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HTC Desire 626 REVIEW: A budget device through and through

by Mark Burstiner | August 19, 2015August 19, 2015 7:00 pm PST

As smartphone production costs plummet, OEMs have a new affordable category to consider and corner. With HTC’s future on the line, let’s see how its latest entry fairs with strong value driven offerings on the rise.

The HTC Desire 626 is a budget device through and through. Everything from the build quality, to the screen, to the internals all scream “budget.” Let’s start with that body.

The 626 has an entirely plastic exterior with a soft smooth finish that feels nice in the hand. The form factor of the device is slim, but it feels sturdy. There’s even a slightly pearlescent finish on the white areas of the device; I hesitate to say it makes a look more premium, but it does give the impression that it’s a better device than it is.

On the left side, you’ll find a flap to get at the SIM slot, and the microSD slot capable of cards up to 200GB in size. On the right, you’ll find the gushy power key that you’re never quite sure if you’ve pressed, and the way-too-high-for-my-thumb volume rocker. The camera is an 8MP rear shooter and a 5MP front facing. They’re both about as good as you can expect them to be. HTC’s camera app is easy enough to use and quicker than I expected it to be, but results are predictably rough.

The camera yielded noisy, washed out photos, and low light images grainy enough to sand that table you’ve been meaning to refinish. This isn’t going to replace your DSLR or even your pocket point & shoot (if you still have one of those ), but it’s perfectly serviceable for those silly Snapchats the kids are sending these days.

I did have an excellent experience with the battery in the 626. It’s a 2000mAh pack and it’ll keep you cranking for days with light usage. Overnight in standby, it only dropped by 5 percent, and has been making it full days with 40 percent left in the tank. Between the stock GPU, low resolution display, and the low power Snapdragon 210, it’s no surprise the 626 can stretch the 2000mAh unit for so long. The 210 even supports fast charging.

The screen is truly what betrays the 626 as a 100 percent budget device. The 5-inch 1280 x 720 LCD display only hits a PPI of 293, and believe you me, it shows in every pixel. I haven’t been this immediately put off by a display in quite some time.

The colors are desperately washed out, the resolution is abysmally low, and the way text is rendered is borderline offensive. In most areas, text often looks as though it has a grey stroke applied to it. It’s a little confusing, honestly, because it doesn’t seem to happen everywhere, but when it happens, text is really difficult to look at; as if it’s in the uncanny valley of fonts. It’s almost as if someone turned the sharpening on the screen up to 11. It’s easily the worst aspect of the entire device.

Alright, let’s get into the software. The 626 is sporting Sense 7.0, the latest and least egregious HTC spin on Android, which is up to Android 5.1 here. While it’s certainly more toned down than older offerings, it doesn’t come close to backing off from Android as much as even Touchwiz has. This is definitely an HTC device and everything from the app drawer to BlinkFeed, to the incessant notifications asking you for your usage info will ensure you don’t forget it. It runs smoothly enough, though, and despite unholy amounts of AT&T bloatware, it never harshed my experience so badly that it couldn’t be mostly alleviated by an icon pack and Nova Launcher combo.

Despite its less than ideal screen, the 626 is a serviceable device for the price. This is exactly the kind of device I could see buying a teenager. It’s crazy how far we’ve come and how inexpensive a smartphone can be these days. If I had a 16-year-old getting his or her first smartphone, this is exactly the kind of device I’d look for. It’s nothing special, but it’s a starter device, and it’s inexpensive enough that if it were to get lost or destroyed, it wouldn’t break the bank to have it replaced.

Unless you’re shopping for your kids or looking for a cheap burner device, I can’t think of a reason to seriously consider the 626, especially as strong contenders like the OnePlus 2 and the ZenFone 2 start creeping dangerously close to the budget range of prices. If you really need to save somewhere in the vicinity of $150, I’m not sure you’re not better off picking up a flagship from last year, or even a Moto G, which is the same price off-contract.


Mark Burstiner

Mark is a former entrepreneur from New York by way of Chicago. He's a tech enthusiast and heavy gamer. If it's bleeding edge, he wants it. If it's...

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