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HTC 10 Review: A Corner-Cutting Flagship

HTC Corp. (acronymic for “High Tech Computer”) has fallen from glory. Once a company revered in the Android world, the Taiwanese manufacturer has had a difficult time returning to its former success. The HTC One series hasn’t been a flop, considering that HTC has always prided itself on a beautifully designed experience with some excellent camera optics (that’s if you discount the 4MP back camera on the HTC One M8). But HTC hasn’t had much of a winner on its hands in the last 3 years, since the One M7 release. The HTC 10 provides a new opportunity for the former Android OEM titan.

The design is excellent but tired and trite, giving consumers little reason to upgrade. To make matters worse, HTC hasn’t been able to get its camera optics quite right since the One M7, with the One M8’s 4MP back camera being nothing short of a terrible design decision for the Android OEM, and the One M9’s 20MP back camera was only slightly better than the 4MP back camera in the One M8.

In other words, 2014 and 2015 haven’t been good years for HTC. 2016 has to be a better year.

Does it get better for HTC in 2016 with the release of its latest-generation high-end smartphone, the HTC 10?

There are no spoilers here, so get to reading the review below.

HTC 10 Aesthetics 

The HTC 10 has great similarity to the HTC One M9 with its metal unibody build, but has a plastic portion at the top that houses the 3.5mm headphone jack. So, in short, the build is not fully metal unibody but is unibody with about a 98% metal body. And yet, 98% isn’t 100%, despite the assumption tech reviewers often give about what many believe to be one of the most beautifully designed smartphones in the Android market – even in 2016 with the HTC 10.

There are a few small, cosmetic changes HTC has made with the 10 as opposed to last year’s One M9. First, the power button remains unchanged but HTC has taken the Volume Up and Volume Down buttons and merged them into a volume rocker. There are now only 2 buttons on the right side of the display instead of 3, which is something of a more streamlined, sophisticated design that assumes users understand what a volume rocker does.

HTC has eliminated the proximity sensor that was once to the left of the front camera along with the infrared (IR) sensor that is responsible for using your smartphone to change your TV channels as well as controlling other IR-enabled devices. The notification LED remains slightly to the left of the front camera.

The top front speaker remains, but HTC has taken the second front-facing speaker and placed it on the bottom of the phone to the right of the new USB Type-C charging port. Some would say that it’s a great sound but not BOOMSOUND. Either way, you’re still getting a quality sound from the device that’s hard to beat in the industry.

The dual-speaker combo still exists, though it seems as though HTC has removed and revamped the second audio speaker at the bottom of the phone where the 3.5mm headphone jack once stood to make room for the front fingerprint sensor and added a new microphone to the left of the new USB Type-C charging port. The new dual-speaker combo layout matches that seen on other smartphones such as the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, as well as Samsung’s latest, the Galaxy Note 7, not to mention the LG G5 and OnePlus 3. The same can be said for HTC’s fingerprint sensor (the OnePlus 3 has similar design when it comes to its glass fingerprint button.

The 3.5mm headphone jack found on the bottom of the HTC One M9 has been moved to the top in the HTC 10, and the USB connector remains in the same location though it’s now a USB Type-C connector instead of the old, long-established micro-USB connector. You will also find capacitive keys that are the new substitute for the old on-screen software buttons, with HTC removing them altogether. Software button lovers may not find this an excellent change, though I do.

In addition to making these small changes, HTC has also implemented a fingerprint sensor this year at the bottom of the front panel and gone with a black panel in the HTC 10 instead of the gunmetal gray panel on the One M9. The “HTC” branding at the bottom of the front panel has been eliminated, which means that critics of the black bar can be proud that the Taiwanese smartphone maker has listened to them and done away with it here. Some consumers have a problem with front logos and company branding, but I don’t fit in that camp. How one can love HTC’s design but despise the company’s branding is beyond me.

The HTC 10 departs from the design language somewhat on the back of the device, with the company moving the dual-LED flash from the left side of the back camera to the right side and giving the back camera a circular shape instead of the “squircular” (square and circular combined) shape of the One M9. HTC has maintained the antenna lines found at the top and bottom of the device back but has eliminated the line drawn between the top antenna band and the back camera. The brushed aluminum look has also given way to a more plain aluminum-looking back. HTC tried to tone down its design language and simplify its design more this year – attempting to make a case for “less is more.”

HTC has made some tweaks to this year’s HTC 10, but there’s more on that front to follow in the hardware section below.

Display  

The HTC 10 features a 5.2-inch, Super LCD5 display with Gorilla Glass 3, a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,440p (Quad HD), and a pixel density of 564ppi. The 10 shows that HTC has now moved beyond 1080p as the high-end flagship screen resolution to match Samsung, Google, and other Android OEMs in the industry who are using Quad HD screen resolutions for their high-end offerings. The One M9 had a 1080p resolution, so you’ll have a screen resolution upgrade to go with the 10.

HTC has slightly increased the screen size, giving you a 5.2-inch screen instead of the 5-inch screen in the One M9, and the company has also increased the clarity of the reading experience with its Super LCD5 display in the HTC 10 from the Super LCD3 panel in the One M9, and colors are definitely clear and fine-tuned.

There are a few panels that go into creating the display for the HTC 10: one is the LCD5 panel for resolution; the other is the Gorilla Glass panel that ensures the display is durable to drops, bumps, and falls. In preparing this review, I found it interesting that not even HTC could tell which generation of Gorilla Glass it was using for the HTC 10. At its own website, HTC says that the HTC 10 features “Corning Gorilla Glass on a Curve Edge Display,” but we’re not told if HTC is using Gorilla Glass 3 or Gorilla Glass 4 (which has just been surpassed by the Gorilla Glass 5 panel announced for the Galaxy Note 7). Do a perusal of a number of websites, and you’ll find that they all have different-generation claims for the panel on the HTC 10 (some say “GG3,” others say “GG4”).

What you may find even more surprising than this is that HTC had the same problem with its One M9 in 2015. When HTC was confronted by a renown tech site back a year ago, it claimed that it couldn’t confirm anything above the use of Gorilla Glass on the One M9. At the very least, this shows that HTC has something to hide about its displays. After all, there’s not a single Android OEM outside of HTC that hasn’t been transparent and forthcoming about the generation of Gorilla Glass panels it uses in its next-gen. smartphones.

At the very least, HTC is being shady about this. What it means for your HTC 10, if you already have one or are planning to get one, is that you can pay $700, top dollar for your high-end smartphone, but have a lot less protection than you think. This doesn’t bode well for HTC, and this puts a damper on what is a solid smartphone. If HTC is remaining hush-hush about its Gorilla Glass panels, what else is it deceiving consumers about?

The HTC 10’s Super LCD5 looks crisp and clear, but it doesn’t match the performance of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays. The HTC 10’s display looks as though it has some “reddening” on the display or a haze that you can’t get rid of, while Samsung’s AMOLED panel in even the Galaxy Note 5 from 2015, for example, has bright whites that just glow when you turn the device up to full brightness. AMOLED panels are also brighter than LCD panels like those used on the One M9 and the HTC 10 when you head into bright sunlight on a hot summer day, which makes them easier to read for longer periods of time.

Processor and RAM

The HTC 10 utilizes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 SoC (or processor) and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM as opposed to the HTC One M9’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC and 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the latest-generation RAM. The HTC 10 is said to have a processor that handles overheating better – and it does.

In my 4 months with the HTC 10, though, I’ve found that there are instances of warming on the back of the handset (the back only, not the display), and that those instances usually occur with an update for security patches or bug fixes or both. In most cases, internet browsing, music listening, and so on, I find that the handset is as cool as a cucumber. The same can be said for the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge though, so this is a testimony to improvements made with the new Snapdragon processor. The new processor seems to perform well otherwise, though keep in mind that battery-guzzling apps and even Google’s Chrome web browser are known to drain battery life. The Galaxy S7 Active has the Snapdragon 820, and I disabled the Chrome web browser there because it guzzled battery life on the device – more than even cell standby does.

As for RAM, the 4GB of the latest-generation RAM (the RAM was developed by Samsung, by the way) means that users shouldn’t have trouble multitasking and having multiple apps and webpages open simultaneously. 4GB of RAM is the standard RAM capacity in 2016, seeing that the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge/S7 Active, and even the newly announced LG V20 all have 4GB of RAM.

Storage 

The HTC 10 has 32GB/64GB of internal storage, with a microSD card slot expandable up to 200GB, which matches that of the HTC One M9 (according to Verizon’s product page). HTC said that its One M9 could provide up to 2TB of microSD card storage, but a 2TB microSD card doesn’t exist – it’s a modern-day version of a unicorn. The industry only has 200GB microSD cards available, but HTC apparently though it was “futureproofing” its smartphone to go ahead and list “theoretical” storage as LG calls it in the LG G5 (see, LG is guilty of the same thing: “2TB (theoretical) is what LG says about its microSD storage). The HTC 10 is no different, with HTC continuing to propagate the hype that its microSD card slot can support up to 2TB of microSD storage. The industry won’t support 1TB, nevertheless 2TB, for a few years, but it’s one of HTC’s bragging rights (if you call a feature that you can’t take advantage of a bragging right).

While the 2TB “theoretical” claim is just marketing hype, there’s one storage feature that’s relevant to buyers of the HTC 10: Adoptable Storage. It’s a feature that allows you to transform your microSD card storage into internal storage that acts and operates in the same way that internal storage does. Have you ever been frustrated with having to move files over to your SD card once your internal storage fills up? Then you’ll be happy with HTC – you can now take advantage of Adoptable Storage with the HTC 10.

Adoptable Storage is a great feature but has had its share of controversy in Android. Samsung had the opportunity to enable Adoptable Storage for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge earlier this year but did not due to its customer base wanting to transport their microSD card from one device to another (from their phone to their laptop, for example) rather than keep their microSD card in one device only. This is the drawback to Adoptable Storage, but those who just don’t care about this drawback and rely on cloud storage when local storage isn’t available won’t be bothered by this at all and will take the plunge anyway.

There’s very little that makes the HTC 10 stand out in its storage, but Adoptable Storage enabled by virtue of Android Marshmallow (and OEM willingness to offer it to its customers) is something that sets the HTC 10 apart from its high-end Android rivals in 2016.

HTC does give 64GB of storage in the HTC 10, but American customers are stuck with the 32GB model, unfortunately. When I purchased the HTC 10 back in May, even the color options were limited to the Gunmetal Gray (there’s still only one color Verizon users can select, for example). Most won’t mind the 32GB model being the only option available since Adoptable Storage is accessible – but it would’ve been nice for HTC to give customers a chance to not need that microSD card slot altogether.

Additionally, HTC has a SIM card slot and a microSD card slot. The first time I inserted a SIM card into the device, I had to figure out which slot was which on the HTC 10. This is not necessarily a good thing for consumers, seeing that some customers may be former Samsung customers. Samsung’s current crop of smartphones (Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7 Active, Galaxy Note 7) have one card slot for both the SIM and microSD cards, and HTC’s two card slots seem outdated as compared to its 2016 rivals.

Cameras

Cameras are often where the best part of the smartphone experience lies for many consumers, though cameras, like phones, are not created equal. I’ve spent some time taking the HTC 10 with its 12MP back camera and f/1.8 aperture out in the wild and comparing it to a rival flagship camera. The results are that the HTC 10 has vibrant colors, with really green “greens” but suffers from overexposure and a haze surrounding its photos that seems to crop up in every photo.

HTC 10 red leaf photo Galaxy S7 Active red leaf photo

I did a small photo shoot between the HTC 10 and the Galaxy S7 Active (which  has the same 12MP Dual Pixel phase detection autofocus as the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, and Galaxy Note 7 as well as an f/1.7 aperture). In some photos in which the Galaxy S7 Active provided shade and “cool” greens that suffered colorwise when in the shade, the HTC 10 still showed vibrant, lively “greens.” And yet, the Galaxy S7 Active’s 12MP camera creates living photos in a way that the HTC 10 photo of a red leaf on the grass does not. The HTC 10 photo on the left above looks lively in the moment it was taken, but the Galaxy S7 Active photo of the same red leaf looks as though I’m still outdoors, living in the same moment the photo was taken.

HTC 10 tree bark Galaxy S7 Active tree bark vs. HTC 10

HTC 10 tree bark zoom Galaxy S7 Active tree bark zoom vs. HTC 10

In another photo regarding tree bark, the HTC 10 photo has the kind of saturation you’d expect from photos in the sun. The Galaxy S7 Active, in contrast, shows slightly colder grass and bushes but tends to show tree bark, for example, in detail (you can zoom in on it without seeing noise immediately, contrary to the HTC 10 photo). The HTC 10 doesn’t provide the same detail: it doesn’t take too long to zoom in and see nothing but color blur. You can see the zoom quality in the second set of tree bark photos above.

The HTC 10 struggled to autofocus, requiring a manual tap on the screen to focus the lens to snap the photo. Taking photos without using the manual autofocus feature resulted in photos that captured leaves but left “blurry” flowers. In contrast, the S7 Active’s 12MP camera didn’t need my manual autofocus skills to craft a great shot. Flowers came out well crafted, and backgrounds were given that sexy “bokeh” of which professional photographers can never get enough.

HTC 10 porch and steps vs. S7 Active Galaxy S7 Active porch and steps vs. HTC 10

HTC 10 crate myrtle vs. S7 Active Galaxy S7 Active crate myrtle vs. HTC 10

HTC 10 distant leaves photo vs. S7 Active Galaxy S7 Active distant leaves vs. HTC 10

There are other photos you can see below that show the differences between the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 Active camera shots. In the final analysis, though, Samsung’s photos are great enough as is, with accurate exposure the majority of the time. The HTC 10, even with vibrant colors, struggles with exposure. It could be the case that the back camera lens is too fingerprint-prone and that smudges affect the shots (as was the case with some of my photos throughout general usage time), but the “haze” over the photos is just too common in the 10’s photos to just be a small issue. It seems as if most photos taken outdoors are too overexposed with the HTC 10, while Samsung’s S7 Active photos give a balanced amount of sunlight and shade that brings moments to life.

In the end, I give the win in the camera department to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active and the entire S7 series and Galaxy Note 7.

Note: After writing this section, I did some research and discovered two things: 1) that a review from a well-known publication had the same haze issue with the HTC 10 photos, and 2) that there’s a lens flare issue with the HTC 10 due to the lack of an oleophobic camera lens cover (oleophobic means that it is fingerprint-resistant). As I said above, fingerprint smudges also affect the quality of shots with the HTC 10.

You can view the HTC 10 camera performance below.

 

Battery and Battery Life

Battery life on the HTC 10 has been good, though I wouldn’t call it great like I would the battery life of the Galaxy S7 Active, for example. And yet, I’ve often gotten 7-9 hours of screen-on time and about 26 hours of battery life (on average). In the most heavy usage times, I’ve been able to get about 15-17 hours of battery life and about 7 hours of screen-on time (SOT). Since I’m one to use my smartphone all the time, these stats are good (and at times, quite exceptional), but the OnePlus 3 can also achieve the same stats with its 3,000mAh battery – so the HTC 10 battery life isn’t all that exceptional. Additionally, the 9-hour SOT scores below were consistent at first, then the average battery life dropped to 7 hours SOT. With that said, keep in mind that every phone has a honeymoon battery phase; 4 months in, though, I can tell you that the honeymoon phase doesn’t last too long with the HTC 10, however.

It will suffice for what you need if you’re on your phone all day, provided that you’re not using Bluetooth much or too reliant on cellular data. The battery stats provided below used airplane mode and WiFi calling and texting because of a mysterious “voice roaming” message that would pop up and live in my notification shade each time I’d disable airplane mode and let my cellular data co-exist with WiFi. I discovered that enabling airplane mode put an end to the voice roaming messages.

To read the battery stats below, keep in mind that every 3 or 4 screenshots (read from left to right) mark a new battery charge.

 

Pros and Cons 

After all the discussion of the HTC 10’s internals and the goodies you get with the device, it’s time to examine what’s to like and what’s not to like.

Since the HTC 10 is a high-end Android flagship, it must be compared to other available flagships such as the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, and Galaxy S7 Active. The pros and cons below are based on how the device stacks up against its currently available competitors, though I realize that other devices such as the LG V20 with its 32-bit Quad DAC Hi-Fi sound may come along and challenge the HTC 10’s 24-bit HiFi sound.

HTC 10 Pros 

The HTC 10 has a front-facing fingerprint sensor that is a departure from the back-mounted fingerprint sensor days of the HTC One M7, for example. I for one am thankful that the company has ditched fingerprint readers/sensors on the back of the device because I see little usefulness for anything much to sit on the back of the device. Back-mounted fingerprint sensors send the message that consumers will have their devices in hand all the time, but that just isn’t true. HTC bakes a fingerprint sensor in the front panel, and the location is the exact place where most individuals feel comfortable placing their finger.

I also have to say that the HTC 10 has good audio. Some tech reviewers call it excellent, but I wouldn’t go that far. The audio sound is better than all HTC’s rivals are offering at the moment, so you won’t need to turn your phone upside down or make sure the speakers are facing you so as to get a decent quality sound. The HTC 10’s audio doesn’t sound like its reverberating in your ear or that the recording took place miles away; instead, it sounds as though the recording is being done live, as you listen to the music. Skype conversations, Google Play Music, and even YouTube videos sound good on the HTC 10, so audio is perhaps one of the 10’s better-performing departments.

Adoptable Storage with Android 6.0 Marshmallow is another win for HTC. There are a number of high-end Android OEMs like LG and Samsung that aren’t doing Adoptable Storage for their handsets, so HTC’s decision to include it here is an extra choice that HTC 10 users get as opposed to those who buy from the other 2 OEMs just mentioned. Adoptable Storage lets you take a 256GB microSD card and add it to your 32GB of internal storage (for a total of 288GB of internal formatted storage). You won’t run out of storage or need another microSD card with Adoptable Storage. There are downsides as I mentioned above, but some view the good as outweighing the bad and will appreciate this stand-out feature in the HTC 10 when deciding which Android smartphone is worth their money.

The device itself is comprised of majority metal with some plastic strip on the top, for example, and the antenna bands that run across the back of the device, and some appreciate metal build quality. The 10 is definitely thinner and lighter than my memories of the HTC One M7 and One M8, which has made it a great device to use over the last 4 months. It’s not a fingerprint magnet as has been said of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 series and the Galaxy Note 7, but the HTC 10 still keeps fingerprints more than I’d like it to. I still find my greasy, sweaty palms leaving fingerprint smudges on the back of this metal device – and I still have to wipe the back of the device off from time to time. Just keep this in mind if you intend to pick up the HTC 10 later this year.

Splash resistance is another win for the HTC 10, seeing that the 10’s IP53 certification is something that One M9 users (and earlier) did not get. Every device needs some form of water resistance because no one can predict with 100% accuracy and 100% certainty that they’ll never drop their device in a water puddle or have water spill all over their device at a restaurant (or get drowned with the rain while out in bad weather). Life’s situations and circumstances are uncertain, and, to that end, mandate a device that is just as life-proof as it is well-built.

Finally, HTC’s Theme Store is a welcome addition for those who want to personalize their devices even further. Verizon has HTC theme support, unlike LG theme support – which is virtually a pipe dream at Big Red. If Verizon customers want to theme their device and they’re considering LG or HTC, HTC is the most likely bet outside of Samsung’s S7 series. In addition to all this, the build quality is unparalleled. HTC 10 users will not be afraid to pull out their phone and flaunt it for all to see, that’s for sure.

HTC 10 Cons 

There are a few things to really like about the HTC 10, but there are things to dislike. Until one examines the criticisms, he or she can never know how strong the strengths really are.

Display

First on the list of drawbacks or things not to like is the lack of an AMOLED panel. Although IPS LCD panels are cheap to buy and cost a dime a dozen (not literally, mind you), AMOLED panels offer the deepest, darkest blacks and most vibrant colors your eyes can see. They’re a bit saturated in nature and some don’t want such saturation, but I for one welcome it. I think that if any OEM wants me to keep its device in my hands for a long time, then the device should have a screen with the most lifelike colors.

AMOLEDs are far superior to LCDs, but I have a feeling that HTC wanted to cut cost and opted for an IPS LCD over the AMOLED panels the company uses for its One A9 smartphone. Why HTC did this I’ll never know, but it seems obvious to me that when a company uses AMOLED on one phone and then switches back to LCD for a later generation, money is key.

Speaking of the display, HTC is shooting itself in the foot through its lack of transparency about the Gorilla Glass generation it’s providing for consumers. Some consumers have Gorilla Glass 4 in the One M9 while some had GG3, and HTC never clarified what it did in production. The same can be said for the HTC 10, seeing that the Taiwanese phone maker never clarifies whether it’s “Gorilla Glass 3” or “Gorilla Glass 4” on its website.

Some say that it’s safe to bet on GG3, but I’m not sure this is the case at all: for all we know, HTC could be using GG1 or GG2 instead of GG3 or GG4, and could simply do what it wants by remaining silent. The problem with this is that, for $700, consumers want a durable glass that doesn’t shatter as easily as previous generations. HTC’s silence on the subject shows that, while the company doesn’t want to be accused of false advertising, it can be accused of not caring about customers enough to give them the best.

No consumer gives $700 to an OEM to get shortchanged on the device’s durability. LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony, and other OEMs can be open and transparent about the GG generation they’re using; why can’t HTC? If HTC can’t be open about this, what else is HTC hiding? Why should you buy a device from a company that remains quiet so as to continue giving you an inferior durability and inferior display – all while charging you $700 for what you think is the latest-generation display? If you pay the latest-generation price, you should have the latest-generation tech. HTC can’t expect to scam consumers under the radar like this and then expect its devices to sell well.

Storage

The HTC 10 has 32GB of minimum storage which is fine for most consumers, but a 64GB option would have been nice. After all, it’s normal for US customers to feel cheated when they only get 32GB while other worldwide consumers get their choice of 32GB or 64GB. Sony has sent the impression that it doesn’t care about the US (which explains why few Americans will even touch the new Xperia X series or the old Xperia Z series), and HTC can’t afford to ignore the American market when it’s one of the largest markets worldwide for HTC rivals Apple and Samsung.

It doesn’t take away from the experience for most, but it’s somewhat disappointing to see 3 colors of the HTC 10 unveiled but only get to choose the Gunmetal Gray offering. It’s not a bad option, but we wish HTC would’ve had the Camellia Red option (once exclusive to Japan) available at launch for worldwide customers. Customers who ordered the Gunmetal Gray because no other color option was available now have to live with the gray – when they could’ve gotten the red model.

OEMs have so many months to prepare for their high-end flagship announcements, and we expect HTC to get things together in 2017 with regard to color options. The more options you give consumers at launch, the more they’ll return to buy your handset, year after year. There shouldn’t be an issue with delayed color options because OEMs have 12 months before the next flagship’s release to straighten this all out. If HTC were launching multiple flagship phones a year, like Samsung, then we could give a break here. With the company launching less than 25% of the phones Samsung launches annually, there’s simply no excuse for delayed color options.

Camera

The HTC 10 front camera is 5MP and utilizes Samsung’s S5K4E6 camera sensor but comes with optical image stabilization (or OIS). The front camera OIS on the HTC 10 is the first front-facing smartphone camera to incorporate OIS for the front camera, and it appears to do a nice job. The 12MP back camera takes expected photos, though HTC has made great strides in improving its back camera from the 20MP sensor found in last year’s One M9. The one drawback to the HTC 10 back camera is that the back camera lens gets too glossy, too quickly.

I’ve purchased a lot of phones this year and am always touching the backs of phones where the cameras are located, but the HTC 10 has the most fingerprint-sensitive back camera of all the high-end Android smartphones I’ve picked up this year (that includes the Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7 Active, LG G5, Galaxy Note 7, and OnePlus 3).

The end result of the fingerprint sensitivity is that photos reflect that “smudginess,” taking away from the overall moment. HTC needs to have something of an oleophobic-resistant coating on the back camera lens to prevent that from being an issue with consumers.

Battery

Battery life has been standard on the HTC 10, with the 10 giving less battery life than the Galaxy S7 edge with its 3,600mAh battery. HTC upped the battery capacity from 2,840mAh on the One M9 to just 3,000mAh this year – which is only a slight battery bump of 160mAh. Now, the HTC 10 battery capacity is greater than that of the LG G5’s 2,800mAh, but the 10 still needs some work when compared to the 3,600mAh battery of the Galaxy S7 edge, for example. The S7 edge has the potential to provide 36 hours of battery life; the HTC 10 will hardly ever get you there. You may get 30 hours max if you’re lucky (and you’ll have to cut some corners to get there). On this latest charge, the battery pulled out to 27 hours before cutting off. You may get more if you’re not a moderate to heavy user as I am (in tech, I live on mobile).

Customers can never get enough battery, but the 3,000mAh battery is only enough to get you through the day, if at that. In my own use, I only got about 17-18 hours (max) out of the device, with 15 hours of battery life and 7 hours of screen-on time (SOT) consistently in repeat battery stats. The HTC 10’s battery capacity is slightly larger than that of the iPhone 7 Plus, so 15 hours of WiFi browsing for the iPhone 7 Plus matches what I got from the HTC 10 on a regular basis. This is okay, but not enough for high-end smartphones in 2016.

HTC fails in another area as well when it comes to battery: there are no HTC battery modes to help, save for the extreme mode that disables nearly everything. Samsung has revamped its Power Saving Mode in the Galaxy Note 7 to give you the option to scale down the resolution to save battery life. You won’t get that here with the HTC 10, so good luck conserving your battery on your own. The 10 doesn’t provide in-built wireless charging either for flexibility. While wireless charging still relies on a stationary cable connected to a charging pad, it’s a safer way to charge your device and maintain a healthy battery while not forcing you to connect your phone directly into the wall and “shock charge” it all the time.

I want to say this here: battery life is not terrible (it’s anything but that), but HTC could’ve done more to bring a compelling battery performance – such as giving a larger battery. The company simply did little to add more battery life here, with the exception of the USB Type-C charging capabilities and QuickCharge 3.0 via Qualcomm that don’t quite do the job.

The 3,000mAh battery takes 90 minutes to charge via the USB-C cable, which is still 9 minutes behind Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 (81 minutes, from 2015; it doesn’t have USB-C but micro-USB instead) and 17 minutes behind OnePlus’s OnePlus 3 from 2016 (3,000mAh battery with USB-C charging that only takes 73 minutes to charge). To make matters worse, the 3,000mAh OnePlus 3 lasts 22-24 hours consistently, which poses problems for the HTC 10 because it didn’t. 15-17 hours on the HTC 10 was the stamina extent, so the OnePlus 3 (that retails for $399.99; yes, you’re reading the price right!) outperforms the HTC 10 in battery life.

All this is to say that battery life is sufficient for some, but moderate to heavy users will still need to plug the phone in by day’s end (if not earlier). HTC needs to go beyond adding a mere 160mAh extra to the battery in 2017. A 3300mAh or 3400mAh battery would be nice. I’d rather have seen the addition of a much larger battery and the addition of wireless charging capabilities than the additional chamfered edges all around the HTC 10’s body. Wireless charging is not possible with a metal unibody design, though, which would’ve meant that HTC needed to make something that wasn’t so “metallic.” Again, though, HTC cut corners in order to save on costs, all while charging $700 and making more money from this phone that seems all too familiar to the One M9, One M8, and One M7.

Splash Resistance

Splash resistance has been viewed as a win here to give consumers some form of water protection, but it simply doesn’t stack up against Samsung and Apple when both top brands have employed water and dust resistance (not splash resistance) in their 2016 smartphone lineup. Apple’s iPhone 7 has it, thanks to Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S7 edge, and Note 7.

Splash resistance is still a vague term because in most situations, your phone still won’t be able to stand water. How many splashes does it take before your phone dies? How large or small the splash that can kill the HTC 10? The device itself is Ingress Protection (or IP) certified, but IP53 refers to the lightest of splashes, small splashes of water (usually water dots), but nothing like a submersion or huge water flood of any sort. In other words, don’t drop the HTC 10 in the sink while washing dishes, or accidentally leave it in your favorite pair of jeans that just so happen to get washed on the weekend.

The Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7 Active, and Galaxy Note 7 are all IP68-certified for dustproofing and strong water resistance (though not waterproof); the iPhone 7 is also strongly dust-resistant but not as water-resistant as the Samsung S7 series (it bears a “7” rating to Samsung’s “8” for waterproofing). The iPhone 7, Galaxy S7 series, and Galaxy Note 7 are all water-resistant, but the HTC 10 is splash-resistant. Splashes and water submersions are not synonymous, which means that the 10 has very little water protection at all.

Now, to be fair to HTC, the company does provide an Uh-Oh Protection Plan that lets you exchange your device twice in a year, even in cases of water damage, but consumers shouldn’t have to exchange their devices because they lack waterproofing. Providing water damage replacement on a phone that should have water protection built in is nothing more than putting a band-aid on a wound instead of preventing the wound from occurring in the first place. If the wound can be prevented, then there’s no need for a band-aid; similarly, if water protection can prevent water damage on the 10 itself, then HTC’s Uh-Oh Protection would be mostly obsolete.

Above the IP53 certification (I think HTC should’ve gone for IP68 or at least IP67), having just splash resistance on a premium, high-end device is nothing short of a scandal. Splash resistance is just not good enough for a high-end, $700 Android device. Perhaps it’s better than none at all, but it’s just not good enough. If we were talking about the HTC Desire series, I’d still disagree, but at least splash resistance would be justified by the far lower price tag. At $700, I shouldn’t have to worry about my device getting water damage when I’m paying top dollar for a top-notch phone.

HTC cut corners on this as well, I’m afraid, which means that consumers who pick up this phone aren’t getting the water and dust protection their devices will need to last. As with its Gorilla Glass panel, you’re paying $700 but HTC is skimping out on durability for its high-end flagship.

No consumer VR headset

This is another interesting thought that hit me in the course of preparing this review. HTC has said that it’s betting big on VR as the wave of the future and has even released its HTC Vive that is catching developer attention. At the same time, though, the HTC Vive mandates a PC with comparable hardware and at least 6GB or 8GB of RAM to operate it, with few consumers wanting to spend $500 for the headset (the price of the HTC Vive) and then spend another $500+ to get a comparable desktop PC for it. Why not create a consumer VR headset and release it with the HTC 10?

Sure, Google’s Daydream VR headset is on the way and all high-end Android phones will be Daydream VR-ready, but that doesn’t excuse HTC when the company has already created a VR headset for the high-end market. With the company’s smartphone sales in decline, having a consumer VR headset would’ve been a surefire way to drum up consumer interest and get some Samsung customers to reconsider the company’s devices once again.

The lack of a consumer VR headset means that HTC isn’t interested in courting its customers and giving them a taste of the company’s vision. Yes, HTC also released JBL Reflect Aware headphones with its handset for pre-orders, and even gave $100 off the retail price of the handset or $100 off accessories, but a VR headset might’ve been a better way to go for HTC. After all, if VR is the wave of the future, why not introduce your HTC 10 consumers to the future?

With the need to look like a rising tech company, a consumer VR headset would’ve been a wise idea – but HTC decided to go its own way and market the 10 as a phone for audiophiles. Not everyone is obsessed with audio quality. What about the VR crowd? Apparently, they’ll have to wait for the new HTC/Google Pixel smartphones to get a taste of VR in the twenty-first century.

Conclusion 

I’ve gone into great lengths to discuss HTC’s efforts in the HTC 10, as well as pros and cons that are problematic for what was to be HTC’s comeback device.

HTC could’ve given a definitive statement on its Gorilla Glass display, provided a free consumer VR headset, and even lowered the price of the 10 to win consumers back to the company, but it decided to go against these things entirely.

The HTC 10 is a device that is fluid, fast, and capable of just about anything you want to do. Unfortunately, HTC decided to remove much of its own proprietary software this year in order to win over tech geeks who are in love with basic Android apps and want a “bloat-free” experience so as to use their storage how they please. It’s never a wise decision to completely scale down the experience to take away a lot of the functionality that made your devices stand out. Plus, HTC’s proprietary software wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t slowing down the company’s devices to begin with.

HTC will never compete with Google when it comes to updates and functionality, but the company could’ve won back some of the old guard that turned to Samsung because HTC has become irrelevant to them. Without much functionality to distinguish between an HTC 10 and an upcoming Google Pixel device (that’ll be manufactured by HTC), what’s the point in buying a 10 when the Pixel device will have much more to offer thanks to Google aiming for functionality now over form (and retail for nearly the same price)?

In the final analysis, the HTC 10 has to compete with Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S7 edge, S7 Active, and Note 7, and the phone doesn’t have the muscle to do so. Samsung’s phones offer a revamped UI, best-in-class cameras, great battery life and larger battery capacities than most phones in the high-end Android market, true water and dust resistance, eye-watering AMOLED displays, alongside of additional functionality such as a new Power Saving Mode and water and dust resistance in its Galaxy Note 7, and a new Translate feature in the Note 7 that lets you translate words by just hovering the S Pen (now water-resistant, too) above the word on the screen, among other things.

Samsung also gives away a free Gear VR headset (worth $99), a 256GB microSD card (worth $200), or a free Gear Fit2 fitness band (worth $200) with its smartphone sales, which HTC’s incentives can’t touch. HTC is a company that wants to make money without having to compromise financially, but Samsung is having success because it knows how to court and woo consumers.

In the high-end Android market, as well as in life, you can’t cut corners and hope to have a great result. HTC has cut corners on the Gorilla Glass display, fast charging, splash resistance, and reduced proprietary functionality in order to gain adherents and make some quick sales, but at what cost? A lot. The cost is great.

This isn’t to say that the HTC 10 isn’t a good handset, because it is. And yet, for what it gives you, the $700 price tag is simply too high. Had the HTC 10 been released 4 years ago, the price tag would’ve been standard and expected. In 2016, though, with budget-friendly phones such as the OnePlus 3 offering the majority of what consumers need at half the cost, $700 is expected to carry the consumer much further than a basic “Google-licious” experience with HTC branding. Samsung’s devices are selling for $700-$800 and provide $100-$200 in incentives. Oh, did I mention that the Gear VR from Samsung comes with 6 free games out of the box?

The HTC 10 is a good device, and it’s better in user experience than the LG G5, but sadly, that’s not saying much. It’s like saying that someone is less criminal than the worst criminal. The HTC 10 offers one a vanilla Android experience, with a selfie and back camera, some splash resistance, USB Type-C charging, a standard battery size, and the same metal build quality for $700. If HTC worked hard to improve the camera, that’s about all HTC did to prepare the 10 for sale. If there are any other changes here worth bragging about, I’m not seeing them.

In short, the HTC 10 is above LG in the market but woefully under Samsung when it comes to giving you the best bang for your buck. In 2016, it’s just not acceptable to get a measly vanilla Android UI experience out of the box and charge $700 for it. Consumers want more and expect more, but it seems as though HTC didn’t get the memo.

 

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Deidre Richardson (dual B.A., History and Music, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) stumbled upon tech a little later in life than expected. After picking up her first smartphone (the Galaxy S3), the rest is history. She currently writes for SamMobile, the largest Samsung fan site worldwide, as well as smartwatch site smartwatch.me.

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