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htc 10 hero
The HTC 10

For a careful reader, the spec sheet for any gadget can be a fascinating read. Comparing processor speeds, camera lenses and pixels per inch can give you valuable insight into how a phone will work. But as the market matures, what sets phones apart is how that hardware comes through in the experience.

With the HTC 10, the phone maker has built a beautiful spec sheet. The processor is fast, it’s built from great materials and has a stunning screen. But there are plenty of areas where the $699 phone falls flat, despite killer specs.

The main disappointment in the HTC 10 is the camera. While the 12 MP sensor can shoot 4K video and laser-assisted autofocus is pretty snappy, the pictures just don’t look great. This has been a problem for HTC in the past, where great sensors are muddled by subpar software, and that appears to be the case here.

Picture taken in automatic mode looked a little blown out, often with muted colors.
Picture taken in automatic mode looked a little blown out, often with muted colors.

While the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge may have over-sharpened some images, the HTC 10 makes things look flat. While shooting on the built-in pro mode or editing after the fact can do a lot to help the 10’s photos, most users don’t want to fuss with that on a touchscreen.

The HTC 10 does have optical image stabilization on both the main back camera and the selfie cam. The stabilized front camera is a first for the smartphone world, and should make your selfies a little clearer, but the images will still likely need an edit to bring out the best parts.

Battery life on the HTC 10 is also somewhat disappointing. With a 3,000 mAh, non-removable battery, you’ll have to return to the charger a little sooner than with other flagships. But at least you won’t have to stay on it as long, thanks to the super-fast, USB Type-C port.  However, that port also means you won’t be using your friend’s standard microUSB smartphone charger. But you can use a MacBook charger!

Where the HTC 10 really excels is sound. HTC has long built great audio products, and this is no exception. One of my favorite features is the custom sound profiles that non-audiophiles can easily set up. When you first plug in a pair of headphones, the HTC 10 will guide you through a custom audio setup, helping customize the equalizer to your ears.

Even without the headphones plugged in, the HTC 10’s “Boom Sound” finds a way to show off. A tweeter built into the earpiece and a subwoofer around the bottom provide separation for better sound, and things can get pretty loud without distorting.

The slightly curved back of the phone fits comfortably in the hand.
The slightly curved back of the phone fits comfortably in the hand.

Another area where the HTC 10 stands out is in the software. While they don’t quite have Nexus-level cleanliness, there are very few extra apps on top of the standard Android options. HTC worked with Google to reduce duplicate apps, like text messengers and photo galleries. That means Google Photos is baked right into the camera app, so all your photos are right there.

The HTC 10 continues the tradition of software customization found on earlier phones too. Users can turn app icons into stickers to make their home screens more reflective of their style, and those apps can be placed anywhere, not stuck to the rigid grid of a standard Android setup.

However, the price of the phone isn’t justified by a few quirky features. The gimmicks on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, like a comfortable curved edge to make the big screen easy to hold, really improved the experience. The HTC 10’s gimmicks have a much smaller appeal, with the best feature geared toward audiophiles.

And if you want a basic Android phone, you can find one for much cheaper. The Nexus 6P is just $499 compared to the HTC 10’s $699 price tag. While I don’t expect anyone would be disappointed with the HTC 10, you could spend $150 more on the Galaxy S7 Edge or save some cash and get a Nexus 6P.

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