HTC 10 Hands-On: An "Android OS Reboot"

By Gerald Lynch on at

They’re a mixed bag, reboots. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, you get a Man of Steel or a Total Recall. It’s risky taking something once loved and then hoping that lightning can strike once more. But that’s the plan with the HTC 10, a phone the company believe is the device (and I quote Darren Sng, HTC’s Head of Global Product Marketing, on this) to “reboot Android.”

Once the trailblazers of the Android mobile revolution, HTC had lost its way by the time of last year’s so-so HTC One M9. It’s hoping this year that a refined design and a close partnership with Google will see it once again challenge the dominance of Samsung in the Android realm.

htc 10 review

HTC 10 Sense and Software

And it’s first strike of this reboot is certainly to the heart of one of the biggest complaints directed towards Samsung’s Galaxy devices. HTC’s latest Sense UI, thanks to a close collaboration with Google, is its leanest ever. Working in partnership with Google, the company has aimed to remove every duplicate app on the phone, favouring where appropriate either HTC’s own app, or the native Android version – but never both. So, for instance, you get HTC’s camera app, but Gmail for email. But even in the situations where HTC’s app is favoured, HTC has redesigned its apps so that they fit smoothly alongside Google’s own Material Design style. In addition, there’s deeper integration between Google’s apps and HTC’s own – the camera app, for instance, uses the excellent Google Photos as its go-to gallery option.

It’s a smart move. The likes of Samsung and LG are often criticised for bloating up their devices, forcing unwanted duplicate apps upon users when the consensus is that vanilla Android is just fine, thanks. In reality it’s a halfway-home approach that HTC is taking, retaining apps of its own, but with the integration so deep with native Android that all but the most anal of Android fans would be hard pressed to notice. Considering most HTC 10 owners are unlikely to be returning from a previous HTC device at this point, HTC has nothing to lose by ditching a few of its own older app options.

htc 10 review

HTC 10 Design and Specs

The design itself is sleek enough, sitting somewhere between the super-slick One line of old and the more palm-friendly ergonomics of the Desire line. A “diamond cut” metal unibody, the HTC 10 has a 5.2-inch screen, sitting at 3mm thick at its thinnest point. A slight curve on the rear rolls into sharper, chamfered edges, giving the HTC 10 plenty of grip compared to earlier slippier generations. Set to be available in gold, grey and silver, the matte finish on the rear already looks as though it’ll be a real stickler for picking up fingerprints.

htc 10 review

A row of light-up capacitive buttons rests along with the now derigeur fingerprint scanner / home combo on the bottom of the phone’s front side. Though I didn’t get a chance to try the scanner with my own digits, I’m told it can be used to individually lock specific apps as well as unlock the phone as a whole – handy should you want to share your phone with a pal, but without giving them complete access to every aspect of the device. As an additional security measure, the phone will also track “irregular” app behaviour. How this is determined isn’t clear yet, but should a dodgy app start straying beyond its permissions, HTC’s security guard should notify you before allowing it to go any further.

Internally, the phone sports a Snapdragon 820 processor supported by a meaty 4GB of RAM. USB-C charging and data syncing has been adopted, with the 3,000mAh battery supporting Quick Charge 3.0. With HTC quoting two-day battery life, the rapid charger (included in the box) should give you a day’s worth of juice in just 30 minutes, Impressive. Storage expansion over microSD is also supported.

htc 10 review

HTC 10 Display

HTC has tried to rethink the touchscreen in general, too. The 5.2-inch Super LCD5 display (larger than the 5-inch One M9) has a 564ppi and 2K resolution, tuned to a colour range that’s said to match cinema mastering standards. It looks lovely, though to my eye its top brightness setting didn’t seem quite as powerful as the LG G5 I had to hand.

htc 10 review

However, it's in terms of responsiveness that HTC reckons the HTC 10’s screen is at its most impressive, with the company working to make the display more reactive to your touch. To be honest, it’s been a very long time since I’ve used a premium smartphone that had an unresponsive screen, but paired with HTC’s Boost+ system performance optimiser, HTC promises that app loading, app switching and general screen swiping shouldn’t become sluggish.

htc 10 review

HTC 10 Camera

The divisive Ultrapixel returns for the main camera, having been relegated for the One M9. I was a fan of the Ultrapixel (even if some were less impressed), and this second-gen 12 Ultrapixel sensor has been tuned for low-light performance, capable of letting in 136 per cent more light than the original Ultrapixel sensor. It’s all a bit speedier too, with the camera launching in just 0.6 seconds, with a 3x faster laser auto-focus with optical image stabilisation. HTC has put the camera through the DXOMARK mobile photography benchmark test, from which it’s been crowned the top dog in mobile snapping, and on early examination it seems well deserved. With optional full-manual controls and a simple, revised UI, the snaps I took looked great on the phone’s screen, vibrantly coloured and retaining shadow and sharpness detail even when I found a darker corner of the demo area. Of course, it’ll take scrutiny under a photo editing app to be certain of the quality, but it’s looking good so far.

htc 10 review

HTC has carried the Ultrapixel camera around to the front too, with the 5 Ultrapixel selfie camera making use of optical image stabilisation too. It shows just how important that narcissist’s lens has become, with HTC talking up the growing trend towards personal livestreaming being the main driver of the OIS inclusion.

HTC 10 Boomsound and Audio

If you insist on blaring your tunes out of your phone’s built-in speaker, there have been no better handsets than HTC’s One line over the years. Their Boomsound speakers, despite the size, have managed previously to retain clarity, volume and bass compared to rival mobile devices, to the point where it’s not completely shameful to forgo your headphones or a speaker for them.

HTC is trying something a little different with Boomsound on the HTC 10. Rather than going for a stereo approach, HTC pops a tweeter at the top end of the handset and a woofer at the bottom, handling highs and mids/ lows respectively. Each is driven by a dedicated amplifier, with Hi-Res audio support courtesy of a 24-Bit DAC. The speakers certainly go loud without distorting, but (without a One M8 or M9 for reference) I found it hard to discern any memorable improvement in bass or clarity overall. That’s not to say it’s bad – remember, Boomsound was best in class. It’s more that any improvements here are subtle.

What can’t be sniffed at though is HTC’s inclusion of a pair of JBL / Harmon Kardon hi-resolution noise cancelling headphones. Powered by the phone itself rather than requiring their own battery power, it’s a generous addition, particularly when the likes of Sony push Hi-Res heavily with their own handsets without including a way to enjoy it.

Apple Airplay makes a rare appearance on an Android phone too, giving you a much wider array of wireless speakers with which to pair the HTC 10.

HTC Ice View Case

Lastly, the Dot View case gets upgraded to “Ice View”. The flip covers protect the screen while giving you a low-power, at-a-glance view of notification details, time and weather information, even though the flip remains closed. App support can expand on this functionality however a developer sees fit, too. The main upgrade here is in clarity – whereas Dot View went for a retro-style, heavily-pixelated look at what’s going on under the hood, Ice View instead offers a semi-transparent view at what’s happening onscreen underneath. It means that legibility is greatly increased – you can read whole messages without lifting the cover. However, though you’re supposed to be able to access some limited functions with the case closed, I found its responsiveness underwhelming – a two finger camera-launching shortcut swipe, for instance, never worked after repeated attempts.

htc 10 review

HTC 10 Release, Pricing and First Impressions

The HTC 10 is set to launch by the end of April, though its price is yet to be revealed. For reference, last year’s HTC One M9 launched at £579.99. Expect little to change on that front, with this being billed as HTC’s big mobile hope for the year.

It’s HTC’s 10th year in the Android phone business, and with its fortunes waxing and waning, the HTC 10 seems to represent an attempt to answer some of the criticisms levelled not just at itself, but at Android as a whole. Android is lean and responsive here, while the hi-res offering is generous. I’ve preferred previous industrial designs (HTC’s One M8 is still the gold standard for me), but this is by no means an ugly phone, and its screen is very good. Next to the wacky modular LG G5 and flashy Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the HTC 10 seems the relatively “sensible” flagship. But there’s a lot of meaningful, user-focussed tweaks here, which may also make it the most sensible option for anyone looking for a new Android phone.