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Have To Concede: HTC's 10 is definitely the One but is that enough?
It’s probably safe to say that HTC’s past couple of years have not been kind to what was once the industry’s darling. Despite making a big splash in 2013 with the One M7, the competition from companies like Samsung have dramatically intensified now that plastic has been put out to pasture for flagship fairings. Likewise, new offerings from Chinese OEMs like Huawei and Xiaomi have not only disrupted business as usual for the legacy manufacturers, but also made the mid-range look just as good as anything HTC might put out, and at a fraction of the price.
With last year’s One M9 essentially being panned by all for essentially reusing the same design as the M8 before it, and featuring the controversial Snapdragon 810 SoC, it was almost immediately forgotten by the masses. It was, however, still a highly praised phone for what it was, but obviously failed to live up to the lofty expectations many had placed on HTC.
This year, HTC finally has a brand new design and a cleaner Sense skin than ever before, and people are taking note, at least as far as online commentary goes.
The HTC 10 is quite possibly the magic One the company has sorely needed for the past several years. In this piece, we will talk of that triumph in and of itself, and then consider the future of the phone in connection with the competition both now and later in the year.
Not specifically excellent, but good at everything
The HTC 10 is a surprisingly good phone. As many have already said, it’s difficult to pinpoint any one specific feature that would make it a must have for a mainstream customer. Sure it has fantastic audio, but that’s not necessarily a deciding factor. Sure it has a QHD display, but then again most of its competitors do, and have now, for several years.
No, arguably the reason the HTC 10 works so wonderfully is that it’s quite possibly the best phone the company has ever produced. It’s familiar yet manages to look new and bold. It’s large, but not overly so. It runs smoothly and steadily yet still has some creative kinks that come from the Sense UX.
Damn good design!
Part of the challenge that the company and its manufacturer face is an onslaught of similar smartphones. While the 10 may look somewhat different from its peers, it’s hardly the only metal-made mobile. In fact, Samsung has a certain C one can see that looks quite similar. When the One A9 launched last fall, many felt it was obviously inspired by the iPhone, with some venues openly shouting it from the proverbial rooftops. As HTC itself stated the One A9 represented a new design language that the company would use for its future flagships, people began to grow concerned, though HTC was quick to remind just who has the true design.
The launch of the HTC One X9 seemingly only sold the idea that the “One M10” as it was then being referred to, or else the “Perfume” was doomed to feature a similar shell. Lo and behold the 10 is quite unique, yet still feels inspired by those devices which came before it. Gone is the accursed black bar…in fact even the HTC logo itself is gone from the front, leaving a pure, beautiful face. Moving onto the back, there is a very large, “masculine” chamfer running along the perimeter, and the infamous antenna bands.
If there is one thing that seemingly looks out of place, it’s the large plastic “cap” on the top of the device. At least prior models had an IR blaster built into the piece, but this just looks rather tacky. It’s strange that so many companies can make metal phones without such a giant hole on the top yet HTC has sullied its otherwise beautiful unibody design with the top part.
Most reviews have criticized the decision to remove the front-facing BoomSound speakers that have graced countless HTC phones. While the sound experience itself is diminished in comparison, it is by no means bad. Considering that the One A9 also did without BoomSound speakers, it’s not exactly the end of the world, especially when considering that HTC has included some fantastic audio components inside for use with headphones.
Still, there is a lingering feeling that if more ingenuity or creativity had been applied to the product design, it would have been possible to make a phone that had the core sound feature that so many have come to expect and love, while still managing to keep things looking good.
Feel the magic
The other main issue here that will be discussed before analyzing the future of the phone is to compliment HTC on the fantastic job it did with Android. Sense used to be one of the most radically divergent looking user interfaces this side of Windows Mobile 6.5. What exists on the 10 is a very minimal layer of modifications. HTC has removed its own duplicate apps – something Samsung still has yet to learn – and has even done things like keeping the quick setting toggles on the notification shade basically stock.
But the absolute brilliance is that, for those who want to change things up, the Theme Store has untold troves of treasure. The theme engine itself lets users manually alter the backgrounds, icons, sounds, and even color schemes and design. It’s almost like a flashback to the early days of Windows 95 when users found that they could individually modify seemingly every individual visual aspect of the OS.
One thing that is perhaps not so good, however, is the decision to make capacative keys for the system navigation. Yes, HTC did this in the past on a regular basis, but it just seems odd given the past few years. Some may like the idea of extra screen real estate but it’s all too easy to hit buttons by mistake when holding the phone horizontally, something that is also a relevant point for Samsung smartphones.
Jumping for joy won’t float a boat
While one could praise the HTC 10 to no end, there is another side of the story that must be considered: just what kind of impact the product itself will have on its manufacturer’s balance sheets. Considering just how poorly HTC has done in recent months (if not years), chances are that any increase in sales will look good in the short term. In particular as this is “THE” flagship for the year, product sales are most likely going to be at their highest in Q2 when the phone was readily available.
The critical consideration is that even if the phone is successful, it really doesn’t save HTC so much as prolong its suffering. The company needs a clear cache of consecutive champions to balance budgets and protect profitability. Unless the 10 can manage to outsell the Galaxy S7 it’s hard to say HTC has actually made progress so much as it has started a climb back to the outlying perimeter of the overall radius it once encircled.
One of the major concerns seems to be the idea that the phone has no “killer feature” that would appeal to mainstream consumers to the extent of which they would buy the phone en mass. The QHD display, for example, is just meeting with the status quo. Samsung has its curved glass. LG has its modular mobile. HTC, which was one the third pillar in the “key OEMs of old” has a phone that is just…a good phone.
Despite the massive amounts of positive press the handset has received, I for one don’t see it ultimately doing that well. HTC occupies an almost niche group at this point and thus it’s likely that these long-term retainers will ultimately be the ones who put a priority on the purchase.
Last year, when LG released the G4, there was a considerable amount of “hype” among its core fan base as well as those who sought to shed their skin of Samsung following the decision to remove microSD support from the Galaxy S6. Yet, lo and behold, the device didn’t go on to break any sales records or do LG any favors.
HTC’s 10 is likely to be in the same situation. Because it lacks any truly killer feature for the masses, there is no marketing point that can be selected for surefire success. Samsung for example, can speak of the Galaxy S7’s waterproofing or its microSD support. LG can talk about removable batteries and comfortable camera controls.
In many ways, the overall scenario is not unlike the perpetual paradox that Sony finds itself in: the company continues to put out top quality products, yet the market itself just doesn’t care.
Should the HTC 10 be a massive success then it will be a major milestone for the company’s reemergence as a force to be reckoned with. I for one would definitely love for that to happen, but can’t help but think the high price and lack of a key marketing point will ultimately cause more problems than surprise as solutions.
What do you think? Is the HTC 10 a fantastic phone? Does it have the ability to save the company that created it?