HTC’s latest budget effort, the Desire 626, acts more like an entry-level handset than it does a midtier phone. HTC caps the 5-inch Desire 626’s hardware at a mediocre 8-megapixel rear camera and a lower-performing processor. Its greatest strength among today’s blizzard of cheap, good-enough Android devices is its attractive design in six color choices (if you also count the Desire 626S).
HTC’s strategy of distributing the 626 all over the globe as a value buy is a sound one, especially as casual users will gravitate toward its solid, well-considered build over so many blah-looking handsets. Just as competitive as the upper end of the gladiatorial smartphone arena, HTC and others can use the lower and middle levels to help boost overall profit and sales, particularly among budget-seekers. For Taiwan-based HTC, whose products have long been praised for its material design even amid plummeting financial prospects, any and all inroads are good news.
You may enjoy the Desire 626 above others for its cohesive construction, but I ran into too many performance pitfalls to be able to recommend the device (excellent call quality was a notable exception). My advice is to shop around. If you value performance over smooth looks, a gaggle of other phones in the same price range means you can score better value for the same money. See the conclusion for more detail, but I’d particularly look at the Motorola Moto G from late 2015, and the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 , which costs a little more for a significantly higher-performing phone.
Pricing and availability
A global handset, you’ll need to check with your carriers and retail stores for exact pricing. Roughly, though, you’re looking at just under $200 with no contract in the US. For reference, this converts to £129.
In the US, you’ll be able to buy the Desire 626 from AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Sprint Prepaid, T-Mobile, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile. Prices are going to go something like $0 down and $8 per month for 24 months, or about $6 per month for 30 months. It’ll vary by wireless carrier.
Design and build: Leading with strength
- 5-inch display
- 1,280×720-pixel resolution (294ppi)
- 5.8 by 2.8 by 0.32 inches (147 by 71 by 8.2 mm)
- 5 ounces (140 g)
However humble the hardware, you can always count on HTC to nail it on design, even for a handset as unassuming as the Desire 626. It isn’t the most eye-popping or lustrous-looking by far, but there’s some intangible quality that makes the 626 feel like a seamless, cohesive device, strange as it may sound to describe a phone. (We feel similarly about the Motorola Moto G of late 2015.)
What I mean is that a subtle curvature at the edges of the smooth, touchable, pearlescent back slopes into lightly grippy sides that end in a sharp (but not uncomfortable) edge along the phone face. Color plays a role here. There are six different color schemes (including blue on blue and black with red), but my review unit has a white face and back sandwiching that barely tactile blue-black rim, with a white accent trim around the blue volume rocker repeat the motif. In Australia, as noted before, there’s only one colour option available: the blue on blue.
There aren’t a lot of gaps in this unibody design, which makes HTC’s attention to detail — atypical on a simpler phone — all the more welcome. Due to some gentle curving around the backing, the footprint on the back feels a little smaller than on the front, with its straighter perimeter.
On the right spine, you’ve got that volume rocker, and below it, the phone’s power/lock button. A micro-USB port is the bottom edge’s sole inhibitor, while on the left, a narrow flap unhinges to reveal the micro-SIM card tray and microSD card slot that can expand your total storage space to 2TB, or terabytes. You’ll find the headset jack up top, and on the face, two wide speaker grilles come to life above and below the display. Flip the phone over to locate the camera mount and LED flash, both on the phone’s extreme left side. That’s the same place HTC put the front-facing camera back on the 626’s face.
Software and apps
- Android 5.1
- HTC Sense 7.0
The Desire 626 — and even lower-end 626s — run the more recent Android 5.1 ( Android 6.0 Marshmallow is right around the corner, but updates will take time).
Wireless carriers will add their own management apps and partner titles to the 626, but in my test device (for US carrier AT&T), I saw fewer preloads than usual, mostly management programs.
HTC’s Sense is still alive and well here, with specialized apps, especially in the camera section with Zoe Highlights (see below), and with HTC Print Studio for creating photo books and cards, and an app to help you apply different visual themes.
- 8-megapixel rear-facing camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- 720p HD video capture
The Desire 626’s camera app is fairly easy to use, with controls to manage the flash and switch from photo to video right on the screen. You press another button to switch to the front-facing camera (Selfie) or to Panorama mode, while pressing the ellipses button unfolds more camera settings like macro mode and “makeup level” (for selfie-beautification, of course).
As with other HTC phones, the Desire 626 includes Zoe, which creates a highlight video of the clips and stills you took on your phone.
Like most other phone cameras, image quality is brighter and better outdoors in full sunlight than inside in artificial or low lighting. I was pleased enough with photos of flowers and stunning landscapes, just don’t zoom in too much to peer at details (they can be indistinct) and you’ll be happy, too.
Indoor photos weren’t as sharp as those with higher-grade cameras, which is expected, and low-light and night shots came out flat and dull with smudgy edges, and often with visible noise. I did like that the 5-megapixel front-facing camera relays colors pretty accurately (again, in abundant lighting), and has a focus box follow your face, even as you adjust the Desire 626 or your head. It might be nice to see on-screen controls for adjusting the beautification mode’s airbrushing qualities, though. You’ll have to duck into the settings if you want those.
The most unexpected issue I ran into was with video, where I noticed splotchy, grainy color (noise), some stuttering and in one case, a big stall. Even outdoors with plenty of light I did see some motion blur when the subject broke into jumping jacks.
We tend to forgive inexpensive devices their photographic foibles because cameras are one place you often see that price-to-performance trade-off taking place. However, there are so many good-but-cheap phones out there right now, this one is a little harder to defend. However, if taking photos from your phone is lower on your priority list, you should get by here.
Performance and battery
- 1.1GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 201 processor
- 16GB internal storage
- 1.5GB RAM
- 2,000mAh battery
- Bluetooth 4.1
A lot of entry-level and midrange phones use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with a 2GHz clock speed, which is faster than the one HTC uses here.
That doesn’t seem to make too much of a difference in the diagnostic benchmark tests, 3DMark and Geekbench, especially when you compare the Desire 626 to the most recent Motorola Moto G (there are a bunch of them; it gets confusing) and to the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime. However, there are some pretty noticeable real-world slowdowns.
For example, gameplay on Riptide GP2, which I use as a baseline game to compare on most phones, is choppier and way less responsive here than it is on other comparable handsets. I even wiped out several times as a result of the delay. I’m a pretty bad player, but that never happens.
Bootup was also on the longer side, about 50 seconds. That’s fairly common for a lot of different phones, though some devices take closer to 30 seconds. Just be aware that you could be twiddling your thumbs for a good minute if you turn your phone off often.
On the plus side, shot-to-shot time — that is, how long it takes to capture a picture one after another — takes 2 seconds, including autofocus. That’s pretty good by most measures. Only the most premium devices boast a fraction of a second to autofocus. I did have some problems photographing a squirmy toddler, but hey, who wouldn’t? (Are you the Toddler Whisperer or something?)
The Desire 626’s 2,000mAh battery gave us 7.5 hours of life in our standard looping video test. This falls short of every other phone we’ve tested in 2015. In comparison, the second shortest-lasting handset, the Huawei P8 Lite , peters out after 8 hours and 3 minutes. I suspect that maintaining battery reserves is the main reason we see the screen keep such dim levels on automatic brightness.
If you use the phone lightly, you should just about be able to eke out a day on a single charge, but more frequent users will run up against depleting stores before it’s time to tuck in.
Call quality and data speeds
- Support for GSM and CDMA network technologies
- 802.11 b, g, n
The Desire 626 sells in versions for GSM and CDMA technologies, which just means that it’ll work with many networks around the world. It also supports LTE speeds, so it should be able to keep up on your data network — it did on mine when I tested the phone with AT&T in San Francisco. Both upload and download speeds are within range for what I usually get, which is a good sign.
One thing you’ll note is that you won’t be able to get the fastest Wi-Fi speeds out of the 626. Like a lot of other phones of its caliber, it supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks, but not the faster 5GHz networks. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but just be aware.
Call quality is one of those things that tricky to pin down because there are so many variables — like your carrier’s network coverage and time of day — that help determine how good your audio is where you live. That said, the Desire 626 has excellent call quality both through the earpiece and through speakerphone. Calls were clear, voices were remarkably rich, and my main testing partner sounded nearby and present, not 3,000 miles away in New York. Volume could have gone up a peg, especially for speakerphone, but in a quiet enough environment, I could comfortably and easily use the Desire 626’s speakerphone during a business call or in the car.
Buy it or skip it?
I like the HTC Desire 626’s design, wallet-friendly price tag and clear calls, but I can’t get over its noticeably poorer performance than other phones in its category. The dimmer-than-usual auto-brightness feature is another let-down that you probably won’t notice too much until you start holding the phone closer to your face, or compare it to a friend’s brighter phone. However, the lagginess and shorter battery life are two trade-offs you don’t have to put up with.
At the end of the day, the 626’s nice looks and low price don’t stand up against other handsets you can buy for the same price, or maybe a little more. If you can handle the cost of the next-pricier phone, you may wind up getting much more value from it than you will from the 626.
I’d especially point out the 16GB version of the Motorola Moto G of late 2015 , which has a more reliable processor and takes better photos, plus you can customize the design online through the Moto Maker site. I’m also impressed with the marginally pricier, but much more hard-hitting Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 , which has a pleasing 13-megapixel camera and fancier specs.
These days, a rush of midtier phones (and better) that cost what we’re used to paying for entry-level handsets means that HTC will have to work harder to either lower the cost of phones like the Desire 626, or improve the hardware inside.