HTC 10 review: A great phone, but avoid paying full price for it
A great camera, 24-bit audio, decent interface and Vive VR partnership are all attractive.
- Great 24-bit sound
- Good camera
- Looks and feels good
- Vive VR partnership
- Battery isn't great
- Expensive in a sea of good rivals
A great camera, 24-bit audio, decent interface and Vive VR partnership are all attractive.
Price$ 950.00 (AUD)
You can get a decent Android phone like the Oppo F1 for $300 these days. If you want something more premium, the Samsung Galaxy S7 can be had for under $700 while the Nexus 6P, with its huge AMOLED display and full metal body can be had for nearer $600. So if a phone is going to carry a big premium price like the Galaxy S7 Edge ($900) or LG G5 ($950), it can't leave us wanting. The price has now been set in Australia - it's $1,099. However, you can get it for around $950 online.
The HTC 10 is a refreshing step forward for HTC. It’s elegant and reserved, focusing on the four main areas that make a phone great: design, performance, camera, and audio. But while I appreciate the restraint HTC has shown in not throwing tons of questionable features at us, does it offer enough to be considered truly premium in the current market?
Fixing last year’s design flaws
HTC could be credited with starting the trend toward solid metal unibody phone designs, but the look and feel of the original HTC One hasn’t evolved fast enough. The HTC 10 obviously carries forth its “One M” flagship series lineage, but updated it in all the right ways. The trademark metal body and smooth curved back are still there, and the headphone jack is still in the middle of the top edge. But most of the annoyances from the One M8 and M9 are gone.
A wide 45-degree bevelled edge makes the phone easy to hold and comfortable to grip. Edge-to-edge glass on the front gives the HTC 10 a sleek modern look, while gracefully getting rid of the big metal “forehead and chin” on the front of past HTC One phones. The big black bar with the HTC logo is no longer found beneath the display. The power and volume buttons on the right edge are easy to find with your thumb. And, yes, the camera module protrudes from the back, but only just slightly.
The combination home button and fingerprint sensor (it’s very-fast and accurate) is flanked by capacitive Back and Recents buttons. So even though HTC bumped up the screen size to 5.2 inches, the phone is just barely larger than the One M9.
The result is a rigid, durable-feeling, understated design that looks every bit like a premium phone for 2016—and every bit like an HTC.
The performance you expect
If you’re shipping a high-end phone in 2016, it’s got to have a Snapdragon 820, or at least something that performs like it. The HTC 10 has the chip you expect, as well as 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a microSD expansion slot.
In terms of performance, it blows the doors off the One M9, but that phone had problems with thermal management. More importantly, it’s right in line with other Snapdragon 820-powered phones you’d buy this spring. The benchmark results are so close that the differences are immaterial. In practice, the phone flies: Every interaction is fast, scrolling is smooth, apps launch quickly, and there are no unwelcome stutters or hiccups.
Battery life is very good thanks to a fairly efficient processor and a 3,000mAh battery. In our battery benchmarks, it was on par with the LG G5 and a little behind the Galaxy S7, whose efficient AMOLED display sips a bit less power when calibrated to the 200 cd/m² brightness at which we test. During everyday use, the HTC 10 seemed quite similar to those two other phones, easily taking me through a full day of mixed use with about four hours of screen-on time (with auto-brightness enabled).
Charging up is lightning fast. The HTC 10 has got a USB-C port, but doesn’t use regular USB-C charging rates. That is, when attached to a power source like the Nexus 5X or 6P chargers, it charges at normal speed, not rapidly. The phone instead incorporates Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, and includes such a charger in the box. It went from 0 to 50% charged in just half an hour, then to 90% in another thirty minutes with the final 100% charge taking another 30 minutes.
Now this is a great camera
I’m not ready to proclaim the HTC 10 as the best camera of any Android phone. Not quite. but it is certainly among the best. The rear camera features a 12-megapixel sensor with 1.55 micron pixels (probably the same Sony IMX377 found in the Nexus 6P), with a super wide f/1.8 lens, laser autofocus, optical image stabilization (OIS), and two-tone LED flash. It takes 4K video and 120fps slo-mo video (sadly, there’s no 240fps slo-mo mode). The results are fantastic.
Low-light performance might be even better than what you’ll find from the Galaxy S7. In many situations, you’d be hard-pressed to definitively say which phone took the better photo: the HTC 10 or Galaxy S7. In better light, the two are surprisingly comparable. But HTC’s camera seems to handle challenging lighting situations a bit better. It appears that the depth of field is a teeny bit shallower on the HTC 10 (probably due to a slightly larger sensor size) and the white balance is a touch warmer.
When it comes to software, HTC’s camera app is eminently usable. It’s simple and clear, with only a few common controls visible. The app launches fast, and shutter lag is minimal, so you can go from pocket to photo fast enough not to miss a great moment. If you want more control, the Pro mode lets you adjust exposure, ISO, shutter speed (up to 2 seconds maximum), focus, and white balance. You can save the photo in RAW format, too.
The front camera is “only” 5 megapixels, but it also features a wide f/1.8 aperture, and even OIS—a first on smartphones. The bottom line is that HTC nailed it with the camera on the 10. It takes fantastic photos and videos simply, quickly, and easily.
Bring out the Boom
Ever since the original HTC One gave us dramatically better audio quality under the BoomSound brand, the company has packed its premium phones with impressive stereo speakers. The 10 is no exception, even if the configuration is a little weird. The speakers are asymmetrical: The bottom-firing speaker acts as a “woofer” focusing on the low end of the audio spectrum, while the speaker in the earpiece faces forward and acts as a “tweeter,” reaching into the high frequencies. Each speaker is amplified separately.
Add in a little Dolby audio enhancement, and you get a really good-sounding phone. Of course, a little smartphone is never going to pump out sound equivalent to even a small Bluetooth speaker, but as phones go, the audio is impressive.
Plug in headphones and you can step through an audio profiling setup process that essentially works like an equalizer, adjusting the sound output to match the frequency response of your headphones (and hearing).
But it’s not all about speakers and headphones. The HTC 10 has a full 24-bit audio DSP and DAC, and can even record 24-bit audio when filming video. If you have a really, really good pair of headphones, and the right audio files, you can enjoy high resolution audio. Frankly, it’s probably far more important that a phone sounds great when you listen to Spotify or Pandora, and fortunately, the HTC 10 does.
Sense 8: A very mild Android skin
HTC’s Sense interface was a godsend back in the days of KitKat. But stock Android started to gel in Android Lollipop (5.0), and it’s even better in Marshmallow. Today, when manufacturers like LG or Samsung change up icons, quick settings, toggles, buttons, and menus to their own design, they’re doing more harm than good.
Credit goes to HTC, then, for making Sense 8 stick close to Google’s own Android vision. The quick settings shade, recent apps interface, notifications, volume sliders, and most of the Settings menu look almost exactly like stock Android. HTC has made a few tweaks where necessary, and you’ll notice differences here and there (the app drawer isn’t like Google’s, but it’s close enough in form and function that you won’t care). Most annoying is HTC’s insistence on pushing Blinkfeed, which is still “just okay.” I’d rather have Google Now cards to the left of my home screen.
Which brings us to the topic of bloatware. HTC has cut way back on it. Most ultra-premium phones have a lot more cruft.
HTC has even gotten rid of a number of its own apps. It doesn’t include it’s own browser; you just get Chrome. There’s no HTC fitness app, just Google Fit. Given HTC’s deal with UnderArmor, this is a delightful surprise. You won’t find office apps besides Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Keep. HTC scrapped its own gallery app in favor of Google Photos.
HTC hasn’t exorcised all its own software, however. The company still ships its own dialer, clock, weather app, and SMS app. None of them are really better than Google’s stuff, but they’re not worse, and their design fits in well with Material Design standards. Nothing seems out of place. You can find the abandoned apps on the Play store if you miss them.
Using the HTC 10 is a delight. If you’re used to stock Android, you’ll feel right at home. Most of the changes are sensible and minimal. I wouldn’t want HTC to forsake useful gestures like double-tap to wake, for instance. Outside of wanting Google Now in place of Blinkfeed, I never felt the urge to switch to the Google launcher. I can’t say that about most other high-end Android phones.
The ability to extensively theme your phone is my favorite feature in the One M9, and it’s back with the 10. In fact, it’s better than ever. You can install existing themes, and new “Freestyle layouts” let you put apps anywhere instead of sticking to a 4x5 grid. You can also link “stickers” to apps to avoid using icons altogether. It’s the most polished theming experience to ship with any major Android phone, and it’s a lot of fun.
How much will it be in Australia?
HTC dropped the “One and “M” from the HTC 10’s name. It’s a perfect analog to the company’s thinking about this phone. Where other manufacturers pile on features and proprietary gimmicks, HTC cuts away unnecessary flotsam. Where competitors try to do everything all at once, HTC focuses on what’s most important: design, performance, imaging, and audio. Other manufacturers duplicate Google services and software, HTC got rid of many of its own proprietary apps.
It’s not as if this is a Nexus phone. But it’s about as close as you’re likely to see from a major top-tier Android manufacturer. Frankly, as much as I like stock Android, I’m thankful for HTC’s themes and camera app.
Now, all that said, as much as I like the HTC 10’s “less is more” approach, I still feel like something’s missing. This isn’t a cheap phone; HTC has priced it at US$699 in America - that's $900 with the current exchange rate. It's predecessor, however, cost $1100, so we were worried what the final mark-up will be. As it turns out the 10 is now also $1,099 in Australia but can be had for $950 online. This matches it with its direct competition.
If this phone were anywhere near the $700 Nexus 6P price, I would recommend it to everyone. I could then clearly say that this phone’s benefits offset the always-up-to-date Android software you get with the Nexus phone. Nonetheless, HTC’s got a killer phone here, but they may be shooting themselves in the foot (again) by asking too much for it.
Join the PC World newsletter!
Samsung portable 1TB T3 drive
Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive
Epson EcoTank Expression ET-2500
Smart LED Bulb LB130
Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop
Everki ContemPRO Roll Top Laptop Backpack
Linksys AC5400 MU-MIMO Gigabit router
Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive
Google Daydream VR headset
Lexar® Portable SSD
Logitech G403 Prodigy mouse
Huawei Mate 9
Belkin MIXIT Metallic Lightning to USB Cable
3SIXT Ultra HD Sports Action Camera
Acer Swift 7
Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards
Garmin Fenix Chronos smartwatch
HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450
Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Dell XPS 13 laptop
Surface Pro 4
Dell Inspiron 5000 series 2-in-1
HP Pavilion x360 13”
Blade 28 backpack by Arc’teryx
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Huawei Mate 9 full in-depth smartphone review
- 2 ZTE Axon 7 review: Is ZTE dumping old stock on Australia?
- 3 Oppo R9s smartphone full review
- 4 Huawei Nova Plus smartphone review
- 5 Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: Phones just got smarter
Latest News Articles
- Xiaomi planning second version of its revolutionary Mi Mix ‘bezel-less’ phone
- 5G progress at Ericsson could help enterprises work worldwide
- Apple smartphones outsold Samsung's in Q4
- Apple joins Wireless Power Consortium, charging up iPhone 8 rumor
- Google might be gearing up to remove millions of Play Store apps next month
PCW Evaluation Team
I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.
Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!
For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.
First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.
- How to quit Pokemon Go (or to start enjoying it again)
- Huawei Mate 9 full in-depth smartphone review
- Time to ditch Foxtel and the iQ3: How to replace Foxtel packages with cheaper alternatives
- What's the difference between an Intel Core i3, i5 and i7?
- Laser vs. inkjet printers: which is better?
- TPMicrosoft Dynamics DeveloperNSW
- CCNetwork Specialist - IPAM TelcoVIC
- TPDigital Project ManagerVIC
- CCLevel 2 IT Service DeskQLD
- CCBusiness Analyst - Cyber SecurityACT
- CCWicked Front-End DeveloperQLD
- TPSpatial Science OfficerQLD
- CCTechnical Team LeadSA
- FTSenior Dot Net Backend Orientated DeveloperNSW
- CCWicked Front-End DeveloperVIC
- TPIT Project Officer - TMRQLD
- FTSolution Architect l MS Exchange, O365NSW
- TPLinux Desktop Support SpecialistWA
- FTBusiness AnalystNSW
- TPDesktop Support OfficerQLD
- FTL1 Application SupportWA
- FTDynamics AX Functional Consultant (Manufacturing and Trade & Logistics Modules)ACT
- FTSenior Software Engineer x 2 - Adelaide Based (PV, NV2 or NV1 required)Other
- FTSalesforce Technical Consultant/Architect Global IT Company - SydneyNSW
- TPBI Commercial AnalystVIC
- CCTechnical Consultant - ITSM/HP Service ManagerACT
- TPJava DeveloperVIC
- FTSenior Business AnalystNSW
- FT.Net DeveloperNSW
- FTJunior Software Engineer - Adelaide Based (PV, NV2 or NV1 required)VIC