoomSound stereo speakers that — as usual — are covered by a row of individually micro-machined holes.
The power/sleep button is placed thoughtfully on the right hand edge, just below the volume rocker. Both click subtly, giving just the right amount of feedback when pressed. Both are also easy to reach.
At 7.7mm thick, the Desire 820 isn't the thinnest smartphone on the planet, but it’s not far off. It feels really slim in hand, and although it’s too wide and too tall to be comfortable for single hand use, it has a great two-handed feel.
Apart from the huge bezels, it’s the 5.5-inch screen that makes this such a large device. It’s an LCD panel boasting a resolution of 720x1280 pixels, or 267 pixels per inch. Being an LCD, colors are quite accurate, if not ever so slightly cool. And after you get over the fact that it’s not as pixel dense, as sharp or as high contrast as some flagship devices, you realize this is a pretty great panel.
Viewing angles are good, and aside from the usual slight dip in brightness when looking at it from an angle, there are no real complaints. It still provides a great experience for anyone wanting to watch movies or get their gaming fingers busy on the move.
Although it doesn’t have the deep blacks of AMOLED, the Desire 820 display's contrast is still high enough to offer pleasing viewing.
Sharpness is the only real downfall of the screen, but even that isn’t terrible. Hold it close and you’ll see some rough edges around lettering. Hold it at arm’s length and all you see is the content on the screen.
HTC’s opted for an unusual processor set up with the Desire 820. Instead of the traditional quad-core Snapdragon 400 or 800 series processors often used in mid-range phones, the 820 features a Snapdragon 615 chip made up of two quad-core chips. It’s 1.5GHz added to a 1.0GHz processor, and the results are a little inconclusive. Sometimes the phone performs brilliantly, swiftly sliding through screens and in between apps without any trouble. Other times there’s a noticeable delay between a gesture and a response or loading web pages and apps.
I have to say, the instances of lag or stutter were few and far between, and mostly isolated to instances when there were multiple background processors grinding the engine to stall.
Battery life is really impressive too, standby time in particular. Although it’s only a 2,600mAh battery, it gets through a day’s moderate use without breaking a sweat. If you’re a light user, you might even get two days out of it.
As with any BoomSound equipped phone, the Desire 820's stereo speakers are loud. They’re immersive too, adding an element to any media experience you don’t get from many other phones. I found myself getting sucked in to movies I was watching to test the display, because of the audio. At the right distance from your face, the stereo really adds that something extra to your visual media. It’s certainly much better than any phone with a downward facing speaker.
Earpiece quality isn’t stunning, but then, there aren’t really that many phones with amazing audio quality through the earpiece. Call quality is clear enough, even if the speaker has a tendency to distort at high volumes.
It’s hard to argue with the quality of this phone for the money you pay, until you realize that the OnePlus is a similar price and has a more attractive spec sheet. In fact, if you’re looking to spend less than $400 on a great 5.5-inch screen phone, the OPO is probably the better choice. But that’s not to take anything away from the HTC Desire 820; it’s still a great phone from a manufacturer with a growing reputation for quality.