Things are really starting to heat up in the 64-bit mobile market following the launch of the iPhone 5S and its A7 processor. Since then we've had a plethora of rumours surrounding countless phones bringing the new tech, but with the 5.5-inch HTC Desire 820 we have another 64-bit phone we can actually hold.
The HTC Desire 820 is an Android KitKat toting phablet running on Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 615 SoC backed up with 2GB RAM. Although the price has yet to be confirmed you should expect it to land between £249 and £299.
The massive 5.5-inch screen gives some hints that the HTC Desire 820 is perhaps going to be targeted more for the Asian market, an area where oversized screens have really gained traction. While that might not be ideal for Western consumers, it could help HTC return to the mobile powerhouse it once was.
It's hard not to be a little excited about the HTC Desire 820. Sure, the screen is a little low res given its massive size, the 720 x 1280 resolution only offers 267ppi, but with four 1.5GHz and four 1GHz cores and 2GB RAM there is certainly enough for the Taiwanese firm to shout about.
Elsewhere in the polycarbonate chassis is a 13MP rear camera, as well as a whopping 8MP sat on the front to offer up some of the best selfies you can imagine. We might not be looking at the likes of the HTC Desire Eye, but the Desire 820 has even the likes of the HTC One Mini 2 and Nokia Lumia 735's 5MP sensors beaten hands down.
Unfortunately as mentioned, the Desire 820 has to launch with Google's Android KitKat. However, when Android Lollipop does make it to the Desire 820 it will be perfectly placed to make the most of Lollipop's 64-bit support.
Measuring in at 157.7 x 78.7 x 7.7mm and weighing in at 155g, the Desire 820 towers over a lot of the competition. This size means it will be competing at the iPhone 6 Plus, Galaxy Note 4 and LG G3's end of the market, but where it lacks a little on specs it also goes lower on price.
This sized frame does mean that initially the Desire 820 feels a little unwieldy in the hand, with even my larger hands having to stretch a little even just to hold it, although this was never really a problem as I tend to operate using both hands to type out messages.
It also felt a little large in the pocket, but after a little time this soon became second nature. Though if you're a fan of super tight jeans this might not be the handset for you.
HTC has also managed to come up with a new manufacturing process for the plastic casing, allowing it to come in a two tone shell, and HTC also claims it won't fall apart or crack over time. I can also safely say that I never felt like the HTC would suffer from a similar #bendgate scandal.
The two tone shell is a really attractive design feature. My review handset has come in what HTC terms 'Santorini White' (referring to the blue domed white houses on the Greek island), while 'Marble White', 'Tuxedo Grey', 'Milky-way Grey', 'Tangerine White', 'Saffron Grey', 'Flamingo Grey', 'Blue Misty' and 'Monarch Orange' will also be available. You can probably work out what each of those means.
Navigating the Desire 820 is all done through the three standard Android on screen keys, leaving the face free to house the HD screen, stereo speakers and massive selfie camera. The only physical keys are the volume rocker and power/lock key which are both located on the right hand edge, and are both easily accessible one handed.
This leaves the top free of buttons, housing only the 3.5mm headphone port, with the microUSB charging port on the bottom edge. HTC seems to have developed a penchant for creating sealed units meaning that popping in the nano SIM and microSD cards can be a little fiddly as they sit covered on the right hand edge. This sealed design also means that the 2600mAh battery is not removable.
Key features and performance
Looking at the specs sheet of the HTC Desire 820 it is immediately clear what the two major selling points are going to be; that huge 8MP selfie camera and perhaps more importantly, the 64-bit architecture of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 615 SoC.
At this moment in time it might seem that having this chipset is a little redundant, and to a certain point you'd be correct. HTC clearly has a plan though, with Android 5.0 Lollipop the Desire 820 is perfectly placed to make use of its 64-bit support.
Couple this with an octa-core CPU and 2GB RAM and there is the potential for some serious speeds. Unfortunately given the lower price tag of the Desire 820, there was never going to be more RAM to make the most of the new architecture.
64-bit allows the use of more than 4GB RAM but it is likely that we won't see this level reach mobile phones for a few years, after all, we're still seeing laptops being sold with less.
There are definitely a few people that will question the need for these processors in mobile phones, but there is no doubt that having a 64-bit chip adds extra power.
Take a look at the iPhone 5S and 5C: theoretically there should be no difference as the dual CPU's are identically clocked (albeit a year's difference in model), but tests showed the iPhone 5S to be significantly more powerful.
It also stands to future proof the Desire 820. Not only does it make it fully compatible with a version of Android that has yet to fully launch, it adds further security that the 820 will be compatible with Android 6 (my guess is Android Meringue). Keeping with Google's 18 month update period, the Desire 820 should get the next two iterations, if not more.
The second major selling point for the Desire 820 has to be its whopping 8MP front sensor. It is pretty much a selfie lover's dream, and I couldn't be happier.
Compare it to the other major selfie players in the market (temporarily ignoring the Desire Eye), it stands head and shoulders above the likes of the HTC One M8 and Nokia Lumia 735's 5MP offerings.
Being an Android device also means that it comes with Snapchat out of the box, an app that has not only grown with, but has helped fuel, the selfie craze while simultaneously becoming one of my favourite apps.
Unfortunately the results didn't match up with what I was expecting. Images came out well in bright light but with even a hint of poor lighting images started to appear grainy.
HTC's live make up feature is enabled by default, with the idea that it automatically touches up your face to make you more beautiful. I wasn't impressed with the results here, as it applied a basic softening technique to the cheeks to disguise pores and left things feeling very unnatural.
The Desire 820 can also shout about its media capabilities. While it might only have a 720 x 1280 resolution, it does boast stereo speakers. These were loud enough and delivered some really impressive results, thanks to the HTC BoomSound technology built in.
That is where the high ends though. The screen initially seemed clear, but after browsing the web a little the fuzzy characters soon start to irk.
It is clear that this is an area that HTC has cut back on to save money, but a full HD screen at this size is almost essential for the Desire 820 to compete.
Those that are familiar with HTC's recent versions of Sense will be immediately at home with the Desire 820. For the rest, it is simple enough to learn. HTC has skinned Android KitKat (version 4.4.4) with Sense 6.0, sporting the latest version of Blinkfeed, although will still feel very familiar to traditional Android users.
Blinkfeed is HTC's effort to differentiate itself from other UI's, offering up customised feeds of news and social media to appeal to each user. In my case that means varying Facebook and Google+ posts, tweets, as well as technology and sports news feeds.
For the most part I found it to be very entertaining, with many news items appearing that I would likely have missed, however the integration of social media made it feel a little disjointed. Thankfully social media updates can be disabled.
Other areas of the OS have also taken a lick of paint, although there is a definite Android feel throughout. This is definitely a blessing because Google has put a lot of work into making Android a really well designed OS, and my favourite UI's are the ones that provide minimal skinning.
It should also be noted that HTC has moved a lot of its apps, such as the Gallery app and the Dot View app onto the Google Play Store with a view to streamlining the updates. When Android Lollipop hits in the coming months, this should make the process of updating the Desire 820 easier and faster.
In order to keep this all running, HTC has given the Desire 820 a 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 SoC. As you may have guessed, this is undoubtedly the Desire 820's party piece. This is backed up with 2GB of RAM and helps keep the whole operation running smoothly.
Running the Geekbench 3 benchmarking app gave an average score of 2620, putting it amongst esteemed company with the Sony Xperia Z2, Galaxy S4 and just a few points short of the HTC One M8. It also sits alongside the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, the Japanese firm's own phablet device.
Company like this really highlights just how impressive the HTC Desire 820 is. Throughout day-to-day use it zipped around, heavy app lifting was done with ease and running multiple apps was also handled well.
Moving between home screens came with the same zip that is now expected of high end flagships, thanks to the upgraded chip architecture and twice the RAM that has become the norm for handsets of this price range. Even the iPhone 6 Plus comes with a mere 1GB RAM.
64-bit architecture allows twice the level of data to be processed, meaning that the CPU's should theoretically be twice as fast. The structure of Qualcomm's SoC should also help.
Four low-powered 1GHz cores tackle smaller tasks leaving four higher powered 1.5GHz cores to contend with the heavier lifting. Overall this allows for a more efficient CPU, making data processing faster as well as providing less strain on the battery.
Battery and the essentials
Packed behind the 5.5-inch screen and the plastic chassis is a 2600mAh battery. This makes it smaller than the likes of the Galaxy Note 4's 3220mAh and the iPhone 6 Plus' 2915mAh, although both of these have significantly more powerful screens.
In theory the lower resolution screen will provide less of a drain on the battery. Couple that with the more power efficient Snapdragon insides and it would seem that the smaller battery should be more than enough.
Throughout my testing I found that the battery inside the Desire 820 is more than enough to cope with day-to-day use, even with my heavy usage. I am also permanently connected to messaging apps, leaving Skype and Facebook signed in 24/7, as well as actively using a variety of other messaging services like WhatsApp and Snapchat.
I also have my Sony Smartwatch 2 connected via Bluetooth all day, and spend a lot of time moving in and out of patchy Wi-Fi and mobile data range. Screen brightness was left on automatic, as I found that the Desire 820's screen was bright enough, even out in daylight.
It should also be noted that I also had the vibration turned on, a feature that actually drains the battery more than having sound on. I did, however, have sleep mode turned on, which disables data when the phone isn't being used for long periods.
After 10.5 hours of use, the Desire 820 was down to 35%. This might seem a little low, but is a similar figure to what I have experienced on my own HTC One.
To compare with other handsets, during TechRadar's HD video battery test, a drop of 25% was noted. Other larger handsets also saw a similar drop, so the smaller battery isn't really a problem. The Galaxy Note 4 drop saw a 19% drop, with the iPhone 6 Plus scoring 27%, LG G3 at 25% and HTC One M8 at 23%).
For those looking to further their battery use HTC has included battery saving techniques. Power saving mode allows you to slow down the CPU, reduce screen brightness, turn of vibration and even put data to sleep automatically.
Extreme power saving mode takes it one step further, automatically engaging at a preset level; 20, 10 or 5%. In order for this mode to work, many functions of Android are shut down. In fact, only the phone, messaging, mail, calendar, calculator and clock are allowed to work. Even notifications are turned off.
Elsewhere HTC has thrown in some other battery saving techniques, such as its quick settings mode. Just like Samsung's toggles, these can be accessed through the notifications bar, although they are hidden on a second page.
A simple tap of the button in the top right, or swiping down with two fingers brings up the ability to toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, data and screen brightness.
In short, HTC has done a lot of work to get the most out of the HTC Desire 820's battery, allowing a day's hard use without the need to carry a charger in your bag.
Being an Android device means that a lot of the most basic messaging functions are well catered for. Email is handled with the two standard apps, apps that are both well designed and provide every function that you could wish for, including the support for aggregated inboxes.
Text messaging is handled with HTC's app, which is also well designed and fully featured, being far more attractive to use than the Samsung TouchWiz offering. Google's Hangouts app can also be used to manage your SMS messages should you desire.
As a HTC device, the Desire 820 does also come with a really rather superb keyboard. HTC has put a lot of effort in to ensure that its keyboard is amongst the best, matching some of the best third party keyboard apps.
A certain level of praise has to be attributed to the larger screen size, that 5.5-inch monster means that keys are larger and easier to hit. My initial concerns that the larger screen would make it difficult to type were unfounded, but will definitely affect those that like to type one handed.
Contacts and calling
Another of the most basic phone functions has to be the phone itself. Without the ability to make a decent phone call, the Desire 820 can't really be called a smartphone.
Thankfully I can report that phone functions are more than acceptable. Making calls is easy enough, navigating the contact list is swift, and smart dialling is also supported within the phone app. Within a call you can access the dial pad and speaker phone, although more advanced features are omitted.
Call quality is nothing special, although again more than acceptable, with the stereo speakers also providing that extra oomph when on loudspeaker. Signal holding was also really good, but still suffered in known black spots.
One area that the big screen is an advantage is while browsing the web; the larger screen size makes it easier to browse sites and is a godsend when it comes to browsing fully-fledged desktop sites.
Browsing the web can be done through one of two apps, either Google's own Chrome app or HTC's customised Android app. My preference has always been Chrome, however both apps handle the web in a very similar fashion.
Both offer tabbed browsing, both sign in to your Google account to draw down your bookmarks, both even offer incognito browsing so your wife won't find out that you're looking for her birthday present.
The biggest difference seems to be that the HTC app defaults to a home page where Chrome brings up a page showing the most visited pages.
Loading pages was handled swiftly, whether over 3G or Wi-Fi, and those that live in 4G enabled areas will be pleased to note that the Desire 820 is also 4G capable.
The cameras packed inside the HTC Desire 820 are a feature that I was really excited to use. A 13MP sensor sits on the back, wrapped in the handset's secondary colour, with an 8MP snapper sat on the front.
It is interesting to see that HTC has taken a departure from its Ultrapixels on the Desire 820. Traditionally this technology has been saved for the HTC One range, so my guess is that it is likely down to the lower price tag.
I'd be lying if I said that of the two I wasn't more interested in playing with the 'selfie' camera, my love of Snapchat and sharing photos through other mediums has fuelled my desire to get a phone with a decent front facing camera. Roll in a massive 8MP and I was immediately intrigued.
Before diving into the quality of the images, it should be noted that the HTC Desire 820 follows on from other HTC counterparts with a really well designed app. It quickly becomes second nature to swipe left or right to change the camera mode from camera, to selfie, and on further to a split capture and photo booth mode.
These modes are pretty self-explanatory, with the first two being very traditional on modern smartphones. Split capture allows you to take a photo of an object, and then a selfie of you in that location, with the photo booth mode allowing you to take a series of four selfie shots that get put together in the same way as a traditional booth.
HTC has also added a variety of different filters that are applied in real time allowing to you apply some basic effects to your images precapture, as well as offering a live make up mode for selfie enthusiasts. In tests I found that this was really frustrating, and is something that I quickly disabled.
Other settings allow you to toggle exposure, white balance and ISO levels too.
With all of the pixels in both sensors, it makes sense to expect a really decent snapping experience. However, in tests I found that the cameras appear to perform below par, with images coming out grainy even in well lit shots. In darker areas, there was also a distinct lack of detail.
In the battle of the big phones there are a few players that are trying to make their mark. However, a 64-bit CPU and 8MP front facing camera should really help the HTC Desire 820 gain some ground against the likes of the far more expensive Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Kudos to HTC for offering up a phone with a 64-bit Snapdragon 615 SoC. While the market for 64-bit phones is still very young, with the only real notable contributions coming from Apple, it is clear that the future does lie in this area. It means the Desire 820 never suffered from slow down, and has given it the tools needed to make the most of Android Lollipop.
The design also has to be applauded. It might be made out of a polycarbonate chassis, but the two tone shell is very attractive and feels very well made. It was very comfortable to hold two handed, although its sheer size does mean that it won't suit those with smaller digits.
HTC's Sense also deserves a mention. While many will always prefer the stock Android solution, and I will confess that I too am a big fan, HTC has added some cool features that make its handsets worth looking at. Blinkfeed in particular is a great touch, offering up news from a variety of sources on a whole range of subjects.
Unfortunately for the Desire 820, its massive screen party piece is a bit of a letdown. HTC should take note of the reasons why the 720p HD screen resolution is reserved for handsets with a screen smaller than 5-inches.
In short, it just doesn't work when stretched further. After playing with the Desire 820 for a little while, the fuzzier text and slightly pixelated icons soon became annoying.
The cameras were equally disappointing. For a handset that packs in some of the biggest sensors, and with HTC's inroads with the Ultrapixel technology on the One range, I was expecting images to be some of the best. This didn't prove to be the case, with images coming out grainy if the light was not 100% perfect.
While the design has to be applauded, it needs to be pointed out that the way HTC has implemented the microSD and nano SIM ports is very frustrating. This is an issue that I don't see popping up all that often, but I soon found myself reaching for tweezers as it is too easy to push them in the wrong way, and are really difficult to remove.
It is clear that HTC has targeted the Asian market with the HTC Desire 820, an area where big screen handsets have taken off to an extent currently unseen here in the west. In order to keep costs down, this has meant that the screen has taken a resolution cut, maintaining HD status but at the most basic level.
This put a downer on my whole experience with the Desire 820, especially having moved from the HTC One, a phone with a higher resolution and smaller screen. My initial concerns that the screen would be too big were soon wiped away; it doesn't take long to become accustomed to a handset of this size.
My excitement of having a handset with some pretty powerful cameras was also very quickly diminished, with friends commenting that images appeared worse than the 2MP snapper I usually use.
Overall, if you're looking for a big handset for a budget price tag, the HTC Desire 820 is likely to cross your path but with so many large screen handsets now flooding the market there are many other options worth taking a look at instead.