If there’s one thing you can say about HTC, it’s that it’s been a victim of its own success.
The One M8 was one of the greatest phones ever made, one that I’ll still dust off from time to time now just to get a feel for it once more. It was design perfection, filled with genuine innovation and offered a great identity too, standing out well from the Android crowd.
The trouble was, that phone was already building on the great HTC One, which started the ‘amazing design’ trajectory in flagship smartphones that HTC is now famed for. So where did HTC go next? What was the next big innovation, the next great thing that this underdog in the smartphone world was going to bring?
Well, it didn’t happen on the One M9, that’s for sure. The brand panicked, stuffed the best components into an all-too-familiar shell and hoped the big numbers would make it a success. It wasn’t.
This time around, things were going to be different. For the all-new HTC 10 I was told that the brand took things back to basics, made the changes it needed to and focused heavily on making the phone useable and a pleasure to mess around with as before.
But does the HTC 10 impress? Is this the return to true innovation from a company that used to be unafraid to take risks, a reboot back to the winning ways?
- If you want to know what’s coming next – here’s everything we know about the HTC 11
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at what the phone looks like on paper. It’s got an all-metal body, thankfully doesn’t go down the same iPhone-a-like design as the One A9 from 2015, and doesn’t just stuff in tech for the sake of having a higher spec.
When it comes to price, the HTC 10 is now available for £500 / $599 / AU$1099, which is still on the higher end of the scale for phones out at the moment – and given that this handset has been out a few months, you’d expect the price to have dropped a little more.
It’s got the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, loads of RAM, a much more refined camera and – with contract pricing starting at around £30/US$28/AU$83 per month – it’s going to be competitively positioned, coming in similar to or in some cases a shade below the Samsung and Apple prices. So, that sounds all great, right?
One of the most irksome features of the HTC One M9 was…well, there weren’t really any features to talk about. The same BoomSound speakers were back, firing audio forwards into your face, and the camera was just a 20MP effort that took some okay pictures; not terrible, but nothing you’d tell your friends about down the local watering hole.
In fact, it was just the design that made it worth checking out at all, that combined with HTC’s special sauce.
This year, thankfully, there’s a lot more to talk about, starting with the efforts made to improve how the phone feels to use. It’s got a much lower latency compared to the earlier models, which means the response under the finger is a lot more impressive.
In fact, the constant chat in our briefing about the phone was about ‘tuning’, that HTC had gone further than any other brand in making the HTC 10 a phone that will impress the second you glide a finger across the screen.
Let’s drop out for a second and talk about the name: it’s not the HTC One M10, but simply the HTC 10. Apparently, this represents the best ever, the top of the pile, the maximum score you can get in gymnastics.
To me, that sounds like this is HTC’s last ever phone. But you can bet there’ll be some ‘turn it up to 11’ tag lines next year when the HTC 11 pops up.
Anyway, back to the 10. The screen is also upgraded from the previous model, using Super LCD 5 and boosting the pixel count to QHD resolution, offering 564 pixels per inch, to push up the sharpness significantly.
The camera is dropped in terms of the megapixel count, down to 12MP with a 4:3 resolution (sound at all similar to any other top-end phones on the market?). HTC tells me this is something actually requested by photographers, and given it’s put such a big effort into making the camera as good as it could be, it’s believable that HTC would listen to them.
The 10 has also been given the best DxO Mark on the market of 88, which HTC says means it’s claimed the crown of ‘best camera in a smartphone’. It doesn’t at all – that title was previously held by Sony and the Xperia Z5, and there’s no way those were the best cameras on the market by any stretch of the imagination.
The camera, which supposedly has blink-and-you’ll-miss-it autofocus thanks to the second-generation laser autofocus on offer, also comes with 4K video recording combined with 24-bit sound, so you’ll get professional-grade videos when you’re out at a gig and completely missing the chance to enjoy the artist you paid so much to see.
Talking of the audio, that’s the other area HTC’s been putting a big effort into. The two front-facing speakers, which looked so iconic on the front of the recent One range, are gone, with two speakers now firing out the high end and bass tones separately.
They also point in different directions, but despite having separate amplifiers they work in concert to, it’s claimed, give amazing sound without headphones (spoiler alert: they don’t).
The headphone element is important though, as HTC has taken the bold step of not only making the HTC 10 Hi-Res Audio Certified, but has also bundled in some high-end headphones with the handset, so everyone has access to the improved tones.
These aren’t cheap to make, so it’s good to see HTC taking a hit on its margins to give something back to its users. You seeing this, Tim?
And a special word for the interface, which HTC is bragging quite heavily about – and it’s anything but heavy. The brand has worked with Google to ‘reboot Android’ and make something cleaner, more easy to use and upgrade, ridding the phone of pointless duplicated apps in the process.
The aim is for the project to eventually find something that all brands will use, leading to an end of the skins that sit atop LG, Samsung and Sony phones despite them all using the same base software. Will that happen? Would it be a good thing for HTC? Who knows – but it’s good that someone’s trying.