The Desire 820 was introduced in September 2014 at the IFA, but is only entering the market now. The delay has not hurt the mighty 5.5-inch smartphone; on the contrary, HTC has put together an attractive package which many will like.
The Desire 820 is the successor to the 816, which went on sale for a price of 379 euros only eight months ago. The technically and visually updated smartphone starts at a much cheaper price of 330 euro – a sign of how tough competition in the mid-range segment is driving down prices. But it is also an indicator that HTC set the price too high at that time. In other words: the Desire 816 was a bit overpriced at the time of launch, but the successor offers very good value for money.
But only if you like big smartphones. HTC is faithfully following the trend towards large displays and has installed a 5.5-inch LCD panel in this device, which is indeed very true to color, stable in regard to the viewing angle and features high luminosity (455 candela), but only outputs content with 1280 x 720 pixels and is thus not overly sharp. The difference is especially clear if you put it right next to a full HD display. The Honor 6 also tested in this issue (page 58), which is in the same price range, but offers more in this respect. However, it is visually much less impressive than the HTC fireball. That HTC has developed its own design language over the years immediately becomes clear when looking at the device: the characteristic holes for the front speakers above and below the display, the large eye for the camera, the colored accents on the frame and other housing elements – these are all details which make the difference between an A-brand and a B-brand like Honor.
The workmanship is excellent. The Desire 820 was manufactured as a unibody model, which lends the housing a sense of high integrity, even though it is only about eight millimeters thick. The battery cannot be exchanged, of course. Another point of criticism concerns the choice of material. HTC utilizes plastic with a glossy piano finish, which is not so nice when it comes to haptics, and it also smears quickly. Matt plastic would have served the Desire 820 better.
The Desire 820 is one of the first smartphones in the world equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 615 mid-range chipset and offers some new features that have been lacking in Qualcomm. We would like to highlight the 64-bit architecture and the use of eight cores, whereby four are grouped in clusters which work at different levels of performance (1 GHz and 1.7 GHz). In addition, it has 2 GB of RAM, satisfying very high demands.
Installed Android version 4.4.4 does not yet support the 64-bit architecture, however; only successor Android 5 Lollipop can. So the 64-bit smartphone you hold in your hand is de facto a 32-bit system. The Desire 820 will only be able to fully utilize its potential when HTC provides an update to the new version of Android. Official figures are lacking so far, but it is very likely that such an update is already in progress – the smartphone therefore has a permanent place in our upgrade schedule on page 42.
But even without Android 5, the 820 proves itself to be extremely performant. The interface reacts extremely smoothly, apps launch quickly, and graphics-intensive games flit nimbly across the screen. While playing games and watching videos, the good sound stands out: since the stereo speakers are located on the front side, the sound is oriented directly towards the user. A clear advantage over all smartphones with speakers on the back or on the side, and anything but a matter of course in this price range.
HTC’s own user interface Sense 6.0 was taken from the premium class around the One M8 almost unchanged; HTC has only sacrificed some details that are due to the weaker hardware. Since the 820 is missing a co-processor which permanently monitors the sensors, it is not possible to control the smartphone with gestures when the display is off.
Other than that, the HTC interface is very persuasive, thanks especially to the many useful extras and extensions. A special energy-saving mode shuts down certain functions to extend the running time; there are Office apps and backup software. But the heart of Sense is the BlinkFeed, a social home screen which collects messages from Facebook, Twitter and the like and presents them in a clear format.
The quality of the 13-megapixel camera is suitable for the price. The autofocus sometimes responds sluggishly, and with large differences in luminance, image dynamics and details are lost. The possibilities of the software are particularly strong: all recording parameters such as white balance or ISO cannot only be changed, but can also be saved as a camera profile, so you can take pictures later with the same settings. Noteworthy are also the capabilities of the front camera: HTC has installed an 8 megapixel lens and enriches the software with selfie functions – the morphing function stands out as a fun feature. Two faces are put together in a new photo – with some very funny results.
Compared with its predecessor, the runtime has deteriorated, the 2600 mAh battery only keeps the 620s model alive for 6:05 hours (Desire 816: 7:25h). It is thus in the mid-range, roughly on a level with Samsung’s Galaxy S4, but well below current top models such as the One M8 (7:13 h) or the Galaxy S5 (8:17 h). But the Desire 820 will get its users through the day in every case.
The radio services are very good across the board; in the UMTS network, the Desire 820 even gets the best grade. For LTE and GSM, it is two points short of the maximum. Even voice quality is extremely good both in transmission and reception – there are few smartphones that get such a high score.
The display resolution is relatively low, the piano lacquer look is not to everyone’s taste, the quality of the camera could be better. But everything else is fine. There may be smartphones with a sharper screen or a better camera in the middle class, but HTC puts together a particularly good overall package. It is one of the best smartphones that you can buy for 300 euros.