Review: HTC Desire 626

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HTC is back with a refresh to their budget Desire line. Will it prove to be a worthwhile purchase, or is it just a rush job from an under-fire smartphone manufacturer?

HTC made a shock announcement earlier this year by unveiling a refresh to their line of mid-range Desire smartphones. With the HTC Desire 620 less than a year old, that’s a quick turnover with regards to technology cycles.

This new HTC Desire 626 improves on the original in quite a few areas, though others remain completely unchanged. Can it do enough to truly separate itself from its predecessor?

Design
The HTC Desire 626 is an attractive looking smartphone. With a colourful polycarbonate shell and contrast trim around the camera sensor and edges, it definitely stands out among the boring, block colours of similar handsets. The matte finish does a decent job of blocking out unwanted fingerprints, though they’ll still manage to crop up after periods of long usage.

From the front, you could even be forgiven for thinking it was an off-shoot of the flagship One series, such is the familiar design characteristics.

With an overall thickness of only 8.2mm, it’s also pleasingly thin in the hand. The curved edges give a nice smooth grip to it and there won’t be any sharp corners digging into the palm of your hands. It’s definitely on the large side at almost 15cm in height, which is quite noticeable when you consider the amount of dead space above and below the panel.

Most of that space is used to house the two giant speakers which have become a mainstay on recent HTC devices. Oddly, only the bottom one is actually used in the Desire 626, with the top speaker being nothing more than a dummy grille.

On the left side you get volume keys and a power button which both have a sturdy, satisfying click but no dedicated camera shutter. The opposite side has a flap which reveals the SIM tray (two if you have the dual-SIM version) and microSD slot which is expandable up to an eye-watering 512GB. Unfortunately, the rear case is non-removable, meaning there’s no way to replace the battery when you’re on the move.

Camera
The cameras on this device both have very high megapixel counts considering the price, though that doesn’t necessarily mean better performance. At 13 megapixels, the rear camera is a decent all-round performer. Daytime pictures that possess plenty of dynamic range came out a little overexposed, while finer details could be better.

Thankfully, there’s a reasonable amount of manual settings to help deal with those pesky exposure issues. Low-light was good, capturing a relatively noise-free image at high ISOs that retained a fair amount of detail. Things were a little soft when viewed up close but it’s still a solid effort overall.

With a five megapixel front camera, you would expect it to be excellent for taking selfies. Unfortunately, that’s
not quite true. The HTC Desire 626 has a very disappointing front-facing camera, considering the high expectations.

There’s little in the way of fine detail and the overall image is incredibly soft. I can’t tell if it’s a case of aggressive noise reduction or if the camera sensor is just plain bad. Either way, its a poor showing considering the megapixel count.

Screen
The HTC Desire 626 has a five-inch HD IPS panel, which has excellent viewing angles and good colour reproduction. With a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, this equates to a pixel density of roughly 294 per inch. This sits just below the 300 PPI standard, meaning jagged edges are practically non-existent. At normal viewing distances, you’ll be hard-pressed to see anything. Icons remain sharp, even up close, and manage to avoid any sort of pixilation.

One thing worth noting is that the overall brightness of the panel isn’t that great, making it difficult to see in some lighting conditions. Even turning the setting up to maximum and disabling the ambient light sensor made little difference, as it simply couldn’t reach the levels seen in other devices. Those who use their devices in bright conditions will need to be aware of this.

Performance
Inside, there’s a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 processor, which is the same chip as previously seen in the LG Spirit. This time around though, the HTC is packing an extra 1GB RAM. Performance is perfectly acceptable, with apps opening fairly quickly and UI navigation consistently fast. Load up several apps and things start to slow a little, but the extra RAM definitely makes a difference in overall multitasking speeds.

My usual benchmarking game of Asphalt 8: Airborne performed on the HTC Desire 626 much like others with similar specifications – decent, but hardly mind-blowing. Turning the settings up to max, the game was clearly running in the sub-30 FPS levels. I’m sure most people could happily play it at such speeds and it never got to the point where the frame rate was intrusively choppy, though dialling the graphics back to ‘normal’ definitely made things much smoother.

Battery life is acceptable, with a solid 30 minutes of gaming only draining around 8-10 per cent of its capacity. For moderate users, you should be able to get a day’s usage out of it before needing to recharge. The lack of a removable battery is a hindrance, especially when out travelling for long periods. Those who enjoy carrying a spare will definitely miss this feature.

Software
The HTC Desire 626 runs on the latest version of Android 5.1 and includes the custom HTC Sense version 7 launcher. This new version of Sense is very similar to the previous releases, with only subtle changes to keep the design aesthetic in line with Android Lollipop. Various widgets, quick settings and controls have been slightly altered, with navigation controls now fully customisable.

There’s a big emphasis on customisation, with the “Themes” app letting the user change just about anything on their device. There’s also a new “Sense Home” option, which allows app management based on your location.

Android Lollipop continues to go from strength to strength, once again showing a vast performance improvement on lower-end hardware. The days of “Lagdroid” are most definitely behind us. Version 5.1 adds a few subtle tweaks and refinements, such as better security and dual-SIM support, though the general OS remains much the same. If you liked the material design before, you’re going to be more than happy here.

Verdict
The HTC Desire 626 is a solid handset that performs fine in most areas. Should you decide to purchase one, it will likely serve you very well under most conditions. The only problem arises from the £150 retail price, which puts it squarely in the firing line of budget superstars such as the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6. Had they priced it slightly cheaper, it may well have been worth more serious consideration. As it is, there are better deals out there. Still, this is a perfectly capable phone.

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