The HTC 10 Is a Nice Phone—That’s All We Have to Say About It
Once upon a time, HTC ruled the smartphone world. Or could at least argue that it did. When it came to design, the Taiwanese company showed particular chops, consistently churning out high-end devices that stood out in a sea of crappy plastic iPhone knockoffs. Over the last few years, though, everything has fallen apart. As Samsung, Huawei, and every other Android manufacturer upped its design game, HTC kept on keepin’ on, which in this business means falling behind.
If you want stellar design, look to Samsung and its lovely Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. When it comes to sales, Samsung leads there, too. And funky, new, innovative things come from companies like LG, with its modular Friends add-ons, not HTC. It keeps releasing variations on a phone that was great three years ago. “We probably held on a year too long,” Nigel Newby-House, HTC’s head of product, told a room full of journalists last week.
You don’t say. Last year’s M9 flopped. Spectacularly. HTC sold fewer phones after it launched than before, which is … not a good sign. So this year, you’d expect sweeping changes, giant overhauls, something splashy and new, right?
Hold the Phone
The HTC 10 is a hefty metal slab, sharp and secure in all the places the M8 and M9 were smooth and slippery. The edge slopes from both back and front, meeting in an edge that digs slightly into your palm, the better to keep it planted in your hand as your thumbs reeeach across the 5.2-inch screen to tap an icon. HTC made the front entirely of glass, ditching the big BoomSound speakers that added to the previous phones’ acreage. Now it’s dark, smooth nothingness, an infinity pool with a fingerprint reader at the bottom and a speaker at the top. The design is clean and simple, like an ur-smartphone.
From a specs perspective, the 10 absolutely stands alongside the current state of the art. The 2560×1440 screen looks terrific, whether you’re looking at it in your hand or in a Cardboard headset. The 12-megapixel camera is fast and does the job. There’s 32GB of onboard storage, plus a slot for more. Qualcomm’s super-powerful new Snapdragon 820 processor and 4 gigs of RAM make it plenty fast. The battery, which HTC swears lasts 48 hours and charges in a jiffy via USB-C, is wonderfully worry-free. It supports higher-quality sound output, and even does a nifty calibration for your specific hearing and headphones so you’ll get sound tuned perfectly for your ears. Just don’t expect amazing audio. It’s still a phone, after all. All this for $599 unlocked, or from most major US carriers. (Look for a full review soon.)
HTC continues fulfilling its promise to get out of Android’s way, and the 10 comes features a nearly unencumbered version of Android Marshmallow. Most of the features HTC does add, like the moving Zoe photos, neatly integrate with Google’s services and don’t force you to download and learn new bloatware-y apps. Using the cool Theme store, you can go even more stock-like, or you can grab one of the company’s nifty new Interactive Themes that remove the app grid entirely and let you turn, say, a balloon on your wallpaper into the launcher for your Maps app. The app’s a neat reminder that a list of apps isn’t the only way to organize a smartphone. It’s also just a lot of fun.
Law of Averages
After a few days of using the 10, it seems like a really nice phone. But it’s nice the way my boring ex was nice—I don’t have anything devastatingly bad to say, but nothing excites or intrigues me. The 10 is a bit like the iPhone in its obvious attempt to appeal to everyone. But like last fall’s A9, it still lacks the attention to detail that makes the iPhone’s simplicity work. The ports are still misaligned; the USB-C port is set too low, the microphone too high. It doesn’t offer any features, with the possible exception of long battery life, that its competitors can’t match.
To really be successful, phones must be exciting and eye-catching, like the G5 or the Galaxy S7 Edge, or quietly polished like the iPhone. The HTC 10 is quietly slightly above average. It’s hard not to wonder whether catching up is enough.