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Monday, August 4, 2014

A good-looking device suffering from underwhelming performance

The Good The Desire 616 blends the familiar good-looking HTC design aesthetic with dual-SIM capabilities in a 5-inch display.
The Bad The phone's performance is often sluggish and is a tad more expensive than the competition.
The Bottom Line The Desire 616 isn't one of the better HTC products we've seen this year, and you may want to give this a miss. There are cheaper and better alternatives such as the Asus ZenFone 5 or the Redmi Note.
HTC's entry-level Desire 616, in theory, should have been a great budget phone for the masses.
The 5-inch HD display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, sharp enough for even mid-range devices. The phone comes with dual-SIM capabilities, allowing you to have a secondary SIM card for when you're roaming without having to worry about being uncontactable on your usual number. It comes with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a microSD card slot, which you'll definitely need to make use of, as the phone only has 4GB of built-in storage.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite come together to make the Desire 616 what it should have been. Powered by MediaTek's octa-core processor, the phone was often sluggish, with apps sometimes failing to respond after a noticeable pause. While this is most likely a software issue, potentially fixed by an update, it is really holding back the phone's real potential.
It's not widely available, but you can find it unlocked from online retailers -- it's £183 from MobiCity in the UK or AU$270 from Expansys in Australia, for example. It's not currently available in the US, although may be in the future. It's S$298 in Singapore, which converts to $239.

Design

Resembling a smaller version of the HTC Desire 816, the 616 has the same large speaker holes and rounded corners. It also sports the same removable, glossy plastic rear shell. Unlike the 816, the 616 has a removable 2,000mAh battery. You'll need to take out the battery to insert your SIM and microSD cards.
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The Desire 616 goes for a shiny plastic look.Aloysius Low/CNET
Instead of "BoomSound" front-facing speakers, HTC has engineered a more conventional rear output for the phone. A bad move, in my opinion, as front-facing speakers have really made HTC handsets stand out amidst a lot of tough competition.
As with more recent HTC smartphones, the 616 sits comfortably in hand, and thanks to the rounded corners it doesn't dig uncomfortably into the palm. While the design is great to look at, the glossy plastic is a fingerprint magnet, and you'll end up with a very smudged rear cover.
Internally, the 616 is powered by a MediaTek MT6592 octa-core processor, but only clocked at 1.4GHz. It has 1GB of RAM and a paltry 4GB of onboard storage.
The phone runs on 3G networks and features the standard Wi-Fi (b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. There is no NFC.
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Aloysius Low/CNET

Software and features

If you liked HTC's Sense UI, the good news is that the Desire 616 uses the Android skin on top of Android 4.2.2. The bad news is that it's an older version (5.5) and not the newer Sense 6 found on theHTC One M8 or the Desire 816.
This means no color codes for apps or new font, but you still do get HTC's social news aggregator BlinkFeed, and video highlights (found on last year's HTC One). Basically, you're getting last year's software at a much lower price. Of course, to be fair, it's not like Sense 5.5 is a bad UI -- it's just as good as Sense 6 -- but I suspect if the Desire was running Sense 6, and therefore Android 4.4 KitKat, the phone wouldn't be plagued by performance issues and laggy applications.
Sense 5.5 does do a few things better -- it lets you change the default home screen from BlinkFeed (or even remove it entirely). If you like using BlinkFeed though, then you'll be glad to know that you can add updates from specific news sites manually.
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The familiar looking Sense 5.5.Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Camera

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Aloysius Low/CNET
The Desire 616 has an 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, as well as a front 2-megapixel shooter for taking selfies.
The 8-megapixel camera is mediocre -- it barely gives you enough detail and pictures have lots of noise. It's definitely not the greatest we've seen from HTC. Unlike the super fast shutter found on the M8, the 616 can be a tad slow. However, you do get panorama capture and beauty mode filters, which helps smooth your skin (note: I don't think I looked better while using this mode at all).
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This outdoor shot was taken on a slightly overcast day, but the camera just fails to capture any detail. Click to enlarge.Aloysius Low/CNET
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This shot was taken in bright sunlight, and is only slightly better. Click to enlarge.Aloysius Low/CNET
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Indoor test shot.Aloysius Low/CNET
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Beauty mode reduces skin blemishes, but I don't think I look any better.Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

While the MediaTek octa-core processor performed adequately on other phones that I've previously reviewed such as the Redmi Note and the Huawei Honor 3X, the Desire 616's lower 1.4GHz clock speed noticeably hampered performance. The phone scored 12,020 in the Quadrant benchmark, while only managing a lowly 281.643 MFLOPs (over 0.6 seconds) in the Linpack test (multithreaded).
While the scores are similar to other phones using the same processor, the issue here isn't really in the benchmarked performance, but in day-to-day use. You'll soon get really annoyed with the constant pauses as the phone struggles to keep up with you. I do think, however, that this can be fixed with a software update. Though even if a patch does resolve the issue, it's still pricey compared to the competition.

Call quality

I had no issues with making calls with the phone. However, I did feel the ringer was a bit soft -- and I missed a call once as I couldn't hear the phone ringing over the background noise of public transport.

Battery life

Despite only packing a 2,000mAh battery, the phone easily lasted a day and a half of moderate use. This is with two email accounts, Facebook and Twitter on push. We'll update this section with the scores from our CNET video test.
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Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion

Unlike this year's other HTC devices, such as the Desire 816 or the flagship metal-clad One M8, the Desire 616 doesn't quite seem to stand out. While it has the good looks that HTC is known for, the phone's poor performance and older software means it isn't nearly as enticing.
There are better phones out there, such as the Redmi Note and the Asus ZenFone 5 that offer the same (or better) features at a much lower price point. You'd be much better off with those phones, as well as saving some money, especially if your budget is tight.
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