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HTC 10 review: Keeping HTC in the game

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This spring saw flagship devices released by three manufacturers that are closely associated with the Android smartphone market. In recent times both Samsung and LG have been flying high, especially Samsung which is the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. Our review of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge showed the company still knows how to produce an interest-worthy device while LG still seems to be struggling a bit with the LG G5 despite the unique modular system they introduced. Amidst those releases, we have HTC, a company that was a big deal in the early days of Android devices, but has fallen on hard times since then.

Now the company released the HTC 10, their latest flagship device, that we take a look at in this review to see whether HTC has a winner on their hands.

I was recently provided with an HTC 10 running on the Verizon network for testing purposes. Our Justin Herrick has the device as well and has been working on exploring some of the features and functions that HTC brings to the table this time around. My time with the HTC 10 was spent using it as my daily driver to review how it may fulfill the role of being your next smartphone.

Design

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For the HTC 10, the company adopted an aluminum body fronted with glass to produce what the market currently considers a premium build. On the back of the device, users will find the round camera lens that slightly protrudes from the case. Next to that is the flash and autofocus system. In the center of the back of the device is the HTC logo. Small bands that run from side to side near the top and bottom of the device help break up the expanse of metal.

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The back of the device does have a very slight curve, a feature being adopted by many manufacturers to help users get a better grip on their devices. Often users find metal to be slick, so anything that helps users maintain their grip can be a big help. The other design feature introduced by HTC for this device is a chamfered design along the edges. This is a unique look in the market which is ruled by back plates that run smoothly to the edges.

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The front of the device is all glass with the combination home button/fingerprint sensor set in the bottom bezel. Although it is not immediately apparent, the back button and task button are included in the bottom bezel and there is a setting available to have the buttons backlit when the screen is on. Otherwise, you just have to remember they are there. In the top bezel users will find a slim speaker grille that is part of the Boomsound system, the front-facing selfie camera, and a small LED notification light.

In the past, HTC has been chided for plastering the fronts of their devices with their logo and for having extremely large bezels. That is all gone with the HTC 10 as the front face is consistent with other devices on the market. The top and bottom bezels are just big enough to be functional by providing space for things like buttons and cameras. The side bezels are slim. All of this leads to a front that is dominated by the display and overall is effectively laid out. The glass screen itself is bordered by the aluminum frame that again replicates some chamfering.

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Along the top edge of the device you will find the 3.5-mm audio jack. Near the top of each side of the device you will find pop out cards for the SIM or memory cards. On the right hand edge of the device are the buttons for power and the volume rocker. The power button has some grooves to help distinguish it from the volume rockers. The buttons extend just enough to be effective. However, I did find myself struggling with the fact that HTC put the volume rocker on top with the power button below it. This seems backwards to me and has definitely taken some muscle memory retraining. Along the bottom edge HTC put in another speaker that is part of the sound system, a small microphone port, and the USB Type-C port.

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Overall, I found the quality of the HTC 10 to be superb. My normal phone is a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition that I find to be nice quality. Even so, the Moto screen shows some waves in the glass when viewed at the right angle. None of that is present in the HTC 10 with the glass being completely smooth and mirror-like. All of the seams are tight and consistent.

The HTC 10 is probably the most solid, well-built smartphone or mobile device I’ve had my hands on in the last three or four years. The only criticism I had regarding the build quality or design is the chamfering. While it is an effective look, I found that after extended one-handed use the device started to cut into my pinky finger that was supporting the bottom edge. I’m sure I probably contributed to this by holding it too tightly, but the sharp edges of the chamfers did not help.

Hardware

The HTC 10 features a 5.2-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) Super LCD5 display covered with Gorilla Glass 4, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, Adreno 530, 32GB / 64GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for up to 2TB, a 12MP rear camera, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, a fingerprint scanner, NFC, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.2.

Performance

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The HTC 10 comes equipped with a Super LCD5 screen, which is a bit unique in the market although the use of Super LCD technology has been a hallmark of HTC devices. When I initially fired up the HTC 10, I found the screen to be quite bright and colorful compared to my Moto X Pure Edition. The slightly smaller size at 5.2-inches helps the quad resolution display produce sharp images.

After spending some time with the HTC 10 and my own phone, I eventually concluded the HTC 10 works better indoors where it seems to have a bit more pop. However, outside in bright sun I found the IPS LCD screen of the Motorola to be just a shade more effective. One thing I did discover though is that the HTC’s screen is effectively blanked out when viewed with polarized sunglasses on and held in a vertical orientation.

Running apps was a breeze with the HTC 10. The Snapdragon 820 combined with 4GB of RAM provides more than enough horsepower to keep things operating smoothly. I did not detect any issues with screen transitions, opening or switching between apps, or actually using apps.

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The HTC 10 includes HTC’s new version of BoomSound, which is implemented without the dual front-facing speakers that characterized previous models. Despite the new configuration, I found the sound to be quite good and loud and it does not sound like it is coming from one end or the other.

The HTC 10 is the first device I have used that includes a fingerprint scanner. The scanner is part of the home button. Setting up the scanner involves a process of recording your print about a dozen times. To activate the scanner, you just place your finger or thumb on the scanner and hold it there for a couple seconds. I found the fingerprint scanner worked exceptionally well. I did not have to line up my thumb exactly straight to activate the scanner and it seemed to work up to almost ninety degrees. I have been kind of skeptical of fingerprint scanners usefulness in smartphones, but using the scanner in the HTC 10 has sold me on the concept.

Battery

The battery in the HTC 10 logs in at only 3000mAh which may sound like it is on the small side. In my testing with the device, I did not have any trouble making it through an entire day on a single charge and if my use was typical, I could make it twenty-four hours.

HTC decided to equip the HTC 10 with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology. I have been used to Quick Charge 2.0 and the Quick Charge 3.0 has not disappointed. The phone will charge up quite fast. I have not put a timer to it, but I’d say within an hour to an hour and a half the phone can be fully charged from being almost empty. Just based on my subjective touch test, I would say it does not get quite as hot as my Moto X when charging. Do keep in mind that HTC equipped the phone with a USB Type-C port, so your micro-USB cords will not work. For me, this meant not having a charger available in the car, which was not a problem for testing purposes. Long-term though I would probably invest in a QC 3.0 charger for my car.

Software

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For the HTC 10, HTC shifted gears a bit with their Sense user interface. Unlike previous versions of HTC Sense, this version is tagged as “Android with HTC Sense” rather than having its own version number. This subtle change in the name reflects the shift HTC has made to making more use of Android and Sense only modifying it in subtle ways. My impression is that it is similar to what Motorola did with their devices where they have Android running with just a few apps running that supplement Android rather than trying to replace what Google provides with the operating system.

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In the case of the HTC 10, there are some minor tweaks to things like the app drawer or the settings panel. Overall though, I found the differences to be so subtle that they just blend into the background and I felt like I was just using Android. Being a Verizon variant, there is a suite of their apps included on the device and there are a few games and apps like Slacker Radio or NFL Mobile loaded on the HTC 10, which probably qualify as “bloatware.” HTC does include their own dialer and there are HTC versions of a mail client and messages client, but the device does not try to default to those so using the Google versions was no problem.

One app that HTC does include is a themes app. Since the app requires users to setup an HTC account to be able to download and install themes, I did not fully test this feature. Scanning through the theme store HTC makes available, it looks like this would be a good option for users who like to change up the look of the interface without having to run a third-party launcher app.

The HTC 10 is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and out of the box I found about 10GB of internal storage was already consumed between the operating system and other apps included on the device.

Camera

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One of the pieces of hardware that gets used the most in any smartphone is the camera as people have become shutterbugs with their smartphones. Continuing a trend seen with other manufacturers, HTC does not go for huge numbers of pixels, choosing instead to limit things to 12 MP. Instead of capturing a large image, HTC tries to improve the quality of the pixels that are captured. This is achieved by adding in optical image stabilization to go along with the laser autofocus system. The camera app is also able to capture RAW images and is capable of supporting automatic HDR and a variety of optional shooting modes like panoramas.

In my testing, despite the presence of the laser autofocus, I found the camera to be a bit frustrating to use as it seems to struggle to focus on its own. Tapping on the screen will force the issue, but I find this is an annoyance to have to do that.

I did try to take some pictures in a poorly lit auditorium during an event. Zooming in on the stage yielded grainy images lacking in detail, which is what I expected and is consistent with other smartphone cameras. The HTC 10 camera app does include a “pro” mode where you can set things like ISO and shutter speed yourself. Taking over these settings I found I could get slightly better images. However, for some reason HTC does not have the on-screen controls hide themselves automatically after a set period of time. This made it extremely hard to utilize the pro setting and then zoom or focus on specific items without changing the settings in the process.

HTC also decided to upgrade the front-facing “selfie” camera to include OIS matched with the autofocus. The camera did take good selfies, but I honestly am not sure how it could not given the camera was basically within arms reach. OIS seems like overkill for selfies.

Just viewing images later, I did not find the pictures I captured with the HTC 10 to be better or worse than what I capture with my own phone. They were what I was expecting and the HTC 10 did an adequate job capturing them. Along with my images, you may want to check out some sample images captured by TalkAndroid’s Justin Herrick.

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Closing

When I got my first Android smartphone, it was an HTC EVO, so the company has a special place in my heart. However, for everything I liked about the HTC EVO, the fading battery life after 18 months of use and lack of updates soured me on HTC and I moved on to other manufacturers and devices in the years since then. Likewise, I tend to prefer larger screen sizes with my last three devices having screens of at least 5.5-inches, so dropping back to the HTC 10’s 5.2-inch screen was going to be an interesting change for me.

Despite the challenges HTC has faced in the market and some of my own biases, I found the HTC 10 to be a wonderful device. It is solidly built, feels good in the hand and everything works great. HTC seems to have figured out that buyers do not want interfaces that interfere with Android and I had no trouble jumping right in and using the device. I have enjoyed using the HTC 10 so much during this test that I will be sad to see it go as I could easily imagine it being my daily driver.


About the Author: Jeff Causey

Raised in North Carolina, Jeff Causey is a licensed CPA in North Carolina. Jeff's past Android devices include an HTC EVO, a Samsung Note II, and an LG G3 along with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. He currently uses a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition and (very rarely) a Nexus 7 (2013). He is also using a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto Z Play Droid supplied by his job. Jeff used to have a pair of Google Glass and a Moto 360 Sport in his stable of gadgets. Unfortunately, his wife and kids have all drunk the Apple Kool-Aid and have i-devices. Life at home often includes demonstrations of the superiority of his Android based devices. In his free time, Jeff is active in his church, a local MINI Cooper car club, and his daughter's soccer club. Jeff is married, has three kids, and a golden retriever.


  • Jarl

    what are those 3 devices with 5.5″ screens?

    • jcauseyfd

      Jarl,

      I had a Samsung Galaxy Note II (5.5-inch), LG G3 (5.5-inch) and I now have a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (5.7-inch).

      • Gordo

        The pure is a really good phone