HTC has a long history with Android and even played with Windows Phone for a while, so in an incredibly crowded market, dominated by Apple and Samsung and a new entrant Google, with the pixel, is there room for a 4th manufacturer? The HTC 10 is their latest flagship phone and like so many other Android phones, runs Android 6.0.1 and is still waiting for the 7.0 Nugat update. At this point, that seems like its reserved for Google’s own Pixel devices.
When it comes to hardware, its incredibly difficult to differentiate yourself from the pack. Essentially all modern smart phones are variations of a slab of glass with minaturised electronics shoved into a ultra-thin body with as big of a battery as physics will permit. Thankfully on the software side, like Samsung, HTC have backed away from manufacturer customisation in a big way, however there are still touches of HTC Sense around the occasional corner, like BlinkFeed when you swipe right and the limitation of just 4 icons in the system tray.
The HTC 10 features a 5.2 inch, Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) display and has a body that is 145.9mm x 71.9mm x 3.0 – 9.0 mm. Right about now you’re scratching you head and wondering how the phone can be 3-9mm in thickness, well its really 9mm with curved edges, while that’s certainly an embellishment by the marketing team, in reality, the curved back of the phone gives a great feeling in the hand. The all-metal unibody design weighs in at 161g which isn’t the lightest phone, but feels substantial in the way a quality watch feels nicely weighty.
The phone isn’t just about looks with a temperature rating between -20C and a massive 60C. Australia has some of the most extreme climate variances on the planet, but even we couldn’t test those extremes. What it does offer is potential use in environments and global conditions that other phones would quit on. It also means if you accidentally leave your phone in the car in the middle of summer, chances are, it’ll be just fine.
While its seriously difficult to stand out in hardware design and display technology, something that does vary considerably between devices is the camera. HTC are proving they’re accutely aware that your front camera matters as much as the rear with a serious focus on optical-image-stabalisation (OIS) which is included in both the front and back cameras. This means when you take selfies with friends, families or celebrities, you’ll be assured they’re in focus everytime.
The HTC 10’s front camera isn’t an afterthought like many, its leverages a large pixel sensor, an ƒ/1.8 lens and a screen flash, so shots come out brighter and richer. Thanks to the wide-angle lens, you fit more people or more of the envrionemnt in every photo and avoids the lens distortion. Its at this point you’re tapping your memory bank to recall if you’ve heard of a front-facing smartphone camera with OIS before, I’ll save you the time, you haven’t, this is a world first.
Another key aspect to getting great, sharable photos the first time you take a photo is lighting. All modern smartphone cameras start with the optical hardware included in the device, then do a layer of software post-processing to ‘fix’ the photo and without thining about it, deliver the user the best photo possible. The HTC 10’s main camera gives you up to 136% more light in every shot, thanks to a new generation UltraPixel sensor and a bright ƒ/1.8 lens. There’s 12 million UltraPixels (1.55um per UltraPixel) that delivers great high-resolution photos, even in low light. Cameras no longer get a hall pass for being a smartphone camera, they need to be able to take great photos everytime, regardless of the environental conditions.
Of course photography is only half the battle, there’s also video to deal with and the HTC 10, like many modern smartphones records 4K video, great for playing back on that 4K TV on your living room wall, or sharing with the world via YouTube which supports 4K quality.
HTC are defeinitely proud of their BoomSound Audio on this device. I experimented a lot with enabling and disabling this during playback from Spotify, Pocketcasts, TuneIn Radio and many, many other audio outputs. It certainly makes a noticable difference but with still a single speaker on the phone, you really need headphones to best take advantage of this.
While BoomSound will certainly please those who are used to more bass in their audio, the bigger success in audio is definitely their Personal Audio Profile System. This asks you a serious of questions like age, gender etc and then configures the audio provide specifically to you. You know what, it does sound better. This makes a lot of sense when you think about the variance in audio capacity as our bodies age and while we’re all humans, we do vary dramatically and this level of individualised audio experience is a great understanding of that.
While we’re talking about audio, its worth a mention of the included earbuds. They actually offer as good of quality as I’ve heard from an included pair, but don’t fit my ears well, leaving me with sore ears after only around 20-30 minutes of use. Personally I have a bunch of headsets to use as an alternative, but if this is your only phone this may be critical. It is a personal thing, with everyone having different ears, so may not be an issue for you.
Battery life and recharging
HTC will tell you this smartphone can do something no other can, deliver up to 2 days battery life. That’s crap. I never even got close to that, in fact during the review, I’ve struggled most days to get through a single day and Samsungs S7 delivers at least an hour or 2 more battery life than I managed with the HTC10. HTC’s claim about battery life has exactly a thousand asterisks after it which we all understand is something you can never hold them to. Whatever their new PowerBotics system which enhances hardware and software efficiency and delivers up to 30% longer battery life does not work and should be ignored. The phone has a 3000 mAh lithium-ion battery, excatly the same as the S7.
Thankfully when you do run out fo charge, the wait to get more is not a long one with their 3.0 Rapid charger. This will give you up to 50% charge in just 30 minutes. There are times where I need to have a full phone for an evening and being able to grab a recharge pitstop to get through a day is appreciated, but really shouldn’t be required even for intense use in 2016.
iPhone owners have looked at us Android users an laughed for some time as we clumsily attempt to guess the right orientation to connect our micro-USB chargers. Thankfully the HTC10 uses a USB Type-C connector which works both ways, so you can never plug it in wrong again. While the proliferation of USB-C is certainly in its infancy, once this is everywhere, the world will be a better place. That day can’t come soon enough.
Packed inside the body lives a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, a Quad-core, 64bit mobile processor that runs up to 2.2GHz. Combined with 4GB RAM, the phone flies along and I found it a breeze to use even during intense tasks like stiching panoramas in Google Cardboard.
From time to time I’d see a UI alert that is unique to HTC. Boost+ is a service that constantly dumps the junk associated with running the Android OS and does a great job of automating the cleanup. This cleanup allows the phone to contine running performantly and avoid the dreaded slow downs all Android users are familiar with. This includes clearing cache files, app installers, temp files and apps and services holding on to memory.
While we’re talking about the internals, there’s 32GB of storage with about 23GB usable. If that runs out, you’ll happily find a extended memory slot for microSD which supports up to 2TB cards if your budget can.
Price & Availability
The HTC 10 is available now at JB Hi-Fi as well as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone in Grey and Silver, but in the US, the phone is avaialble in Camellia Red, Topaz Gold, Carbon Gray.
The phone is available outright for A$899 which for a top-tier phone is definitely a more affordable option than the iPhone, Pixel or S7 alternatives.
There’s a lot to like about the HTC 10, the slightly larger display in a similar form factor, the dual OIS in the cameras and the cheaper flagship price than competitors. Despite that its really hard to recommend the HTC 10. Just like phones from Sony, they’re there or there abouts, they tick plenty of the spec sheets we expect of modern smart phones and if you do buy one, you’ll be very happy. The problem is its a phone that’s hard to get excited about.
In terms of functionality, it’ll get the job done, but if you throw it down on a coffee table, or at the bar, nobody will ask you ‘what’s that’. Maybe its not enough to simply tick the boxes anymore, you have to bring more to the table. With the S7 and the Pixel, I can bolt them into the GearVR or DayDream VR and have an entirely new experience.
Fast charging is fantastic, but plenty of brands offer it now and shipping a new device with last generation of the OS is really not ok at this point. If this is the cost of manufacturer customisations, then its time to kill HTC Sense, there’s not a single person buying HTC because of it, but there would be people who consider it, if it ran the latest stock Android. The days of winning on Android with software differentiation are over, instead HTC should focus on actually delivering bold claims like 2-day battery life.