HTC 10 Review: Don't Call It a Comeback

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HTC 10 Review: Don't Call It a Comeback

When I hold the HTC 10, I don’t think about it’s aluminum unibody construction, dramatically chamfered edges or gorgeous Quad-HD screen. I don’t ponder the phone’s size, capabilities of its camera or if it will last me a full day on a single charge.

I wonder if it’s too little, too late.

Lots of ink, traditional and digital, has been spilled in recent years about the downfall of HTC, once a growing giant in the young smartphone market. Many have foretold a world in which the Taiwanese company does not exist, many of the same people predicting that world may come sooner than we think.

To its credit, HTC has worked hard to carve out space beyond the smartphone market where it can find success. Its VR headset, Vive, came as a bit of a surprise, and shocked even more when it delivered not only a true competitor to the Oculus Rift, but a package that is, in many ways, better. It’s likely the company will continue to look for new paths that lead away from smartphones and to areas where it can be a leader rather than a distant follower.

For now, HTC is very much a smartphone company, and its latest device is a definitive statement that the company still has skin in the game.

htc10_standing3_680.jpgAs with all great HTC devices, the 10’s story begins with its tremendous hardware. The design is nothing revolutionary, but the entire package is phenomenally constructed. The company says it spent the last 12 months obsessing over every detail of this phone, and the rock solid build is proof of that. Like many HTC phones of the past, the 10 feels fantastic in the hand, with enough heft to give a sense of durability, while remaining light enough to be comfortable for extended use.

In the looks department, the 10 doesn’t inspire awe the same way a device like the Galaxy S7 Edge does, or even polarizing reaction like that which surrounded the Nexus 6P, but there is no doubt this is a beautiful machine. Some have knocked it for an uninspired design, one that harkens too closely to past devices. This is not a new complaint. HTC has been hammered before for delivering designs that are too iterative. There is no denying the 10 shares a deep visual history with many of HTC’s flagship designs, but it feels different than the near identical looks of the M8 and M9. In many ways, the 10 feels like HTC pressing reset and trying to capture some of the magic it conjured with the original One. In that sense, it’s understandable for the 10 to reflect much of the 2013 device’s style.

htc10_chamfer_680.jpgThe big design embellishment this year are the pronounced chamfered edges, which strikingly frame the back of the device and catch light in interesting ways. There is a part of me that’s curious what an HTC device would look like if the company stepped out onto a ledge, but then I’m reminded the last time the company did that was the One A9, which shared aesthetics with another incredibly popular smartphone. Sticking to your style is commendable, and I’d rather see HTC deliver devices that are similar to one another, thus refined and elegant, than stray too far into weirdness trying to make a splash.

The back of the phone is curved which helps it cradle in your hand comfortably. HTC has also reduced the overall footprint on the 5.2-inch flagship by slimming bezel sizes and removing the signature BoomSound speakers. The phone still features a dual speaker setup, but one has been relegated to the underside of the bottom chin. This means that it’s easier to cover when in landscape, but as long as the speakers remain unobstructed the sound is excellent. It still doesn’t compare to a Bluetooth speaker, but it’s far better than what most OEMs are placing in top-of-the-line products.

htc10_usbc_680.jpgThe speakers were also removed to make room for the new fingerprint scanner, which makes its first appearance on an HTC flagship. It’s exceptionally quick and accurate, rivaling the Nexus 6P’s, though I still prefer the latter’s circular shape and rear location. HTC has reason for placing its on the front; the scanner pulls double duty as a capacitive home button.

Flanking the fingerprint scanner/home button are the multitasking and back buttons. The setup is fine, but does feature one small nitpick. The buttons are not vertically centered on the lower chin, meaning they don’t fall in the natural place where my fingers expect them to be, leading to a handful of mispresses. This is easily remedied, however, by setting the capacitive buttons to always be backlit when the screen is on.

g5htc10_scanner680.jpgThat small annoyance is one of very few grievances I have with the hardware. The phone has antenna lines, but nearly all metal phones do and HTC always does a great job incorporating them into the design. There is a camera bump, but there is always a camera bump. The enormous front-facing camera is comical, giving the leading portion of the handset a goofy look, but the quality you get in return more than makes up the difference. The 10 is quick to gather gunk and fingerprints, particularly in the carbon grey color our review unit came in, but everyone will just throw a case on it anyway. The headphone jack is located on the top of the device, but much larger phones have done the same.

Once you get past those minor issues, there is nothing worthy of criticism. The power button and volume rocker are clicky and tactile, with deep grooves cut into the power toggle to differentiate it. HTC has joined the USB Type-C team with the 10, so you can rest assured its future proof. It’s manageable to use in one hand thanks to the slimmed down footprint and 5.2-inch screen and, finally, as HTC has done for years, the display is fantastic.

The 10 jumps into Quad HD territory with its 5.2-inch Super LCD panel. It’s incredibly sharp with good viewing angles and great color reproduction. The colors here aren’t as vibrant as on an AMOLED displays, but with HTC’s “Vivid” color profile the 10 delivers more saturation than most LCD displays I’ve used. It’s a necessity for a high end flagship smartphone to have a great display, given the amount of time we spend staring at them throughout the day and using them for things like work, social media, gaming and more. HTC has always accepted that challenge and succeeded, and its latest effort is no different.

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