If we’re really being honest, smartphones had become pretty boring for a while. They all looked the same and were all replaced each year by newer models with slightly better specs and minor feature upgrades. But then something started to happen. Growth slowed for some of the industry’s top players and completely vanished for others, thanks in part to a lack of innovation and increased pressure from low-cost options out of China.
Phone makers are seriously turning up the heat in 2016 as a result, and the fresh new HTC 10 is the latest new offering that looks to reignite consumers’ love affair with smartphones.
Let’s start on the outside and work our way in.
Design and build quality have obviously never been problems for HTC. In fact, the company has been building phones with class-leading designs for the better part of a decade now. All that experience culminates with the HTC 10, a sleek and modern take on the company’s flagship One-series phones from the past three years.
Many fans were disappointed when HTC recycled its design for the past two years with the One M8 and One M9. If you can be counted among them, we have some bad news for you: The HTC 10 once again features a design that is quite similar to the last few high-end models from HTC.
The biggest difference this time around is a large chamfered edge that runs around the back of the phone’s aluminum case. This design element has been a bit polarizing thus far, but the good news is that it looks much better in person than it does in pictures.
HTC’s chamfered rear edge on the 10 also serves a purpose beyond differentiation. At its center, the phone is a bit thick compared to rival handsets at 9mm. That compares to 7.1mm for the iPhone 6s and 7.9mm for Samsung’s Galaxy S7.
But at its edges, the HTC 10 is just 3mm thick thanks to that chamfer. The result is a curvature that fits very comfortably in the hand, and the narrow bezels on the sides of the display give the user good reach during one-handed operation. This is key for a smartphone with a big 5.2-inch screen like the HTC 10.
The face of the phone is a single sheet of 2.5D Gorilla Glass, which curves slightly at its edges for a more comfortable grip. The only interruptions in the glass are an opening for the speaker near the top of the phone and an opening for the oblong home button near the bottom.
That home button, by the way, includes a fingerprint scanner that HTC claims is the world’s fastest with a 0.2-second scan time. I can confirm that it is indeed fast, though I did find that it often took me at least two tries to get a good scan and unlock the phone.
Between the home button and front speaker lies the display, of course. The phone features a gorgeous 5.2-inch Super LCD 5 screen with Quad HD resolution. That works out to a pixel density of 564 pixels per inch, and it’s a fine display indeed.
Color reproduction and image quality isn’t quite on par with Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, but there’s little question that it’s a flagship quality screen. Just as important — or even more so, perhaps — is the touch experience that HTC has refined in its latest smartphone.
The HTC 10 features what HTC says is the lowest touch latency of any smartphone on the market, iPhones included. That means the display responds to touch more quickly than other phones, so manipulating on-screen content feels more natural.
How does it translate in the real world? The difference between the 10 and other leading Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 is huge and instantly noticeable. It would be a stretch to say that the HTC 10 is more responsive than an iPhone 6s during everyday use, but it’s leaps and bounds better than any other Android phone I have ever used.
Something HTC fans will instantly notice on the face of the phone is that the company’s signature BoomSound speaker grilles are no longer present. This is a big departure for HTC, and it comes along with a completely redesigned BoomSound experience.
Dubbed “HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi edition,” the HTC 10’s audio system has been entirely reworked. Notably, it no longer supplies users with stereo sound. Instead, HTC has positioned a front-facing tweeter in the ear speaker opening and a woofer on the bottom of the phone. Both speakers still include their own powered amplifiers, and the HTC 10 still sounds good during video playback or speakerphone calls.
BoomSound Hi-Fi also consists of a separate amp on the headphone jack to enhance the performance of wired headphones, and the entire sound experience is optimized for 24-bit Hi-Res sound. Lower-quality audio files are upscaled and the difference is noticeable compared to other phones, though I did find that certain genres of music tend to sound a bit over-processed and bass-heavy. In most cases though, the HTC 10’s audio tweaks blew me away.
The final piece of the BoomSound Hi-Fi edition puzzle — apart from the inclusion of Apple AirPlay audio streaming support, which makes the HTC 10 the first Android phone ever to officially support AirPlay — is a custom tuning feature HTC calls a Personal Audio Profile. It’s pretty awesome.
No two people hear sound exactly the same, so the HTC 10 walks users through a brief hearing test intended to determine how well an individual hears certain frequencies. The resulting profile boosts certain sound ranges in order to deliver a customized, optimized experience. Users can also save different Personal Audio Profiles for different headphones, which is a nice added touch.
The results speak for themselves – the HTC 10 delivers an audio experience that blows rivals out of the water. Moving back to my iPhone 6s after testing the HTC 10 was, quite frankly, depressing.
Coupled with the hi-fidelity headphones HTC is selling alongside the HTC 10, bass is full and deep without getting muddy at all at high volumes. Clarity is where the BoomSound experience really shines; the bass almost never overpowers highs and mids, which is a common problem with earbuds. Also of note, the phone delivers equally impressive sound with various third-party headphones I tested.
So many people use phones to listen to music but smartphone sound quality is an area that hasn’t seen any big strides in quite some time… until now.
Moving back to the exterior of the HTC 10, the headphone jack is on the top edge of the handset. This is a bit of an annoyance but was likely necessary due to the internal component layout at the bottom of the phone, which includes the BoomSound woofer, a USB-C port and the phone’s primary mic.
A microSD slot can be found alone on the left edge of the phone — thankfully, it supports expandable memory up to 2TB in addition to 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. On the right edge sits the power button, the volume rocker and the nano SIM tray.
Around back you’ll find a large HTC logo at the center of the device with the rear camera lens, a dual LED flash and a laser focus module next to it.
And about that rear camera…
Camera quality has always been a massive pain point for HTC phone owners. Each new smartphone model came with the promise that the camera had been dramatically improved, but time and time again we were disappointed. Progress was made over the years, but the camera on last year’s flagship One M9 was nowhere near as good as the cameras on Samsung’s flagship phones or Apple’s iPhones.
In 2016, HTC has finally managed to put together a camera experience that comes shockingly close to living up to the expectations set by its public relations and marketing departments.
The HTC 10’s rear camera features a 12-megapixel sensor with a sapphire crystal cover, a 6-element lens and optical image stabilization. It still bears HTC’s “UltraPixel” branding, which I believe is a mistake. Branding exists so that the consumer can draw parallels between products, and no parallels should ever be drawn between the HTC 10’s camera and the cameras found on earlier HTC flagships.
Still photo quality and video quality are equally impressive on the HTC 10. Colors are vivid and true, lines are sharp, and low-light performance has been improved a great deal thanks to better hardware. According to HTC, the HTC 10’s 1.55μm sensor is 135% brighter than the module on last year’s phone, and of course the f/1.8 lens helps as well.
Around front, HTC’s 5-megapixel camera is also quite impressive. It features an f/1.8 lens along with a screen flash feature like the one on Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Unlike the iPhone or any other smartphone on the planet though, the HTC 10’s front-facing camera is the first ever to feature OIS.
HTC gave well-known camera review site DxOMark a unit to test ahead of launch, and the site awarded the rear camera on the phone a score of 88. That beats Apple’s most recent iPhones and ties Samsung’s Galaxy S7 for the highest-rated smartphone camera ever.
I’m not sure I would personally put it on par with Samsung’s camera in the Galaxy S7, especially when it comes to focus speed and low-light performance, but there’s little doubt in my mind that the HTC 10 packs one of the best smartphone cameras the world has ever seen.
Moving inside the phone, Android 6.0 Marshmallow powers the handset and it’s coated with the latest version of HTC Sense. But you should forget everything you know about Sense.
HTC thins out its software experience each and every year in an effort to let Android shine through a bit brighter, and 2016 marks the company’s greatest strides yet. In fact, HTC has gone much further than most rivals to strip its software of bloat and better highlight Google’s work.
First and foremost, HTC has completely removed nearly all of its own Android applications from the HTC 10. You read that correctly — many of HTC’s own apps are gone.
Where it makes sense, HTC has dumped its own apps in favor of Google’s. Why? Because many of Google’s apps are better, and there’s really no need to include duplicates. So HTC’s web browser is gone because Chrome is better. HTC’s gallery is gone because Google Photos is better. HTC’s calendar app is gone because Google Calendar is better. HTC’s note-taking app is gone because Google Keep is better. And so on.
Then, only where it makes sense, HTC’s apps are found on the HTC 10 in place of Google’s similar apps. The camera, phone dialer and messaging apps are examples. And of note, all of HTC’s own apps that remain on the phone feature a terrific material design interface that matches Google’s own work in Marshmallow quite well.
If you’re a fan of some of the Sense apps that have gone away, don’t panic just yet. Apps like HTC’s gallery and plenty more can still be installed from the Play Store.
Another cool software feature is HTC’s new Boost+ app, which is also available for other Android phones as a free download in the Play Store. According to HTC, the app “monitors app use and dynamically allocates CPU and memory as required, while maximizing battery life by reducing the power usage of apps in the background.” It’s more than that, though.
Boost+ also features a special gaming mode that decreases the display resolution to 1080p while you play graphics-heavy games in order to save battery life. Beyond that, it includes a great security feature that lets you lock any preinstalled or third-party app so that it can only be opened with PIN, pattern or fingerprint authentication.
There are some other HTC features baked into Sense as well, such theme support and a new “freestyle” theme mode that lets you abandon the grid and place app icons or stickers anywhere you want. And the HTC Dot View through-case notification system has been completely replaced by HTC Ice View, which is accompanied by a new translucent silicone case.
As you can see in the photo below, Ice View offers a modernized look and much more versatility than Dot View since it uses much more of the display.
Now it’s time to talk performance.
If you’re worried that the HTC 10 might be all show and no go, it’s time to put your mind at ease. The HTC 10 is fast. Really, really fast. How fast, you ask? Well how about this:
The HTC 10 is the most powerful smartphone on the planet.
Apple’s A9 chip is a marvel of efficiency. Couple that with the comparatively low-resolution displays on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, and you’ve got killer performance that no other vendor has been able to beat… until now.
On AnTuTu benchmark tests that I ran on my test unit, the HTC 10 scored 145,595. For reference, the Xiaomi Mi 5 scores in the 136,000 range, the iPhone 6s scores between 133,000 and 136,000, and the Galaxy S7 edge in the 134,000 range.
With all that performance, battery life must take a serious hit, right? Right?
According to HTC, the HTC 10 will last for up to two full days of normal usage on a single charge. We’ll pause for a moment to let that fully sink in.
Now, it’s difficult to saw how close to reality that claim is because I haven’t had enough time to really test it. No one has. HTC distributed review units just over a week ago, and in that time reviewers’ usage has obviously been anything but normal. Even with heavy usage though, the HTC 10 lasted well over a full day on a charge for me. I cannot say the same about any other smartphone I’ve tested recently.
In other words, two-day battery life with “normal” usage sounds like it might be within the realm of reality for some users. And that’s downright awesome. Battery life is a massive pain point for all smartphone users. It’s the biggest pain point. HTC appears to have nailed it with the HTC 10’s massive 3,000 mAh battery and some truly impressive software optimization.
Despite lasting much longer than any rival smartphone on a charge, HTC also baked in Quick Charge 3.0 compatibility and a compatible rapid charger in the box, so its 3,000 mAh battery is filled faster than most phones as well. HTC says a 30-minute charge takes the HTC 10’s battery from 0% to 50%, and I actually found that it fills slightly more quickly than that.
After two somewhat disappointing years at the top of HTC’s lineup, the company has clearly devoted a tremendous amount of energy to the HTC 10. The result is a smartphone that matches or beats everything else on the market in nearly every single notable category.
The HTC 10 is sleek and sturdy, with a great design crafted from premium materials. The phone is blazing fast, with power that tops every other phone on the market according to benchmark tests. And in real-world use, class-leading touch sensitivity further enhances the UX by offering the smoothest Android experience I have ever tested.
It’s not a perfect phone despite HTC’s “10 is about perfection” tag line, and it won’t be the best phone for everyone. Those looking for a higher-quality display or a sleeker design will likely find both in the Galaxy S7 edge from Samsung, while those seeking out a fresh new take on Android smartphone innovation might opt for the LG G5.
As a total package, however, the HTC 10 is right up there with the best in the business. HTC has addressed multiple problem areas in its latest flagship phone and it has outdone rivals in several key ways — including battery life, which is at the top of everyone’s list of pain points. The camera is also easily among the best I’ve tested, which is something I never thought I would write about an HTC phone.
Bottom line: The HTC 10 is the phone fans have been waiting for.
The new HTC 10 is available for pre-order on HTC’s website for $699, or $599 if you’re a former HTC customer and you received a promo code from HTC in your email.