If there's any smartphone manufacturer that deserves a second chance it's HTC. We can credit HTC for much of what we love about smartphones today. It popularised Android, it pushed premium metal design and build quality, and focused on user experience.
HTC forged an exciting segment of the market, adding innovation, and was then cannibalised by it. HTC's road leading up to the HTC 10 over the past 10 years is long, twisted, and well documented. The company has more recently been behind the manufacture of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, which bear a passing resemblance to the HTC 10 too.
With this new champion smartphone, HTC is looking to regain form. This is the smartphone that HTC fans have been waiting for. A lot has changed in the HTC 10, but it is quintessentially a HTC handset. We first wrote this review after a week, but we've been using the HTC 10 for 6 months and this phone is still a star.
HTC 10 review: Serious, stealthy design
The HTC 10 is an evolution of the body design of the HTC One models that came before it, retaining (importantly) the full metal unibody that previous handsets evolved. This is anodised and bead-blasted aluminium giving a slick, but understated finish. There's a feeling of competency in the HTC 10 that's a result of experience in design and manufacture, but perhaps also a result of lessons learnt.
The biggest design differentiator in the HTC 10 is the deep rear chamfer. It adds a unique look to the handset, although it's a fairly simple solution: HTC isn't reinventing the wheel, it's very much working with what it knows.
It's neither the thinnest nor the lightest handset out there at this size - weighing 161g and measuring 154.9 x 71.9 x 9mm - but that doesn't really matter as in this case the size and weight make the HTC 10 feel reassuringly solid.
There are a mixture of colours available in different regions too, generally spanning red, carbon grey, silver and gold. There's some regional variation in whether the rear is paired with a black or white front.
The front of the handset is an exercise in reinvention, however, markedly different to previous HTC flagships. It very much continues the work started by the HTC One A9, the phone that was accused of being an iPhone clone. That said, there's an elegance to the face of the HTC 10, with a single sheet of Gorilla Glass covering the whole of the front, with nice 2.5D curves rolling into the metal bodywork at the edges.
There's the fingerprint scanner on the front, flanked with capacitive controls, meaning the HTC 10 makes better use of space than previous devices, as there's less on the display, the HTC branding has been removed, as have the BoomSound speaker grilles.
Although the HTC 10 doesn't offer the sort of water-resistance that Samsung is now including (in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 edge models), it does carry an IP53 rating. This means a light spraying with water should be ok - like checking Google Maps quickly in the rain, not standing in the shower.
HTC 10 review: BoomSound Hi-Fi edition rocks
One of the obvious design changes means that BoomSound as it was known and loved is no longer. But don't panic: the audio story surrounding the HTC 10 is mighty impressive, perhaps more so for losing the big front-facing speakers.
BoomSound still exists, but things have changed, with the lower speaker becoming a bass speaker and the top ear speaker becoming a tweeter. Each has a separate amplifier, meaning the HTC 10 is still a formidable audio performer.
There's plenty of volume and clarity, so if you're listening to music through the speakers or watching something on YouTube, this is much more proficient than the iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S7. BoomSound, in that sense, is very much alive.
It does have a weakness in this arrangement, however, and that is stereo separation. We've found that you'll sometimes get a shrill left and a bassy right as the stereo pushes through the top and bottom speaker respectively. If you're a fan of your 70s rock that jumps from left to right, you will probably want to put your headphones on for the better experience.
But that's only a small part of the story, as HTC is changing gears on the headphones front. Firstly, the HTC 10 offers a 24-bit DAC (digital-analogue converter), aiming to up-convert your music for better quality, but it also offers a more powerful headphone amp, meaning it will drive higher quality headphones too.
The HTC 10 is Hi-Res certified and it comes with Hi-Res headphones in the box as standard for those in the UK (in the US you'll have to buy them separately). These headphones are good performers, offering a meaty punch in the bass section and plenty of volume. They are comfortable to wear and we'd recommend them, as they sound great. The only downside, perhaps, is that the cables are a little thin, not as substantial as some of the Hi-Res alternatives you might look to buy. Still, as bundled headphones go, they're amongst the best out there.
There's also a Personal Audio profile feature that launches the first time you connect your headphones. This will let you tune the music to your headphones and your ears to get the best type of sound for you. It's a great little feature and something well worth doing.
The takeaway message here is that BoomSound is still BoomSound and the HTC 10 is one of the best sounding handsets around.
HTC 10 review: Hardware specs and performance
There's no doubt that the HTC 10 is a hugely powerful handset. It comes equipped with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset and 4GB of RAM, so it's entirely competitive against other flagship devices. Those numbers really mean the HTC 10 is slick and fast to use, entirely capable of delivering a leading smartphone experience.
HTC said that the focus of its software efforts were really on optimisation to make this phone as fast as it could be in regular tasks, like responding to touch and launching your apps. Certainly, there's no sign of delay, whether that's launching hardcore games or in your daily use, although we can't say it's any faster than say, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, in normal use.
It does this without getting excessively hot, something that was criticised in the previous flagship handset. Some of this comes down to better thermal handling in the Snapdragon 820 chipset: it seems for Qualcomm that the return to quad-core rather than 2015's octa-core 810 has had great results.
The HTC 10 also offers a microSD card slot, meaning you can boost the storage cheaply and easily. This is fully compatible with Android Marshmallow's adoptable storage feature which we like, as you can have external storage acting like internal storage, seamlessly handled, meaning loads of space for apps and data. Just make sure you use the fastest card you can afford, if you choose to do this.
We don't always talk about things like connectivity on devices as they're all pretty good. But we have found that the HTC 10 is a little weaker on Wi-Fi connection. Although we notice that it runs out of range slighter faster than most rivals, we've not actually encountered any problems resulting from that in normal use. However, if you have weak Wi-Fi around your home, you might.
The fingerprint scanner on the front is excellent, offering fast and reliable unlocking. We've had no problems with this scanner at all and we like that it's employed as a home button too. But, just to make it clear, this isn't a clickable button as you'll find on a Samsung device, it's just a touch sensor.
HTC 10 review: Battery performance
One of HTC's claims was that optimisations and efficiencies were going to result in a 2-day life from the 3,000mAh battery. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case and our experience is that the HTC 10 offers average performance for such capacity. That means you're likely to get through most of the day before it's begging to be charged and typically we've found it lasting to the early evening before it's time for a top-up.
In that sense, the HTC 10 isn't such a battery marvel and doesn't really push things forward. It's not hugely different to the real world performance of the Samsung Galaxy S7 (which has the same battery capacity), both obviously falling short of the larger SGS7 edge with its 3,400mAh battery.
Perhaps the saving grace of the HTC 10's battery is the USB Type-C connection on the bottom. This supports Quick Charge 3.0, so you'll get back to full again in about an hour of charging when paired up with HTC's charger. Yes, it comes with a Quick Charge charger in the box, which is another positive.
There is a battery saving mode in software that's an extension of the previous offering from HTC. It will let you engage power saving when you hit a particular battery level (from 50 per cent or less), but it then alerts you that the battery is running low and flashes an orange light at you, so you're better engaging it manually to save power when you need to. This will extend the life of your device at the cost of screen brightness and by throttling the hardware, so things are a little slower.
HTC 10 review: Display
HTC has made the display move that many have been calling for: stepping the HTC 10 up to a 5.2-inch Quad HD display. That means you have a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels (564ppi density), making this one of the sharpest displays out there. This is a Super LCD 5 panel, rather than the AMOLED that we saw on the One A9 and as preferred by some rivals.
The display is sharp, detailed, and you can tune the colour slightly if you want it warmer or cooler, as well as pick from sRGB or Vivid colour profiles. That gives you the chance to realistically tweak the visuals in a way that many don't (Huawei has a detailed setup in the P9, as one example). It's worth playing around here too, because if you like the screaming colour of AMOLED then you can do a good job of replicating it here.
However, this isn't the best display out there and that's not solely due to the choice of display technology: the auto-brightness is a little sluggish and doesn't give you the boost you'll need to see the phone in bright conditions outdoors. You can swipe up using the slider in the quick settings pane, but really you shouldn't have to.
The result is that the HTC 10 can look a little dim at times and that makes it seem less impactful than its rivals, when actually it's just not upping the brightness enough. Combine this sluggish auto-brightness with the power saver option and you can be left with a display that's not very visible outdoors, especially if you're wearing sunglasses.
As a final point, the viewing angles on the HTC 10 aren't hugely impressive, with the display taking a pinkish tinge when viewed from oblique angles. Set on a table, for example, and that might mean things aren't quite as impactful as rivals, but in face-on use it makes little difference.
HTC 10 software review: A new Sense makes sense
The HTC 10 debuts a new version of Sense that HTC is trying hard not to call Sense 8.0. However, that's become the friendly term for the "Android with HTC Sense" software on the HTC 10. As that name suggests, however, it's quite a move on from older versions of Sense.
We've written a lot about the changes in HTC Sense 8.0 in a separate review, so if you like your HTC software or just want to see what it offers and what's changed, there's a lot of detail to read in our Sense 8.0 review, link below.
The main theme for the HTC 10 is going back to basics and getting things right. That's very much the position of the software as it moves to be closer to the Android Marshmallow core it sits on. HTC has confirmed that an update to Android Nougat is in the works, but there's no current date for that to happen. There was a time when HTC changed everything in a phone, but that time has gone and the future is all about customising and making Android better.
That means there's a reduction in apps and a general adoption of a lot of Android norms. That sees some HTC apps removed, like the HTC calendar, opting for the standard Android calendar instead. Around the device there are differences too, with HTC leaving the settings menu and quick settings pretty much to Android's design, rather than changing things that aren't really necessary.
There are a few bundled apps, including the Facebook suite (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram), but otherwise it's a pretty clear device. There are a few HTC services that still exist too: BlinkFeed, which offers an at-a-glance summary of your most recent and relevant content, is still in place in the standard launcher (this is easily changed); there's still the full range of customisation through Themes, something that HTC has expanded this time around with Freestyle layout.
This Freestyle option lets you change the home pages so you're not confined to a grid. You can arrange your selection of stickers however you like and have them link through to your apps too. It's a quirky bit of fun.
But one of the big casualties in this Sense 8.0 culling is Gallery. This HTC app - and the editing functions that sat within it - was very much the focus of the One M9 handset in 2015 and now it's gone. Instead you have Google's standard Photos app, which has its own editing functions onboard, so it's no great loss. Photos is regularly updated and has lots of features, including online backup, so your photos can be safely stored within Google's bosom.
The keyboard switches to TouchPal in Sense 8.0, although we found that SwiftKey offers a better overall experience. Again, it's easy enough to change between your preferred one.
You still have native support for sharing from the device via HTC Connect, with a three-finger swipe allowing you beam content to other devices. HTC Connect supports a wide range of protocols - Google Cast, Bluetooth, AllPlay - but now also supports Apple's AirPlay. This again widens the range of compatible devices, which is a great bonus for HTC, and the first non-Apple device to support it.
Overall, the software on the HTC 10 is a little like the phone's design: it's serious. Some of the fun has been removed with the loss of some of HTC's quirks, but we can't say we miss anything. The reduction in bloat is welcomed and we've found the HTC 10 to be slick and fast in operation, which is always good.
We like the move that HTC has made because we like the core Android operating system underneath. Unlike Samsung's TouchWiz, this HTC handset feels like an Android device, whereas Samsung's phone feels like a Samsung phone. That should be popular with Android fans, but the counter argument is that some character of Sense has been lost.
HTC 10 review: Camera performance
HTC has flip-flopped with cameras over its past three flagship phones, but in the HTC 10, the company has settled for conventionality and the results are much better for it. The HTC 10 is equipped with a 12-megapixel rear camera, with a Sony sensor offering large 1.55µm pixels. This is being called an UltraPixel camera, but you can safely ignore that branding, as that's all it is. There is a f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation, as well as laser autofocus.
That's a packed spec sheet and the results bear that out: this is HTC's best smartphone camera for a long time. It now offers auto HDR (high dynamic range) which has been missing for some time, balancing out highs and lows within shots without getting too unrealistic. In good conditions, the HTC 10 camera takes consistently good photos, with natural colour balance. It's all packed into a brand new app as well, that's easier to use than the previous one.
In lower light conditions, the ISO sensitivity tends to jump a little high to capture the shot and then this is processed out smoothly - so you lose some detail along the way. This is typical for a smartphone (and indeed any camera), but because we have access to raw files from the camera, we can also look at the unprocessed files too.
These raw files are typically lacking colour, so the HTC 10 is putting a lot of colour correction back into photos to make them look natural again, for all shooting conditions. Luckily, everything looks good in the final images you get, and that's the important point. Low-light performance is pretty good too, along with the good results we've got from a wide range of conditions.
There's also a manual mode that will open up the option to capture raw (or have access to the DNG files), as well as a full range of manual controls. This will let you restrain the ISO, for example, but it's limited to a 2-second capture. Yes, you'd need a solid support for that length of capture, by which point you might as well offer something longer, like 10 seconds, or 30 seconds to widen the range of options.
It's not all good news however. The laser autofocus on the back doesn't seem to be the fastest around, there's a distinct pulse to the focusing reticule and things slow down in lower light, although touch focusing is offered. We got a number of errors relating to the laser sensor on the rear, with reports of it being covered when it wasn't - we suspect it gets confused when something is too close.
There's also an interesting lack of choice with metering. The camera assesses the whole frame and you can't specifically select where you want to meter. Usually when you touch to focus, this also acts as the metering point, so you get the chance to alter things a little. On the HTC 10 you can't. That might not matter, but if you have a high contrast scene you might find you can't get the camera to do exactly what you want. When all is said and done, though, the HTC 10 gives you some great photos and that's what matters.
The front camera is also very capable. There's a 5-megapixel camera offering both autofocus and optical image stabilisation, as well as featuring an adaptive selfie flash. This will flash the screen in the right tone to match the conditions you're in to keep you looking natural. It works well and selfies are produced with plenty of detail. When the light dims things are a little more mottled, but it's still a pretty good performer.
Aside from photos, you get 4K video capture, with Hi-Res audio as an option, although you're limited to 6 minutes of 4K capture. There's also Zoe camera for grabbing 3-second video clips, which can be usefully spun into highlight videos by Zoe Video Editor, which is quick, easy and fun.
What's really missing is a decent quick-launch for the camera. We've raved about Samsung's double press home button shortcut, as well as the same function on the power button of the Nexus 5X and 6P. With the HTC it's a lift and double swipe of the display to launch the camera, which is just too fussy to reliably use.
The HTC 10 is the most compelling smartphone from HTC in the past few years. This new handset wipes out the spectre of the HTC One M9, presenting a device with serious hardware and build, and finally a camera that gives you good consistent results without much effort.
There are some great positives: the sound quality is excellent, both through the speakers and headphones; the bundled headphones (for those regions that get them in the box) are again amazing; and the inclusion of a Quick Charge 3 charger is the icing on the cake. HTC isn't leaving anything to chance.
Not leaving anything to chance might be behind the aggressive stripping-out of the HTC Sense software's features of old - and some might see that as a loss of character. We, however, much prefer this leaner, meaner, HTC 10. This is the sort of software approach we like, because it leaves you to work with your Android phone, rather than spending your time stepping around bundled apps and services you can't get rid of.
There are some negatives though: the Wi-Fi signal isn't especially good; the display isn't the best; and the battery life isn't exceptional. None of these points are critical failings alone, but might be distracting when viewed in the context of rivals. Having lived with the HTC 10, it's proved its long-term appeal. It has been updated, it's remained fast and it still offers a great experience. That metal bodywork also ages well, carrying scars with dignity, rather than looking tatty.
For HTC and Android fans, the HTC 10 is very much a handset to celebrate. But the rivals are stronger than ever and Samsung's wow factor is ever apparent. The HTC 10 gives the regular Galaxy S7 a run for its money, but the allure of the S7 edge is likely to be hard to resist.