HTC needed to do something different this year. Something special, even. To compete with the juggernaut Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC's new phone had to be more than just another metal slab. The difference, I'm hoping, will be audible. I spent a bit of time with the HTC 10, and it may be the ideal phone for music lovers.
The HTC 10's body is deceptive. At 5.7 by 2.83 by 0.35 and 5.6 ounces, it's no bigger or heavier than the LG G5, but it feels larger and more solid. I'm not sure why that is, other than that it's a unibody rather than having the G5's snap-off bottom. The back is very domed—the phone rocks on a table—and it's marked by two of the biggest chamfers you've ever seen: Ultrachamfers. Along with the big HTC logo, it's clear that the phone won't be mistaken for a rival smartphone, face down at least.
The front has a 5.3-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 Super LCD 5 screen, which seems about as bright as the S7's, although it lacks the always-on feature from the S7 and LG G5. There's a physical home button/fingerprint scanner below the screen. On the side, the power button is ridged like it was on the HTC One A9, which makes it easy to find with your finger. Inside, there's the same 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor found in the S7 and G5, along with 4GB of RAM. There's a real USB-C jack on the bottom, and the phone supports Quickcharge 3.0 (although not wireless charging.)
HTC promises great cameras, but everyone promises great cameras—the truth will, as always, be in the testing. The main camera is a 12-megapixel unit with 1.55-micron pixels and optical image stabilization, which HTC says gives great low-light performance. On the front, there's a 5-megapixel selfie camera with OIS and a screen flash. The main camera records 4K video with 24-bit audio, it can handle input twice as loud as most phones, and the cameras have RAW support. When I see "OIS plus loud recording," I think of a phone to take to concerts, which makes sense given the audio excellence I talk about below.
That all sounds good. Really good. Better than the Galaxy S7. I'm hesitant only because HTC has made these kinds of camera promises before—remember Ultrapixel?— and the company didn't follow through. We live in hope.
Listen to This
So what really sets the HTC 10 apart? Audio, I think. HTC has, for a while, paid more attention to speakers and headphone amps than any other smartphone maker except Marshall, and I think that attention will pay off here.
The onboard speakers are odd: there's a front-facing tweeter at the top, and an edge-facing woofer at the bottom, delivering separated but mono sound. And they really do! If you cover the woofer with your finger, it gets tinny. Still, there's less distortion than you get on most other phones, as the 10 is using two speakers and one is front-facing.
I have very high hopes for that headphone amp, though. It's a 1v amp, which is more powerful than the amps on other smartphones, connected to a 24-bit DAC. Yes, it's 24-bit and not 32-bit, but I'm betting that the headphone amp and better tuning will make a much more audible difference than a 32-bit DAC would. The phone comes with a "hi-res certified" headset worth about $90, and you can tune the phone's audio to your own hearing capabilities by listening to a series of tones.
Audio personalization was actually one of my favorite features of older Samsung Galaxy phones—they got rid of it around the Galaxy S6 generation—and I think that a combination of that and the powerful headphone amp will not only make this the best phone to listen to music to, it may really vault call quality forward, too. As this is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 phone, it also supports T-Mobile's new super-duper EVS voice codec, which may further enhance call quality.
And if you need bigger speakers, well, this is the first Android phone that supports Apple's AirPlay. That's a huge deal. It'll only work for audio, not video, but it's officially licensed, so it will continue to work as Apple updates AirPlay. That means the HTC 10 will work with any Apple-certified speakers or other devices.
HTC is walking an interesting tightrope with its software. It's keeping its Sense skin over Android 6.0, but it's trying to slim down the included applications. On the HTC 10 I saw, that means getting rid of its redundant Gallery app in favor of Google Photos, and getting rid of its Calendar app in favor of Google Calendar—but loading its own Messages app rather than Google Hangouts for SMS, presumably because of carrier requirements. There's still a little bit of bloatware, sadly: Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram are preloaded and undeletable. That makes for an 8.3GB system load on phones that come in 32GB and 64GB sizes. Fortunately, there's a MicroSD card slot that works fine with 200GB cards, and unlike Samsung and LG's phones, you can use the card as "adoptable" or seamless storage.
The HTC 10 will be available later this month from Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and unlocked. The unlocked model is available in silver and gray for pre-order beginning today on HTC.com for $699. It's compatible with the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. We'll have a full review soon.