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It would be an understatement to say that HTC has hit a bit of a rough patch over the last couple of years. While HTC’s 2015 flagship brought with it everything the company is known for, including an impeccable design and fantastic software experience, the device failed to live up to expectations in key aspects, such as the camera, which was especially disappointing in a year where the competition was particularly focused on camera performance.
Is this truly the complete package from HTC that we’ve been waiting for? We find out, in this comprehensive HTC 10 review!
The all-metal unibody construction that the company is known for makes a return with the HTC 10, but with some refinements and additions to the design language to create some separation from its predecessors. At its thickest point, the HTC 10 is 9 mm thick, which is a bit more than its competition, and the overall footprint of the device is also slightly larger than other high-end smartphones. However, with a subtle change in the backing, the device does sit comfortably in the palm of your hand, and the slightly higher height, width, and thickness will largely go unnoticed.
Up front is where the majority of the difference can be seen between the HTC 10 and its predecessors. Gone are the dual front-facing speaker setup and more importantly, the highly disliked black HTC bar below the display that is seen with almost every other smartphone from the company. While the lack of previously standard speaker setup may be disappointing, the good news is that BoomSound is still around, this time consisting of a front-facing speaker above the display, and a sub woofer at the bottom, next to the USB Type-C port. Just below the top speaker grill is a notification LED, and next to it is the larger front-facing camera package.
On the back, the same great metal material remains HTC’s calling card, but there is a nice change made here as well, with new chamfers all around that give the device a bit of a curve. This is a nice subtle addition to the rear aesthetic, as light reflects off of the edges to provide a silhouetted look.
Of course, the slight curve and chamfers contribute to the handling experience as well, allowing for the device to sit nicely in the palm of the hand, making this slightly wide smartphone easier to manage in one hand. However, the metal does make for a very slippery device, and while that isn’t something new and was seen with previous generations, it can be a bit of a nuisance if you aren’t careful.
HTC proves once again with the 10 that it is very capable of making very attractive smartphones. For fans of previous HTC devices, some elements that distinguished those phones from others have been removed, such as the usual BoomSound speaker setup, and even the dreaded black bar. However, the updates to the design language are enough to please anyone that wanted a more neutral looking smartphone all around, while also differentiating itself from its predecessors.
The HTC 10 comes with a 5.2-inch Super LCD5 display with a Quad HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 565 ppi, and making this the first smartphone from the company to feature this resolution. The Super LCD5 display performs well, with high brightness, that allows for easy visibility even in direct sunlight, as well as good amounts of saturation. Granted, it isn’t as vivid as an AMOLED display, but HTC has made sure that this screen adheres to the NTSC standard.
The color temperature can be changed in the settings, but the default option hasn’t raised any concerns thus far. As expected, given the higher resolution, text is very sharp, and gaming is also a joy on this display. Speaking of gaming, a nice feature of the Boost+ application is the ability to lower the resolution of certain high-performing games to save on battery life, and when using this, we still had a lovely time playing games on this device. It has to be mentioned that some banding can be seen at certain angles, with the color fidelity also falling a touch. Though these viewing angles won’t be a huge deal to most users, it does take a tiny bit away from what is otherwise a fantastic display experience.
Much like any other flagship smartphone that has been released so far this year, the HTC 10 comes with the latest and greatest processing package currently available. The device is powered by the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, clocked at 2.15 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM.
We’ve already mentioned gaming in the display section above, which has been as smooth as ever, and as expected, this excellent performance is seen across the board. HTC did say that they wanted to have the touch latency to be as low as possible to add to the snappy experience.
However, what is more noteworthy is the streamlining of the HTC Sense UI. Instead of having multiple versions of the same application, as has been the case before, Sense now keeps either the company’s own version, and in other cases, sticks to Google’s iteration. As an example, the device now comes with Google Photos instead of, or along with, HTC Gallery.
The device flies through the various elements of the user interface, without there being any slowdown when loading applications, or switching between them via the Recent Apps screen. We also haven’t experienced any major holes in app performance, with no major crashes, or even lag, to report.
Moving on to hardware, HTC has made a few key additions in this area that further enhance the experience, starting with the fingerprint reader found in the capacitive home button up front. This implementation is similar to what is seen with the HTC One A9, and works the same way as well. It can sense the fingerprint when in standby, and unlock the device and go straight into the home screens. The scanner is easy to setup and fast and accurate, but as was also the case with the One A9, it poses a bit of a conundrum.
Motion Gestures is still available with the HTC 10, where the phone knows when it has been picked up by the hand, and will then react to a number of different commands. Swiping in different directions directly opens different apps like Blinkfeed, and a new addition is the gesture of swiping down twice to launch the camera app.
However, having the fingerprint reader somewhat eliminates the usefulness of the Motion Gestures, since it doesn’t make sense that you perform a swipe action, and then have your fingerprint scanned anyway. With that in mind, it would have been nice to have an easier gesture to launch the camera, like a double tap of the home button, instead.
The device comes with a standard suite of connectivity options, including NFC. Using the full speaker up top as the phone grill as proven useful, with the call quality being good thus far, and speaker mode provides an even better time with the dual-speaker setup. The only thing that is really missing compared to previous generations is an IR Blaster, and while some users have appreciated its availability before, HTC did mention that it isn’t a widely-used feature anymore.
The audio experience that is possible with the HTC 10 is one of the marquee features of this device. BoomSound is still available, but in a different implementation this time around, with a single front-facing speaker up top, that is paired with a bottom-mounted subwoofer unit that helps provide richer lower tones. This speaker setup doesn’t get as loud as the front-facing stereo speakers from previous generations, but the sound stage has been improved due to the better lower end. However, don’t expect to share the sound with people around you as easily as before.
The headphone jack, centered at the top, is where the magic happens. Plug in a good pair of headphones, or the high-res earphones that are included in the box, and you will hear the difference that the HTC 10 really makes. HTC put a 24-bit DAC and a headphone AMP here to really make BoomSound earn its name.
This also due in part to the available Dolby enhancements, which come in the form of user-definable audio profiles that adhere the sound to your listening habits. These settings are found in the BoomSound section of the Settings menu where, either a few simple questions, or full control over the equalizer, help create these profiles for better listening.
The HTC 10 can really drive headphones, and it is a lot of fun to get lost in the sound. Especially with good headphones, there is no need for a separate DAC or AMP anymore, which is great. Overall, listening with headphones results in some of the loudest, and best quality audio that we’ve ever gotten from a smartphone.
In battery, the HTC 10 comes with a non-removable 3,000 mAh unit, and given that this is current capacity standard with this year’s flagships, it’s no surprise that HTC has followed suit. We haven’t had a difficult time getting a full day of work and play out of this device, with the phone allowing for around 4.5 hours of screen-on time.
Of course, your mileage may vary, but with more frugal usage, it can certainly be possible to get a couple of days of battery life out of this phone, helped along with the battery-saving Boost+ application. This app helps in a few ways, and as mentioned before, allows for games to be scaled down to a Full HD resolution to save power.
HTC does boast the phone offers two days’ worth of battery life, and with its fast-charging capabilities via Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0, a charge for half an hour will give you back one full day of use. The USB Type-C port also helps in this regard, but it is still a standard that we are yet to get used to. You will definitely have to keep a mindful track to make sure that you have the appropriate charger and cable when the battery is running low.
While HTC’s previous flagships may have been up to the mark in other aspects, the performance of the camera has unfortunately been a point of contention, and one of the main reasons for HTC’s poor run over the last couple of years. HTC is hoping to put the past behind them this time around, with the return of Ultrapixels, now in its second generation.
Much like a couple of other smartphone cameras we’ve seen this year, HTC is prioritizing pixel size over megapixel count, and as a result, 12 Ultrapixels is what we get, with a 1.55 micron pixel size. An f/1.8 aperture further bolsters low-light performance, and the camera also comes with optical image stabilization.
The camera application has been streamlined somewhat in its latest version, with all of the different modes found in a single main menu area. Auto-HDR helps get a good shot in almost any situation, and does a pretty good job of knowing when to activate as well. Various modes available include panorama, hyper lapse, slow motion, and more, and work as well as expected. The only real issue with the camera app is when using the Pro mode with full manual control. All the settings occupy most of the space on the viewfinder and covers the frame, until you pick the setting and put the slider away again.
Going back to the camera performance, the change to a lower amount of larger pixels certainly gets the job done, and it feels almost uncharacteristic for an HTC smartphone camera to provide decent shots consistently. Details are captured well in well-lit conditions, and colors are accurately depicted as well. Zoom into any of these pictures, and you will see the noise appear, as is expected from having less detail captured because of the lower megapixel count. This is exacerbated in lower-light conditions, where the exposure might be decent, but details suffer further.
HTC still has a big problem with back-lit subjects, or just about any blown out area in a scene, and is something that even HDR can’t seem to fix in most situations, so you can expect to see quite a lot of flares in situations like this. In low-light conditions, the HTC software usually opts for a slower shutter speed, and as a result, steady hands are still required, even with OIS helping out. All said and done, the consistent quality in most situations makes this a worthy camera companion, as long as you know some of the drawbacks when shooting indoors or at night.
Perhaps the best addition to the camera experience has been the 5 MP front-facing shooter, which also comes with OIS, a first for a front-facing camera, and allows for high-res audio recording when shooting video. While OIS might help with taking selfies in low light conditions, I found its main usefulness when it came to recording videos, such as vlogs.
The stabilization is a great idea for anyone who wants to make selfie videos for social media, or even use the Full HD footage for longer form content. The inclusion of OIS with the front-facing camera is a good move on the part of HTC, and is the HTC 10’s distinguishing feature, compared to the 2K video capture possible with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the wide reaching wide-angle lens of the LG G5.
The overall camera experience available with the HTC 10 is far from the best, but it is also by far the best the company has managed in a long time. Unlike its predecessors, there is less rhetoric about how good the camera is and instead, real-world results to prove it. It may not surpass the other flagship smartphones in this category, but this phone camera certainly belongs within the ranks.
On the software side of things, we have Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the latest version of the HTC Sense UI on top. HTC Sense is about the same as it has always been, and given some of the major changes Android has been going through recently, this can be taken as a very good thing.
For starters, an app drawer is available, for anyone fretting about its omission, and is a vertical scroll that is simplistic, but functional. The home screens may have a little too much gap between apps and widgets, but Blinkfeed is still around, and is one of our favorite built-in second home screen experiences, allowing for a good glimpse at the headlines, your social media feeds, and more.
Where HTC tried to streamline things is in the app spread. No longer are there duplicate apps for the same functions, with users getting either HTC’s or Google’s version. For example, HTC’s internet browser is no longer available, replaced by Google Chrome. The idea behind this is to lighten the load on the phone, but a few questionable choices have been made, such as, the inclusion of HTCs own messaging app, when Hangouts is available, or having a Zoe Video Editor, when Google Photos already creates “highlights” from all of the captures. Nonetheless, the result has been a very smooth and snappy experience, in line with HTC’s claims regarding these changes.
Additions to the software suite include Boost+, an app that can, among other functions, find and clean out junk on the phone, and help with RAM management. As mentioned before, a favorite function of ours is a toggle to make certain high-performing games play at the Full HD resolution rather than Quad HD, which seems to help with battery consumption.
The other addition is in Themes, which is as robust as ever, but now includes a Freestyle layout that doesn’t adhere to grids the way typical Android home screens do. It is an interesting concept that requires special icon or image packs, and with only one of these Freestyle themes currently available, it is still a young feature that needs to be hashed out further.
Aesthetics is always a matter of personal preference, but for most Android enthusiasts, functionality is king, and HTC Sense provides a lot of it. The app drawer is a fan favorite that already elevates this version of Android, and without any overly cartoonish elements or flourishes, HTC Sense is a user interface that simply works.
We might stop short of saying that Sense is our favorite version of Android, but it is certainly nice to come back to something familiar.
We might stop short of saying that Sense is our absolute favorite version of Android, but with all the changes we’ve seen so far, and will continue to see in the future, it is certainly really nice to come back to something familiar.
5.2-inch Super LCD 5 display with curved-edge Gorilla Glass
2560 x 1440 resolution
2.2GHz quad-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
32/64GB of on-board storage
Yes, up to 2TB
3.5mm stereo audio jack
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5GHz)
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Rear: 12MP HTC UltraPixel 2 (1.55µm pixel size) with laser autofocus, OIS and f/1.8 aperture
Front: 5MP (1.34µm pixel size) with OIS and f/1.8 aperture
HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition
Dolby Audio 4
Non-removable 3,000mAh battery
Quick Charge 3.0 compatible with cool charge
Dimensions and weight
145.9 x 71.9 x 3.0 - 9.0mm
Carbon Grey, Glacier Silver and Topaz Gold
Pricing and final thoughts
The HTC 10 is available for pre-order now, and will be shipping in May, with the unlocked version of the device starting at $699. Its main competitors obviously include the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, and stay tuned for in-depth comparisons between these three high-end smartphones.
There you have it for comprehensive look at the HTC 10! While retaining some of what HTC is loved for, like the all metal design, the 10 shifts its focus on what matters most, audio and camera, to great effect, and it really feels like this phone has been a long time coming. The sound experience is second to none, proving that BoomSound is not only back, but here to stay.
It might not a perfect 10, but the HTC 10 just might be the comeback we've been waiting for from HTC.
Though the camera may not be the best out there, it is certainly on par with the competition, which is something the company hasn’t been able to claim for a while. What is most compelling about the HTC 10 is that, this year, HTC has managed to find themselves back among the other flagships. It might not a perfect 10, but the HTC 10 just might be the comeback we’ve been waiting for from HTC.
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Image credit: Autom3otives