Introduction and key features
If there’s one thing you can say about HTC, it’s that it’s been a victim of its own success.
The One M8 was one of the greatest phones ever made, one that I’ll still dust off from time to time now just to get a feel for it once more. It was design perfection, filled with genuine innovation and offered a great identity too, standing out well from the Android crowd.
The trouble was, that phone was already building on the great HTC One, which started the ‘amazing design’ trajectory in flagship smartphones that HTC is now famed for. So where did HTC go next? What was the next big innovation, the next great thing that this underdog in the smartphone world was going to bring?
Well, it didn’t happen on the One M9, that’s for sure. The brand panicked, stuffed the best components into an all-too-familiar shell and hoped the big numbers would make it a success. It wasn’t.
This time around, things were going to be different. For the all-new HTC 10 I was told that the brand took things back to basics, made the changes it needed to and focused heavily on making the phone useable, a pleasure to mess around with as before.
But does the HTC 10 impress? Is this the return to true innovation from a company that used to be unafraid to take risks, a reboot back to the winning ways?
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at what the phone looks like on paper. It’s got an all-metal body, thankfully doesn’t go down the same iPhone-a-like design as the One A9 from 2015, and doesn’t just stuff in tech for the sake of having a higher spec.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LMnyKZatAM
When it comes to price, you can already pre-order your HTC 10 via the firm’s website, with the SIM-free price set at US$699.99 (£569.99, around AU$900).
If you’re lucky enough to live in the UK, get in there early and apply discount code ‘HTC10’ to get 10% off, giving you a price of £512.99.
It’s got the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, loads of RAM, a much more refined camera and – although prices haven’t been announced by carriers just yet – it’s not going to be tremendously expensive, coming in a shade below the Samsung and Apple prices. So, that sounds all great, right?
One of the most irksome features of the HTC One M9 was…well, there weren’t really any features to talk about. The same BoomSound speakers were back, firing audio forwards into your face, and the camera was just a 20MP effort that took some okay pictures; not terrible, but nothing you’d tell your friends about down the local watering hole.
In fact, it was just the design that made it worth checking out at all, that combined with HTC’s special sauce.
This year, thankfully, there’s a lot more to talk about, starting with the efforts made to improve how the phone feels to use. It’s got a much lower latency compared to the earlier models, which means the response under the finger is a lot more impressive.
In fact, the constant chat in our briefing about the phone was about ‘tuning’, that HTC had gone further than any other brand in making the HTC 10 a phone that will impress the second you glide a finger across the screen.
Let’s drop out for a second and talk about the name: it’s not the HTC One M10, but simply the HTC 10. Apparently, this represents the best ever, the top of the pile, the maximum score you can get in gymnastics.
To me, that sounds like this is HTC’s last ever phone. But you can bet there’ll be some ‘turn it up to 11’ tag lines next year when the HTC 11 pops up.
Anyway, back to the 10. The screen is also upgraded from the previous model, using LCD 5 and boosting the pixel count to QHD resolution, offering 564 pixels per inch, to push up the sharpness significantly.
The camera is dropped in terms of the megapixel count too, down to 12MP with a 4:3 resolution (sound at all familiar to any other top-end phones on the market?). HTC tells me this is something actually requested by photographers, and given it’s put such a big effort into making the camera as good as it could be, it’s believable that HTC would listen to them.
The 10 has also been given the best DxO Mark on the market of 88, which HTC says means it’s claimed the crown of ‘best camera in a smartphone’. It doesn’t at all – that title was previously held by Sony and the Xperia Z5, and there’s no way those were the best cameras on the market by any stretch of the imagination.
The camera, which supposedly has blink-and-you’ll-miss-it autofocus thanks to the second-generation laser autofocus on offer, also comes with 4K video recording combined with 24-bit sound, so you’ll get professional-grade videos when you’re out at a gig and completely missing the chance to enjoy the artist you paid so much to see.
Talking of the audio, that’s the other area HTC’s been putting a big effort into. The two front-facing speakers, which looked so iconic on the front of the recent One range, are gone, with two speakers firing out the high end and bass tones separately.
They also point in different directions, but despite having separate amplifiers they work in concert to, it’s claimed, give amazing sound without headphones (spoiler alert: they don’t).
The headphone element is important though, as HTC has taken the bold step of not only making the HTC 10 Hi-Res Audio Certified, but has also bundled in some high-end headphones with the handset, so everyone has access to the improved tones.
These aren’t cheap to make, so it’s good to see HTC taking a hit on its margins to give something back to its users. You seeing this, Tim?
And a special word for the interface, which HTC is bragging quite heavily about – and it’s anything but heavy. The brand has worked with Google to ‘reboot Android’ and make something cleaner, more easy to use and upgrade, ridding the phone of pointless duplicated apps in the process.
The aim is for the project to eventually find something that all brands will use, leading to an end of the skins that sit atop LG, Samsung and Sony phones despite them all using the same base software. Will that happen? Would it be a good thing for HTC? Who knows – but it’s good that someone’s trying.
The way a new flagship phone looks and feels in the hand is probably one of the most important things for a brand that’s built its heritage on creating beautiful objects, and you can see the moment you clap eyes on the HTC 10 that it’s a well-crafted piece of smartphone pie.
The rear of the phone isn’t as rounded as in previous years, so it’s not as quite as nice to hold in the palm, with the chamfered edges offering play without being as comfortable as smooth metal. However, it’s got a well balanced construction, so you don’t constantly feel like you’re going to flip it onto the floor.
The edges ares both polished and bead-blasted to make sure they have a distinctive shine when placed face-down on the table and again, it certainly looks different.
I’m still struggling to decide how I feel about this design as I glance down at it next to me on the table. I’ve had it with me for over a week, and I can’t say that it makes me yearn to fondle it – an unfortunate compulsion I get with some smartphones.
It feels too thick, too many different textures on the rear – but there are times when the light will catch one of the angled edges and it looks striking.
The buttons on the side are, as ever for HTC, well placed. The smooth volume key and the ridged power button are nicely defined and easy to find without looking thanks to the different textures, and have a comfortable click when pressed.
The balance of the phone also makes it very easy to use the home button / fingerprint scanner to open the phone. It’ll take you a huge amount of time to get used to the fact that the button doesn’t have a click to it – especially if you’re coming from a Samsung phone.
But the fingerprint scanner is as good as anything out there at the moment – it’s ever, ever so slightly slower than the one on the Galaxy S7 perhaps, but it’s not something that’s going to bug most people day to day – and more importantly, it’s accurate and lets you in more than it doesn’t.
You can add in a number of fingers – meaning you can share the phone with others if you wanted to – but there’s no option to set it up to lock apps. You can use Boost+ to keep your most worried about apps separate, but this is done using a code rather than the fingerprint scanner for some reason.
The HTC 10 is superbly crafted, there’s no doubt about that – with a fellow journalist aptly describing it as a fusion of ‘a Batmobile and a Motorola’. That’s a little harsh, but there’s definitely something of the Dark Knight going on here in terms of the lines used.
Is it iconic enough to be a new direction for HTC? To some people, yes – the chamfered edges are definitely something different to look at.
However, it’s still too chunky-feeling in the hand and doesn’t really seem to offer much of a reason as to why it’s got so much heft – 161g isn’t a light phone at all.
It’s also using the USB-Type C connection that brands are starting to get their heads around. The LG G5 and new Nexus phones use it, where the Samsung and Sony phones still don’t, but it means you will no longer need to fiddle around in the dark to work out which way to plug it in – plus more data and faster charging is enabled too.
Ice View Case
Let’s give some props to HTC for making some cool accessories though. The Ice View case is the next evolution of the Dot View – which brought 8-bit design to the front of the HTC One range.
I loved that case, as it looked great, it harked back to a simpler gaming era and it really protected the phone – plus it actually added some functionality to the phone as you could interact with the screen through it.
The same has happened with the Ice View case, with the ability to take calls, skip tracks on the music and even fire up the camera by swiping down twice on the frosted plastic front.
The neon blue and pink colors are great too, giving it a really futuristic and clean feel. I’m not sold on the camera abilities as it’s very hard to see what’s going on through the cover, but then again you’ll only use that feature in an emergency.
One of the big problems that dogged the Dot View case is back with Ice View though: for some reason it always flaps open a little bit at the side so the cover is never flush with the screen.
This makes seeing what’s being shown a little fuzzy and tapping the case not always accurate. I was promised at the time of being given the review sample that this wouldn’t happen (I was quite vociferous in my disdain for the flappiness of the old one) but it seems I must put my phones into covers incorrectly or something – as it’s back again.
If only the magnet that let the phone know it’s in the case and covered was on the right hand side instead of the left – a small magnetic pull keeping it closed would solve this problem. Sigh… first world problems, eh?
Screen, movies, music and gaming
The screen on the HTC 10 is something I’ve been looking forward to from the brand for a while – the jump to a 5.2-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution, making everything look a bit sharper, cleaner and overall, just nicer to look at than before.
The upgrade in resolution is combined with the move to Super LCD 5 technology – not a well known display technology, admittedly, but it’s one that HTC has been beavering away with for a while now, and it’s working well.
The Super LCD choice means, once again, we’ve got a very natural screen to look at. Colors aren’t over saturated, the contrast ratios are good and overall you’ll find very little fault with what you’re looking at, although it’s a little darker when looking at it off angle compared to some other on the market. But given you’ll mostly be viewing it head on, that’s not a massive worry.
I will admit that I struggled to guess whether this was a higher resolution or not when I first clapped eyes on the HTC 10, as it doesn’t scream out with sharpness the first time you look at it. Whether that’s me becoming used to the sharper images or just that LCD technology doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that Super AMOLED from Samsung does, it’s hard to tell.
However, it didn’t make me want to grab the phone the first time I see it and get a closer look, as I did with other devices like the Nexus 6, for example.
One annoying thing about the move up the resolution from HTC is that there’s no way to put more icons on the screen. You’re still stuck with the same 4 x 4 row choice, rather than the 5 x 5 choices others like the Huawei Mate 8 or Samsung Galaxy S7 offer. You CAN shrink the icons down though, so this move makes very little sense.
When it comes to watching movies or playing games, the HTC 10 is a little on the dark side, if I’m honest. I don’t mean that it pops over to the Death Star on the odd weekend, but more that it can be hard to see what’s on screen when you viewing it in bright light – particularly annoying when trying to take a picture in bright sunlight.
I shouldn’t moan too much, I know – I remember trying the same thing on the HTC Desire, which had an OLED screen, and that was as much use as trying to take a picture with the screen off. But dammit, I live in the future now and I want to be able to see my screen at all times.
The issue could be a little to do with the auto-brightness on the phone, which isn’t as good as some of its peers. I’ve been blinded when opening the display first thing in the morning and, as mentioned, struggled to see it in strong light – but the good news is this can be easily tweaked (and hopefully soon).
In terms of media, you’ll see a more detailed breakdown on that in the following sections, but HTC’s got a big ace up its sleeve in winning over Apple users: AirPlay compatibility. Annoyingly this wasn’t available at the time of writing, but will be with us very soon – and it’s a case of simply flicking three fingers up on the screen of the content you want to share, and any AirPlay-compatible devices will pop up to connect to.
I’m still not sure why Apple’s allowed an interloper into its walled garden, but HTC seems confident it’s not going anywhere soon as a feature.
Let’s get a little more in-depth on the movie watching experience – it’s very good despite the slight issues with the darkness I mentioned earlier. Watching Netflix is a dream, for instance, when you shove the brightness right up and that’ll be good enough to watch even next to the window on a train.
The sound of the speakers when you’re using the HTC 10 without a set of headphones is much better too – music doesn’t sound amazing, as you’ll see below, but it’s much more adept at bringing voices to life.
The QHD screen doesn’t add much to many videos – unless you’re recording in 4K – but it does maintain a level of sharpness that brings a more premium quality to proceedings.
If I had one criticism, it’s that the colors look a bit too muted – but that’s a personal preference and others will enjoy the more natural skin tones that are offered.
Right – I’ve been looking forward to this bit. The audio output on the HTC 10 is simply sublime. The best compliment I can pay the phone is that I would turn off anything playing music and reach for the phone to listen to anything that was put my way.
I’ve been listening to it exclusively while writing this review, and the portion where I needed to disconnect so it could run a battery test actually upset me a little bit.
It’s helped by the inclusion of high resolution headphones in the box (if you live in Europe – sadly, the US is carrier dependent) which really make the most of the quality output. They’re snug and not too heavy, but you can feel there are some hefty drivers in there.
If you want to use other headphones though, that’s fine too – the HTC 10 is superbly adept at driving them. There are twice as many amplifiers included as before, both for the headphones and external speakers, and the quality is palpable.
I will say that the phone errs towards the bass notes a little, but it doesn’t completely destroy the high-end and vocal frequencies.
Look, this is coming from someone that REALLY struggles to tell the difference between good and bad headphone sound (I feel a fraud even writing about frequencies to a degree), but even I can tell that I’m hearing something special here.
There’s a richness and clarity that I really enjoy, and if you’re a music buff then this could well be the phone you should look at. It supports Hi-Res audio, which sounds even better – but then again there are still relatively few ways to get that kind of sound onto your phone easily.
The reason for the impressive performance is simple: HTC’s worked hard on the audio and managed to improve it throughout the phone. It’ll roll with 24-bit Hi-Fi sound, can upscale even the lamest of Spotify tracks to sound half decent and blows your mind with properly encoded classical music.
I can’t say the same for the external speakers though, as the BoomSound options HTC’s run with here are nowhere near as good as previously for music.
High and low frequencies have been separated and fired out of two speakers – one facing downwards for bass, the other pointing at you for most of the vocal and higher frequencies.
When listening to music this leads to an obvious separation in the sound, which means it doesn’t come across as coherently. It’s an odd choice to drop the speakers from HTC, and even odder that it’s claiming this is ‘Hi-Fi sound’ – I tried to listen to music using the front facing speakers while writing, but it just wasn’t good enough – it felt too tinny.
But as you’ll see later – they’re better for gaming, but just not a great choice for music or YouTube videos.
HTC’s using the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset for the 10, combined with the Adreno 530 GPU for driving all those lovely pixels – and it seems like a very good option for the performance on offer with the new phone.
I downloaded Modern Combat 5, N.O.V.A. 3 and Real Racing 3 to check out the smarts on the 10 when it comes to gaming, and I really struggled to see any issues at all. The screen, again, could be a little better at firing itself up brightness-wise when gaming, but then again given this is one of the most intensive things to do in terms of killing the battery perhaps it’s a good thing that we’re not seeing a lot more power coming out.
You can actually tweak the performance of the gaming experience to help prolong the power if you head into the new Boost+ application, which lets you drop the resolution of some games to ‘just’ Full HD to put a little less pressure on the GPU.
I’ll be jiggered if I could see a single difference between the two modes, but if that’s the sort of thing that bothers you, tap it up. It’s a lot like Samsung’s Game Center, but that’s a lot more fully-formed and lets you do things like locking the home button to stop it accidentally being pressed during gameplay – something I did a couple of times with the 10.
As I said above, the front facing speakers (well, one front and one downwards) are much better in gaming, with the bass notes in particular sounding excellent when holding the phone in your hands. You will need to wriggle your hand around to get the speaker clear, but it’s worth it.
Specs and performance
The power of the HTC 10 can’t be faulted, nor can the brand’s apparent efforts into tuning the screen to help make using the HTC 10 a better experience than before. The main difference here is that the brand has managed to get something approaching OVER powerful, that there’s too much raw grunt going on to be usable.
I mean, come on… what can we really do with 4GB of RAM on a smartphone, or a chipset that’s running two 2.15 GHz Kryo and two 1.6 GHz over four cores, as it does in the Snapdragon 820? Sure, it can crank up and down where needed, but what needs to be done is making that power run in an efficient and more useable way.
Thats where I was impressed once again with HTC’s stance: it says it tuned the phone to be more responsive to the touch compared to the rest of the competition. According to Darren Sng, HTC’s head of global product marketing, this means that the 10 is faster than the iPhone in its speed of finger tap recognition, which is unheard of from the Android world.
That’s the kind of thing that some brands only dream about, as the base Google model for touch response has to be geared for multiple models rather than just one, so it’s difficult to tune your own phone to be as speedy as possible.
Running on top of the latest Android 6.0.1 software, the HTC 10 is certainly rapid under the finger, and hasn’t shown much in the way of slowdown since I started using it a week ago. I wouldn’t say it’s instantly noticeable the amount of snap it has, but then again, that could be because I came from using the iPhone SE rather than just a bog-standard Android handset.
It certainly didn’t irk though, I’ll confirm that, and playing around with the opening speed saw nary a flicker when tapping apps – some needed to be opened once to pick up speed, but generally it was perfect nearly every time.
One oddity is in the gallery – trying to pinch and zoom into pictures isn’t accurate, as it seems the phone is looking to register a swipe for the next photo, and gets momentarily confused when two fingers are registered.
The GeekBench 3 numbers also back up the phone’s performance, with one of the highest results seen from a smartphone right now. That’s 4962, and while that’s nowhere near the dizzying Galaxy S7 with its 6542 performance, it’s significantly faster than the 3803 achieved by 2015’s One M9.
Then again, there was very little wrong with the speed of the M9, so to read too much into such numbers is a little pointless. I certainly couldn’t find much in the way of slowdown in the previous model, even after extended use, so there’s not much to worry about here.
Those worried about the performance of their smartphone should never look much further than the apps that are clogging it up – and to that end, HTC’s added Boost+ to the mix on the 10.
That means it’s the latest brand to have a ‘clean up center’ on its smartphone, following hot in the footsteps of Samsung and LG, but not only is Boost+ actually rather good but it’s also available on the Play Store to give other Android users the chance to use it.
The premise is simple: you can delete pointless files cluttering up the phone, tune down applications that are pushing things too hard, lower the gaming performance of your least favorite titles to improve battery and, for some reason, lock apps all from the same place.
It’s a neat idea and one that works pretty well – although it takes an age to scan through the phone and decide what does and doesn’t need to be ejected from the handset. Given I just pointed out that the HTC 10 has too much power, that feels a little hypocritical, but it’s one of the few places I noticed it.
However, I want to see more from an app like this. We should be getting hints at the right time from it, telling us when it’s intelligently worked out that we could improve performance in certain ways – but instead it’s something you go into when you remember to, and get a little performance bump.
Right – this is one of the ‘big’ changes from HTC on the 10 compared to flagship phones of the past. With the One A9, HTC worked with Google to be one of the first brands out with Marshmallow on a non-Nexus device, and in doing so took the chance to work with the search giant to make its icons and overall UI much sleeker and like stock Android.
The move has been continued on the HTC 10, with the removal of duplicate apps where Google options are more powerful or just work better. The idea there is that the user won’t have to wade through a load of bloatware to get to the apps they want, and HTC can sort out the updates for the phone more quickly, rather than having to optimise each app for every new version of Android.
A few issues there though: firstly, some apps like Mail still remain, which to my eye aren’t any better than Google’s own Mail app. Perhaps they are a little more powerful, but when you have to enter your POP settings just to set up a Gmail account on the app, it’s already a barrier too far in my mind.
Secondly, HTC still has apps like Facebook and Instagram pre-installed on the phone when you turn it on. Yes, you can uninstall them, like a lot of apps on there, but that’s still not going to be wanted by every user.
The situation is much worse in the US, where the brand is still forced to put up with carriers sticking their own apps on the phone at launch, so here’s hoping that this practice is phased out soon.
I know a lot of people will be happy about the new streamlined interface, but I can’t say it wows me that much. It’s sleeker and more of a blank canvas sure, but does it really add anything that makes this phone obviously HTC?
I would have pointed to BlinkFeed as an option here, but that’s now become rather messy. As News Republic now handles more than just your top headlines to parse through – with social networking taken under its wing – the screen located to the left of your home display is full of loads of words and pictures packed in together, where before it gave a nice mix of news, Facebook and Twitter updates and snaps from your gallery.
Other than that, this is a very sleek and modern interface that mimics a lot of what you’ll see on Nexus phones – with one key difference on the HTC 10: Freestyle layouts.
These are a new idea from HTC to make your home screens more like a desktop from a computer – allowing you to lay out your icons as stickers wherever you want on the screen. You can even drop the names from your apps to make the picture look even cleaner, but I can totally see myself forgetting what I meant that cat or rocket ship to be and having to keep opening everything to find out which is which.
It’s a nice touch, and one that will resonate well with the youth market where customisation is king – although it doesn’t add a huge amount of extra functionality, it shows that even with a collaboration with Google HTC still has creativity beating at its centre.
The basics of Sense are still all there though, despite the machining the HTC 10 has undergone to make everything feel a bit more Google-y. The keyboard is still very much the same as ever from the brand, for instance – although I’m not sure that’s a good thing as it’s not as good as some of the aftermarket options any more.
Overall, Sense is just cleaner, and shown by the way it’s no longer given a number, rather just ‘Android with HTC Sense’ to show the differentiation between this phone and a stock Nexus device.
There’s still enough of HTC’s DNA about the interface to make it still feel a cut above the standard Android experience, and the tuning done to improve speed really does work – there’s a zip about this phone that anyone coming from a phone circa 2014 will hugely appreciate.
Oh, HTC. Why do you never make this easy for me? Why must I always be having to caveat the battery life tests when reviewing your phones? Why can’t it just be a simple use case?
Sorry – got a little ahead of myself there, so let’s wind back a little bit. The HTC 10 has, by far, the largest power pack in a ‘normal-sized’ phone from the brand so far. It’s a whopping 3000mAh, and that’s the same as the recent Samsung Galaxy S7.
Given that HTC has been well known in the past for under-using the space in its devices for battery power, this is good to see. However, when you compare the thickness of the Galaxy S7 to the HTC 10, you’ll wonder still how that extra girth to the phone is being spent – after all, it’s not got a wireless charging solution in there, and it has the same size of battery.
I’ll leave that one for you to decide, as when I asked HTC they just told me it was a ‘normal’ battery in there, nothing that was extra special. So let’s talk about the actual performance – or, I’ll at least try to.
The reason I’m approaching this with such trepidation is that it really depends how you use your phone as to what result you get from the battery. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s so much worse than normal on the HTC 10, with the battery management extremes so far apart.
If you’re a light user of phones, then you’re going to love the HTC 10, as it’s one of the best I’ve seen for going into a deep sleep when it’s laid on the desk. I’m going to equally give the credit for this to HTC and Google, as the former has apparently spent longer than ever tuning the phone to get better battery life, and the latter has added in Doze mode to the Android system with Marshmallow and that’s clearly having an effect.
However, there are still too many issues with the battery to declare it a runaway success. Firstly, the second you start using the phone it seems to signal to the device that it should ping, parse and update everything it can get its hands on – that’s the only reason, surely, for the steep drops in battery life I kept seeing.
Seriously, I could pull my phone out of my pocket after taking it off charge for three hours and almost certainly have over 90% of battery power remaining. Deciding that this is enough to treat myself to a little bit of photo editing, gaming or web browsing, the battery will drop rapidly whenever I’m prodding at the screen, with about 20% gone per hour in this manner.
It’s hugely frustrating, as it meant I kept putting the HTC 10 down and not using it as much to get another taste of the sweet standby battery life, rather than putting the new phone that cost me a lot of money to good use, like curing a disease or something.
I’m not sure how I’d do that on a phone, but it’s something that I’d LIKE to learn to do should I have the confidence in the battery life.
When it comes to our battery test, where we run a Full HD video at full brightness, the results were interesting: over the 90 minute test, the phone managed to drop 22% of battery – which would equate to about 7 hours of movie watching with everything connected and the brightness ramped up.
That’s a little lower than HTC’s quoted time, but about on par for the rest of the industry – Samsung blitzed this test with the Galaxy S7 losing only 13%, but both comfortably beat the iPhone 6S (which lost 30%), Sony Xperia Z5 (25%) and 2015’s HTC One M9 (31%).
The last stat is the most revealing, as it shows that the bigger battery and optimisations have had a real effect on the HTC 10 – and that bears out in day to day use too.
The charging time is improved too, thanks to Quick Charge 3.0 from Qualcomm enabled… and mercy be, there’s a dedicated charger in the box to help!
Charging speeds are indeed impressive, although the predicted ‘one day’s use in 30 minutes’ seems a bit over eager – however, from completely dead it wouldn’t be far off that number.
I’ll be running a more dedicated test on this element soon – so stay tuned to see if HTC is right.
This is the big one for HTC – I know, I’ve said that about audio as well, but the sound quality was something that I was personally excited about, where getting the camera right is of critical importance to HTC after the debacle of the One M9.
I’ll briefly recap: the One and One M8 had the great Ultrapixel cameras, which dropped the MP count right down to create brilliantly focused pictures that worked well in low light too. They were often great, and with the duo camera, the One M8 could take amazing snaps.
Then HTC panicked and shoved an off-the -shelf 20MP sensor into last year’s flagship (with a little customisation, of course), after it got battered from customers too obsessed with the camera spec – and it wasn’t up to scratch.
Pictures were noisy, the quality wasn’t up there and it lacked the innovation for which HTC was famed. It dropped the Zoe camera (the function that took a little bit of video with each photo) as a front-and-center way to take pictures and, well, just became a bit boring on the camera front.
This year we’re getting a phone with a lower megapixel count, but much more impressive specs. Faster snapping thanks to fewer pixels to save, better image processing, a faster camera, and improved low light capabilities – plus a front facing camera with optical image stabilisation built right in, for clearer and brighter selfies. It’s also gone for a 4:3 image ratio, which HTC said was from direct calls by photographers.
In fact, it’s even gone as far as calling it the Ultrapixel 2 sensor, although I’ve no idea how it can claim that title, as the pixels are 1.55microns in size, rather than the 2microns of the early Ultrapixel phones. Then again, it’s HTC’s name, so it can technically do whatever it wants with it.
On top of that, the Pro mode will allow you to take photos in Raw mode (supposedly bigger files – though they’re only around 1-2MB each – and pulling in so much more information than just a standard JPG) and record 4K with 24-bit sound to remove distortion. All in all, there’s a lot going on here, but does it take good photos?
I’m struggling to answer that question, because the idea of what constitutes a ‘great photo’ on a smartphone is in flux right now. Samsung has the best camera in a phone title at the moment, but I’ll readily admit that it’s because the results are a little color-saturated and over-sharpened to make them ‘pop’ on the Super AMOLED screen and on social networking.
HTC is definitely erring on the side of more realistic tones and clarity, but the overall effect just doesn’t impress me in the same way. That could be to do with the more muted color pallette of the Super LCD 5 screen, but I rarely looked at a photo with amazement.
I’m hard pressed to say precisely what the phone does wrong – whites were a little blown out at times, the super-fast focus I was promised took too long to fire and pictures with lot of varying detail didn’t look as clear as they could do. You’ll see examples of this on the next page.
HTC also promised that the camera would be hyper-fast to load, but I timed it at about 1.5 seconds – not terrible, but there was a noticeable black screen when firing the camera. HTC is hard at work improving this though, and it might not even be an issue by the time the 10 is the shelves.
You can also start the camera from sleep by swiping down twice on the screen, but it’s so inaccurate that I just stopped using it. Double tapping the screen would make much more sense, so it’s irritating HTC’s missed another trick there when others make it so much more simple.
I found the most frustrating part of using the HTC 10’s camera was the low light mode, which I seriously wasn’t expecting. It seems that the brand has just upped the night-mode efficiency, so if you’re taking an picture of your pals at night, and everyone is staying very still, you’ll get a decent pic.
However add in any kind of movement and it’s just a blurry mess a lot of the time – not what I was expecting. It’s also a real bummer that HTC has taken the odd choice to not be able to set exposure by tapping on a point on the screen, which most phones do because it, well, makes a lot of sense.
HTC seems to think that it can get a better picture by taking the overall picture view and trying to get a good balance – as you can see on the next page, this often doesn’t work, especially with the Japanese pedestrian scene.
In the end, I found that I took photos in two modes: Zoe Camera and Pro Mode. The former was to create more mini videos, and the latter to shoot in raw.
I kept going with Zoe because I checked out the movie Google made of a snapping session on Photos, and it had some slo-mo shots I’d taken – and I was reminded about how much I used to like making Zoe films on older HTC phones. There’s no doubt those mini highlight reels look amazing and were inherently shareable, and I wanted to keep using them.
However, the image quality from the 16:9, 9MP Zoe images that accompany the three second video was nowhere near as good as in Raw mode – so I then would flick to the Pro setting (not easy, as it’s not a quick swipe through the modes on the camera screen) and take a 4:3 shot.
After that was done, I’d hit edit, then Raw Enhancement, which would analyse the image and often improve it immeasurably, with highlights defined and sharpening really helping improve things – and the Google image editor allowing you to add effects afterwards if you so wished.
But man alive, that took a long time. Switching between the modes, playing with the settings and then watching as the Raw Enhancement took about 45 seconds to improve my images was just too long – no matter the quality at the end.
I don’t know why a phone that has this much Snapdragon power running inside takes so long to enhance things, as it felt like it was as long as on the One A9, which had a much lower-power processor – the Snapdragon 617.
Once that was all done though, I often had a highlights reel and some brilliant photos that I wanted to share online – which is the point of what you’re trying to do with a camera, capture the moment and impress your pals with your just sublime photography skills.
So there’s a great camera in here somewhere – the DxO Mark of 88 that HTC managed to achieve on the 10 shows just that, making it one of the best-performing smartphones going through that test.
But in real world use, if I took 20 photos with the normal camera throughout the day, I’d look back and be impressed with about five or six of them, where with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for instance, it would be easily over half.
I do want to give a massive shout out to the 4K video camera with 24-bit audio processing – HTC claims that it’s perfect for recording sharp video of a gig without distortion and it really does achieve that. Super clear images and faithful sound reproduction (although maybe a TINY bit tinny) makes the HTC 10 feel like a premium phone when you play the video back to friends.
There’s more work for HTC to do here, and it’s never a good idea to improve the camera over the life of the device, as first impressions really count here. However, I’ve no doubt that HTC will be bringing improvements throughout 2016, so I’ll be keeping this review up to date with the latest upgrades as and when they happen.
One of the other changes brought to the party on the HTC 10 is the removal of the gallery app in favor of Google Photos, the cloud-based service that has been quietly growing in popularity.
Its arrival on the 10 has divided opinion, with some hating the service, others loving the fact that you’ve got free local and online storage for your snaps, and much easier sorting through thanks to Google’s frankly scary recognition ability.
(Seriously, fire up the app and search for the brand of car you own – if you’ve ever taken pictures of it, you’ll be a bit freaked out…)
I like it a lot though, especially as I now have all my photos available as I hop from phone to phone through the reviewing year. If you’re someone that takes pictures from a number of sources, it’s nice to have them all in there – although if you want to keep the quality, it’s worth thinking about paying to use the service for some more storage.
After the launch of the One M9, I’ve grown wary of reviewing HTC phones, as the heights that it hit by the One and One M8 were so high that it hasn’t been able to scale them again since.
Many are wondering if HTC is long for the smartphone game, whether it’s investment in things like the Vive and the Under Armour Healthbox are proof that it’s looking to get out of the congested market.
I can’t see that happening, not for a number of years at least. It’s proven time and again that it knows how to make a great smartphone, and with the HTC 10 it’s got a device that has all the right bits underneath another thoughtful design – with a couple of genuine high points inside too.
But is this phone going to be enough for the brand? Is a handset that has the latest chipset, 32GB of onboard memory with expandable storage and powerful audio and camera abilities enough to keep being a thorn in the side of Samsung and Apple? And maybe start creeping up on them in the future?
If the HTC 10 doesn’t at least start that ball rolling, it’s hard to see what the brand can do to get back to the top of the pile.
I’ll always be a fan of the way that HTC puts its phones together, because it simply doesn’t seem to compromise on build quality or effort. Despite not being totally in love with the heft of the device, or the massive chamfered edges, there’s no doubt it looks unique and that’s a very important thing to have in today’s phones.
The camera has been upgraded too, and while you’ll really need to work at the photos to get something brilliant, the opportunity is there. Combine that with expandable memory that can be turned into internal storage through Android’s Adoptable Storage feature and you’ve got something excellent to play with.
The real win here comes from the audio though – the HTC 10 can play nearly any file and play it incredibly well. The Hi-Res audio compatibility is welcomed, if a little redundant still, the upscaling seems to offer genuine improvement to even the dullest Spotify track and the bundled headphones feel rather high-quality indeed (in some markets – sadly not all in the US and Canada will be getting them).
I’ve been trying to work out whether to put battery life in this section too – it’s definitely improved for HTC and it’ll last the day nicely for most scenarios, but if the screen is on it can fall a little too fast to feel ‘safe’ before you head out to the bars in the evening.
There’s not actually a lot to dislike on the HTC 10 – the keyboard, for instance, isn’t the best any more, but that can be upgraded easily by downloading one of the many great free options on Google Play.
I’m not in love with the shape of the phone, as I’ve mentioned, and others felt the same way. However, I’ve met people that love the edges and the unique look, so it’s hard to criticise that.
Similarly the camera: HTC has let itself down here by not making it instantly as good at snapping as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s still a capable processor that should get better with time, and you can still take some amazing pictures with it.
The loss of the iconic BoomSound speakers of yore is hard for me, and while I appreciate what HTC is trying to do by splitting them up, for me the sound quality isn’t good enough.
The HTC 10: a phone that promised so much but only partly delivers. As you can see above, I can’t really criticise it too much as it’s hit the marks that a top smartphone should: loads of power, upgraded battery, improved camera and changed design.
And that’s happened, so it’s a big tick from me on that front. But there’s nothing here that really impresses, that you’d show off to your friends down the pub. With the One, it was a simple case of shoving the phone in their hands and watching them look at it in quiet awe (and hoping they’d give it back).
The One M8 had the same impressive ability to be fondled, but it combined it with better sound output and innovative pictures – it was one of the best phones ever made.
With the One M9, there was very little to talk about, and that’s how I feel about the HTC 10. It doesn’t do anything wrong, and if you bought it you’d want for very little throughout your time with it, as it’s very capable indeed and has all the excellent design DNA slathered through from HTC.
With the One M9, there was very little to show off on your new, expensive phone and that’s how I feel about the HTC 10. It doesn’t do anything wrong, and if you bought it you’d want for very little throughout your time with it, as it’s very capable indeed and has all the excellent design DNA slathered through from HTC.
But it’s not got any innovation packed inside, beyond the great audio performance – and it’s hard to get your friends to come into a quiet room and show them the improved sound when someone’s just bought a round of drinks.
I’m getting a real ‘Sony vibe’ from the 10, a phone that’s technically very able but doesn’t offer a massive wow factor – and for the high-end price it commands, it really should.
Is this the end for HTC though? Not a chance. Despite the lack of innovation, I still really like using the HTC 10, thanks to just not annoying me throughout use – but HTC needs to bring back the innovation properly if it’s going to have a chance of getting back to the top of the smartphone class.
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