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HTC Desire 820 review: Familiar name, new phablet

HTC updates its mid range Desire phablet with a 64-bit processor and a refined design language.

When we reviewed the HTC Desire 816 back in issue 40, we concluded that it represented a return to form for HTC’s mid range line-up. Not long has passed but yet here HTC are with the successor, the Desire 820. The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ certainly applies in the world of mobile phones too, and HTC have taken this approach with the 820 – it takes the best aspects of the 816 and builds on them.

The basic formula is the same – a 5.5” 720P screen, Qualcomm processor, more RAM, plastic body, LTE data, expandable memory and a high spec front facing camera. As you’d expect though, many of the specifications have received a slight upgrade.

When we reviewed the 816, we were surprised how good the screen looked, given its 720P resolution at a 5.5” size. Impressively, the display on the Desire 820 looks even better! It’s brighter and sharper, again showing that as long as the display is high quality, resolution isn’t everything. The processor in the device is one of the most significant upgrades – gone is the low end (but impressive) Snapdragon 400, instead replaced by an Octa-core big.LITTLE 64-bit Snapdragon 615. With 4 cores at 1.5GHz and 4 cores at 1GHz, the CPU is powerful but has the ability to be extremely power efficient when doing non-intensive tasks. Although Android KitKat doesn’t take advantage of 64-bit processors, Android 5.0 Lollipop does – and HTC have pledged to update the Desire 820.

The Desire 820 is HTC’s first device to use the ‘doubleshot’ moulding method, proudly demonstrated on-screen in HTC’s press conference. The approach allows for 2 tone styles on the device without compromising build quality. It is a very well made phone indeed, matching the best polycarbonate devices even from Nokia.

As LTE availability in the UK gradually increases, some networks are already starting to roll out speed upgrades. The first of these is LTE-A CAT4, which provides for speeds of up to 150Mbps. With it’s cutting edge processor and modem, the Desire 820 supports this technology, so as it comes online you’ll be ready to take advantage. Also a big improvement over it’s predecessor is the inclusion of dual band WiFi. Reception as you’d expect is excellent, a definite benefit of plastic bodied phones.

If there’s any doubt as to the target market for this device, then the 8 Megapixel front facing camera should quickly resolve it. Second only to the forthcoming HTC Desire EYE with it’s 13 Megapixel camera and front facing flash, the 8 Megapixel selfie camera on the Desire 820 takes some of the finest self portraits of any phone, with clever software features to impress your (or perhaps your child’s) friends. The 13 Megapixel rear camera takes decent pictures too.

So what’s not to like about the Desire 820? It’s big. Really big, courtesy of that huge screen and the BoomSound speakers. As phones in general get larger though, it somehow feels manageable, as long as you forget any ideas of using it one handed. The new plastics on the phone are very nice, but the glossy back has some downsides. It’s a little bit slippery in the hand, susceptible to fingerprints and we worry it will show scratches easily. When it’s clean and new though, it looks fantastic.

In some markets the Desire 820 is available with dual SIM slots (as seen on the Moto G 2nd Generation), but in the UK it’s likely the single version SIM will be offered. Provided HTC can get a wide distribution of the device in the UK and don’t focus the product on Asia, they could really have a hit on their hands. There is a veracious appetite for larger devices in the market and the mid-range price point is very underserved in that regard.

For the latest phone and tablet reviews, make sure to check out the latest issue of Android Magazine.