HTC 10 review: up there with Samsung’s best

Flagship smartphone finally cuts it at the top end with great camera, good screen, 1.5-day battery life and snappy performance

HTC, once a smartphone champion, has been struggling in recent years at the top end with handsets that have just missed the mark. But celebrating its 10 anniversary of smartphones manufacturing, has Taiwanese company finally cracked it with the HTC 10?

Metal on the back, glass on the front

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The back is curved aluminium with chamfered edges that create quite pleasing light reflections. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The back of the 10 resembles HTCs recent top-end phones, with a curved aluminium body and tapered edges that shrink from 9mm to 3mm, making the device feel thinner than it is. The front is all glass, with a fingerprint sensor at the bottom and a relatively large selfie camera at the top.

Gone are the front-facing speakers and the HTC logo of the One M7, 8 and 9; instead the fingerprint scanner acts as a home button and is flanked by a captive back and multitasking app switcher buttons.

The HTC 10 is 9mm thick at its deepest point and weighs 161g, which is both thick and heavy compared to the competition. The Google Nexus 5X and Samsung Galaxy S7 are both 7.9mm thick and weigh 136g and 152g respectively. It feels solid and well made, but lacks the luxurious feel of the metal used on the One M8.

The 5.2in quad HD LCD screen is crisp and bright, but not quite as vibrant as the OLED display fitted to the Samsung Galaxy S7.

Specifications

  • Screen: 5.2in full quad HD LCD (564ppi)
  • Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
  • RAM: 4GB of RAM
  • Storage: 32GB + microSD card
  • Operating system: Android 6.0 with HTC Sense
  • Camera: 12MP UltraPixel 2 with OIS, 5MP front-facing with OIS
  • Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fiac, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C and GPS
  • Dimensions: 145.9 x 71.9 x 9mm
  • Weight: 161g

Power without the heat

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The bottom has a USB-C port for charging and syncing and the bass speaker that forms the new BoomSound system with the tweeter at the top of the phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The HTC 10 has Qualcomms latest top-end processor, the Snapdragon 820, which is one of the most powerful available at the moment. It handled graphically intensive games, image manipulation and everything else without skipping a beat. The smartphone also has 4GB of RAM, which aided multitasking and coped with having 15 tabs open in Chrome and a load of other apps running in the background just fine.

The phone got hot while downloading apps, but generally ran a lot cooler than last years smartphones using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor. The HTC 10 will be able to handle anything you can throw at it.

Battery life was good, but not great. It would last around 32 hours between charges, using it as my primary device, receiving hundreds of emails, push notifications and messages, browsing and using apps for around three hours, listening to music with Bluetooth headphones for four hours and the occasional spot of gaming or photography.

Quick charge support means a full charge takes just over an hour with the right charger.

Snappy HTC Sense

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The theme store has loads to choose from including standard or freestyle layouts. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

HTC modifies Android with what it calls Sense. The 10 comes with HTC Sense 8 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It looks and behaves similarly to any other HTC smartphone, and isnt radically different from the standard Android experience.

The most obvious bits are HTCs Blinkfeed social news aggregator, which is the left-most pane of the homescreen, and the organisation or arrangement of the icons on the homescreen.

Instead of being locked into a set four-by-four grid of icons, users can place their icons in any configuration, increase their size or used stickers instead to invoke apps or actions. Full theme support for the homescreen and the rest of the system including the typeface is also available, with a variety of styles available in HTCs theme store.

Overall, HTC has spent time cutting back. Its removed most of the duplicate apps and concentrated on speed, which is a very good thing. Apps load faster, switching between apps is faster and everything feels very snappy. The HTC 10 is one of the fastest smartphones available, on par with Samsungs best.

Fingerprint scanner

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The fingerprint scanner doubles as a home button. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The HTC 10 has a fingerprint scanner that doubles as a home button, which like the rest of the phone is fast. Ive noticed its slightly more susceptible to dirt on your fingers than the larger sensors on the backs of Googles Nexus smartphones, but with clean fingers it was almost 100% accurate, and right up there with the best of the rest.

Camera

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The HTC camera app is one of the best available, putting enough features within tapping distance with manual controls if you need them. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

HTCs cameras have always been interesting but ultimately disappointing. The HTC 10 finally has a camera up to scratch with the competition.

The rear 12-megapixel UltraPixel 2 camera is very good. Its laser autofocus is fast, its low light performance is excellent, and the images it captures are detail rich and colourful. I found it struggled a bit with colour balance in crummy office lighting, but it excelled almost everywhere else.

The f1.8 lens also produces very pleasing shallow depth of field images with lovely bokeh effects, without having to resort to software trickery.

The HTC camera app is excellent, with all the right features within reach and enough manual controls with RAW export for when you want to try something.

The selfie camera has optical image stabilisation – a first for a front-facing camera – which helped avoid blur in low-light shots. While the images were bright and attractive, looking great on first glance, they lacked fine detail when viewed at full size like most other selfie cameras.

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The selfie camera has optical image stabilisation, which helps remove camera shake, but still isnt anywhere near as good as the rear camera. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Observations

  • The phone supports Hi-Res audio and personalised sound profiles, but only through the headphones port, not via Bluetooth
  • The rounded back and bevelled edges have some pleasing reflective properties
  • The BoomSound speakers arent as good as previous iterations. Theyre decent, but only on a par with rivals from Google and others
  • The edges of the phone feel rather hard in the hand.
  • The screen has good viewing angles and is easy to view outdoors, but not if youre wearing polarising sunglasses, which blank out the screen in one orientation or the other

Price

The HTC 10 costs 570 and comes in four colours, shipping in early May.

For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S7 costs 569, the Google Nexus 5X costs 299 and the Huawei P9 449.

Verdict

The HTC 10 is an excellent top-end smartphone. It feels snappy, bloat free and optimised. The cameras are great, the battery life is above average and the screen is good.

It isnt an exciting phone. Compared to the likes of the curved edged Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge the HTC 10 looks a little plain. But thats the point. Its a no-frills, top-end smartphone that gets everything more or less right. HTC has finally nailed a good all-rounder.

Pros: good battery life, excellent camera, good screen, microSD card support, USB-C, snappy

Cons: no removable battery, design a bit plain compared to high-end rivals, no front-facing speakers

Other reviews

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/27/htc-10-review-up-there-with-samsungs-best

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