With Samsung and Huawei breathing down its neck, HTC launched its latest flagship device, the HTC 10, but does it have what it takes to stand out in a sea of similarly-powered Android phones?
Based on what HTC has done with the launch of the HTC 10, it’s clear that the Taiwanese manufacturer is looking to get back on-point with what it’s offering in the Android market, dropping all the unnecessary prefixes of Ms and As that made the previous handsets a mouthful.
The only problem is, that in the relatively short amount of time since the HTC One M8 was launched back in 2014 to critical acclaim, the company’s standing as the Android manufacturer to look up to has slipped somewhat.
While HTC has been a reliable source of a clean user interface (UI) reminiscent of stock Android, Samsung has launched a pair of phones – the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – that, at least from my perspective, has set the bar in what a mobile phone can achieve today, with a brilliant screen, hardware and camera.
Likewise, Chinese manufacturer Huawei is now the one building Google’s Nexus devices, with the highly-rated, flagship device-priced Nexus 6P, while the other Chinese manufacturer OnePlus churns out high-spec, cheap Android devices at an ever-increasing rate.
So, what does the HTC 10 have in its favour and who exactly is it targeted at?
HTC 10 design
At first glance, the HTC 10 looks like what we’ve come to expect from a HTC phone, in that its solidly-built with a front face that is still somewhat reminiscent of a particular phone of the ‘i’ variety.
But when you look at it a bit closer you begin to see the more familiar HTC design at the rear of the phone, with a sleek matte metal finish and the HTC logo.
The notification light remains at the top left-hand corner of the phone (something which I think is sadly disappearing from many phones), but the central button and fingerprint scanner is no longer a physical button that can press in, but is simply touch sensitive.
While this all looks well and good, the annoyance of the power button and volume controls being frustratingly tightly packed together on the right-hand side of the device remains from the HTC One A9.
I definitely pressed the volume-down button, on average, more times that the power button on every first attempt.
HTC 10 display
At 5.2in, the screen is a little bigger than the iPhone 6 at 4.6in, and a fraction bigger than the edgeless Samsung S7, but comes in with an exact match in terms of resolution at 1440x2560p behind the protection of Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
The spec certainly shows all the words you want to hear, like its Super LCD5 capacitive touchscreen promising 16m colours, which are abundantly clear when trying out videos, games and general browsing.
The only problem is that while I’d be quick to praise the HTC 10 when it comes to general use, it really becomes noticeably poor during relatively sunny conditions as, despite including the ability for the phone to detect when it is in bright conditions, the phone seems to miss the key times when it’s supposed to amp up the brightness.
This required me to do it manually on occasion, which is hardly ideal for daily use.
HTC 10 hardware and camera
Like you’d expect for the latest HTC device, the hardware is solid and high-performing with its quad-core (dual-core 2.15 GHz Kryo and dual-core 1.6 GHz Kryo) and Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor.
It’s speedy and responsive to pretty much anything thrown at it, with the additional help of 4GB of RAM, and in terms of what you can store on it, you can get either 32GB or 64GB internally, with the addition of up to 200GB with a microSD card.
While the company has come to understate the typical high-power of its performance, it hasn’t understated its audio, which from testing music and video on is as good a match as any other phone on the market.
Dipping into software for just one second, HTC has added something it’s calling BoomSound Hi-Fi, which lets you quickly change between audio settings for podcasts, bass-heavy music or tinny dance numbers, all of which made it even better to tinker around with.
The camera, too, is something that has been improved upon from previous attempts, with its 12MP Ultrapixel 2 shooter that helps it better see in the dark with help from OIS, laser autofocus, dual-LED flash with an aperture of f/1.8.
The selfie camera has also gotten a major boost at 5MP, which will have you taking HD selfies in no time and, in terms of video, it won’t shoot in 4K, but it’ll still get you up to 2160p at 30fps.
In terms of battery life, what I found with HTC’s offering this time around is something of a mixed bag, with times when it would last me for nearly two days, but then on other occasions drain as if I was running every conceivable app at the same time.
With its 3,000mAh battery – around the typical mark now for a flagship phone – the HTC 10 appeared to cope well with regular browser and texting use on Wi-Fi, but found the tribulations of navigating the web on 4G substantially more taxing on energy.
That’s not to say HTC hasn’t tried to offset some of the typical challenges to battery life with little features like Boost+, which helps you clean up the power-consuming junk on your phone, but the fluctuations remain the same.
Charging was very fast, however, using a USB-C connection it can charge from 0pc to 50pc in around 30 minutes, but the heat coming from the phone during this was noticeable.
HTC 10 UI
For me, personally, I’ve always enjoyed the HTC user interface (UI) as an example of doing more with less, unlike some previous offerings from the likes of Samsung, which in the past has taken the open source concept of Android and taken it in an awful direction.
The same goes again with the HTC 10, which has removed even more HTC bloatware from the phone to leave just some of the key stuff we’re all used to, as well as its distinctive Blinkfeed news service.
It being the latest phone, you obviously get access to Android’s latest OS, Marshmallow, and all of the core Google apps, which have led to a bit of an issue here in Europe with questions over whether it’s fair or not that they are automatically installed.
Overall, though, if you’ve used stock Android or HTC’s UI before, it’s all rather familiar, and that’s a good thing.
Finally, on the point of UI, it might sound strange to say I was most impressed by the phone’s fingerprint scanner.
Each and every time it worked instantly – and not on anyone else, before you ask – and this is something I haven’t come across yet on my smartphone travels, so kudos to HTC there.
HTC 10 Verdict
It’s a good phone. It really is as simple as that. But therein lies the problem for me, as I guess with news coming out every week of a new smartphone, the decision to play it safe is really pigeonholing itself as a company into one market, that being the market that is brand loyal to HTC.
This is definitely the best HTC phone to-date, with a really good camera and fast charging capability, but I guess I just want something more.
Sure, a phone like the Samsung S7 Edge is something of a gimmick rolled out to take on the might of the iPhone, but that phone and some others have something else going for them.
Like buying a particular type of clothing, you know what brand you’re going to go for as that particular brand has done the business for years, and the HTC 10 falls under the same bracket.
The HTC 10 will be released early next month sim-free for €699, with prices on contract also to be announced, with Three carrying the phone exlusively initially.
All images (except green car image) via Luke Maxwell