By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
With an ultra-clear 5.2-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) display in an enclosure that feels more like a 5-inch phone, the HTC 10 is one of the more compact flagships. By moving the dual speakers into a bottom firing and front facing position (as well as deleting the navigation keys), it is easier to navigate the phone with one hand.
HTC is back in form with the new HTC 10. Running on a theme of simplification and refinement, the HTC 10 evolves HTC's flagship line by bringing in the latest processors, specs, features and improving the camera. How does the 10 measure up to the competition?
The latest in a long line of premium phones
I can count the HTC M7 and HTC M8 as two of my favourite smartphones of all time. They focused on great design and premium build and materials as well as accessories and user experiences when competing Android devices were still churning out iterative plastic flagships.
HTC was so ahead of its time in a number of ways. It favoured aluminum unibody construction, placed forward-facing speakers that were the loudest and clearest in the industry, plus it bravely experimented with camera technology which is one of the key tentpoles of successful smartphones.
While their experimentation spilled over to the UX and Sense UI (even yielding various apps like Zoe and Blinkfeed), you got the sense that there was a real effort to explore the possibilities of the hardware as well as the software.
The HTC 10 is a refinement of the company's ideals. In terms of build quality, look and feel, it is a modern and forward thinking HTC flagship. The chiseled corners and beveled edges make it easy to hold, while the solid and beefy construction give it a very high quality feel. Overall, I've grown to like the balanced feel of the HTC 10. It feels great in the hands and gives the impression it is a resilient device. I'd still suggest getting a nice case for it to protect it from knocks, bumps and drops.
In terms of software, HTC's held back on making bespoke apps that duplicate what Google's suite of apps already make. This isn't stock Android but it is as close as we've seen HTC and its Sense UI get to a pure and Nexus-like UI on a flagship device.
Toughtful touches abound
There are various thoughtful touches like the ridged power and on/off button, the slight tapering of the volume rocker which feels almost sculpted, as well as the seamless way the curved Gorilla Glass meets the aluminum unibody case.
With ultra-clear 5.2-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) display in an enclosure that feels more like a 5-inch phone, the HTC 10 is one of the more compact flagships. By moving the dual speakers into a bottom firing and front facing position (as well as deleting the navigation keys), it is easier to navigate the display with one hand.
The addition of a necessary fingerprint sensor up front, as well as the new USB Type-C connector modernizes the HTC 10 and future proofs it for upcoming accessories and modes of using fingerprints for mobile payments and access control. The fingerprint reader works great and is quite fast employ. It's the kind of feature one gets used to quickly.
USB Type-C comes with the ability to use QuickCharge 3.0 chargers, this can give you up to 50% charge in 30 minutes, which is remarkable for a smartphone with a Quad HD display and these powerful specs. I found battery life to be quite good for a phone of this size and segment with around a day and a half of heavy use between needing a charge. The best thing about these new smartphones that offer Quick Charge capabilities is that you can not omit the need to carry external batteries or battery cases, a short 20-30 minute plug-in session can get you back on track fast.
Let's talk cameras
The HTC 10's new 12-megapixel camera is the one feature that HTC really wants everyone to take notice of. It uses UltraPixels which are larger pixels (1.55um per UltraPixel) which let in more light and detail. UltraPixels are nothing new, we had them with the HTC One M7 but in a much smaller capacity.
The HTC 10 also has built-in Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) for both the rear camera and the front camera (a 5 megapixel ƒ/1.8 aperture shooter). This all translates into what should be an exceptional still and video camera package that's definitely a big jump forward from the iffy HTC One M9's camera. Below are some sample photos and video taken with the HTC 10.
The ability to focus on either the foreground or background as needed definitely makes the HTC 10 a versatile device. The quality of the images is generally good although I've compared the HTC 10's photos to that of an iPhone SE, and and LG G5 (see below) and while the HTC 10 lets in more light, the undesired effect is that some photos look blown out. Same goes for video shot on the device which makes some people look paler than they really are. I also found it annoying that the camera keeps searching and focusing while the video is being shot, even under a reasonably brightly lit room in the daytime.
The HTC 10's camera is great for snapshots in most lighting conditions. It seems to work better in low-light conditions such as shooting interiors without flash. I took it to a trek outdoors as well as to a colourful parade and it was versatile enough to take both detailed and wider landscape photos with a lot of detail and depth. There are pro controls on tap as well and while they're not as easy to access and use as I'd like, spending some time learning these will yield far superior photos. For the purposes of testing, however, I simply used the camera's automatic mode.
The front facing 5 megapixel selfie camera is reasonaby good as well. I've not really used it in any great capacity, but was satisfied with the photos of myself that I took out in the woods.
Shooting in mixed lighting conditions under trees isn't ideal but the three photos above (shot with the HTC 10, the iPhone SE and the LG G5) give you and idea of what these cameras can do and aside from a varying lens apertures, we do get a clear idea of how photos are exposed.
The HTC 10 on the very top tends to blow out the whites on the trees, details of the leaves and clouds. The iPhone SE seems to put a warmer tint to the image which yields better contrast and the LG G5 doesn't only have the largest sensor, it also captured the most accurate colour of what that scene looked like to my eyes.
This doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for the HTC 10's camera although I expect a software update should tame this issue. Good photographers will find ways to work around this but really, most users shouldn't have to. (Note: all these test shots involved a pre-production HTC 10, so that could be one reason for the less than awesome photo quality in certain conditions).
This is arguably the best smartphone camera HTC has ever produced and while I am still ambivalent about the value of UltraPixels as opposed to regular pixels, I appreciate that HTC has decided to do something different.
NOTE: HTC pushed out an update to their Camera software a day after this review came out, I plan on testing the feature extensively and adding my notes to this review in a few days.)
This is a journey into sound
The HTC 10 may just be the best smartphone for audio playback and music consumption in the market today. Best of all, it delivers on the promise of high-resolution audio right out of the box without needing any accessories.
Not only does the HTC 10 continue the tradition of loud built-in stereo BoomSound speakers, it also supports up to 24-bit high-res audio and even ships with high-res audio enabled headphones and its three microphones can record high-resolution audio as well.
The HTC 10 has the ability to assign specific Personal Audio Profiles to each headphone you connect into it, this allows users to tweak sound for specific headphones. It is a great tool to help compensate for audio quality on some headphones and headsets.
I was delighted to find out that the HTC 10 supports Apple AirPlay wireless playback. This means you can pair the HTC 10 to an Apple TV or AirPlay speakers without any problem. I was able to connect to my Bose SoundLink Air speakers which I could only use with my iPhone, iPad or Mac. Similarly, connecting to my Sonos Play:5 speakers, Chromecast Audio and Apple TV were pretty seamless experiences.
All this innovation does come at a cost, the built-in IR blaster and video remote control app of previous devices has been omitted. Perhaps because it wasn't a feature many people used (I did and I loved it).
HTC is definitely back and firing on all pistons with the HTC 10. Exclusive in Canada to Bell (available unlocked from HTC), this is a great flagship smartphone with all the power, features and innovation expected from a device in 2016. HTC has done this while maintaining its brand identity and the look/feel that's made their previous devices popular among smartphone connoisseurs.
Competitors have tried different approaches this year. LG is banking on its modular 'Friends' ecosystem to generate some buzz and more sales, Samsung has gone super-luxe with beautiful but fragile metal and curved enclosure plus a big push in the camera department.
HTC 10 builds on the reputation of design and quality it established with the HTC One M7, it has also amped up its camera with a new 12-megapixel shooter, laser-focus, Optical Image Stabilization and the return of UltraPixels. Bottom line is that it does take great photos and HD and 4K video, but with bright spots tending to blow out.
HTC 10 handles smartphone calling and data functions like a champ. I've enjoyed using it for watching videos, Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music streaming audio, playing games, Instagram, Twitter and Outlook Mail. It works great with various accessories. I've used it with a Microsoft Band 2 as well as another health tracker plus the Parrot Asteroid head unit in my car and haven't experienced any hiccups with connectivity.
Battery life is above average and the Quick Charging feature alone makes this a great option for busy executives and fequent travellers who rely on their smartphones constantly.
HTC 10 is the most practical flagship smartphone in the market right now and an easy choice to make if you want a solid performing do-it-all device that's powerful yet fun.
Ratings: 4 out of 5