As an “Apple guy” the HTC 10 has been the one smartphone that I’ve immediately identified with in the Android ecosystem. That’s not to say that there haven’t been other Android devices that I’ve enjoyed or wanted to use, but I’ve always connected with HTC.
That probably has something to do with the fact that the HTC Wizard was the first “smart” phone I’ve ever owned. That phone ran the now defunct Windows Mobile and featured a resistive touch screen. Needless to say, I’ve long been a fan of the Taiwanese company, and its passion and desire to put out well-designed products continues to resonate with me in 2016.
So it’s with great empathy and concern that HTC has been struggling as of late. To be honest, the HTC 10 feels like the company’s make or break — the major fork in the road, if you will.
It’s very possible that the HTC 10 will be the release that paves a path to one of two destinations. Fortunately, I can report that this is a phone that’s good enough to pave that path in the right direction. It’s a phone that lives up to its billing, and in many ways exceeds expectations. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s the best-looking and most complete HTC offering that we’ve seen thus far.
Let’s start off with the most important question here. Is the camera any good?
Why is that such an important question? It’s because HTC has garnered a negative reputation when it comes to the cameras featured in its flagship releases. Many of these cameras have been of subpar quality, trading buzzwords for tangible real world performance.
I’m happy to say that the HTC 10 is a big step in the right direction towards changing that reputation. You’re not going to find over-the-top specs that blow you away numbers-wise, but what you will find is a solid, practical camera on both sides of the phone that, in most cases, deliver real results that you can see.
For example, let’s take the Optical Image Stabilization. Not only does the primary rear-facing shooter feature OIS, a feature that’s pretty much standard on flagship releases, but the front-facing selfie camera features OIS as well — a first for a phone. Again, we’re talking about tangible benefits here, and this is a benefit that users will easily recognize when using the HTC 10.
The sensor on the main camera doesn’t feature gaudy specifications, but its 12-megapixels feature larger 1.55µ pixels for reduced noise. The f/1.8 aperture is something that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked either, as this allows more light into the sensor. More light helps the camera to perform better in low light conditions, and makes it easier to acquire shallow depth of field in shots. The camera’s 26mm focal length allows for a wider field of view than the iPhone, which means you don’t have to move back as far to capture more of your subject in the frame.
I normally don’t like to write reviews where I just fire off a lot of specs, but it helps paint a picture as to why the camera on the HTC 10 is what it is. So, while I’m at it, lets briefly discuss a few other aspects of the camera, starting with its focusing properties.
HTC is back again with its laser autofocus on the rear-facing camera, but this time it’s been improved to perform even faster. That little black piece near the camera on the back of the phone? That’s the laser autofocus module, which shoots an infrared laser beam to help measure the distance of a subject and thus assist with focusing. HTC says that its second-gen laser autofocus system should work even faster than it has in the past.
Along with the laser autofocus, the HTC 10 utilizes phase detection autofocus for even greater clarity. Phase detection is the next step up from the typical contrast detection autofocus, which should result in a viewfinder that autofocuses quickly as you aim the camera at various subjects.
I felt it necessary to perform an autofocus test, quickly panning between an object in the background and an object in the foreground, and I can attest that the autofocusing capabilities of the HTC 10 doesn’t disappoint, even in low light conditions.
I was hoping that HTC wouldn’t hit us with any ridiculous monikers for its tech, but alas here we are. This will be the last time you see the word “UltraSelfie” in this review.
But seriously, I can kind of see why HTC wanted to hype its front-facing shooter. Yes, it’s only a 5-megapixel sensor, but it has a wider angle of view, which is practical for group selfies, and features the same wide f/1.8 aperture as its nearest neighbor.
More importantly, the selfie camera features OIS. I can totally see an amateur filmmaker using this camera for a project, as the OIS makes a noticeable difference in camera stability, making it possible to film yourself as you walk and not get nauseous from all of the shaking. Of course, having OIS means improved still selfie photos as well, and improved selfies in low light conditions.
To round things up in the selfie department, the front facing camera can utilize the LCD screen as a flash to further assist with low light photos. If you’re familiar with Apple’s “Retina Flash” feature for its front-facing camera, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Like the Retina Flash, HTC’s screen flash makes a big difference when taking shots in low light settings.
I found the HTC 10’s video shooting abilities to be a mix of elation and disappointment. Let’s get the disappointing aspects of the video experience out of the way first, shall we?
The slow motion video capabilities are, and there’s no real nice way to put this, sad. Not only is the slow motion video limited to a paltry 120fps @720p, but the bit rate and clarity of the slow motion footage is just embarrassing. Slow motion video remains a niche that most people aren’t that serious about, but the inclusion of the feature feels like it’s there just because an engineer had a to-do list and a deadline.
The manual controls afforded by the camera’s Pro mode are nowhere to be found on the video portion of the Camera app. In fact, as far as settings go, there’s really not much that you can change on the fly when shooting video outside of resolution and high-res audio.
But there is some good news to be had when it comes to capturing video on the HTC 10. As alluded to, OIS helps out a bunch when it comes to being able to shoot coherent footage while moving about.
The 4K resolution video itself brings clarity at a respectable bit rate somewhere around 50Mbps. In other words, the HTC 10 won’t replace a dedicated camera like the just-released Sony a6300 when it comes to video, but it does enough to come off as competent.
Overall thoughts on camera
To tell the truth, I’m not super-impressed with the stock Camera app provided by HTC. But the hardware itself is a marked improvement over past efforts, and its top-notch DxOMark score of 88 proves as much.
There are other features included in the stock Camera app — the Zoe Camera, which has been around for a while and feels like a precursor to Apple’s Live Photos, Panorama, Hyperlapse — all things we’ve seen before. Oddly enough, burst mode — a secondary feature that I actually use on a regular basis — seems to be missing entirely.
I find the layout of the stock camera too difficult to navigate quickly, because every option is tucked away in a sub menu that requires a tap before being able to swipe through the available shooting modes. HTC has made strides with their camera hardware, but I can’t help but feel that the software still has some growing to do. Fortunately, there are lots of decent third-party apps for shooting photos and videos, and HTC has indicated to me that it plans on making improvements to the Camera app ahead of the consumer launch.
Battery life & quick charging
I’ve had the HTC 10 for less than a week, and during that time I’ve used it significantly. I’ve used it to stream video, shoot 4K footage, stream music, browse the web, and pretty much everything in between. Battery life estimates, when it comes to my type of usage, usually falls short no matter what smartphone you place in my hands.
HTC says that its new flagship can last for up to 2 days with normal use, but as I’ve established, I’m anything but normal when it comes to my phone. That said, I was fairly impressed by the battery life on the HTC 10. It definitely lasts longer than my iPhone 6s would sans Smart Battery Case, and it should, considering it features a 3000 mAh battery versus the iPhone 6s’ 1715mAh battery.
Along with the large battery, HTC has implemented software strategies to help the OS be more conscious and conservative with its battery usage. A new “PowerBotics” — there’s another buzzword — battery saving system does things like reduce screen resolution when playing games to help save on juice.
With only a few days of testing, I didn’t have much time to put the HTC 10 through any rigorous battery tests, but I came away satisfied by what I experienced, and I believe that most users will too.
HTC has adopted Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 technology to ramp up charging times. It says that the rapid charging tech can charge the HTC 10 from 0% to up to 50% in just 30 minutes. On the several occasions that I charged the HTC 10 from 0%, I was able to get anywhere from 40% to 45% on a single charge. Not bad.
My favorite part of the HTC 10 is its design. Seriously, this is a beautiful phone that HTC should be extremely proud of.
The mid-tier HTC One A9 from 2015 was a beautiful phone as well, but I felt it treaded too close to Cupertino shores to earn it any accolades. The HTC 10, on the other hand, looks largely original.
The most striking thing about the HTC 10 is its extra wide chamfered edges on its all metal unibody aluminum rear. At first glance, I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d feel about this phone, but it has grown on me significantly.
The front of the HTC 10 is covered in edge to edge glass, similar to the One A9. Unlike HTC’s previous flagship release, the HTC 10 gets rid of the dual front facing speakers and chins for a sleeker design.
In hand, this device feels great. It’s one of the best feeling smartphones, from an ergonomic standpoint, that I’ve ever held. A lot of this is owed to the weight of the device, which lends it a significant sense of substance without being overly heavy. Some of this feeling is also owed to the rear chamfers, which do more than just look good and reflect light like jewelry. Coupled with the curved rear of the HTC 10, the chamfers help the handset to sort of melt into your hand. This is still a 5.2″ phone, but it pulls it off without being obnoxiously large and unwieldy.
The one gripe that I have about the HTC 10’s design is the rear camera housing. Like many phones these days, the camera features a lip that protrudes away from the body of the phone. It’s not unsightly, but it does interrupt an otherwise smooth and calculated design sense.
Outside of the camera housing, I love everything else about this phone from a design standpoint. I love the capacitive buttons that seem to melt into the glass housing, and I appreciate that the Home button doesn’t require a physical press, just a touch.
Design-wise, it wouldn’t be painful at all for me to switch from an iPhone to the HTC 10. It’s a phone that I’m proud to hold, and proud to show off.
The screen on the HTC 10 is a 2K QHD (2560×1440) LCD display. If you’re someone who loves the inky blacks provided by AMOLED screens featured in Samsung phones, then it might take some getting used to. AMOLED screens are nice to have, especially when in dark environments, but they do have disadvantages. One of the things that strikes me with AMOLED screens is the unrealistic color reproduction, so there are tradeoffs to be made when it comes to screen technology.
While I’ve been testing out the HTC 10, I’ve been putting the retail version of the LG G5 through its paces as well. Where the LG G5’s IPS LCD display features lots of backlight bleed, there’s virtually no backlight bleed to speak of on my HTC 10 test device. No one used to AMOLED screens is going to mistake the HTC 10’s screen for one, but it’s surprisingly good when it comes to black levels and minimizing annoying backlight bleed.
HTC says that the touch panel on its newest flagship is 2x more responsive than its previous efforts with the HTC One M9. While I no longer own an M9 to compare the two head-to-head, I can vouch for the screen’s responsiveness and overall snappy feeling while moseying through Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.
The speakers on the HTC One M9 ended up being my favorite thing about that release, so I was excited to see what HTC had in store for us with this year’s update.
One of the primary reasons why the HTC One M9’s sound was so good was because it featured a stereo dual front-facing speaker setup. When both speakers are pointed directly at the listener, it’s easy to be impressed with the sound when you’re used to the single speaker down-firing setup found in the latest iPhone.
With the HTC 10, however, the company had to figure out a different strategy. Thanks to the edge to edge glass, there was no longer room for the same speaker setup found in the M9. Instead, HTC has opted to go with a down firing speaker (the woofer) and a front firing speaker (the tweeter) where the ear piece normally resides. With each speaker featuring its own dedicated amp, this separated tweeter and woofer design promises to bring higher fidelity audio to the listener, which HTC is labeling with another fun moniker — BoomSound Hi-Fi.
But does it truly work?
Compared with the iPhone 6s, the highs on the HTC are much clearer. That should be expected given the HTC 10 features its own dedicated tweeter + amp setup. However, I wasn’t overly impressed with the sound coming out of the device’s speakers. It sounds better than the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone’s muddled speaker sound, but there’s not enough room in the device’s housing to include hardware that will make a huge difference audio-wise. It certainly wouldn’t make me want to listen to the phone’s speakers over a proper pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker.
When the consumer version of the HTC 10 ships to customers later next month, a pair of Hi-Res audio certified earphones will be included with the package. (I thought my own High-Res audio-capable Audio Technica ATH-MSR7’s would be here by now, but they aren’t. When they do arrive, I’ll be sure to update you with my thoughts on how the 24-bit DAC and high-powered headphone amplifier performs.)
One major benefit of the HTC 10’s end-to-end 24-bit Hi-Res sound, comes into play when recording videos. The sound quality of recorded videos is great, and compared to the iPhone, it’s a huge improvement in quality. When using a smartphone to capture video, it’s usually a good idea to use an external microphone, because the internal sound recording quality is so horrible. But in the case of the HTC 10, I would actually consider using the sound captured from the device directly. It’s that good.
By now, we’ve seen the HTC 10’s Snapdragon 820 processor in several other flagship phones, and it doesn’t disappoint. As an iPhone user, I’m super-sensitive to any lagginess or performance issues, and I rarely ran into any problems while using the HTC 10.
Then again, HTC has made a concerted effort to keep bloatware and duplicate apps to a minimum, making the UI feel more responsive and snappier. That’s not to say that the HTC 10 is running stock Android, because many elements of its Sense UI still remain.
Unsurprisingly, the custom made silicon in the iPhone 6s still outshines the Snapdragon 820 when it comes to single-core performance, but the difference isn’t all that much. The 820 is moderately faster than Apple’s A9 chip in multi-core performance, which also isn’t a huge surprise given its quad-core setup.
The US version of the HTC 10 ships with the Snapdragon 820, but HTC says that other regions may receive HTC 10’s with a different processor in order to cater to different market needs.
The HTC 10 features 32Gb of internal storage, which can be expanded by means of a microSD card. I’m also happy to report that the smartphone supports Android 6.0’s new adoptable storage feature, which allows users to format a microSD card as internal storage.
Enabling adoptable storage lets you move apps off of the smartphone’s internal storage and on to the external microSD card. Needless to say, using adoptable storage can up the overall capacity of an Android phone significantly.
HTC’s support of adoptable storage is a big deal when you consider that neither Samsung or LG embrace the new feature on either of its flagship offerings. You will need a fast microSD card in order to take advantage of the feature, but I was able to find a 32GB card with 95/90MB read/write speeds for around ~$25.
After inserting the card into the microSD slot on the HTC 10, a brief visit to Settings → Storage is all you need to do in order to format the card as internal storage. Once you have adoptable storage established, you can venture into Settings → Apps in order to move apps from the native internal storage location to the microSD card.
Keep in mind that not every app can be moved to external storage. Developers must enable adopted storage support via the android:installLocation attribute.
I tested out a game, Minecraft Pocket Edition, by moving it over to the microSD card, and was able to play the game without any lagginess, buffering, etc. As long as you have a fast microSD card, running apps from external storage seems to be virtually indiscernible from native storage.
The fingerprint scanner on the HTC 10 is embedded right in the phone’s capacitive Home button. HTC is advertising the sensor’s speed, stating that it can read a fingerprint in just 0.2 seconds. After some testing, comparing it with the iPhone 6s head to head, the HTC 10 doesn’t disappoint. Its fingerprint sensor is lightning fast, and unlocks the device from sleep faster than Touch ID unlocks the iPhone 6s. If you’re familiar with Touch ID 2.0 in the iPhone 6s, then you’re aware of the fact that it’s incredibly fast in its own right, which makes the performance of the HTC 10 even more impressive.
To be totally fair, the HTC’s capacitive home button means that you don’t have to physically press the button to wake the phone from sleep in order to initiate the fingerprint scan. This automatically lends it an advantage over the iPhone 6s, since you have to physically press the Home button to wake the device before initiating a read. When both devices are awake at the same time, the iPhone 6s’ Touch ID tends to be just a smidgen faster.
HTC includes a feature called Boost+ that helps manage system performance and efficiency. Boost+ is essentially a suite of different software features, such as the ability to clean up RAM used by various apps and services, clearing unneeded cache and app installers, and boosting battery life while playing games by downscaling their resolution from 2K to 1080p.
Another feature made possible by the Boost+ suite is the ability to lock applications on a case by case basis. In theory, this is a nice idea, but the implementation is clunky. Apps are secured via a separate pattern lock, which exists in addition to the standard pin code/fingerprint lock on the lock screen. When setting up the Boost+ application lock feature for a particular app, I was not able to get it to work successfully, even after force-quitting the locked app and restarting the phone.
To be clear, it’s hard to truly gauge the value of the Boost+ suite at this point, but at this juncture, it feels like an add-on that’s provided just for the sake of saying it’s there.
Features that matter
In this section of the review, I want to briefly talk about some of my favorite features found on the HTC 10. In turn, I hope that this section will answer some of the questions that I’ve been seeing in our initial written overview and video earlier this week.
Yes, the HTC 10 features an LED notification indicator that flashes when you have missed calls, voice mail, messages, mail, low battery, etc. The indicator is located right beneath the ear piece speaker.
Motion Launch Gestures
With the HTC 10, you can use the following gestures to control the device from the lock screen:
- Double tap to wake up & sleep
- Swipe up to unlock
- Swipe left to go to Home screen
- Swipe right to launch the Blinkfeed news reader
- Swipe down twice to open Camera
HTC has worked with Apple to officially license AirPlay support. As we noted earlier this week, it’s the first Android device to include legit native support for Apple’s widely used protocol.
The HTC Connect feature, which was just updated to bring AirPlay support last night, can be launched from anywhere using a three-finger swipe up gesture. Not only will this let you easily connect to AirPlay devices like the Apple TV, but it also works with many other devices like smart TVs, Chromecasts, Bluetooth devices, and more. It’s an extremely convenient little shortcut that makes it easy to connect to any supported device on the fly. I’m particularly impressed at how HTC Connect can recognize my much-loved KEF Egg speakers, even when they are turned off, and start playing music in a hurry.
What version of Android does the HTC 10 ship with?
The HTC 10 ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. I’m a big fan of Marshmallow and all of the refinements and features that it’s brought to the table. I’m especially fond of the iOS-like permission changes found in Android 6.x, which makes me feel a little bit better about my personal data.
How much RAM?
The HTC 10 features 4GB of RAM, which is standard fare for Android smartphones these days.
How do the buttons feel?
The volume rocker feels solid and responsive, not squishy like some phones can be. The power button is indented, making it easy to identify by touch.
The home button isn’t really a “button” at all, it’s just a capacitive touch responsive area below the screen that serves as a home button. The same goes for the back and menu buttons that flank each side of the home button.
Is it water proof?
Shipping and price
The unlocked version of the HTC 10 is available for pre-order now from HTC’s website. The phone, unlocked and compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile, is selling for $699. As you’ll see below, though, HTC is offering up-front discounts for early adopters. The HTC 10 ships in early May, and will arrive at multiple wireless carriers in the near future with a lower price barrier to entry.
The unlocked version of the HTC 10 is shipping in just two colors: silver or black. HTC indicates that other colors may be available from carriers.
If I was going to switch to an Android phone in 2016 as my daily driver, it would without a doubt be the HTC 10. I’ve had hands on time with the LG G5 and the Galaxy S7, and while both have features that are compelling in their own right, I feel like the HTC 10 has just the right mix of everything. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s enough to make this iPhone-loving person strongly consider an Android flagship as a daily driver.
Will the HTC 10 be enough the reverse the well-documented misfortunes of the company? Is this the phone that will finally sell as well as it deserves to? Truth be told, at $699 unlocked, it’s going to be an uphill climb. HTC recognizes this, which is why it’s already offering up to $100 off of the HTC 10’s selling price prior to consumer launch. You can use the following codes in your respective regions to earn a sizable discount on your preorder:
- USA: HTC1008
- UK: HTC10
- Canada: HTCCA1008
It’s impossible to perfectly predict the future, but the trend of Samsung and Apple’s dominance isn’t a one off. It’s something that’s been occurring for years now, which unfortunately puts HTC, despite its well designed products, in an uncomfortable position. The designers and engineers and HTC clearly believe in their products, which makes it even more frustrating that it’s been unable to garner any real traction in the smartphone race lately.
Regardless of the company’s future outlooks, though, that doesn’t change the status of this phone. It doesn’t change the fact that anyone looking for a truly well-designed flagship should give the HTC 10 a strong look. I’ll certainly be rooting for HTC, and will be singing its praises to my friends — even my iPhone-loving friends.
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