HTC 10 full review
The race is on for best phone 2016 and HTC has unveiled its challenger to the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and Huawei P9. Ditching the trend for a letter followed by a number, this is our in-depth HTC 10 review. Also see: HTC 10 UK release date, price, specifications and new features, and HTC 10 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 vs LG G5.
Also see: How to watch HTC U live stream
HTC had been hyping and teasing the launch for the weeks leading up with the slogan 'power of 10' and it's not just because the phone is called the HTC 10. It also represents a decade of building smartphones and the perfect score – the bar is set high then.
And from 24 January in the UK the HTC 10 is receiving an over the air update to Android Nougat 7.0, welcome news for those who plumped for the handset over the Galaxy S7, which is yet to receive a full rollout of the software.
"Symbolizing greatness and independence but also that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," said HTC claiming "this newest addition to the HTC phone family combines a world class camera with gold standard audio, bold new metal uni-body design and unparalleled performance."
Jump to: Design and build | Hardware and specs | Screen | Processor, RAM and benchmarks | Storage and connectivity | Fingerprint scanner | Battery life and charging | Audio | Cameras | Software and apps
How good is the HTC 10? Podcast discussion
HTC 10 review: Price and competition
The HTC 10 is available to now at £569 direct from HTC, which is a little higher than we expected and matches the Galaxy S7. This means rivals like the LG G5 and iPhone 6S are cheaper.
While the HTC 10 follows a clear pattern of design – it along with its predecessors is essentially the same size and shape – there are a number of tweaks to be aware of.
At the back not a great deal has changed with a similar look and feel to the One M9, the new key feature is a diamond cut chamfered edge which runs around the phone. It looks great giving a two-tone effect to the metal body and also feels nice in the hand. There's no doubt when picking up the HTC 10 that it's made from solid metal.
The new shape mean the sides of the phone are just 3mm but the phone is still reasonably big and heavy when you measure it elsewhere at up to 9.1mm (without the camera bump, 10.1mm with) and 161g.
Elsewhere things have transformed more dramatically with a new style at the front which is extremely plain. There are no speaker grilles and not even a logo. HTC calls it the 'purest' Android on the market but not everyone will like this understated look.
We're not totally convinced and it overall feels like a step backwards from the standoutly stylish M9. While we've got a bit more used to it over time, the lack of a logo and things like the large front camera staring at you make it look unfinished and like a prototype.
Although there are no front facing speakers, the HTC 10 still has BoomSound but partly via a new grille on the bottom of the phone (we'll talk about audio performance later). The headphone socket has moved to the top, too. That's not a criticism, we're just letting you know.
The HTC 10 mimics the One A9 with a home button with a built-in fingerprint scanner below the screen. The firm hasn't confused things by having on-screen buttons, opting for capacitive ones instead but they're a little too close to the bottom of the phone, despite being in-line with the sensor. It also uses a similar power button with ridges for better grip.
The HTC 10 is available in a range of colours: Carbon Grey, Topaz Gold, Glacier Silver and Camellia Red (not pictured which is tipped to be a Japan exclusive).
Moving on from the innovative Dot View case is the new Ice View case – a sort of frosted glass style cover (made from plastic, though) which displays information and still allows you to interact with the phone such as taking calls. We're worried about the longevity of the plastic hinge on it, though (our M9 Dot View case broke fairly quickly).
Like the LG G5, the HTC 10 is not waterproof so it's bad news if that's a design upgrade you we're hoping for. It's a shame but it appears HTC has focused on improving other areas such as the camera and audio instead. If you really want or need waterproofing, then look to the Samsung Galaxy S7 or Sony Xperia Z5.
It's getting harder and harder for phone makers to improve and upgrade their devices to make them even better than before (we don't envy the position they are in). In many areas we've reached a point where tech hasn't been developed any further and at times, you arguably don't need it to be any better.
While the HTC 10 might only be matching rivals in a lot of main areas it does improve on the HTC One M9 in various ways. As usual we've prodded, poked and tested the HTC 10 in every area - we've split the hardware and specs section up into smaller chunks so you can read the parts which you care about most.
Sitting between the Galaxy S7 and G5, the new HTC 10 has a 5.2in Super LCD screen. That's slightly bigger than the One M9 - although the phone isn't really any bigger due to a better screen-to-body ratio - and sits between the S7 and G5 in size.
The firm has finally bumped the resolution to Quad HD (1440x2560), too which we're pleased about so the HTC 10 has a pixel density of 564ppi. The display is super crisp and bright, too, but the contrast isn't as good as rivals; the display shows whites and blacks slightly on the grey side.
HTC hasn't gone down the always on route (displaying information even once you've switched the screen off) but does say the screen is the fastest and most responsive around – 50 percent more than its predecessor means it feels faster regardless of other component upgrade. The display certainly feels very receptive to us so far.
Although the screen is decent, it's other areas of the phone which HTC is really pushing including the 'world-class camera' and 'gold standard audio'. Before we get to those, let's look at some of the core specs for the HTC 10.
Matching the LG G5, which has slick performance, the HTC 10 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor which is a popular choice for 2016 already. This is backed up with a healthy 4GB of RAM and we've not noticed any problems since getting a review sample.
It might be partly related to the responsiveness of the screen, but the HTC 10 feels super nippy. That's despite the benchmark scores lagging slightly behind the LG G5 which has the same processor and amount of RAM.
Both are generally outpaced by the Galaxy S7 in benchmark results but don't worry about the numbers too much. We really have reached a point where all flagship devices are more than powerful enough for day-to-day tasks.
Check out the full HTC 10 benchmark speed tests below against the LG G5, Galaxy S7 and also its predecessor and the iPhone 6S across Geekbench 3, GFXBench and JetStream.
Storage matches rivals at 32GB and HTC continues to offer expandable storage via a Micro-SD card slot which can accept up to 2TB capacity cards. Unlike the S7 and G5, it's good to see HTC supporting Android's Adoptable Storage which allows a memory card to be viewed as internal storage.
There's plenty of high-end connectivity with the HTC 10 including dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and AirPlay support (alongside many others) making it the first non-Apple device to do so. What some users will find disappointing is the IR blaster (infrared sensor) has been dropped so no more using the phone as a TV remote.
The fingerprint sensor is a key addition to the spec sheet and works extremely quickly, according to HTC – just 0.2 seconds. Like the HTC One A9, it's below the screen and isn't a moving button like some rivals. You can add up to five fingerprints and we've found it pretty accurate, although it doesn't always work. If you're having trouble, try recalibrating.
While most fingerprint sensors simply unlock the device, some phones allow you to do more with it. For example, Huawei cleverly lets you swipe to do things like pull the notification bar down. HTC hasn't gone this far but it does work locking apps via the Boost+ app - you'll need to set an unlock pattern for this feature but you can use the fingerprint scanner as an alternative if you've set it up.
HTC has adopted the new reversible USB Type-C port (see below) and the HTC 10 supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and combined with the firm's own tech offers a day of usage (50 percent) with 30 minutes charging. Just to be clear, the battery is still non-removable - the LG G5 is the main current flagship which does offer this feature.
You can only charge the 3000mAh battery via the USB port as there's no wireless charging. We'd like both, but HTC told us that it thinks faster charging is more convenient than the lack of wires. With the supplied charger, we found the HTC 10 charged to 45 percent in 30 minutes and reached full after just 64 minutes which is impressive.
A two day battery life is touted for the HTC 10 and while you might reach this mark if you use the phone lightly, use it a lot throughout the day and, although it won't necessarily run out completely, you'll need to charge it overnight.
In our battery life benchmark, using Geekbench 3, the HTC 10 lasted six hours and 41 minutes with a score of 4090. That's 10 minutes short of the LG G5 which has a smaller battery and the Galaxy S7, with the same battery capacity, lasted for more than nine hours.
The 'gold standard audio' on the HTC 10 comes partly in the form of new BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition. Although the speakers are no longer front facing there is a tweeter at the top and a woofer at the bottom (see above) mirroring the setup of a traditional speaker. Each has its own dedicated amp but we're not convinced by the new method as it sounds odd when watching a video in landscape.
On the plus side, we found the speaker's sound quality impressive (tested in music mode), with a good reproduction throughout the frequencies. We found the lows (bass) to extend and provide a lean mid-bass slam. The mids are forward-sounding, meaning listening to music and watching documentaries are pleasant. The highs are slightly rolled off, but provide a nice sparkle.
As mentioned above, we found its two seprate speakers to have a somewhat odd sound, which affected the phone's soundstage. When the phone is held vertically, sound is directed towards you, whilst when held horizontally there is a natural surround-sound effect. Read next: Best audio phone 2016.
The HTC 10 is Hi-Res certified so supports 24bit/96khz playback. Various flagship phones do also but this includes recording, too via the three mics. When using this with the camera (see below) the audio recording is clearly a step above the competition. The phone can also upscale 16-bit audio to 24-bit.
HTC bundles what it claims are headphones similar to a £90 pair from Sony in the box which have 13mm drivers and Hi-Res certification. The quality is excellent with bags of bass, decent clarity and good noise isolation, easily making them the best bundled earphones we've seen, so great job HTC.
Its internal audio is powered by a SoC (system on chip) Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, which uses Qualcomm’s WSA8815 Audio Codec. We were impressed by its ability to drive high impedance headphones, with a tested volume of only 55-60 percent, versus phones like the Google Nexus 6P which required 90-95 percent to reproduce the same volume.
The overall sound quality of the HTC 10 is very impressive, with a good audio reproduction throughout the sound frequencies. Its sub-bass extends, mid-bass has the right amount of presence, the mids are forward and the highs have a nice sparkle despite being slightly rolled off. In comparison to Wolfson chipset phones, such as the Marshall London, we found the HTC 10 to be slightly less open in its soundstage reproduction.
Finally, to round off the audio section, we should mention HTC's software-side implementations. Whilst using the HTC 10 through its speakers, you'll be able to cycle through its two HTC BoomSound modes, Music Mode and Theater Mode.
When a 3.5mm jack is connected you'll get the option to enable Dolby and create personal audio profiles. This new implementation by HTC allows you to create a custom EQ and preset for your music taste. This is done by tuning the phone's internal audio output to your left and right ears.
As everyone's hearing is different, including your own two ears being able to pick up slightly different frequencies, HTC has created a system app which allows you to customise the phone's sound output. We're impressed HTC have spent time and thought behind the functionality, making the HTC 10 one of the most customisable audio phones in the market.
We do think it positively effects your listening experience, but you can accomplish the same by creating a custom EQ through other apps - needless to say, it's a nice feature to have built-in and is helpful if you don't even know where to begin with an EQ.
Read our detailed audio phone comparison in the best audio phones of 2016.