HTC used to be one of Android’s brightest stars. Back in the day the company could do no wrong. Hell, it even made the first ever Nexus phone. My first Android phone was a HTC phone as well — the HTC Hero, if you’re wondering. But those heady days are now well behind the company and the immediate future does not look good.
HTC’s financials are, well, terrible. The company’s revenues during Q1 2016 plummeted 64% year on year which is obviously very bad for business, investor relations and the overall viability of the business going forwards. Questions will be asked. Questions like: is it worth it anymore? Can HTC compete in this space? Why are repo men knocking at the doors of our building?
Viewed in this context, the HTC 10 could well be the last handset the struggling Taiwanese company makes. I know, I know — that sounds a bit drastic. But so too is a 64% drop in revenues year on year. And what's more, HTC has publicly said that if its fortunes don't pick up it will leave the smartphone business. Financially speaking, HTC is on the cusp of oblivion. But it is still limping on and the HTC 10, alongside the HTC VIVE, are the two products the company hopes will engender some positive change in its financial outlook for 2016.
But will they? Recovering from a 64% dip in revenues is a tall order. Plus, HTC could not have picked a worse year to begin imploding. After a super dull 2015, LG, Samsung and Huawei have all come to the table with excellent, well-marketed Android flagships and the competition is just going to get fiercer and fiercer from here on out with the arrival of the Galaxy Note 6, OnePlus 3 and iPhone 7.
Right. Now all that doom and gloom is out the way, let’s crack on with this review and find out whether or not the HTC 10 has the chops to compete for the top spot in 2016’s ultra-competitive Android space.
As per my LG G5 review, we’re serialising the publication of this review. Today we’ll be looking at design and display performance. Stay tuned for daily updates before a final verdict at the end of the week.
HTC 10 Review: Design
HTC has a decent reputation when it comes to industrial design. At least it used to, anyway. Remember the original HTC One? That handset launched in 2013, back when HTC was a force to be reckoned with, and it took the Android space by storm. No one else at the time made handsets quite as good looking. And throughout the year the HTC One racked up awards and glowing reviews across the board.
But that was three years ago and since then HTC hasn’t really done anything noteworthy in the design department. But I don’t think this is entirely HTC’s fault. Not really, anyway. Put curtly, I don’t think HTC has the financial freedom it once had and this has directly impacted the development and overall quality of its flagship phones. Just look at the HTC One M8 and HTC One M9 — basically the same thing — and then look at HTC’s financial reporting for the past 24 months. You’ll see what I’m getting at.
If you were hoping things with the HTC 10 would be different, well, you’re in for some bad news. The HTC 10 is very similar to what came before. The are differences — the most obvious being the large chamfered edging that runs around the sides of the phone’s aluminium chassis — but mostly it looks and feels very much like the HTC One M9, which, looked and felt very much like the HTC One M8.
What you’re looking at here is the front from the HTC One A9 and a slightly reworked back panel from the HTC One M9. The HTC 10 is still premium and it is still made from excellent build materials, but so too is everything else these days. Everybody’s caught up in this regard — even LG — and in an the increasingly competitive Android space of 2016 it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see where HTC fits in. Even more so when you factor the rise of brands like Huawei and OnePlus in the UK and elsewhere.
The HTC 10 features a Samsung-like physical home button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. HTC claims this scanner is the world’s fastest; that it can read and respond with 0.2 seconds. And it is rather speedy in every day operation. I just kind of wish it was on the back, which is now definitely my preference thanks to prolonged used of the Nexus 6P and LG G5.
Despite its familiarity, the HTC 10 does look very sharp. I got a lot of comments from friends when testing it; they loved the size and proportions of the display. And after a couple of weeks with the phone, I happen to agree. The HTC 10 is a wonderful size for a phone; the 5.2in panel is definitely the new goldilocks standard for me.
The HTC 10 is available in three colour schemes: Silver, Gold and Carbon Grey. The latter of which is my favourite. Obviously, this is subjective but I would 100% recommend seeing all three models in the flesh before pulling the trigger on any purchase just to be sure.
Whatever colour you go for, though, a case is definitely required. As is ALWAYS the case with HTC handsets, the aluminium chassis, while stunning to behold, is a magnet for scratches. This is just a reality with aluminium phones; if you want to one day sell them, or, just want to keep it looking good, you will need to invest in a decent case. Keys, coins, lighters and the occasional drop will, over time, ruin the flawless finish of the handset. DO NOT wait until you have a scratch across the back to find out — buy a case with the phone and put it on right away.
The power/unlock key and volume controls are located on the right hand side of the HTC 10. Both are very clicky and easy to locate without looking. On the bottom you'll find a speaker and a USB Type-C port. On the very top of the handset sits the headphone jack, dead centre.
BoomSound is still there, it’s just been engineered differently in order to accommodate design changes to the HTC 10’s chassis. It is now called HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition and it features the same separated tweeter and woofer design as audio systems you’d normally find around the home.
There are still speakers at both ends of the HTC 10, the top one is just now secreted away inside the ear speaker and sole purpose in life is as a tweeter. It does look different, though, so the experience of using it in a live setting is kind of different. But it still very much packs a punch — it’s clearer, louder and more precise than what came before and this is a very good thing indeed.
This has never been a big deal breaker for me, if I’m 100% honest — I prefer headphones and I despise people that blast music from their phone on public transport. But for those that watch a lot of videos on their phones, BoomSound has a special place — and the version inside the HTC 10 is just as good as what came before. It just doesn’t look the same is all.
HTC 10 Review: Display Technology & Performance
HTC has finally made the switch from 1080p to QHD panels, joining the likes of LG, Samsung and Google. What you’re looking at here is a Quad HD 2560 x 1440 resolution Super LCD 5 panel with a protective layer of Gorilla Glass 4 and a pixel density of 564ppi. This is a very impressive panel, pretty much across the board, as the numbers suggest.
It reached a maximum brightness of 449cd/m2 in our tests and managed to cover 99.8% of the sRGB gamut. This places the HTC 10’s display right up there with the best of them in 2016. It is brighter than what you get on the LG G5 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 but under closer scrutiny it does lack some of the detail present in the latter, which manages to cover 100% of the sRGB gamut. Personally, I do tend to prefer the look and feel of AMOLED panels as well. And the one Samsung has inside its Galaxy S7 is simply sensational.
The display inside the HTC 10, as mentioned earlier, is perfectly sized as well at 5.2 inches. This makes the phone ideal for media viewing and web browsing, but not impossible to operate one-handed unlike the slightly larger 5.5in handsets on market. I’ve been using 5.5in handsets for a long time now, but found the switch to the HTC 10 like a breath of fresh air; it’s not a massive difference but it is one that brings with it a lot of utility, so hat’s off to HTC for finding the sweet spot here and proving you don’t have to go big just because everybody else is.
HTC 10 Review: Specs & Hardware Performance
Like all flagship Android phones releases this year, the HTC 10 is kitted out for one thing and one thing only — performance. The handset is blisteringly fast as well when it’s functioning correctly, easily on par with the LG G5 and Galaxy S7. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 has proved itself as one hell of chipset already and things will only get better as new software updates arrive.
The HTC 10 is outfitted with a Snapdragon 820 CPU alongside 4GB of RAM. The handset is available in either 32 or 64GB configurations and both models support microSD, as well as Android’s Adoptive Storage (AKA: Flex Storage), which lets the user tag external storage — in this context, the SD-card — to the phone’s internal memory. Both LG and Samsung left this feature out of their respective 2016 flagships.
Generally speaking, things are as you’d expect. Applications run smoothly, animations are buttery soft and there’s little to no lag when operating the phone. It feels a lot faster and snappier than the HTC One M9 and user’s of that phone will notice the difference — even more so if you’re coming from older hardware. However, there are some pretty serious issues with the HTC 10 — at least there was with my review unit.
The most notable of which is its Wi-Fi performance, which is just terrible pretty much across the board. Connections show full strength but applications and content will not load and refresh; this affected ALL applications. Cast functionality was also hindered by this as well, obviously, and pretty much forced me to use 4G for the entirety of the test period and my Huawei P9 for casting music and other media around the home.
This could be an issue specific to my review unit. I admit that, and I will update the review accordingly if that turns out to be the case. But for now it has to be noted because this is a £500 phone that cannot do Wi-Fi and in this day and age that is simply not acceptable — it hinders the overall usability of the handset and makes things like Casting media around the home impossible. Let’s hope this can be resolved with a software update!
This is a real shame too, because outside this issue the HTC 10 is a solid performer that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. I also LOVE what HTC has done with its Sense UX, which is now in its 8th generation, I think. Personally, I still prefer stock Android, that goes without saying, but for what it’s worth HTC’s Android overlay is definitely one of the slickest, cleanest and most useful in the Android space.
HTC 10 Review: Android with HTC Sense
HTC has always been one of the most consistent players in the Android space in this regard. Over the years it has tweaked its software, listened to grumbles from its users, implemented changes and has always strived to make Sense as useful and as seamless as possible. And this build is the best yet — by quite a margin.
Packed with useful features, optimisations and a minimal amount of bloatware, Sense now looks more like stock Android than ever before. HTC worked closely with Google on Sense in a bid to reduce the number of duplicated apps — things like Calendar apps, for instance — and the net result here is a pretty egalitarian mix between the two that effortlessly integrates Material Design across the board with no applications looking our of place.
The notifications menu is also very close to what you get on Google’s Nexus phones. Ditto icon design and the colour schemes throughout. BlinkFeed is still present, of course, though you can switch it off if you like, as is HTC’s Sense Theme engine, which let’s you completely change the look and feel of the entire UX. This aspect is a tinker’s dream because the customisation options available here are basically endless. But, like all good things, if it’s not your thing you’d never even know it was there.
All in all the software package HTC has come to the table with here is mightily impressive — perhaps even the best of all current Android OEMs making phones. It’s consistent, easy to use and so well integrated with Google’s Material Design everything just flows almost as well as it does on pure Google phones like the Nexus 6p. It also perfectly caters to fans of Sense, those that don’t like it and want something cleaner, and those that like to REALLY jazz their handset’s software up. In this context, all bases are covered.
HTC 10 Review: HD Sound — DAC-quality Without A DAC
One of the big reasons I was really excited by the LG G5 was because of its B&O DAC module. I spend a lot of money on headphones, so having a phone that can upscale the quality of audio is a HUGE plus for me. I thought I’d need the G5 for this, but the HTC came along and bloody included it inside the HTC 10. And all without the need for an expensive module!
So what’s the deal here? Simple: the HTC 10 will upscale audio from any application — be it YouTube or Spotify — to DAC-like quality. The HTC 10 supports 24-bit/192kHz hi-res music, and has upscaling tech on board for 16-bit files, which makes the type of sound you’re used to sound a hell of a lot livelier. The headphone amp inside the HTC 10 also delivers twice the power of a conventional one.
Another feature I liked about the HTC 10’s audio capabilities is that you can tune your headphones to your exact tastes. It judges this on your age, how long you listen to music for and the type of music you prefer. Once you’ve gone through all of this the settings are preset for that pair of headphones. You can add more headphones as well, meaning you can make the sound different for your earbuds and over ear bins.
The audio quality here is A LOT better than what you get with the B&O DAC for the LG G5, which just didn’t get loud enough. It’s also better than what you get with Apple, Samsung and any other player currently making phones in the mobile space. Here you have huge power, great sound quality, precise separation and the inclusion of Dolby processing which creates a bolder, more in your face sound when activated.
HTC NAILED this aspect of the HTC 10.
TUNE IN TOMORROW For Our Verdict On The HTC 10's Camera