One week with the excellent HTC 10 and I still can’t quite work out why I would buy one

One week with the excellent HTC 10 and I still can’t quite work out why I would buy one
Credit: Ben Woods

HTC’s recently launched ‘HTC 10’ smartphone is everything on paper that a huge number of smartphone buyers should want.

It’s got an all-metal body and microSD expansion, it has a great camera, and the audio performance is pretty solid too.

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Add in that HTC’s worked to cut back on consumer confusion throughout the Android OS and what you have is a leaner, meaner version of HTC’s previous ‘One’ range handsets with a better camera, improved overall performance and some other worthwhile software tweaks.

HTC10_front
Credit: Ben Woods

And as I said in the initial hands-on, they’re upgrades that make a lot of sense at first glance – and now in more extended testing too.

However, after having the device for nearly a week – and despite it performing admirably in most areas – I’m still not sure who’s going to walk into a phone shop and walk out with an HTC 10.

First up, anyone who wants a slim and light phone isn’t going to – it may taper at the edges, but at its fattest point it’s 9mm thick, so it’s no contender for ‘slimmest smartphone’ by a long shot. To put that in context, the current iPhone is nearly a full 2mm thinner and the Galaxy S7 Edge measures up at 7.7mm.

It might not sound like a lot, but put it alongside something even thinner like the Huawei P9 (below, 6.95mm) or Oppo F1 Plus (which is significantly cheaper) and it looks positively chunky.

HTC10fat

To me, it’s essentially the same chassis found on the One M9 and M8 handsets that came before it, albeit with chamfered edges. I’ve said it before, and really didn’t want to say it again, but it’s time HTC put the overarching design out to pasture – or at least significantly revamped it. It’s not even one that has won it many buyers (relatively) as the models have progressed.

The UltraPixel camera setup has returned too – and it’s the best camera HTC’s squeezed into one of its handsets, but I’m still not sure it’s the best camera on a smartphone.

microSD_HTC10

Using default settings (yes, there are plenty of manual options to play around with too, if you’re inclined) and putting the resulting images side-by-side with ones taken on a Galaxy S7 Edge and they look less impressive.

In some situations, as you can see in the test shots below, the HTC 10 managed to let a little more light into the images but the end result was a less saturated (and less accurate to actual conditions) sky color.

Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the HTC 10
Taken with the HTC 10

On macro shots, the 10 achieved the ever-popular bokeh effect is easier to achieve than with the S7 Edge, but again, in my testing the resulting colors just aren’t quite right and I prefer the crispness of the Samsung’s image.

Taken with the HTC 10
Taken with the HTC 10

 

Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the Galaxy S7 Edge
Taken with the HTC 10
Taken with the HTC 10

Add in that the HTC 10’s main camera was slower to focus and capture for almost every shot and the potential benefits just don’t add up to me. Not slow, but slower.

Of course, if I was comparing two completely different priced phones, this wouldn’t really be fair, but I’m not. The HTC 10 has to woo potential S7/S7 Edge buyers too and comes in just as expensive. It needs to be definitively better, and it’s just arguably not. HTC would, no doubt, point to its DxO benchmark score of 88 for the camera, putting it at the top of the charts.

I would point out that the S7 Edge got the same score, however.

Camera

Don’t misunderstand, both are excellent cameras to have in your phone, but if you’re a buyer choosing between the two, the HTC certainly doesn’t blow everything else out of the water.

This is really the crux of the problem for me with the HTC 10. I can’t point to a single feature and say, “yes, you should definitely buy it if you want x.” You should buy it if you want a phone that’s solid in almost every area though perhaps.

Sure, the audio output is solid too – it’s loud enough for occasional usage but if talk of a dedicated sub have gotten you excited, you’re likely to be disappointed. Most people use headphones anyway, with speaker use restricted for short bursts in the kitchen, or perhaps the shower.

Unbelievably, that’s a use case where the S7 Edge makes more sense for me too – it’s waterproof, so easy to pop inside the shower for an uninterrupted morning podcast playback without having to worry about it getting damaged. That the HTC 10 is loud enough to leave outside of the shower and still be audible doesn’t really seem a lot to shout about in comparison.

Really, it’s the same story throughout. It doesn’t struggle with everyday tasks or gaming, but then I wouldn’t expect a $700 to falter under a little multi-tasking. It doesn’t have a class-leading battery life – it’s perfectly fine for a moderate day’s usage (and the quick charge option is handy if you’re using the original cable and charger) but it’s a smaller power pack than some of its rivals. I’m yet to see a flagship that can challenge the Huawei Mate 8’s battery life.

I welcome the more ‘vanilla’ Android OS too, with de-duped apps causing less confusion and a highly customizable home screen setup, but removing confusing elements from a custom UI isn’t really a reason I’d buy a phone.

It’s time for something new

What people might forget about HTC is that smartphones aren’t the whole business, the company’s also making significant bets on VR with the HTC Vive and other non-smartphone-related operations. That’s a pretty exciting future to be mulling.

htc_vive_white

That’s exactly why I think it’s time for something new in next year’s HTC flagship. It’s time to lose that one-piece metal chassis and trade it in for something newer. To be more daring. To take a bigger risk.

Back at the HTC One M8, I questioned whether the bump in specs and iterative approach would be enough to reinvigorate sales, and still two flagships later the phone forces me to ask the same questions, essentially.

HTC fans will love the HTC 10 – it’s the best flagship the company has made, be in no doubt, and the camera is significantly better than previous years.

However, for any ‘regular’ buyer putting the HTC 10 alongside similar priced handsets, I just can’t see how the right decision would be to buy the ’10’ – unless you actively dislike the iPhone or Samsung. Alternatively, look down one price level and you’ll find handsets like the Moto X or the cloud-integrated Robin, which gives a hint at where smartphones are headed. Then there’s OnePlus, Oppo, and a whole other raft of options to consider too.

The HTC 10 is up against the best phones ever made this year, and while it’s the best HTC money can buy, it’ll probably appeal to fans more than the mainstream.

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