HTC Desire 516 review: underwhelms, especially in the wake of competition

“While we applaud the Taiwanese brand’s effort to cater to the budget segment, the Desire 516 doesn’t have enough
to take on the recently-launched giants in its price band”

No matter how many smartphones get launched in the Indian market, it’s the affordable price band between Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 that sees the most volumes. Perhaps that’s why struggling Taiwanese brand HTC is setting its eye upon this segment, after having launched superb devices in the super-premium (the One M8 {review}) and mid-range tiers (the Desire 816 {review}). The brand’s latest offering Desire 516 is smack in the middle of this segment. However, being the most popular category, the segment also incites cut-throat competition with devices like the all-rounder Moto G (FAQs), the just-launched Xiaomi Mi 3 (first impressions) enjoying a huge buzz around them. In terms of specs, the Desire 516 comes across as a good competitor to the Moto G, but how well does it work as a daily driver? Let’s find out in this comprehensive review.

HTC Desire 516 01

Short on time? Have a look at the HTC Desire 516 review in pictures

Specs at a glance

  • 5-inch display, 960 x 540 pixels
  • 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB internal storage, expandable up to 32GB
  • 5MP primary camera with LED flash
  • VGA front camera
  • 1,950mAh battery
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Sense UI

Staid looks, glossy body

As far as design goes, HTC smartphones definitely feature distinct looks compared to plasticy Samsung devices or blocky offerings from Sony. The Desire 516 is no different, though it’s not that well-designed as the stylish One (M8) or even other devices like the One E8 (first impressions) and Desire 816, that follow the same design ethos, albeit in polycarbonate bodies. In fact, the Desire 516 might look good from afar, but when you hold it in hands, things are vastly different. For one, the plastic body doesn’t arouse much confidence about the build quality, plus it has considerable weight. Tipping the scales at 171g, the device is quite heavy compared to its peers, especially at the time when manufacturers are accentuating the lightweight factor of their products.

HTC Desire 516 02 HTC Desire 516 03

Coming to the button and port placements, the smartphone  is just like any other regular ‘droid. The display is the centerpiece of the front with the manufacturer’s branding, the speaker grille and the front camera above it, and the array of touch buttons at the bottom. The buttons offer usual the functionalities of back, home and options… with recent apps being shown when the home key is tapped twice. The power button can be found on the right spine, whereas the volume buttons are on the left edge. What felt odd about these buttons, however, is that the power button is metallic, whilst the volume rocker is fashioned out of plastic. The top is where the 3.5mm audio socket and micro-USB port lies, while the bottom is home to the microphone.

HTC Desire 516 12 HTC Desire 516 16 HTC Desire 516 20

The rear panel of the HTC Desire 516 is removable, giving access to a pair of SIM card slots, microSD card slot and the user-replaceable battery. The back panel also features HTC’s branding at the centre with the main camera unit and LED flash at the top, and the speaker mesh at the bottom. The panel is extremely glossy, attracting fingerprints and scratches by the hordes, plus it’s prone to slippage after a few minutes of usage.

HTC Desire 516 06 HTC Desire 516 23

All in all, we were hoping for something better with regards to its design from the Taiwanese manufacturer. Add to it the fact that the capacitive keys for navigation aren’t backlit gives it a feeling of an entry-level offering.

The display isn’t its strongest point

HTC already has the Desire 210 (first impressions) and 310 in the entry-level segment with 4-inch and 4.5-inch displays respectively, while the Desire 816 takes care of the thriving phablet category with its 5.5-inch screen size. The Desire 516 offers a 5-inch screen, which completes HTC’s portfolio as its display falls in the middle of devices referred above. The display bears a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels, which is on the lower side as it churns out a pixel density of 220 pixels per inch. For the most part, you won’t notice any problems, but when the handset is held close enough, there’s visible pixelation. Other than that, the display is good and offers crisp visuals and colour variance. It isn’t exactly legible under direct sunlight because it’s too reflective, but you’ll still be able to make that important call or send that urgent text. Similar to the rear, the display is also a fingerprint magnet and hence it’s highly advisable to use a screen guard with it.

HTC Desire 516 28

HTC has stripped the 516 from useful features available even in budget smartphones these days, namely the ambient light sensor as well as a proximity sensor. This affects the usability a lot as you’ve to change brightness manually, and turn off the display whenever you’re on a call.

The screen supports up to five touches at any point of time, but we felt that the touchscreen wasn’t as responsive as we’d have preferred, even for simple things like unlocking the screen or dragging the notification panel down.

5-meg shooter at the rear, but nothing to write home about

The HTC Desire 516 comes equipped with a 5-megapixel sensor at its back. At the time, when we’re seeing devices with as high as 13-meg snappers in its range, the megapixel count of the smartphone camera didn’t keep our hopes up. However, we expected it’d be good enough for casual purposes as well as sharing on social networks.

HTC Desire 516 08

The camera handles colour variance quite well, but when it comes to detail, it simply isn’t there. Zooming in just a bit will result in large amount of pixelation. Although macro shots came out to be little better than the usual ones. In low-light conditions, like most of the smartphones, the device fails to capture the scenes well. Take a peek at the images shot by the device and click on them to view in their original resolution.

HTC Desire 516 camera sample (1) HTC Desire 516 camera sample (2) HTC Desire 516 camera sample (3)

HTC Desire 516 camera sample (4) HTC Desire 516 camera sample (5) HTC Desire 516 camera sample (6)

The camera interface is very minimalistic with focus on a large circular button to click photos or record videos flanked by the option to choose between photos, videos or panorama and a menu offering all the options at one place. You get a wide range of options for adjusting the image quality such as selecting colour effect, levels for saturation or contrast, ISO mode, and white balance.

At the front, the smartphone sports a 2MP camera that can be used for video chatting or clicking self-portraits.

Android prevailed with good Sense

Unlike other recent devices from HTC’s stable, the Desire 516 doesn’t run the latest Android iteration. Instead it gets the older Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with the brand’s custom UI called Sense on top. Thanks to the custom skin, the smartphone looks and works similar to its brethren, though it’s vastly different from them in most of the other aspects.

HTC Desire 516 screenshots (3) HTC Desire 516 screenshots (5) HTC Desire 516 screenshots (8)

The talking point of the Sense interface is a dedicated homescreen called Blinkfeed, aggregating your news feeds and social feeds in an visually-pleasing manner at one place. Blinkfeed is totally customisable and offers you Flipboard-like functionality right at your homescreen. Apart from the Blinkfeed screen, which can be disabled in case you don’t want its functionality, the phone offers a three-screen layout. Other features included are video highlights, etc.

HTC Desire 516 screenshots (4)

The HTC Desire 516 also comes preinstalled with a number of useful apps such as Polaris Office for viewing and editing documents, WeChat and a video player.

There aren’t any deep changes apart from the aforesaid ones, which is a good thing as it keeps the OS smooth and zippy. However, we felt that the OS isn’t properly optimised as we ran into a few app crashes as well as noticed a few spelling mistakes in the UI.

HTC Desire 516 screenshots (1) HTC Desire 516 screenshots (27)

Performs quite well for the most part, but the battery disappoints

To compete with the Moto G, HTC has supplied the Desire 516 with a quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz. However, the processor is based on Snapdragon 200, which is slightly older than the Snapdragon 400 series powering the Moto G. The SoC also offers the Adreno 305 GPU for rendering high-quality graphics. Accompanying the chipset is a gigabyte of RAM. The combination results in smooth operation while scrolling the screens, navigating the menus, and switching between apps. The story continues to casual games like Angry Birds and Subway Surfers as well, but not to heavy 3D games like Riptide GP2. There was a visible stutter while playing such titles. We have noticed a heating issue with some MediaTek-laden devices, but the Desire 516 also falls in this league as it heats up within a short period of gaming.

HTC Desire 516 24

One of our major complaints with the device, at its current price point, would be its miserly 4GB of onboard storage. With this amount of storage, you’ll hardly get much space to install apps as the majority of it is taken by the OS and other resources. Out of the box, you get 1.7GB to use, which can get filled pretty quickly with installation of regular apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, leaving no room for games with heavy install sizes like Asphalt 8: Airborne. One might overlook heavy games, but the storage should be sufficient for basic things like storing camera images and text messages at the very least. However, that’s not the case as we frequently encountered low storage errors. You do get some respite in the form of support for up to 32GB of additional storage via a microSD card. The device also misses out on OTG support, which is becoming a necessity nowadays allowing plug-n-play support for connecting USB drives or accessories such as external keyboards.

HTC Desire 516 screenshots (11)

HTC Desire 516 01

The 1,950mAh battery supplied with the Desire 516 isn’t too low in terms of capacity. However, the juice it provides is another story as it fails to last even a day. We fully charged the smartphone at 7:00 in the morning and within 12 hours it dropped below the critical level of 15 percent with standard usage of around half an hour of calls, Wi-Fi on for checking Gmail and Flipboard along with a few minutes of playing games. The smartphone was able to go on for five and a half hours in our video loop test with both brightness and volume at 50 percent, which is below average in comparison to most other smartphones we have tested.


HTC Desire 516 31

As a device, the HTC Desire 516 fails to arouse any interest apart from the fact that it features a large 5-inch display. The specs are average at best, and poor storage and battery life sour the deal further. What works against the smartphone, though, is that it fails to get a grip of the rapidly-evolving competitive landscape. It can’t match rival offerings such as the Micromax Canvas Turbo A250, Karbonn Titanium Octane Plus (first impressions), etcetera from Indian handset makers boasting of full HD displays, better innards and camera capabilities. Its direct competitor, the Moto G also trumps it with a superior display, battery life and the most of all, a pure Android experience. New smartphones like the ASUS Zenfone 5 (review) and Xiaomi Mi 3 (review | FAQs) with flagship-worthy specs make the Desire 516 look puny.

At the price tag of Rs 13,500, the Desire 516 doesn’t come across as a good buy. However, if the price comes down to about Rs 10,000, then it can work in its favour, thanks to HTC’s brand pull, the phablet-size display and decent performance.

Pricing: ~ Rs 13,500

Editor’s rating: 6 / 10


  • Large display
  • Decent hardware


  • Glossy design
  • No OTG support
  • Missing ambient light and proximity sensors
  • Low internal storage
  • Poor battery life

Photos by Pratik Vyas

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