[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
HTC had a rough time with the M9 despite it being a pretty decent handset. Can the new HTC 10 stand out in a crowded market?
It’s no secret that HTC has struggled over the past couple of years. Sales have gone down and analysts were predicting doomsday scenarios for quite a while. The company has listened to feedback and aims to change this with the HTC 10, a brand new flagship that comes with a couple of firsts. Feature-for-feature, it seems to have all the bases covered, but it’s priced in a pretty difficult spot that puts it square in the firing line of big hitters like the Samsung Galaxy S7. Still, with things like hi-res audio and a powerful front camera setting it apart, there’s reasons to purchase this over the competition.
OS Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Processor Quad- core Snapdragon 820
Screen 5.2 inches
Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels (565 DPI)
Memory 4 GB RAM
Micro SD compatible Yes, up to 200GB
Rear camera 12MP
Front camera 5MP
Connectivity WIFI, NFC, Bluetooth
Dimensions 146 x 72 x 9mm
Battery 3,000 mAh
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
The HTC 10 is a very attractive handset and perhaps one of the most appealing flagships out there.
Its understated appearance works surprisingly well, with the diamond cut edges on the back being the only notable thing of mention. The company added them as part of its new design language and impressively, they actually draw quite a few glances. Pairing the reflective diamond edging with the matte brushed metal finish is a perfect contrast that draws attention to the devices curved design. The edges are nicely rounded for easy grip and it feels solid in the hand, with the choice of material allowing for a firm grip that doesn’t attract fingerprints. At 161g, it’s not the lightest phone on the market and can seem quite hefty at times, but we’d argue that it never feels ‘overweight’. A lone HTC logo on the rear accompanies a camera sensor and dual-tone flash, while the antenna lines blend into the backdrop and never seem intrusive.
On the front, the minimalistic design continues with 2.5D cornering glass and zero branding. A fingerprint sensor sits under the screen, which takes up a decent 71% of the phone real-estate. Boomsound makes a triumphant return, albeit in a slightly different form. Instead of two huge stereo speakers, HTC has managed to condense the package into an unassuming tweeter and subwoofer combination. The former lurks above the screen where the call speaker is, while the latter is on the bottom next to the charging port. On the topic of the charging port, the HTC 10 uses USB-C, which we’re still not fully convinced on. As it becomes more heavily adopted, we can see it getting more useful but currently, it feels like an inconvenience. Having to carry around a spare cable just so you can charge it when out is an annoyance, as most people probably don’t yet use a device that supports the new standard. Rounding off the design, you’ve got separate slots for sim card and microSD on either side of the device, while a volume rocker and power button lay in their usual places on the right side. HTC spoke a lot about the design of the power button, which has a textured finish so it’s easier to find and press. In practice, it works pretty well and has a nice solid click to it with no flex. On the top is the headphone socket, which links your headphones to that awesome 24-bit Digital-to-analog Converter (DAC) that we’ll get to later.
It’s worth mentioning here too that the HTC 10 comes with a pretty awesome pair of in-ear headphones. The company spoke a great deal about how they invested a lot of time into their design and sound, with the end result certainly paying off. Dubbed the HTC ‘High-Res Audio Earphones’, they feature large 13mm drivers which is pretty huge for your average pair of in-ear cans. As such, bass response on these things is huge and definitely caught my attention the moment I put them in. You could argue that it feels somewhat overpowered if you’re used to neutral headphones, but the sound is definitely controlled. The mids are clear and reveal a satisfying amount of detail, while the treble is smooth and doesn’t cut through your eardrums. They don’t quite stand up to our reference pair of Focal Sphears, but they’re still a million times better than any in-ears you usually get with a smartphone. Designed with comfort in mind, it took a little bit of attention with my annoying lobes before I could get a snug fit… but I struggle with most headphones so this is a definite plus.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]
HTC made a big deal about the camera in the 10, with a 12 megapixel Ultrapixel sensor that features optical image stabilisation and an impressively low f/1.8 aperture.
The company has expanded the pixel size to 1.55 µm, which is bigger than any of the competition but smaller than previous Ultrapixel modules found on the One series. It even claimed the top spot on renowned camera testing website DxOMark, tying with the Samsung Galaxy S7 on 88. Initial impressions with critics were okay but not great; the images seemed washed out and a little overexposed when compared with the competition. There was also an annoying issue with the laser autofocus where it would constantly say you were covering it, even though you weren’t. Shortly after the device was revealed, HTC threw out an update which aimed to rectify these issues among others and we’re happy to say, it seems to have been a success. It was always clear that the handset had a great camera sensor bursting with potential, so we’re glad that a few software tweaks have fixed what could’ve been a major blow to the handset.
Detail on all images is now excellent and, while the Samsung Galaxy S7 may win for overall vibrancy, we’d argue that the shots from the HTC 10 feel more natural and less superficial. It now nails the exposure much better on difficult shots, with high contrast images such as those with sky as the backdrop showing the greatest improvement. We’re also very impressed with the low-light performance and dare we say it, this could be the best nightlife handset on the market. Pre-update, the low-light capabilities were a mess. You could see the image… but it was hidden behind a thick fog of noise and grain. Now, things are far clearer and the noise reduction algorithms are working to their fullest, retaining detail in the areas that matter while eradicating the ugly noise. We also love the camera application on the HTC 10, which has consistently been great since the days of the M8. The newest version continues the trend, with an interface that can be as simple or complex as you like. Beginners will appreciate the auto mode, while those who want to get stuck in will have manual controls for pretty much everything, ensuring you get the best shot.
The 5 megapixel front camera also deserves a mention on the HTC 10, since it’s the first one in any device to include optical image stabilisation. This has been used for quite some time on the rear modules to reduce camera shake; the sensor itself is typically suspended by an array of small springs that absorb shock. Honestly, I struggled to notice a huge amount of difference in photos, but for video chats the benefits were immediately apparent. Walking freely through my house, phone in hand, I was able to move about without all that handling shake ruining the image, which the person on the other end definitely appreciated. It also features Ultrapixel technology, with 1.34 µm pixels making this probably the best front-facing shooter out there. Even low-light performance is impressive, managing to eclipse some dedicated rear sensors that we’ve seen on budget/ mid-range handsets.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]
The HTC 10 features a 5.2-inch panel using their newest Super LCD5 technology.
This eliminates the air pocket between the glass and the actual panel, which apparently saves battery life by allowing brighter colours at the expense of less backlight. It also has the benefit of reducing glare, since the panel is much closer to the glass than on traditional LCD setups. In practice, we found the screen to be very good in outdoor lighting scenarios, with a readable display in even the harshest of lighting conditions.
The QHD panel is sharp and has impressive viewing angles, while the quoted response time of 120 milliseconds makes it the fastest panel currently inside a smartphone. I can’t really say I noticed a difference personally between this and the response time of the S7 panel, but they both felt extremely quick.
Colour calibration out of the box seemed to be a bit dodgy, as the HTC 10 exuded a pretty heavy green hue that was evident after we profiled it with i1 Display Pro. That said, HTC thankfully do offer a colour tone feature in the settings, so you can at least try to tweak things yourself.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
The HTC 10 is one of the first devices to ship with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, the next flagship chipset from the manufacturer.
The new version has undergone some pretty drastic changes since its predecessor, which struggled from overheating and bottlenecking issues… many of which could be seen on the older HTC One M9. This time around, we’ve got a quad-core chip (not octa-core) running on a much smaller 14nm architecture. This should mean less heat and thus, better running performance.
In benchmarks, there’s a marked improvement in performance over the older chipset. Our Geekbench 3 scores averaged 2203 in single-core and 5157 in multi-core over 5 tests each. Compare this to the Nexus 6P, which was running the improved 810 (that didn’t overheat) and we can see real-world performance gains of around 45% in single-core and 20% in multi-core, which is a strong result. Compared to the LG G5, which runs the same processor, results were largely the same for both devices, with the LG slightly winning on single-core and the HTC slightly winning for multi-core.
One thing where Qualcomm chips have always excelled is gaming and we’re happy to say that performance is excellent on the HTC 10, with every game thrown at it working without a hitch. Whether it was Asphalt 8: Airborne or the newly released Need for Speed: No Limits, all of them ran without flaw.
Now we get to the major unique selling point of the HTC 10 and quite frankly, the reason why I’ve fallen for this thing. With a full 24-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog (DAC) audio converter on board, the HTC 10 is perhaps the best smartphone for audiophiles currently on the market. While the LG G5 arguably has better sonic potential with the additional Bang & Olufsen DAC module, the HTC has it all included out of the box in a nice neat package. Compare the sound quality out of this with your standard smartphone and the difference is night and day, with the preamp delivering plenty of volume without a compromise in quality. The presentation is clear and sounds break through the mix exceptionally well. Pair this smartphone with a decent pair of cans and you’ll be in your element.
This is all partnered with HTC’s new BoomSound implementation, which they’ve dubbed ‘Hi-Fi’ edition. Aside from the physical speaker enhancements and DAC, there’s quite a bit more going on under the hood too. Lurking in the notifications tray will be a BoomSound box whenever you’re watching something or listening to music.
Hit it and you’ll be treated to a couple of fresh options to further tailor your listening experience. Dolby headphone effects is a technology used within the BoomSound setup to enhance the stereo field and make things sound ‘larger than life’. Clicking on this will reveal further personalisation options, mostly appropriate for HTC headphone users. You’ve got tailored settings for the HTC buds, HTC in-ears and the HTC Pro Studios (which come exclusively with the 10). Those who own a pair of third-party cans will need to opt for the ‘other’ setting, which appears to be far more subtle in its sound refinement than the others on the list.
The second option at your disposal is Personal Audio Profile, which can be setup for many different types of headphones and inputs. Setting up a profile is quick and easy, though it’s advised that you do it in a quiet environment for best results. If you choose the ‘quick’ option, you’ll be asked a series of questions about your age and listening habits, then the software will process all this and offer a tailored listening experience according to the results. The results are largely subtle but just enough to enhance things without being unnecessarily intrusive. I chose to turn Dolby headphone effects off and just use my own custom audio profile, but the great thing about BoomSound is that you’re not obligated to use it at all if you don’t want.
HTC’s Sense UI has always been one of the better ones, with a lighter experience that doesn’t intrude too much on the basic Android experience. Before the update, it had some pretty bizarre issues, one of which we reported on a while back that can’t be replicated on another handset. Now, things are smooth and fluid. On the HTC 10, you’ll be getting the newest and most bloatware free version, feeling closer to the stock experience than ever before. In fact, it’s probably the best third-party UI we’ve yet to use, largely because it doesn’t try to fix things that aren’t broken. The app tray still remains (albeit slightly modified) and the quick launch menu is exactly the same as stock, meaning there’s a definite feeling of familiarity for users.
That said, there’s a few notable things that make this different from the traditional stock experience. One of which is themes, which allow you to completely customise the look of the UI based from a centralised marketplace of content. There’s quite a few different versions to choose from currently, and with the ability to design your own theme quick and easily, we can only see the catalogue getting bigger in time. One thing we don’t like about Sense is the keyboard and it still doesn’t feel great here. The typing experience is only average and we couldn’t get gesture typing to work, despite having everything turned on in the settings. For someone who’s been a regular user of this for years, it’s a disappointment. That said, downloading another keyboard is only a small step away, so it’s not a huge issue.
With a 3,000 mAh battery, the HTC 10 is on a level playing field with most other flagships out there including the Galaxy S7, however it somehow manages to come out on top. Comparing the two side-by-side, the HTC always felt like it lasted a little bit longer, hanging on for two days of moderate use and a solid day of intensive use. This is a great result that makes the handset pretty reliable when you’re away from a charger for a while.
It also supports the newest quick charge 3.0 standard from Qualcomm, meaning very fast charge speeds. In fact, I’ve found quite often that it only takes around 30 minutes for a full charge when my phone is at about 20%, which is pretty damn impressive. For a dead device, you’ll be looking at 80% in 35 minutes and full charge in about 45-50 minutes. During this period, the phone does get hot as with all quick-charge devices, but it’s never worrying.
The HTC does not include a removable battery like competitors such as the LG G5, so you may want to invest in a powerbank for extra long weekends away. However, it does have the option to juice other devices using its own internal battery, should the other handset support it. We couldn’t find any phones in the office that wanted to play nice with the feature, but it’s there in the USB settings so we see no reason why it shouldn’t be supported by something.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
The HTC 10 is a return to form for the company and a worthy flagship. They’ve thought about pretty much everything that a flagship needs and is only let down by a lack of waterproofing. With incredible audio output and a solid front camera that has OIS, it has enough unique selling points to make it stand out from the competition. In other words, it’s a winner.