HTC has had a rough year, leaving the company desperately needing to prove its worth to both its old followers and general audiences. The HTC 10 thus comes at a breaking point for the smartphone legend, and it’s clear that they are trying to grab your interest and secure your pocket.
But among all of its competitors, can the HTC 10 be as brilliant as they come?
In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the HTC 10. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:
While last year’s M9 was criticized for not spicing up the traditional HTC design, and specifically for looking too much like its predecessor (to the point where HTC itself confused them), the 10 strays from that comfort zone and spices up some design elements, while still looking very much “HTC”. Both the front and the back feature a “different” design with some stand-out accents that make for much of the HTC 10’s personality.
The back of the HTC 10 is perhaps the most iconic new aspect of this phone’s design, specifically because of its arguably-oversized chamfers. These are wide and shiny, and accentuate what would otherwise be a much duller back. Most importantly, though, they serve as a distraction for the increased thickness of this phone, which now feels much beefier without feeling heavy. These edges shine beautifully against all sorts of light, and combined with the very subtle curve of the actual back, make the phone easier to hold. The in-hand fit of the HTC 10 is pretty good for a phone with such thickness, and it’s plain comfortable as well.
The back also houses an HTC logo that’s not painted on top of the metal, so there is no fear of it wearing out over time like on other phones. Then you will find the flash and laser autofocus, and the camera which does protrude a couple of millimeters, but given it is centered there is no rocking when on a flat surface, and while the camera sensor is protected by being on a slight depression, it’s also coated with sapphire glass that’s less prone to scratches. Because of this, the protrusion arguably helps the phones’ durability as scratching the bare aluminum can lead to some annoying scars on the phone. In turn, this adds some slight durability to your metal phone’s back, as well as the camera sensor.
The sides of the phone are rather thin without accounting for the edge, and host a volume rocker and power button on the right side, and then one SIM tray on each side, one of which also doubles as a microSD slot. Something I noticed from the moment I loaded up my microSD and SIM cards is that these SIM trays don’t sit completely flush with the rest of the edge. Indeed, my unit has the trays either sticking out, or depressed a millimeter inside the body. I can also push the tray sticking out in order to sink it in, but at no point does this affect functionality, and other units we’ve tested haven’t had this issue.
The volume rocker and power button are both extremely clicky, and the power buttons’ ribbed texture meant I had no trouble adapting to the new layout. The tactile feedback is thus phenomenal, but while the buttons feel great to push, the volume rocker surprisingly rocks a tiny bit, sometimes making an audible click. Getting these buttons to feel entirely solid is a hard task and I wouldn’t hold it against HTC, however — I recognize I am very picky with buttons. Over all these are very good and in a good layout for the size, with your thumb lying almost entirely on the volume keys making them comfortable to access.
There are a lot of plasticky antennae bands going around on this phone, but none are distracting from the design. The segment at the top doesn’t stick out to the eye as the centered 3mm headphone jack takes the attention away from it; the hole is only centered on one axis, however, and it carves into the back edge of the phone, but with no tactile repercussions unlike, for example, the sharp headphone jack of the Nexus 5X. The USB Type C port sits at the bottom in-between a microphone on the left and a speaker grill on the right, which compliments the speaker piece at the top of the front. We’ll go deeper into how these speaker synergise and whether the placement means better sound output later on in the review.
“HTC has managed to produce a design that is both familiar and fresh, with its over-accentuated chamfers stealing the show”
To close up we have the front with a very large front facing camera (not surprising given its beefy specifications) and the aforementioned front speaker, plus a fingerprint scanner home button that, again, is not centered on both axes. The front of the phone is noticeably wrapped by metal, which gives it a distinct look that doesn’t quite resemble the “black slab” design of many competitors.
The capacitive back and recents keys sit at the same height as the fingerprint sensor, giving ample room between their input surface (which is rather constrained) and the screen, meaning very few accidental bottom-screen presses. The bezels on the HTC 10 are quite large, with the sides hosting thick edges due to both the black frame and the metal edge. It has similar all-around dimensions to the Nexus 5X, but I’d argue it fits better in the hand and that it feels much sturdier (because it is). Finally, there is a slight edge-curve to the glass wrapping the display that also catches light in interesting ways.
I would not call this design innovative, but it hits the right notes to update the design and still look like an HTC phone
In summary, the HTC 10 has a masterful design with well-executed hardware. The construction feels top notch, and one only needs to hold this phone to tell that it is extremely beefy and sturdy. Unlike other aluminum phones, the HTC 10 is unlikely to bend in any way, and the metal has endured our 2.5 weeks of daily-driving and testing very well. HTC has managed to produce a design that is both familiar and fresh, with its over-accentuated chamfers stealing the show by being not only functional but also helping masquerade the increase in thickness, and making it look different to boot. I would not call this design innovative, but it hits the right notes to update the design and still look like an HTC phone that properly pushes their traditional design language forward.
Software — User Interface
HTC Sense has long-been considered one of the sleekest OEM skins in terms of aesthetic design. The new and plain “Sense” in the HTC 10 is very similar to that which we saw on the HTC One A9, which debuted on Marshmallow as well, and it brings a similar experience to what Sense has always offered, but without the most consistent implementation with Google’s vision for Android. After some healthy stripping-down, HTC created a very pleasant UI.
Sense has been thoroughly cleaned of clutter, and with the A9, HTC opted for less-aggressive changes (which in turn would mean updates would be easier to implement as well). HTC sense, thus, feels more like a re-skin than a re-structure of Stock Android, but not one without glaring consistency issues. For example, the icons for “wi-fi” are different in the toggles, the toggle’s expanded wifi menu (which remains material), the status bar itself and the actual wi-fi settings. The battery icon in the status bar also doesn’t align with the other items, which looks and feels slightly unpolished. There is also no battery indicator/shortcut in the Quick Toggles, a decision that might ire those who use it frequently.
Make up your mind, will you!?
Luckily, themes can change the status bar icons in order to address part of this. And nitpicking aside, the UI is ultimately very reserved with a Stock Android color palette that will ease the transition for Android purists. Alert boxes and other prompts do look oddly out of place (and are also inconsistent, with some being left unchanged), but the UI is ultimately rather lightweight. The suite of HTC apps also look clean, with solid colors and some material elements, although with less apparent depth and shadowing. Some of these apps’ color can also be customized, which is neat for those aiming at a specific theme consistency.
“HTC has consistently offered a reserved and more mature user interface”
The HTC launcher comes with the traditional Blinkfeed news reader at the left, and then a typical homescreen with an atypical app drawer. It scrolls horizontally like before, and it comes with paginated scrolling by default.
You can also quickly re-order the app-drawer with a custom order (drag and drop), alphabetical and recent. Another addition of the launcher is HTC’s touted “freestyle” configuration of colorful landscapes and stickers. There are many options to choose from on the freestyle theme store, but you can design your own as well.
A few design decisions stuck out to me during my testing period. For one, the default text size was too large at first, but you can easily adjust it in the settings (I suggest “small”!). HTC also opted once more to selectively remove certain animations, perhaps in an attempt to make the phone feel different or faster. An example would be that returning to the launcher does not have an animation, only launching and switching apps, and this specific transition is very fast. But the recents menu’s animation is still slow to trigger and operate, so I suggest lowering the animation speed to make the system feel not just faster, but more consistent (the animation options are hidden inside a menu inside of developer options).
Many familiar Android UI elements remain mostly unchanged, like the multi-tasking menu which includes a “clear all” button at the bottom, and the toggles setup (although HTC made some changes, like including a calculator shortcut “toggle”). HTC’s lockscreen is also uncluttered, with the quick-access apps (docked apps by default) sitting at the bottom waiting for you to slide them up.
Delving into the settings lets you turn off “interest-based ads” in HTC Sense — if you get the phone, I suggest making sure that these are disabled. You can also personalize the phone with themes, including color layouts and fonts, but colors don’t stretch onto some system UI elements like the notification panel. The default keyboard’s color can also be customized, and overall Sense gives you plenty to play with and tweak. It’s still a shame that you can’t tweak the colors of various key UI elements, but as far as customization goes, it ranks as one of the more-tweakable OEM skins out there, even if it’s not the deepest.
Overall, Sense is a neat UI that does not impair the user experience in any way. As we’ll see in the sections below, it is relatively lightweight and its speed compliments its UI design (in a way, the experience is designed to feel fast as well). HTC has consistently offered a reserved, and perhaps even mature, alternative in comparison to those of other OEMs. As far as design goes, Sense could use some polishing to achieve better consistency, and its theming is nowhere near as deep as that of other software alternatives. Nevertheless, it is somewhat extensive, and it gives the user enough flexibility to make the phone his own.
Software — Features & UX
Past customization, HTC sense offers a healthy (and by that I mean reserved) set of extra features, some of which are tried-and-true while others are neat little surprises HTC decided to pack in.
First of all, let’s get the bloat out of the way: luckily, there is not much in the way of pre-installed applications in the HTC 10. This phone comes with over 23GB of storage open to the user upon the first boot, with duplicate apps kept to a minimum and some third-party apps bundled in, most of which are not offensive to the general user. Among the bundled applications, we have News Republic, Facebook & Facebook Messenger, Instagram, a standard set of Google apps, and a few HTC tools including Boost+ (a junk cleaner that can also lock applications and “boost game battery life” by lowering resolution –trash, basically), a flashlight app (why?), a weather app and a surprisingly helpful Help app.
The Help app let’s you access “troubleshooting” tools, which include answers to common problems as well as their probable cause according to the current phone status, hardware diagnostic tests so that you can see if anything is faulty on your device (as well as quick shortcuts to various menus), and the option to call HTC. There are also some helpful manuals and a button to check for software updates. I don’t normally care for applications like this, nor would I likely use it, but it’s one of the more polished and helpful apps an OEM could pack for the general (and often clueless) consumer. While many at XDA might find little use for it, just remember it has quick hardware checks that might come handy in the future.
The lack of clutter and gimmicks puts Android itself is at the front and center
As far as applications go, there is not much else. By default, you will find Google Calendar, HTC’s Mail app as well as Gmail, Google Photos for the gallery, the HTC Clock app, Chrome, Messages, and the HTC dialer. There are very few apps that share the same purpose, and HTC managed to pick the one that works the best and makes the most sense. Going into the individual HTC apps, we can find a very neat and tidy Phonebook with every feature you’d expect, and an extremely simple messaging app. Both are quick and easy to use.
The default launcher in the HTC 10 has Blinkfeed – a News reader – in its leftmost page. The service has been around for a few iterations now and not much has changed. It’s still useful, but I suspect much of our audience will swap out the launcher altogether.
A returning fan-favorite is double-tap-to-wake as well as other screen-wake gestures. You double tap to wake & sleep, swipe up to unlock, swipe left to go home, swipe right to launch Blinkfeed or swipe down twice to open the Camera (perhaps the most useful gesture). You can also allow apps to recognize 3-finger output gestures for media controls, linked with HTC Connect to play media on various services and devices (Airplay, AllPlay, Blackfire, Bluetooth Speakers, Chromecast and Miracast).
The fingerprint sensor of the HTC 10 is well-integrated and will satisfy any user when it comes to speed and responsiveness. While many might be against the idea of placing it at the front, the device’s dimensions don’t make the scanner too hard to reach without re-adjusting the hand. If you have average-sized hands, you won’t be doing much hand gymnastics with the HTC 10 at all, and that includes the fingerprint scanner.
There is really not much else in the way of features for this latest version of Sense, and stripping down the least-favorite components undoubtedly makes for a cleaner experience. Many of HTC’s services can be downloaded from the Play Store and are updated independently, like Zoe and other staples of the series. What’s in there is useful, though, and various features I have omitted from discussing as they are mentioned in other sections.
Overall, Sense offers mostly-thoughtful little additions that one can opt out of using without being pestered by them. The lack of clutter and gimmicks means that Android is at the front and center when using the HTC 10, and that’s a great thing. Too often we see OEMs pack their software with useless gimmicks, many of which are hidden behind nonsensical menus. Those looking for a toned-down system will find solace on HTC’s latest Sense.
The Snapdragon 820 SoC in the HTC 10 comes to amend the issues that last year’s Snapdragon 810 brought upon its predecessor. HTC’s last flagship went under the spotlight for being one of the first devices brandishing the controversial chipset, but with a new beginning and a fresh architecture, there is nothing tying the HTC 10 to the M9’s performance failure. The 14nm Snapdragon 820 sees a smaller, more efficient (FinFET) process size and Qualcomm’s Kryo CPU cores, as opposed to last year’s “off-the-shelf” ARM Cortex A57/A53 design, and a more powerful GPU with the introduction of the Adreno 530 GPU. We’ve detailed the Snapdragon 820’s hardware before, as well as its relative performance in the Galaxy S7 Edge. How does the Snapdragon 820 in the HTC 10 fare?
CPU & System
The 14nm Snapdragon 820 features a 2×2 CPU configuration, with two Kryo cores clocked at 2.15GHz and another two in an efficiency-centered cluster clocked at 1.6GHz. As we’ll see below, the lower number of cores does not translate to a net loss in performance (and nobody should have assumed it would), and the single-core performance of the Snapdragon 820 is excellent, with multi-core performance not managing to beat every competing smartphone chipset, but remaining in the upper-tier nonetheless.
Running the Snapdragon 820 through our usual set of tests puts it at the top single-core performance in GeekBench only second to the iPhone 6s, yet below the Kirin 955 P90 and the Exynos variant of the Galaxy S7 in multi-core results. The AnTuTu 6 benchmark, more comprehensive as far as components go, tops the chart, making for one of the highest-scoring Android smartphone we’ve seen so far. BaseMark, a more holistic test, puts the HTC 10 below other Snapdragon 820 devices and the Galaxy S7, but above the rest of Android smartphones. PCMark, another holistic test more commensurable with real-world results, puts the HTC 10 in a very good place too as seen in the graphs.
Performance-over-time sample, as well as an example of heat distribution throughout the HTC 10’s body.
As far as CPU throttling goes, when running these tests repeatedly we do find a decrease in performance, albeit this drop is more linear than the clearly-stratified drops we sometimes saw on Snapdragon 810 devices. The throttling going on with the HTC 10’s CPU is less aggressive, but we saw close to 15% drop in scores in various CPU-centric tests and metrics after numerous consecutive tests. These tests did not really increase temperature to the point where operating the device would become uncomfortable, though, with Geekbench topping at 38 degrees C in room-temperature. As far as app performance goes, the HTC 10 is one of the fastest devices we’ve tested, and general UI navigation does not suffer substantially while the CPU is very slightly throttled. As we’ll see in further sections, outside heat sources can seemingly affect the HTC 10 more than any CPU load we’ve put on it.
GPU & Gaming
The Adreno 530 GPU is one of the stand-out points of the HTC 10’s specification sheet. As we’ve seen before, the scores you can obtain on this mobile GPU are fantastic, and it once again puts the Snapdragon 820 at the top of the game when it comes to GPU performance. In most instances, you can expect the resulting performance to be as good as or better than anything else on the market, but the decision to upgrade the screen resolution means that devices with 1080p screens and the same chipset will see an advantage in graphics performance. You can find such example with the Xioami Mi5 (Snapdragon 820 and 1080p display) achieving significantly better performance than the HTC 10 and other Snapdragon 820 devices in on-screen tests. It’s also worth noting that, just like we found in the Galaxy S7 Snapdragon 820, this device sees higher throttling on GPU benchmarks (same behavior we observed in the S7 Edge) than it does on CPU benchmarks, over 30% after many consecutive GFXBench tests.
These large differences disappear in off-screen tests, where the HTC 10 leads in graphics performance. Non-Snapdragon chipsets have taken a particular beating this generation, with the latest Kirin chipsets offering measurably less performance than the Snapdragon 820 in the HTC 10 (more comparable to a Snapdragon 805’s and 808’s).
Consecutive GFXBench Manhattan tests can lower performance quite dramatically.
These differences and also throttling, surprisingly, somewhat diminish when looking at actual gaming, where the HTC 10 does a fine yet unspectacular job compared to previous devices we’ve reviewed at XDA (all games at highest possible settings).
Asphalt 8, for example, fluctuates between 30 and 55 frames per second with a resulting average above the usual 30 frames per second lock some (and not all) devices experience. Dead Trigger 2 saw an average of 34 frames per second, somewhat close to the 40 frames per second achieved on 1080p Snapdragon 810 devices — it’s safe to say that the resolution plays a big factor here. GTA: SA, one of the more taxing games you can find on mobile, had a resulting 28 frames per second on average (in a couple of instances, the framerate average of the session dipped below 27 FPS, but 29 FPS samples were common too). This is one of the highest averages we’ve found on a prolonged session of GTA: SA, showing the prowess of the Snapdragon 820.
A very positive aspect I found during testing the HTC 10 for gaming is lessened throttling. Across multiple 5, 10 and 15 minute tests of the aforementioned games, performance remained mostly good and there was no sharp or clear drop in CPU nor GPU activity, albeit the framerates did fluctuate more than in other devices in some games, and the fluctuation slightly increases over time. The averages remained high, however, and outside temperature of the device didn’t reach 41° C while gaming, at which point I personally consider phones to begin feeling uncomfortable. For reference, the OnePlus 2 and other 810 devices went past this mark during the same level of intense usage. While the performance is not as consistent as some Samsung Exynos phones, the results are stellar even after scores and framerates begin getting lower. Long sessions of benchmarks such as GFXBench’s battery benchmark test still show significant score drops (over 30% as show above) after over 30 minutes, and gaming sessions longer than 15 minutes will likely lead to more framerate drops — so I still recommend you are cautious in your usage.
RAM & Storage
The 4GB of DDR4 RAM found in the HTC 10 surpass the setup in the One M9 in both capacity and speed, and so far we have not tested smartphones sporting more RAM than this, although we know they are coming. While we will see 6GB RAM devices soon and later this year, the HTC 10 will remain future proof in part due to the sheer efficiency at which it utilizes its RAM. While other devices are notorious for holding less apps than their spec sheet suggests, the HTC 10 has no issue of the sort. The real-world demonstration below will serve as an example.
Storage performance on the HTC 10 outputs around 250.5MB/s in sequential read tests (higher than the M9’s ~160MB/s), and 103.5MB/s in sequential write tests (higher than the M9’s 33MB/s). Random read (30MB/s) and random write (15.5MB/s) are both higher than last year M9’s and close to the average Android smartphone’s.
While these numbers are lower than the current storage king’s (Galaxy S7/Edge), they are very similar to much of the competition’s barring the LG G5. You won’t find the storage in the HTC 10 holding you back, and it’s also worth noting the expandable storage found in this phone benefits from one of the fastest slots available, allowing you to add over 200GB of goodness.
Real World UX
The HTC 10’s Snapdragon 820 shows its prowess in the theoretical tests, where it scores above most Android devices to date. But as we all know, benchmarks don’t necessarily translate to real-world performance. HTC phones like the M8 have gotten praise for their snappy responsiveness, as the company had even attained some of the best touch latency in Android at the time as well. Part of the performance’s strength has traditionally come from Sense being a relatively-lightweight piece of software with design decisions that amplify the perceived responsiveness. With that out of the way, how does the HTC 10 perform in day-to-day operations?
Knowing that no odd service is bogging down your performance or affecting your battery life is one of the highlights of Sense’s lightweight experience.
Out of the box, it was hard for me to not notice that the HTC 10 was quite zippy. As far as app opening goes, and as mentioned above, it’s one of the fastest – if not the fastest – phone we’ve tested. This speed is complemented by a solid multi-tasking experience that’s above the average 4GB phone’s. That being said, it’d be unfair for me not to point out that the HTC 10’s animations are set to be faster than the average phone’s by default, and that many transitions (such as returning to the Launcher) are removed to give the UI an artificial sense of speed. This isn’t bad at all, but it has not been applied across the board, so you will likely want to change window transitions to make the multi-tasking menu and other animations speed up to par.
The HTC 10 is very good at handling scrolling lists as well, and performance is smooth — noticeable micro-janks are few and far between, making scrolling janks mostly imperceptible. You will rarely find delay while operating an application, and the 10 doesn’t keep you waiting. But this is during normal conditions only: while the HTC 10 does not get too hot from regular usage, it does seem to catch a lot more heat from outside temperature and sun than other devices (likely because of the metal body).
As a result, using the HTC 10 in high-temperature environments can make this device severely underperform, as seen in the example below. We’ve seen this effect across multiple areas in multiple hot regions including Florida, Minnesota (hey, it’s Summer) and Iowa. It is by no means a deal-breaker, but it has been a hassle to us at XDA as it undermines what’s otherwise a very good performer.
CPU usage/profiling applications like Trepn show very close to no CPU usage by undesired background processes during normal operation, an issue that we found on some more-bloated devices from Samsung and company. The clutter-cleaning that the HTC 10 underwent shows when you look at the CPU cycle consumption of background apps as well as memory usage (now easily accessible in the settings). Knowing that no odd service is bogging down your performance or affecting your battery life while using the phone for daily tasks is one of the highlights of Sense’s lightweight experience.
“The no-nonsense approach to software allows the Snapdragon 820 to shine”
Overall, I don’t believe users will find many issues with the HTC 10’s day-to-day performance. HTC has provided some of the best user experiences on Android with previous flagship phones, and the HTC 10 manages to keep things lightweight and snappy.
Some of the design decisions clearly aid achieving this goal, but much of it has to do with the remarkably small amount of background processes and the toned-down nature of Sense. Those factors allow the Snapdragon 820 to shine, as well as the below-average touch latency of the HTC 10, but at the same time users should be way that this device can get uncomfortably hot during warm seasons and in warm regions of the glove, and in turn, performance takes a dramatic hit.
The 12 MP sensor in the HTC 10’s camera follows the recent trend through which OEMs opt for lower MP counts, yet focus on aperture and pixel size to maximize important aspects such as low-light performance. With HTC’s “ultrapixel” technology back at the helm, and with optical image stabilization (in the front camera, too!) on top of Laser Autofocus, one would expect the HTC 10 to perform excellently. While the DxOMark score it received puts it neck-and-neck with giants like the Galaxy S7, our testing and comparisons gave us results which we consider below the best Android has to offer, but excellent nonetheless.
The HTC 10’s pictures are notably less saturated than those coming from many competitors, including Samsung’s. The colors look very good and natural in most pictures, making for “true to life” picture memories. Despite the laser autofocus, the camera is not particularly fast to focus (and it can have a particularly hard time to focus during video, on both cameras), and it’s also not particularly fast to launch either. In the video below you can find a sample of what the user experience is like on the HTC 10’s default camera app.
Note the way the device handles changes in focus points, and exposure adjustments (rather well if you assk me). Pictures can take more than you’d expect to process — if you are used to snapping and going on with your usage, make sure to wait until the picture appears in the gallery at the corner. Not doing so might result in you not keeping your picture — incredibly frustrating when you want quick snaps!
Exposure is well-handled with somewhat of a tendency to whiten the picture, making for the occasional white-washed photo or selfie. The camera can focus at rather close distances, and while it doesn’t frequently get stuck trying to focus, when it does this process might last longer than usual. Another small issue I found is that it’s very easy to cover the laser autofocus, and every time it happens (often when launching the camera) the message informing you so stays for a second or two and blocks your viewfinder. That being said, the pictures the HTC 10 outputs vary from good to excellent, with very few pictures in regular to good lightning needing to be scrapped. I found myself able to trust this camera.
Moving over to low lighting, though, and the story is different. While HTC has arguably been one of the first to really focus on low-light shots with its ultrapixel technology, and while the camera hardware inside the 10 suggests it’d be stellar in these scenarios, the results ultimately disappointed me (perhaps because of the hype behind it). Both selfies and rear-camera shots seem to often be mishandled by post-processing, which can give the picture a really unrealistic look in exchange for some extra visibility (clear example being the wine above). Detail, too, is often lost in the process, and the results are particularly underwhelming when compared to the Nexus 6P, running slightly lesser hardware and Google’s software camera software, yet managing to retain more detail.
The pictures can look pretty good regardless, but I personally expect more out of the 10 in this context. I do wish that it could present some finer detail in general, as grass and other objects can become rather mushy. The composition of the picture, however, is very good in most cases, and those looking for natural-looking pictures might even prefer it over the S7’s.
When it comes to video, the phone comes packed with various standard modes including the popular slow-motion and the tried-and-true 30FPS 4K and 60FPS 1080p. The slow-motion videos are about what’d you would expect and in line with competitors, while the 4K video recording can output some excellent detail, with some decent focusing up-close (as shown in the example). The front-facing camera had the most trouble keeping focus while selfie-recording and walking, which is surprising given its specifications.
In summary, the HTC 10’s camera is well-equipped in terms of hardware and it also packs decent camera software, both combining to make for a very solid shooter. I do think that HTC still has problems to tackle with its image post-processing, an issue they failed to nail in previous devices (I’ve even had pictures come out with odd artifacts). An early software update did improve things, as previous software updates on the M9 did, so we might see the resulting package evolve over time. There are some nice manual control options as well as RAW shooting for those wanting to get the most out of the hardware, though, and in every other respect, the HTC 10 does hold up against competitors.
HTC’s Super LCD panel continues the trend of excellence on HTC phones. While AMOLED is increasingly becoming one of the most popular choices for many manufacturers, the HTC 10 managed to prove once more that LCD technology can still hold its own. This is a 1440p panel with a pixel density of 565 (one of the highest pixel densities virtue of the fact that this is “only” a 5.2 inch screen). Going into the various parameters we’ll find that HTC has managed to include a very pleasant display in this device without having to resort to AMOLED as they did on their One A9.
First, let’s start with the not-so-great: brightness on the HTC 10’s display is well-below the output of both Samsung’s latest AMOLED panels, and also the LCD technology featured in the LG G5. That being said, it’s still readable under sunlight and the auto-brightness experience has been satisfactory too. The backlight in the HTC 10 is very evenly distributed and none of our tested units have shown any sort of light-bleed. Another low-point is that the screen cannot get very dim either, something I found very detrimental when operating the phone in pitch-black environments.
Something that greatly enhances the reading experience on the HTC 10 – particularly outdoors – is its excellent contrast ratio, definitely one of the best LCD display has to offer. This display also offers very good black levels (some of the best we’ve seen, too, and even better than the LG G5’s judging from experience) and this slightly makes up for the dim brightness when operating the phone in the dark.
“You will be hard pressed to find a better LCD panel on a smartphone”
Greyscale is also some of the best on LCD displays (pictures don’t do it justice, but hopefully illustrate part of it), and the only issue with blacks and whites is that, while viewing angles are decent, whites gain a red or pink tint at an angle, and blacks shine slightly brighter as well.
The HTC 10 comes with two color profiles on stock software, Vivid and sRGB. The former (and as its name implies) offers a more saturated look with greens and blues being accentuated, with a higher coverage of color space. The vivid mode is also colder than sRGB, but luckily you can tweak the screen’s temperature to get the kind of whites you are most content with. The sRGB mode is fairly color-accurate and very similar to the sRGB/Basic mode of latest-gen AMOLED displays
I can’t say I have had anything short of a great viewing experience with the HTC 10. You might find yourself wishing for an extra hair of brightness, or that you could dim the display some more, but excluding that, this is one of the best displays outside of AMOLED. With deep blacks levels, excellent contrast and neat customization options, you will be hard pressed to find a better LCD panel on a smartphone, especially non-LG flagships. The black bezels of the 10 and the slightly-curved glass further accentuate this fantastic panel, and from our tests detailed in the battery section of this review, it’s also not a battery hog (more below).
Battery Life & Charging
It’s not rare to see 3,000mAh batteries on sub 5.5-inch smartphones nowadays, and the HTC 10 thus stands with a middle-of-the-road battery package. While many would initially assume that its standard battery size would bring standard battery life, the Snapdragon 820 inside the HTC 10 promises improved efficiency that should translate to better results over last generation’s chipsets. This is particularly important given the Snapdragon 810 specifically offered less battery efficiency than Samsung’s Exynos 7420. We put the Snapdragon 820 through both battery benchmarks and real-world usage, and here’s how it fared:
As you can see from the scores above, the HTC 10 manages an impressive score on PC Mark, competing with devices such as the Galaxy S7 and last year’s Note 5, as well as A53-based devices that understandably score rather well on these tests. The resulting battery life is above last year’s Snapdragon 810 devices, but also below Qualcomm’s own 2016 Snapdragon 650 featured in the Redmi Note 3 — understandable given the A53 core arrangement inside it. When put into context, the HTC 10 fares very well. Most interestingly, we ran this test at lowest, medium and maximum brightness to assess the effect of screen brightness on the test; the differences are lower than what other devices with LCD panels like the OnePlus 2 and the Honor 5X have shown us, suggesting that the HTC 10’s screen is not one of the biggest power-sippers here
Indeed, during regular usage, we didn’t always find the screen as the top drainer. A normal day for me has had the HTC 10 last about 3 to 4.5 hours depending on my usage and location. My typical usage pattern involves at least an hour of Youtube, Hangouts throughout the entire day, some document editing on Google Docs and through Google Chrome, light puzzle gaming, music, and around 30 minutes of GPS. By my standards as judged on other phones, the HTC is just average — it offered me less screen-on-time than the Note5, Nexus 6P, and Honor 5X, but usually more than the OnePlus 2 and others.
Luckily, standby time on the HTC 10 is decent with about 0.8% to 1% drain per hour while idling without Doze. Overnight drain has been minimal for me. As for the examples above, keep in mind that I am also a heavy LTE user, so most of my screen time in any given day is while on LTE.
Charging on the HTC 10 is, in theory, as good as it gets given it comes with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard. While it is indeed very fast, I have not found it to be as much as an advantage as Qualcomm pretended it would be.
The HTC 10 charges from 0 to full in around 1 hour and 25 to 30 minutes, with the bulk of the charging speed residing in the first 80 percentage points of battery capacity. Do mind that Quick Charge 3.0 is technically not compliant with the USB Type C specification, but nonetheless you shouldn’t expect to see any issues with the included or official chargers through regular usage.
One last thing that I want to note is that I did not use battery-saving modes throughout my testing. That being said, on top of the default battery-saving mode you do have an Extreme Battery Saving mode, similar to what you find on most other flagships today. If you really need your phone to last for important reasons, these features can be a life-saver.
Overall, the HTC 10’s battery life stood out as one of the more mediocre aspects of this device. While I can safely say it provides enough battery life for a casual user, I have found myself worrying about finding an outlet more than I wish while daily driving this device. It’s surprising to see that the resulting battery life is not as good as battery benchmarks suggest it is — perhaps it’s time to find better standardized testing methods for 2016 devices, or perhaps the device simply doesn’t handle real-world operations with the same grace. Whatever the case, battery life can be satisfactory, but just about there for someone focused on heavy usage. The included examples should provide you a rough idea of my user patterns and results.
The speakers on the HTC One series of flagship phones have been some of the best to ever grace Android, and also helped popularize front-facing speakers in other phones. With the One A9, HTC moved away from the front-facing speaker setup that netted it good fame, but the HTC 10 aims to provide substantial speaker quality once more, as well as an outstanding headphone experience. While it succeeds in the latter, the new implementation of HTC speakers misses some targets in its approach and execution that every front-facing speaker lover should be aware about.
Speaker Samples (Maximum volume, same distance from Blue Yeti Microphone)
The 10 has a front-facing speaker located where the earpiece speaker typically is, and a bottom-firing speaker as well. Long gone are the duo front-facing speakers, but HTC has nonetheless stood for this implementation by claiming that each speaker has its strengths, with the top speaker focusing on treble-heavy playback while the bottom one on bass. I can vouch for each speaker doing what HTC does — the bottom speaker has a good amount of bass to it, while the top speaker does seem to focus on treble, but only because it doesn’t play much bass at all.
Microphone Samples (Same distance from speakers, HTC 10 followed by Nexus 6P)
This is where the differences begin playing against the HTC 10. These are asymmetric speakers in both orientation and sound quality, meaning that the same song or movie might sound completely different depending on the speaker it is being played through, depending on the properties of said media. This is a problem that’s further amplified by the fact that, while each speaker has a “designated specialty”, it’s still stereo output, meaning that a sound coming from your left will sound different once it passes onto the right speaker. Another issue with the implementation is that the orientation does not help this asymmetry, but this is only an issue on landscape mode — if you are using the sound on portrait, but of your ears should pick up the same sound at the same volume.
Going past these structural issues, the phone’s speaker quality is actually really good. When tested against other flagships, it comes ahead of every other speaker-focused device in terms of clarity, with the exception of the HTC M9. While the sound on the HTC 10 is very clear, though, it’s not very loud — the Nexus 6P and previous HTC phone managed to get much, much louder than this device, making them much better audio playback whilst the phone is not in close proximity. The good news is that the HTC 10 does not distort sound throughout volume increases, but phones that do can play audio at around the same volume as the HTC 10 and be well under the point where said distortion becomes an issue.
Onto the headphones, I believe that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better headphone experience than on the HTC 10. The discrete 24-bit DAC is noticeably better than any chipset’s built-in solution that we’ve tried, and also better than Samsung’s generally-excellent DACs. If you have a good pair of headphones and a decent FLAC library, the HTC 10 will not disappoint you. The Boomsound software also helps in this regard by providing you with different audio profiles, which make much more of a difference through the headphones than they do on the speakers.
Finally, call quality has been very enjoyable, including wi-fi calling. The top speaker being more fleshed-out than the average earpiece definitely helps the HTC 10 achieve excellent call quality.
Future Proofing & Development
HTC phones and XDA go way back, with a long history of unforgettable XDA experiences. As far as development goes, the HTC 10 has many incentives going for it. For one, HTC is much more open to development than other companies. While unlocking the bootloader is not as easy as it is on a Nexus, HTC provides unlock keys at their HTCDev website (works with T-Mobile HTC 10) through a short, 5 to 10 minute procedure. Alternatively, you can use Sunshine to turn your phone into a dev phone, without wiping your data (also available for the Verizon HTC 10, in case you are stuck with Big Red). The unlockable bootloader is not the only thing the 10 has going for it, though:
Not only do you no longer need a developer edition phone for flashing goodness, but now, HTC’s warranty will cover your phone even if your bootloader is unlocked. Of course, claims that were caused by mishandling such responsibility will not be covered. But nevertheless, this is something everyone considering the phone should be well aware of.
Development for the HTC 10 has already begun in terms of ROMs and Kernels, and you will be able to find TWRP for your flashing needs, as well as a healthy set of tools including the aforementioned Sunshine. There are already good resources and guides on the HTC 10 XDA forums for you to learn everything you need to know about rooting and flashing this device, and the friendly and savvy community will likely help you in case you have any questions (but please use the Search button first!). Furthermore, there are some good and insightful discussions going on there, so be sure to check them out if you are planning on buying this device.
As far as future-proofing, the HTC 10 comes with the best processor and RAM configuration at the moment, and things like expandable storage are undoubtedly useful to XDA serial flashers. HTC’s warranty is also one of the best in terms of coverage and deductibles, and when it comes to updates, we know that the phone will get Android N (which was expected). HTC has been dodgy when it comes to releasing statements about updates for some of their older devices, and we did see them miss their own deadlines a few times in the past. But you should at the very least expect Android N and some future updates.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Addition by Subtraction
HTC has managed to make something great with the HTC 10. While there is a lot to be critical about, the things there are to praise are some of the things Android phones need the most. I have had a terrific time testing the HTC 10, and while the beginning was rocky, it grew on me in ways that very few phones have.
It’s rare to see phones that focus on the user experience to the degree that the 10 does. When HTC began advertising this phone, they hit all the right talking points — battery light, camera, performance. Their product ended up hitting the right notes too, even if not with overwhelming success. But that doesn’t matter here, because unlike some of its most-recent predecessors, the HTC 10 is not a compromised phone, nor a flawed one. Even its worst-performing aspects are mostly satisfactory, and at the very least, the HTC 10 really shows that HTC tried much harder here than it did with the M9.
The things that make the HTC 10 stand out are its superb LCD display, its refreshed design, and the user experience that the software-hardware package end up giving the user. A great part of this comes from Sense, with an UI that I am sure no enthusiast will find offensive. It is not stock, mind you, and I’d even argue that it’s not as close to stock as some portray it to be — yet it doesn’t have to, because the core of Android is still at the front. The HTC 10 is an exercise in moderation, as it strips down the things that take away from the smartphone experience with brain surgeon accuracy.
This isn’t to say there aren’t things to improve — I very much would have hoped the company would have stuck with its traditional speaker setup. I also wish the camera software would live up to the hardware specifications, but in the end I got some good shots with the HTC 10’s cameras. But these are minor complaints in contrast to what HTC achieved here, which is a very good phone that shows the company at least listened to the most vocal critics. The phone even puts the “black bar” to death, for a change! Improvements like that are hard to dismiss when they have been criticized for so long, even if they come a year too late.
I also hope to see vibrant development for the HTC 10. Previous HTC phones have had some very amazing ROMs and the HTC comes unlocked and ready to crack open for those willing to dig deeper and fine-tune their experience. Time will tell whether the phone will pick up the kind of development we want out of a device with such spectacular hardware, but for now we’ll keep our fingers crossed and our recovery ready.
In summary, I think that HTC is in a good path towards reclaiming its former glory. If the HTC Nexus rumors are true, then I can absolutely see myself upgrading to one (or two!) Nexus phones this year. The HTC 10 masters many of the aspects inherent to hardware manufacturing and smartphone design, and with Google’s software running the show, I can not expect the results to be anything short of spectacular. The 10 is, at the very least, a testament to HTC’s smartphone-building capabilities. It might not make the best use of that hardware, but the package is impressive nonetheless, and the HTC 10 is ultimately very compelling device that gives the user a brilliant Android experience.