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Hands on: HTC Desire 626s

Don’t break the bank: HTC’s Desire 626S is a great deal for $170

Who said budget has to mean boring? HTC’s Desire 626S packs a 720p screen into a gorgeous, colorful plastic body for just $170

It’s hard to find a respectable budget phone that performs well and doesn’t look like a cheap slab of plastic that could crack at any moment. HTC is intent on changing that with its Desire budget phones. The Desire 626S is the cream of the crop with its 720p screen and attractive plastic unibody that comes in fun colors.

We took a peek at the T-Mobile and MetroPCS version to see just how much bang you’ll get for your buck with the Desire 626S.

It’s the best-looking budget phone around

Many budget phones are incredibly ugly, rectangular things that come in a dull color and don’t have one iota of style to them. HTC makes some of the most stylish devices in the world, and it simply can’t stomach putting out an ugly phone – even if it’s going to be a budget device. The Desire 626S has a thoughtful, fun design that’s sure to attract attention. Based on looks alone, you’d never know the Desire 626S cost less than $200.

With the Desire 626S, you’re getting the same software you would get with the One M9.

It has a sleek polycarbonate plastic unibody that comes in a variety of fun color combinations, depending on which carrier you’re with. We took a look at the T-Mobile and MetroPCS version, which comes in a funky purple taupe and tangerine color combination. The front and rear speaker grills are what HTC calls “purple taupe,” while the edges of the device, the HTC logo on the back, and a few other accents are bright tangerine in color. The main camera and its flash are both ringed with tangerine for added flair.

The back looks more purply in person than it does in press photos, but it’s not so purple that guys will turn from it in horror. The tangerine accent color has a warm hue that’s more on the red or pink side of the color spectrum than yellow. The overall result is one sharp-looking, fun phone.  It feels pleasant in the hand, too – solid and sturdy just like the very premium Desire Eye, which went to AT&T with a considerably higher price tag not too long ago.

Related: HTC reveals new Desire phones to win the hearts of those on a tight budget

The only quibble we have with the design is T-Mobile asked for a glossy finish on the taupe purple parts of the phone, and boy does it attract fingerprints. Still, it’s better than the white on white color choices other carriers made.

Solid specs for a sub-$200 phone

All too often budget phones come with huge tradeoffs in the spec department, and while the Desire 626S certainly doesn’t have the sharpest screen or fastest processor onboard, it does better than most. It sports a 5-inch, HD screen with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, and even though that isn’t incredibly high-resolution compared to more expensive phones, it still looks bright and sharp. Only the truly eagle-eyed display fanatic will note the difference. Remember, this is a budget phone, so 720p is considered the big leagues, here. You should be able to watch videos on it without any problems, and most other everyday tasks really don’t require a screen sharper than 720p.

HTC Desire 626s

Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 quad-core processor powers the 626S along with 1GB of RAM. The device seemed responsive and fast in our brief tests, though the latest games and other processor-intensive tasks might hurt it a bit. We’ll have to test it more to give you a better idea of how well it works under pressure. Regardless, that’s pretty normal for a budget phone.

Based on looks alone, you’d never know the Desire 626S cost less than $200.

Although it comes with just 8GB of storage, that amount is expandable via a MicroSD card slot, which is great news for those who like to take pictures or store music on their phones. Even if you don’t get a MicroSD card, 8GB is more than you’ll get on most budget phones. However, it must be noted that the AT&T and Verizon versions of the phone, the Desire 626 (no S), comes with 16GB of storage. That model also comes with 1.5GB of RAM, so general performance could be better on it, though probably not by much.

Rounding out the main specs is an 8-megapixel back camera with auto-focus and 720p video recording, and a 2-megapixel shooter on the front (the AT&T and Verizon version has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera). We didn’t test the cameras yet, so we’ll have to update you on how they perform when we review the device in full.

Same software as HTC’s One M9: Lollipop and Sense UI

One very welcome thing about the Desire 626S is that it runs Android 5.1 Lollipop with HTC’s Sense UI on top.  Essentially, if you have an the Desire 626S, you’re getting the same user experience, at least software wise, as you would get with the flagship HTC One M9, which is nearly triple the price. You can choose your favorite theme or design your own, read news on BlinkFeed, and take advantage of HTC’s other software tweaks that it places over the top of Android.

Good-sized battery for a 720p phone

The lower the screen size and resolution, the better the battery life. The 2000mAh battery inside the Desire 626S should keep the phone running for a considerable amount of time — especially with the 720p screen, which is far less power-hungry than a 1080p or 1440p display. Again, true battery life will be exposed when we have the phone on long-term test, but the early signs are good for the Desire 626S.

Conclusion

Overall, HTC’s Desire 626S looks to be one of the best budget phones you can get for less than $200. It’s coming to almost every carrier, including several of the smaller pre-paid carriers, so almost no matter your preference, it should be yours for an highly competitive price.

T-Mobile offers it for $170 or $0 down and $7.09 for 23 months, with the 24th month costing just $6.92. At MetroPCS, the Desire 626S costs a mere $80 at launch with an instant rebate. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and others have yet to announce prices, but they will soon, and they’re expected to be similar. It’s hard to argue with these kinds of prices, especially considering how the Desire 626 looks and feels in comparison to other cheap phones.

We’ll have a full review of the Desire 626S shortly, so stay tuned for more.

Highs

  • Excellent value for the $170 price
  • 720p HD screen looks sharp
  • Stylish look and quality build
  • Wide carrier support

Lows

  • Not the fastest processor
  • Desire 626 version has better camera, storage, and RAM