HTC Desire 626 review
Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, Screen Size: 5in, Screen resolution: 1,280x720, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage (free): 16GB (9GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 147x71x8.2mm, Weight: 135g, Operating system: Android 5.1
It's been barely six months since HTC launched the Desire 620 in the UK, but now we have the Desire 626, the latest addition to HTC's mid-range smartphone series. On paper, there's barely anything separating the two handsets, as the Desire 626 shares the same basic design (albeit a little lighter and slimmer) as its predecessor, along with the same chipset and 5in 1,280x720 resolution display. Instead, the only discernible differences come from the phone's larger 13-megapixel camera and the move to 16GB of storage (of which 9GB is available to the user) over the Desire 620's original 8GB.
Both are worthy upgrades, especially now the 3rd Gen Moto G has a 13-megapixel snapper as well, but the Desire 626's biggest attraction comes not from its hardware, but its software; it being the first HTC handset outside of its flagship One M9 to come with the new Sense 7 interface. Running off Android 5.1 Lollipop, Sense 7 is not only much cleaner and easier to use than HTC's now-ageing Sense 6 UI, but it also offers more opportunity to customise your smartphone to suit your personal style, whether it's using one of the custom-made themes available through the Theme store, or your photos as the basis for your own unique colour scheme.
Sense 7 UI
It's by far one of my favourite Android skins yet, and I much prefer it to Samsung's TouchWiz and LG's UX 4.0 interfaces. The Themes Generator is a particularly great touch, as it can analyse colours in your chosen wallpaper, including photos you've taken in your own Gallery, and then suggest various different shade and tone combinations to use on your Home screen, Blinkfeed newsfeed and Settings menu. You can also tweak individual settings as well, including the appearance of your app icons, fonts and even the colour of your keyboard and dialler.
^ HTC's Sense 7 UI lets you customise every last detail of the phone's appearance, including fonts, icons and accent colours
It's incredibly flexible, and I particularly like that you can add another shortcut button to the main navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, adding another layer of convenience to the handset. For instance, as well as the usual Home, Back and Recent apps button, you can also add a shortcut to access your Quick Settings menu or Notifications. Alternatively, you can also add shortcut buttons to turn off the screen, disable auto-rotate or hide the navigation bar altogether when you want to watch a fullscreen video.
Sense 7 also comes with Sense Home, which can learn which apps you use most often at home, work or out and about in order to automatically promote them to the main home screen for easy access. For instance, it showed me my Mail, Calendar, Google Drive and HTC's note-taking Scribble apps while I was at work, but on my way home these were automatically swapped for Google Maps and HTC's Music and Car apps. You still have the option to pin apps to the home screen so you don't have to keep digging them out of the app tray, but it should help cut down on the amount of app clutter clogging up your home screens.
With so many customisation options available, Sense 7 really makes the Desire 626 stand out from other low to mid-range handsets. It's just a shame that HTC has chosen to give it such an entry-level chipset instead of something a little more befitting its price of £250.
While Qualcomm's quad-core, 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 chip is by no means bad, its respective Geekbench 3 scores of 484 in the single core test and 1,475 in the multicore test are actually slower than the similarly-equipped 3rd Gen Moto G, which is almost £100 cheaper SIM-free. It also pales in comparison to the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua's scores of 638 and 2,427, which is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chip, yet costs roughly the same.
^ The microSD card slot and SIM card slot are hidden away underneath a plastic flap on the side
As a result, the Desire 626 feels a little sluggish compared to the competition, and even more so when it comes to playing games. While GFX Bench GL's offscreen Manhattan test is very demanding, the Desire 626's score of 111 frames (roughly 1.8fps) is a long way behind the M4 Aqua's 362 frames (5.8fps) and it visibly struggled in real-world games, too. For instance, Blizzard's Hearthstone was often very jerky whenever a speech bubble popped up, causing the surrounding environment animations to judder to a complete halt. It's still just about playable, but this is definitely a phone that's best suited to simpler, 2D games such as Threes! and Alphabear, as I managed to run these perfectly fine without any problem.
Likewise, with a Peacekeeper score of just 604, web browsing was often quite stop-start, especially on complex news sites like the Guardian. Scrolling up and down was particularly jerky when embedded videos were present, but other websites such as Expert Reviews were much smoother.
This is disappointing for what's otherwise a very attractive handset, as HTC's new, slimmer chassis is arguably even more comfortable to hold than its predecessor. It's still quite large for a 5in handset at 147x71x8.2mm, but the matt soft-touch plastic feels well-made, and its various colour combinations offer a bit more personality than other handsets available at this price.