Taiwanese tech major HTC is one company that takes the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying way too seriously. While it may be able to get away with this in the case of its high-end premium devices, the same may not always hold true for its mid-range and budget offerings.
Fans, enthusiasts and even critics have been extremely critical about HTC’s recently launched One M9, saying the company has not done enough to inspire a ‘wow’ element in its latest flagship. That said it may not matter much in the end because the M9 appears to be quite well-endowed, at least on paper.
Sadly, it’s the company’s mid-range and budget handsets that fail to grab an eyeball, which eventually leads to poor sales. The company does bring out some decent handsets in this segment from time to time, but the recently launched Desire 820s doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Priced at Rs.22,600, the Desire 820S has some real tough competition to crack. That said this is now the third smartphone in a series that includes the Desire 820 and Desire 820Q. There’s a problem though: not much has changed in the hardware department, save the processor. And that change is not exactly for the good.
Let us explain.
Design and build quality
HTC undoubtedly comes out with some really good looking devices. This is one area where we don’t really care about HTC “copying” itself from time to time because the design of its phones is so good. But three times in a row seems a little too much, even to those who may have an affinity for HTC phones.
The Desire 820s is not a bad-looking device. It looks pretty cool with its double-tone colour scheme. But the design is old. It is the same design that began with the Desire 820 and continues unabashed with the Desire 820s. If you keep the Desire 820, 820Q and 820s side by side, you just can’t differentiate between them: they all look exactly the same.
Rest assured you get HTC’s trademark double shot design that looks youthful and funky. While it retains the sharp contours of HTC’s premium One range, it makes its Desire identity clear by sporting glossy plastic throughout.
While it does pass of as a near-premium handset, competitors in this price range give you metal — or at least a dash of metal — something that we would have liked HTC to try for a change (even a little bit here and there would have sufficed).
The glossy plastic body of the Desire 820s doesn’t look cheap and is not prone to smudge/fingerprint unless you have greasy fingers. The device is pretty pleasant to hold and comfortable to grip.
At 157.7 x 78.7 x 7.7 mm and 155 grams, the Desire 820s is certainly not a small device. It is considerably larger than the One (M8), the Samsung Galaxy S5, even the LG G3 and stands nearly as tall as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
It is larger than the OnePlus One (another 5.5-incher) but is only marginally heavier than the Xiaomi Mi 4 (a 5-incher).
Although HTC continues to opt for thick bezels around the screen, it’s remarkable how lightweight the Desire 820s is so that one-handed operability is not a challenge on the device.
The right edge houses the volume rocker and the power button. Although build of plastic, these buttons are firm and well placed, offering decent tactile feedback. It’s sadly missing out on a dedicated camera button.
The left-edge has two nano-SIM card slots and a microSD card slot, both of which are covered by a single protective flap.
The Desire 820s also retains the display (both size and resolution are same) found in the Desire 820 and Desire 820Q.
You get a 5.5-inch HD capacitive touchscreen display with a 720 x 1280 pixels resolution that roughly translates to 267ppi.
A year ago, these numbers would have created quite a flutter among buyers but not anymore. Full 1080p screens in this price bracket are common. Look at it this way, under Rs.10,000 devices like the Yu Yureka and Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 4G offer you similar display hardware as the Desire 820s. HTC’s offering therefore appears to be a rather expensive affair if you consider the display resolution and pixel density parameters.
What hurts the Desire 820s further is that it is also costlier than the Desire 820 and Desire 820Q but it’s still carrying that older display.
The quality of the display is good though. Although, a 720p resolution on a 5.5-inch screen does occasionally show off its limitations in term of evident pixilation of icons, the display is fairly crisp and bright.
Colours look good and punchy with good saturation levels. Viewing angles are pretty decent here with discoloration not very prominent upon viewing from different angles.
The Desire 820s runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat out-of-the-box with the company’s older Sense 5 UI on top. While the whole latest KitKat thing may seem cool and all (we hear a Lollipop update is on the cards too), software side is another area where we feel HTC has made a huge compromise with this one.
HTC has used the older Sense 5 UI in the Desire 820s, something that we feel could have avoided. HTC’s Sense user interface is one of the better ones we’ve seen in the business over the years. It integrates with Android well, giving you a smooth stutter-free experience, which is also pleasing to the eyes, and is every bit functional.
But we think that this is a phone that should have come with the HTC’s Sense 6 UI.
While features like BlinkFeed news aggregator work all too fine, lack of Sense 6 means the Desire 820s is missing out on so many key essentials, particularly a battery saving mode and motion gestures. For a device that costs over Rs.20,000, dated software doesn’t quite fit well with the equation.
Processing power is the only area that has received a fresh coat of paint in the case of Desire 820s in comparison to the Desire 820 and Desire 820Q. However, instead of going for a more potent processor, HTC has decided to pack in a rather humble MediaTek chipset inside the Desire 820s.
The Desire 820s is powered by a 1.7GHz octa-core Cortex-A53 (MT6752) CPU coupled with Mali-T760MP2 GPU and 2GB RAM. These are certainly not very encouraging numbers, especially since the cheaper Desire 820 comes with a Snapdragon 615 SoC, which offers better performance.
Nevertheless, the MediaTek (64-bit capable) chipset on board the Desire 820s handles everyday tasks with ease and we did not witness any evident lag while opening/closing of apps. The device usually gives lag-free experience. That is until you decide to play a game or two on this.
The device can run GPU intensive games like Asphalt 8: Airborne, Modern Combat 5 but there is lag if you are playing the games with graphics settings at maximum. Toning down graphics does give you better frame rates.
One key issue with playing demanding games — or while watching full-HD videos — is that the device heats up very fast. And substantially. For example, once while playing a video we saw the temperature of the battery go up from 26 degrees to 44 degrees Celsius in minutes. The rise in heat inside the phone is such that even when the ambient temperature is around 20 degrees, you can feel the extremely hot back cover on the Desire 820s while playing games.
The Desire 820s comes with 16GB of internal storage of which about 12.24GB is available for use. The device supports expandable storage of up to 32GB via micro-SD card and also gives you an option to install apps directly on the same.
The two BoomSound speakers on the front of the device justify their “boom” tag. They are among the loudest and punchiest we’ve heard in a smartphone. Peak loudness is a little lower when compared with the likes of the One (M8), but there is no doubt that the 820s is one of the better phones when it comes to playing music.
Phone calls made with the Desire 820s are of acceptable quality and we did not see any call drops with our review device. Since the upper BoomSound speaker acts as your ear-piece, the sound output is loud and clear on the device so much so that we were forced into lowering its volume output while on call.
The Desire 820s is future proof since it supports 4G LTE, just like the Desire 820 and Desire 820Q.
The Desire 820s sports a 13-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and LED flash. It also comes with an 8-megapixel front-facing snapper.
Most of HTC’s Desire range devices come with cameras that have good autofocus capabilities, as well as really good shutter speed. Sadly, that’s not the case with the Desire 820s. In fact we had to ask ourselves repeatedly if this was at all an HTC handset. That’s saying a lot about the Desire 820s, and its camera performance.
While using the device we found it has rather slow focus and shutter mechanism.
The rear camera can shoot decent photos in well-lit conditions. They have good detail, not the best, but satisfactory. There were some metering issues that we encountered here and there. In some scenes we found that it underexposed the images. Also colors looked a bit dull in most of the images that we shot with the device.
The level of detail that the camera captures goes down in lower light and noise is more visible. While, photos clicked in well-lit indoor situations were passable, those clicked in low light were downright disappointing as the level of noise was far too much.
Selfies clicked by the front camera are only passable, with noise evident on most counts, save when there is very good ambient lighting.
Nevertheless, they are good enough for your Facebook and Instagram feeds.
The problem with the camera of the Desire 820s is that it doesn’t even match the camera performance of the Desire 816 and the Desire 820. And these two devices cost less.
Also, rivals like the Xiaomi Mi 4 and OnePlus One pack in some pretty amazing cameras for their price, something that makes the Desire 820ss quite the odd man out in the crowd.
Both the cameras on the Desire 820s can shoot full-HD videos at 30fps. They have evident noise though.
Check the following image samples to get an idea of HTC Desire 820s Camera performance: Sample 1, Sample 2, Sample 3, Sample 4, Sample 5, Sample 6, Sample 7, Sample 8, Sample 9, Sample 10.
The Desire 820s comes with a 2600mAh non-removable battery, which is rated to deliver up to 12 hours of talk time and 560 hours on stand-by (on 3G), according to the company.
Keeping the numbers aside, battery output of the Desire 820s doesn’t seem one that inspires confidence. In our battery benchmark, we subjected the device to almost an hour of gaming (graphics intensive), one and a half hours of full-HD video playback, some web browsing (desktop mode), music on speakers (max volume) and phone calls every now and then and we got almost 4 hours out of the device.
Video playback and graphics intensive gaming really takes toll on the battery life, while music playback on speakers doesn’t affect it much.
Still, the Desire 820s doesn’t boast of a satisfactory battery life for its price, and heating issues add to its woes.
Normal usage will see it sail through an entire day, since the device has some decent standby output.
Should you buy it?
The resounding answer is a no. You might want to steer clear of this one. There were times when we felt the urge to ask ourselves, why HTC even bothered to make this one, especially when the competition today is so fierce.
The HTC Desire 820s doesn’t have one compelling feature that would make us want to recommend it to buyers. While the processor gives you a decent performance at its price, consumers today have an option to go beyond the ‘decent’ tag and indulge in more powerful devices: predominantly the Mi 4 and the OnePlus One.
If you’re an HTC fan, you can opt for the Desire 820, which is priced lower and is a considerably better performer in all major departments than this one. As for the Desire 820s, you should definitely skip it.