HTC 10 review: Premium style, but not quite premium

Alex Kidman 2 May 2016 NEWS

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The HTC 10 is a very finely designed premium device, but in a packed Android crowd it doesn't quite do enough to stand out.

HTC has had a rocky couple of years, with last year’s premium HTC One M9 not quite receiving the love that the Taiwanese phone company might have hoped for. Folks have been going wild for the HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset that hooks into a high-end PC, but HTC’s not out of the smartphone game yet. The HTC 10 is positioned as its premium play in the 2016 smartphone market.

Device HTC 10
Screen size 5.2in
Storage 32GB
Weight 161g
Processor Snapdragon 820
Rear camera 12MP
Front camera 5MP
Battery 3,000mAh
Resolution 1440 x 2560 pixels
Display density 564ppi

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Upsides: Why you’d want the HTC 10

  • Refined design: The physical design of the HTC 10 is one of its best features. There’s only so much you can do with a phone design in any case, but the HTC 10 is replete with lots of nice little touches. The microSD and SIM card slots are separate (unlike many rivals where they're combined), which means swapping out a microSD card doesn’t mean losing phone connectivity. The power button is ridged, so you can discern it from the volume controls if you’re adjusting volume with the phone in your pocket. The power button is gently recessed with haptic feedback to let you know you’ve tapped it, and the rounded design on the back gives it a good grip in the hand without being slippery or sharp.
  • High resolution audio support: HTC has sold itself on its solid "boomsound" speakers for years, and while they’re hidden in the HTC 10, they’re complemented with support for high resolution audio and output audio streaming, including to AirPlay devices such as the Apple TV.
  • Flexible theme support: It’s something of a gimmick, but if you really don’t want a standard "grid" layout for your apps, HTC has your back, with the option to have free-floating app icons you designate for everything your phone can do. As with everything else in the Android camp if you don’t like the idea you can ignore it entirely, but it's an appealing extra feature.
  • Stripped down Android: HTC used to overlay its Sense UI in an entirely obtrusive way on previous phones, but it appears to have learned its lesson with the HTC 10, which only ships with a few chosen HTC applications and mostly rests on Google’s own supplied applications for core Android functions. It’s not quite Nexus-level stripped back, but it’s very close.
  • USB 3.0 connectivity: The HTC 10 uses the newer USB 3.0 standard, which means that when you’re charging it, you can’t plug the charger in the "wrong" way, and with a compatible data cable, you should be able to transfer data to it more quickly. The cherry on the icing here is that it also supports Qualcomm’s fast charging with the supplied charger, so you can quickly top up its battery when it’s getting low.

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Downsides: Why you might not want the HTC 10

  • Performance is a little underwhelming: If you believe the hype, the HTC 10’s Snapdragon 820 is meant to be all that and a silicon coated bag of chips, but its performance lags behind that of contemporary devices. Here’s how it scored in the Geekbench 3 benchmark suite against today’s top performers:
    Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better)
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2169 6446
    Samsung Galaxy S7 2156 6240
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 1492 4893
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge 1324 4626
    Google Nexus 6P 1251 4597
    Samsung Galaxy S6 1347 4569
    Apple iPhone SE 2538 4455
    Apple iPhone 6S 2540 4410
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus 2491 4391
    HTC 10 1942 4191
    Sony Xperia Z5 1358 4134
    LG G4 1190 3313
    Google Nexus 5X 1188 3198

    It’s a similar story in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, where the HTC 10 sits in the middle of the pack:

    Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Apple iPhone SE 29276
    Samsung Galaxy S7 28903
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402
    Apple iPhone 6s 28171
    HTC 10 27392
    Google Nexus 6P 24703
    Sony Xperia Z5 19197
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus 17981

    Benchmarks aren’t the be-all and end-all, and in observational tests the HTC 10 isn’t a slouch, but if you’re spending premium money it’s worth considering the HTC 10 against competitor devices. These aren't bad scores, but for what Qualcomm talks up the Snapdragon 820 as being capable of, they're not groundbreaking either.

  • Camera in auto mode is underwhelming: HTC has long made noise about its use of large pixel site camera technology -- what it calls "ultrapixels" -- but the reality here is that while HTC once had an edge, competitors have caught up. It’s perfectly feasible to take great photos with the HTC 10, but, if like most folks, you tend to stick to auto settings, the results can be murky. We pitted the HTC 10 against the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and LG G5 in a simple series of photo shootouts around our Sydney offices, and in just about every case, the HTC 10 tended to underdevelop photos, leaving us with murky visuals where competitor devices picked out fine detail. HTC’s One M9 had similar quality flaws at launch with camera quality that was resolved with firmware updates, and while the HTC 10’s camera isn’t bad, there’s definitely room for improvement.
  • Middling battery performance: What we look for in a premium handset is the ability to go above and beyond the normal, because if you want normal, there’s no shortage of devices that should just about last you the day. There are aberrations in that space, such as the terrible battery life of the iPhone SE, but you should do better than that anyway. The HTC 10 sits pretty squarely in the middle of our test pack of phones, but a bit behind the pace compared to other 2016 flagships. It’s certainly capable of single day battery life, but we’d expect that in even a mid-range phone. Here’s how it fared in the Geekbench battery test with the screen dimmed. The first figure measures battery life in hours, while the second gives a performance figure for how much work each phone did during that time. Ideally, you want high scores in both fields.
    Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150
    Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013
    Samsung Galaxy Note 5 9:18:00 5580
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 8:24:10 5041
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681
    Google Nexus 5X 7:14:20 4062
    HTC 10 6:54:30 4145
    Samsung Galaxy S6 6:51:30 4115
    Google Nexus 6P 6:39:20 3754
    Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 5:42:00 2276
    Sony Xperia Z5 5:41:30 3414
    LG G4 5:27:50 3224
    BlackBerry PRIV 5:25:40 3256
    Huawei P8 Lite 4:39:40 2768
    Apple iPhone SE 4:27:10 2671
    Apple iPhone 6s 3:52:10 2321

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Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

Premium phones in 2016 have to sell themselves on their style, and it’s hard not to appreciate the work that’s gone into producing the HTC 10. Without a doubt, style is its best selling point, and as always it’s a good idea if feasible to get a little hands-on time to sort out if it’s a style and fit that works best for you.

Ultimately what HTC’s made here is a very fine phone, but one in a market of premium devices that compete just as well, and in many cases better than it does. HTC’s relatively premium pricing opens up everything but the Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and most variants of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus to you if you’re buying upfront, although contract pricing is largely in line with other premium handsets, at which point it’s largely a matter of personal taste again.

Where can I get it?

The HTC 10 is no longer available from local retailers, and no Aussie telcos are currently offering the handset as part of their contract plans. If you're set on picking up the handset, you can still import it through overseas retailers like eBay and Amazon.


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