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HTC 10 review: HTC 10 brings the noise, but it's not a Galaxy killer

Decked out with dual audio speakers and BoomSound, the HTC 10 is an audio lover's dream. But it's lacking other best-in-class offerings.

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Lynn La
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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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6 min read

If there's one thing the HTC 10 can do, it's deliver great sound. Its dual speakers, coupled with some fancy software technology, means your music and movies are going to sound fantastic. It also looks pretty damn good too -- a hard feat to pull off in a world filled with black slabs.

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8.0

HTC 10

The Good

The HTC 10 has an elegantly chiseled design, brilliant audio quality and a highly customizable user interface.

The Bad

The handset's non-removeable battery doesn't last as long as its competitors and its camera doesn't always render exposure correctly.

The Bottom Line

Get the HTC 10 if you want a phone that delivers great audio. For all your other needs, look elsewhere.

But at $699 unlocked, £569 in the UK and AU$1,099 in Australia, it fails to offer the same hardware performance and value as its Android rivals. For instance, its performance is comparable to the Google Nexus 6P even though the 6P is cheaper. Its battery doesn't last as long as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5, and there are times when its camera exposure misses the mark.

While those competing handsets could stand to have better audio quality like the 10, HTC's flagship phone ultimately doesn't have all the other things that elevate a good phone into a great phone.

Up close with the streamlined metal HTC 10 (pictures)

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Design: Handsome and refined

The 10 has an aluminum construction with angular edges that adds to the polished, industrial aesthetic HTC is famous for. Its unibody design does mean you can't take out the battery, but the phone feels solid and looks handsome.

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With its high-end look, the 10 is a stunner when it comes to design.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

HTC got rid of the dual front-facing audio speakers seen in previous years. Now the phone has one speaker grille on the top bezel and a home button (which doubles as a fingerprint reader) on the bottom bezel. The second speaker is still there though, except now it lives on the bottom edge.

As for the fingerprint reader, it provides extra user security and it launches Google's digital assistance service, Google Now, after you longpress it. Though it's not a deal breaker, this Now shortcut can get irritating. There were a bunch of times when I accidentally launched Now just from resting my finger on this home button and it was no fun having to quit it constantly throughout the day.

Software: More fun at your fingertips

The 10 runs Google's Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system with HTC's Sense user interface skinned on top. HTC has gone for a deeper integration with Google, meaning the only web browser you see is Chrome, the only music player you have is Play Music and the only gallery you have is Google Photos.

I love getting rid of bloatware as much as the next person, but I wish HTC kept the native gallery app. I'm super wary about cloud security, and even though you can turn Google syncing off, I just don't want my personal photos linked in any way to any cloud or Google service.

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The HTC BlinkFeed (left) and a playful theme option with "stickers" as app icons (right).

Lynn La/CNET

There are some welcomed software goodies though. HTC's signature BlinkFeed gives you a feed of your news and social networks. And Themes lets you customize parts of your interface like the layout, wallpaper and app design. The cool thing about some of these themes is that their home screens aren't restricted by any grid lines, so you can place apps and widgets anywhere.

Apps also don't have to look like labelled, uniform icons. Instead, HTC calls them "stickers" and they come in different size and shapes. If you play around with Themes long enough, your home screen can end up looking like a page out of a children's storybook, with little objects that launch apps only you are privy to knowing.

Sound and audio: Here comes the Boom

A marquee feature of HTC flagships is an emphasis on audio quality, which the company brands as BoomSound. Music through the dual audio speakers definitely sounded louder and clearer than the usual thin and sharp audio I get from other devices.

But what really impressed me was listening to music through the included earbuds. To get the most out of the buds, I configured my "audio profile," which tested the frequency range that I could hear in each ear, and optimized audio output accordingly.

Music through the earbuds sounded amazing -- bass was deep without becoming too overwhelming and I could discern each layer of instrumentation. (If you're curious, I was listening to Gallant's "Ology" album. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it.) Undoutedbly, the audio quality is one of the strongest features of this phone.

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With its dual speakers (one is shown here on the top bezel), the handset delivers big sound.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Another unique audio quality of the 10 is its compatibility with Apple's AirPlay streaming standard. That means you can stream audio from the handset to an Apple TV and other devices compatible with Apple's Wi-Fi audio standard, which generally offers better sound quality than Bluetooth.

Camera: Exposing the problem

The device's 12-"Ultrapixel" camera (a term used by HTC to identify its use of larger pixels in its camera lenses) operates smoothly and takes clear shots. Auto- and tap-focus also work quickly, and there's a brightness meter right on the interface so you can adjust the lighting easily. It also has optical image stabilization on both the back and front cameras, which helps smooth out any bumpy videos, quick snapshots and rushed selfies.

Compared to its Android competitors, I found the 10 overexposed its images more readily than the others. In addition, the Galaxy S7 took photos with richer green and blue hues. The G5 and Nexus 6P had deeper red and pink tones. I also found that the 10 had a harder time properly lighting up objects in the foreground when there was a lot of backlighting. Even when I tapped to focus on said objects, the device hardly adjusted its lighting settings and the overall image turned out dim.

I did, however, like the 10's Macro zooming, which seemed to show a shallower depth of field. This blurred the background a tad more, making for more cinematic and dramatic photos. For more about photo quality, check out the pictures below. And be sure to click on each image to see them at their full resolutions.

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In this closeup shot, the shallow depth of field gives the photo a nice, dramatic look.

Lynn La/CNET
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The lighting from the windows outside casts an unrealistic blue hue.

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Despite many attempts, I could not get the camera to light up the fountain in the foreground.

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Clockwise from left: A pink flower taken on the HTC 10, the Samsung Galaxy S7, the Google Nexus 6P and the LG G5.

Lynn La/CNET

Processing performance: Plenty fast, but not top dog

The 10 is equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor. Though it has the same processor as the Galaxy S7 and the G5, the 10 has a slightly higher clock speed than the other two (2.2GHz compared to 2.15GHz). The device did a quick job at launching apps, scanning my fingerprint and capturing photos. Graphics-heavy games also played smoothly and looked crisp.

When it comes to benchmark tests, the handset is comparable to its rivals, edging out the Nexus 6P on all three tests. And while it did beat the G5 on Geekbench's single-core test, it did not beat LG's phone on the other benchmarks. The Galaxy S7 also beat the HTC 10 on every test as well.

HTC 10 benchmark scores

HTC 10 2316 5014 27724Samsung Galaxy S7 2323 5429 29031LG G5 2313 5345 27758Google Nexus 6P 1286 4313 24224
  • Geekbench 3 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 3 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Battery life: Needs more juice

One of the disappointments of the HTC M9 was its battery life, lasting only 8 hours and 40 minutes during our lab test for continuous video playback on Airplane mode. This time around though, the 10's 3,000mAh battery clocked in a much better result of 11 hours and 15 minutes.

But competition is stiff these days and compared to some of its rivals, the 10 lags behind. While the Nexus 6P clocked a similar battery life to the 10, the G5 lasted 12 hours and 34 minutes (it's also removable in case you want to swap it out during the day). In addition, the 3,000mAh battery inside the Galaxy S7 lasted an impressive 16 hours and it can charge wirelessly.

Anecdotally, the 10 was good, but not great. After a weekend on standby without a charge, the device was at about 60 percent Monday morning. On the other hand, using the handset heavily (surfing the Web, downloading apps, taking photos) dropped the battery by 20 percent after 40 minutes.

The phone also uses Quick Charge 3.0 technology from Qualcomm, which promises a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. When I tested this claim, I got pretty close -- 44 percent in 30 minutes. A full charge takes about an hour and 40 minutes.

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Though it provides a decent amount of juice, the battery inside the 10 doesn't match its competitors.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

HTC 10 spec comparison

HTC 10Samsung Galaxy S7LG G5Google Nexus 6P
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.3-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 564 ppi576 ppi554 ppi515 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.7x2.8x0.35 in5.6x2.7x0.3 in5.88x2.90x0.3 in6.3x3.1x0.28 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 145.9x71.9x9 mm142.4x69.6x7.9 mm149.4x73.9x7.7 mm159x78x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.7 oz; 161 g5.4 oz; 152 g5.61 oz; 159 g6.3 oz; 178 g
Mobile software Android 6.0 with HTC SenseAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel, 8-megapixel wide12.3-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB32GB, 64GB, 128GB
RAM 4GB4GB4GB3GB
Expandable storage 2TB200GB2TBNone
Battery 3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)2,800mAh (removable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Home buttonHome buttonHome buttonBack cover
Connector USB-CMicro-USBUSB-CUSB-C
Special features BoomSoundWater-resistantPull-out battery, two rear camerasPure Android

Should you get it?

Because it falls in the same price range as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, I expected the HTC 10 to deliver the same sort of performance as its fellow Android competitors. While I give it major props for its superb audio quality (seriously, I've never nodded my head to music being played by a phone as strongly as when I was using HTC BoomSound) and handsome good looks, I hesitate to recommend it as anyone's top choice.

For the same price you can get the Galaxy S7, which is also beautifully designed and water resistant. There's also the G5, which beats the 10 in battery life (plus you can replace the battery with its unique modular design if need be).

And while the Google Nexus 6P didn't edge out the 10 in our benchmark tests, it costs about $100 less, has a comparable battery life and gets software updates from Google as soon as they're available.

The mobile landscape is as cutthroat as they come. Despite the HTC 10 being a solid device, it simply doesn't have enough to carry it over the top. So unless you're a diehard music lover, skip the 10 for something better.

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8.0

HTC 10

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9Camera 7Battery 7