HTC hasn’t been doing so hot lately. The Taiwanese manufacturer was once a king in mobile devices, and after some moderately-received devices over the past couple years, its Android smartphone market share now barely makes a dent. Still, the company refuses to give up and is sticking to its guns more than ever. They may yet offer up the best unlocked smartphone, but it may take time.
This year’s flagship refresh dropped the “One” Moniker, which began with 2013’s One M7. Progression from last year would have lead to the One M10, but HTC went for simplicity and just named it “10”. That move somewhat implies a new effort, where the manufacturer goes back to its roots and superior competence in phone-building. Let’s check out what that looks like in our HTC 10 review and see if it can’t be one of the best smartphones of 2016.
Price: $648 on Verizon
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Top-notch all-metal build, HiFi audio, and low-light-fighting camera.
What We Liked:
- One of the best built smartphones on the market
- The new 12MP UltraPixel sensor is a force to be reckoned with
- BoomSound HiFi audio from the dual speakers and with headphones
What We Didn’t:
- Not the thinnest flagship, and there’s a decent camera hump
- The dual speakers aren’t as brilliant as before, now that the bottom one isn’t front-facing anymore
- It’s a large phone for a 5.2″ screen (due to top and bottom bezel)
HTC 10 Specs
|Display||5.2" Super-LCD 5, QHD (2560x1440 pixels)|
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (quad-core, 2.15 GHz)|
|Memory||4GB of RAM|
|Storage||32GB internal and up to 200GB microSD expansion|
|Rear Camera||12MP (f/1.8) UltraPixel sensor (1.55µm pixels), OIS, laser AF|
|Front Camera||5MP, f/1.8, 1.34µm, OIS|
|Battery||3,000 mAh (non-removable)|
|Software||Android 6.0.1 with HTC Sense UI|
|Colors||Glacier Silver, Carbon Gray, Topaz Gold (depending on market)|
The HTC 10’s exterior is a thing of beauty. If you think it looks good in promo pics, you’ll be even more impressed when you get your hands on it. The build screams premium, refinement, and expertise.
HTC has been at metal uni-body smartphone construction since the One M7 in 2013. Despite the company’s financial woes as of late, it has still been able to progress and show the industry how smartphone-building should be done.
Speaking of the One M7, you’ll see some similarities when you turn the 10 over. The layout of the horizontal plastic lines (used for antennas) and the circular camera fitting make for a striking resemblance, and it even comes with the same Glacier Silver color offered back then. But when you get up close and examine the details, it’s clear it’s not the same phone. First and foremost, that considerable chamfer stands out like a sore thumb.
The trim may not be for everyone, but it’s not very invasive either. It’s more subtle in-person because of a semi-matte finish, but it’s still reflective enough to look like something special. The chamfer also makes for a nice curvature for your fingers. Despite the smooth metal finish, the 10 doesn’t try to slip out of your hand.
On the sides, you’ll see the plastic lines wrap around and a smaller chamfer transition to the front glass. The metal edge and glass seamlessly meld together. The metal’s reflection, together with the glass’ 2.5D curvature, amplify the eye-candy as you look at the phone from different angles. Everything about the build seems satisfyingly effortless.
It’ll be hard to miss the fingerprint scanner towards the bottom of the front. To me, it’s a disruption of the clean look, but I understand that the feature has to be on flagships in this day and age. It also doubles up as the Home button (it’s capacitive). And speaking of which, the on-screen buttons are now gone, as you’ll see capacitive Back and Recents buttons light up on either side of the Home button.
You may also have noticed that the bottom front-facing speaker is gone. Yup, to make room for the fingerprint scanner, HTC moved the speaker to the bottom of the phone. Don’t fret though, BoomSound is still alive and well (we’ll get to the audio discussion shortly). Also on the bottom, HTC keeps up with the times with the newest USB standard, Type-C, which bring a reversible connector.
And on the top, we merely have a centered 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also a matte, plastic strip lined across it (additionally, for antennas), which we’re glad is pretty covert.
Like its top-end competitors, the HTC 10 also packs Qualcomm’s latest and greatest beast of a chipset, the Snapdragon 820. It has a quad-core processor, big boost in graphics from the previous Snapdragon 810, and a whopping 4GB of RAM. In short, the HTC 10 eats through processes and graphic-intensive games like no tomorrow. User interface (UI) navigation is very smooth. That said, a stutter does slip in here and then, but it’s very minimal. I’d still give the Nexus 6P the crown of most buttery response.
You should also have no problems storage-wise. The 10 comes with a minimum of 32GB on-board, and you can throw on an additional 200GB via microSD card (you pop out the tray from the side).
There’s also a decent amount of battery capacity, at 3,000 mAh. The HTC 10’s battery life doesn’t bust any records, but it should get most people through the day. If not, fortunately, that brand spanking-new USB Type-C port also packs Qualcomm’s newest Quick Charge standard, QC 3.0. This allows you to charge from an empty battery to 80% in about 35 minutes.
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The fingerprint scanner is as responsive as they come. You don’t have to press the power button first, HTC allows the Home button to wake the screen, which then toggles the scanner to read. Although, in my use, I did wake the screen unintentionally more times than I would’ve liked, so I turned the setting off.
Many HTC fans may like to know how well the new BoomSound dual speaker setup works, now that the bottom front speaker moved to the bottom of the phone. To solve the asymmetrical problem, HTC saw it fit to let the speakers handle their own frequency ranges. The top earpiece outputs mid-to-higher frequencies and the the bottom speaker handles the lows. It’s an interesting setup and not like anything we’ve seen before.
I’d call the external audio a success in experience, though, it’s not as brilliant or loud as the preceding dual-front setup. It definitely beats out rear or mono bottom speakers by a far margin. But that’s not all. The 10 has audio prowess within as well. Your headphone jack will be connected to a dedicated digital-to-analog converter (DAC) within (as opposed to the standard sound processor of the chipset). It can output 24-bit HiFi quality, which is something that not many smartphones feature. Additionally, HTC includes software support to tune your own audio profile (using some hearing tests), to perfect the playback, and enhancement from Dolby audio.
HTC has long been strayed from the herd and been using Super-LCD panels on its flagships, and the 10 is no exception. S-LCD panels continually develop as well, and this time we’re up to S-LCD 5. Be that what it may, this is a superb quality display that can stand up with the competition.
The contrast is well done for an LCD display; blacks are deep and colors are vivid. I will say, based on my Samsung Galaxy S7 review, that Samsung’s S-AMOLED panels have an edge in brilliance and brightness, but the S-LCD 5 isn’t far behind. The image is maintained at even extreme viewing angles, although, there is a slight color shift. The 5.2″ screen size has a QHD resolution pixel saturation, so the viewing experience is as crisp as ever.
The camera on the HTC 10 happens to be another throwback to the original One M7. Back then, we got an introduction to the UltraPixel sensor, which was a fancy way of saying “larger pixels”. Only, that move took a sizable toll on megapixel count. That problem is finally solved with the new 12MP UltraPixel sensor on the HTC 10, but the delay has allowed the competition to catch up with larger pixel sensors. How does the 10‘s camera stack up? Fabulously, in my experience.
Its considerable 1.55µm pixel size, together with a f/1.8 lens aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), means that HTC’s camera is a force to be reckoned with. The superb quality is maintained whether indoors or outside, and in any lighting condition. Here are some camera samples:
Although, I will give Samsung the edge in capture speed. Even though the 10 uses a quick laser auto-focus (AF), Samsung’s lightning fast Dual Pixel focusing system is the one to beat. However, HTC one-ups Samsung on the front. The 10‘s front camera has a 1.34 pixel size, f/1.8 aperture, and is also equipped with OIS (optical image stabilization)! If you’re into selfies, this is your phone.
HTC has been gradually toning down its custom user interface (UI), known as the Sense UI. It’s still noticeably present, but it now adds to Android instead of covers it. Therefore, you’ll be able to see Google’s Material Design goodness shine through here and then (in things like the drop-down panel, Recent Apps carousel, and folders). Speaking of which, we’re looking at the latest Android 6.0 version (aka, Marshmallow).
It’ll be easy to find where Sense adds its own style. The app drawer has a page/grid layout, the lock screen provides shortcuts to the bottom four apps that you assign on the Home screen, and HTC’s news aggregating widget, BlinkFeed, dominates the most left panel (which you can turn off if you wish). The nice thing about Sense is its classy style. Those aesthetics are still present on the 10, but it’s now meshed with Google’s style as well.
Part of this effort means that HTC is no longer throwing in redundant apps, which Google has a solution for. So the custom browser is replaced with Chrome, the gallery is replaced Google Photos, and the same goes for the Calendar and Calculator. Though, there are a couple exceptions, like HTC’s Clock and Messaging apps.
I come out of my HTC 10 experience very positively. HTC did so many things right, and the phone delivers quality through-and-through. The exterior is impeccably built with fantastic-feeling metal, the 5.2″ S-LCD screen stacks up with the best, the camera fights low-light conditions like a champ, and the software is speedy and efficient. The phone is boosted even higher by a Quick Charge 3.0 USB Type-C port and HiFi audio in and out. The design can be refined further by reducing bezels and the camera hump, but these are minor complaints. You can’t go wrong with the HTC 10.
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