HTC has quite a diverse smartphone line-up, which is, however, comprised mostly of the One, garnering most of the headlines, and Desire product lines. While HTC has been in the news following the launch of its new flagship, the One A9, the Japanese company quietly launched a number of low- to mid-range smartphones in July. Although not all will be available across the globe, the HTC Desire 626 was launched in South Africa in late October 2015.
HTC has made some good progress in catching up with the leading Android manufacturers with its flagship, One line-up, and at the same time, also launched a number of successful Desire smartphones in other regions. At last another Desire has landed on the shores of South Africa, which the company has earmarked as a contender in the mid-range market. We consider two views in that regard, whether the 626 is indeed a good device worthy to compete, and whether the cost is also able to match others, all within the same range.
Build and Design
There’s no escaping the predominant plastic unibody casing of the 626. Thankfully, though, the unit has a look resembling that of the One series, so not all bad. It even feels good in hand. There is no rear cover on the device, which allows for a thinner design, measuring 8.1mm; not bad at all for a mid-range unit. The unit comes in 3 basic colours, which each have 3 different colour schemes of their own. Despite its plastic build, the unit never looks or feels cheap in hand. The 5” display also makes it of a decent size, so one-handed usage is a possibility, without the fear it may slip.
The design is very minimalistic, which makes it very appealing, with only two buttons attached to the frame, both situated on the right hand side, easily accessible with the thumb. These two buttons are the volume rocker (top) and power button (centre). In addition, the buttons aren’t very obtrusive, protruding just barely enough to feel, when not looking, and knowing which button is which. It does take some getting used to switching from any Samsung devices, but within a few days this no longer becomes an issue. There are two speaker grills on the front of the unit, above and below the screen, but, interestingly, only one actually has a speaker underneath. The nanoSIM and SD card slots are fitted to the left side of the unit, beneath a single flap that is housed flush against the frame. The HTC logo is positioned below the display on the front, beneath the glass, as well as on the centre on the rear. The microUSB is positioned where it has become the standard, at the bottom of the device, but rather strangely, is upside down when compared to most other smartphones.
Screen and Display
As already mentioned, the 626 has a 5” screen, which has a 1280x720px resolution, LCD3 display. This means the 626 has a pixel density of 294ppi, which isn’t that bad, but not great either. The display offers decent brightness, vibrant colours and viewing angles. The only real downside is the slight pixilation when viewing certain images, but isn’t very noticeable when watching moving images. There is a lot of software-based sharpening of imaging, but isn’t something that can be disabled in the settings. The lower resolution, though, may just have a positive spin-off in terms of battery life, but we’ll discuss this in the below section.
Performance and Battery Life
There’s often lengthy discussions with regard to the CPU and performance of modern, flagship smartphones, mostly related to benchmarks and noticeable differences in performance and UX the GHz manufacturers put into it. The 626 is fitted with a modest chipset in the form of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 210, which has a 1.1GHz Quad-core, Cortex-A7 CPU, and Adreno 304 GPU. Graphics aside, the end result is not something to boast about. Instead, the device does perform sluggishly at times, especially when running other apps or processes in the background. For the most part, animations and transitions are smooth enough, but, too, suffer under heavy usage.
The concerns with the Snapdragon 210 don’t end there. The chipset is known for not being very efficient. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why HTC had to opt for the 720p display instead of full HD. Under normal usage, the performance is adequate, and the battery life isn’t affected. The 2000mAh battery fitted to the 626 is capable of making it through the day under such conditions. Switching up a gear, however, quickly depletes the charge, as multitasking and heavy use, such as gaming, aren’t really catered for.
In 2014, HTC faced a barrage of complaints from specialist reviewers and owners alike for the poor performance of the camera on the HTC One M8. And while it may have been bettered in 2015 with the M9, it still wasn’t something considered good when compared against leading manufacturers. Alas, the Desire 626 doesn’t offer much in the way of improvement in this regard, despite its 8MP camera. If there’s one thing I can deduce from users looking to purchase any mid-range smartphones, is that they’re often more likely to use the camera at regularly intervals throughout the day. This may be quite dampener for those looking to renew their contracts, looking for a good mid-range unit. Still images captured in bright sunlight are capable of making the cut, but almost nothing else. Low light and motion images are as easily thrown out as they are taken.
As is the case with the One M8 and M9, HTC has a remarkable knack of making good looking devices, even when the majority of the unibody is plastic. While these devices have sufficient power to drive them, it isn’t used to the best possibilities, with questionable cameras and camera software to throw in a few curveballs. The HTC Desire 626 falls into a similar pattern, although, this time, the internals aren’t as good. Many of the features of the camera were removed, assumed, due to the lack of power under the hood with the Snapdragon 210 chipset.
The Desire 626 throws up a mixed bag of goods, some good, some not so good. If you’re willing to live with the shortcomings, then the unit wouldn’t be a bad fit for you. If, however, you’re looking for something more powerful and user friendly within a similar price bracket, with an RRP of R4,399, the Huawei Ascend Mate7 and Motorola Moto G could be a better fit.