For the record, I despise the portmanteau “phablet.” Just because a smartphone has a large-ish screen doesn’t mean it’s a tablet (because tablets don’t make phone calls, duh).
Seriously. “Phablet.” Barf.
Now that we’re clear on that, QVC has the HTC Desire 816 5.5-inch phablet (dammit) for $199.95 shipped. This brand spankin’ new smartphone just landed in the U.S., and it sells elsewhere for $299.99. So you’re not only saving $100, you’re scoring an amazing deal on a blissfully big phone.
First things first: This version of the Desire runs on Virgin Mobile, which is great because there’s no two-year contract involved and service plans start at just $35 per month. Just be sure to check the coverage map first, as Virgin operates on the Sprint network, and in my experience, coverage varies widely. (Inside my house, for example, it’s terrible, whereas AT&T is outstanding.)
The phone itself has several noteworthy features, not the least of which is its 5.5-inch display. I think some people instinctively balk at such a big screen, thinking it won’t fit well in their pockets, but I carried around a similar-sized phone for a few weeks and found it fine (as long as the pockets it rode in were fairly loose). The trade-off, of course, is a screen that’s so much nicer for watching videos, playing games, reading books and Web pages, and the like.
The Desire 816 runs on a quad-core processor (translation: plenty fast) and sports dual front-facing speakers, another great amenity for games and movies. It relies on the latest version of Android (KitKat 4.2.2) and includes a 13-megapixel rear camera. It comes with only 8GB of storage, but you can easily expand that by popping in a microSD card. (You also get 50GB of cloud storage courtesy of Google Drive.)
I haven’t tried the Desire myself, so allow me to recommend CNET’s hands-on review. Spoiler: The 816 is “a great deal”–and that was the verdict based on a $299.99 price tag. At $199.95, I’d call it a great steal. (Bonus: It comes with a stylus and car charger as well.)
If you happen to get to this post late, however, and QVC’s sale has ended, you may want to consider something else. For the same regular price of $299.99, you can get a OnePlus One–another 5.5-inch Android smartphone that’s even more powerful than this one. (The only catch: As of this writing, they’re almost impossible to get.) And the Google Nexus 5 starts at just $349, though it does have a slightly smaller screen.
The takeaway, then, is that no-contract smartphones are getting incredibly affordable, and you don’t have to settle for a small, under-powered, last-year model.