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HTC 10 review: A great handset that puts HTC back on the map

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The HTC 10 is now six months old, and it looks like it’s getting a very early birthday present. That present is a particularly sweet one: Android Nougat, which according to developer LlabTooFeR on Tweitter, is coming the European handsets towards the end of the month – possibly the start of December. 

That’s another good reason to consider the HTC 10 for your next handset, and there were already plenty. However price remains a tricky drawback, considering the strength of the opposition.

At £570, the HTC 10 is pitched at exactly the same price point as the Samsung Galaxy S7. In most metrics, it’s a dead heat between the two, with similar performance and specifications, but the Galaxy S7 edges it on screen and camera, as well as providing an additional five-and-a-half hours of battery life, waterproofing and wireless charging. 

However, right now it’s possible to get a very good deal indeed on the HTC 10 that makes it a very attractive proposition. Sim free buyers can now purchase an unlocked brand new HTC 10 direct from the manufacturer for just £470. That, to me, wipes out Samsung’s advantage in a single swoop. Just add the code “HTC100UK” at checkout to knock £100 off the price. You’ll need to hurry though, as the offer ends on 25 August.

If you don’t have the money for a Sim free purchase, contracts are getting better, though are still staying pretty stubbornly over the £32 per month mark if you want a free handset and a decent amount of minutes. If you’re not averse to jumping through cashback redemption hoops, you can still get a decent contract with no upfront cost, but honestly if you can’t buy SIM free, it’s probably not the right time to buy.

The original review continues below.

The HTC 10 is an excellent phone, but it really has to be. HTC has always made very good flagship handsets, but the brand struggles to stand out against its glitzier rivals from Apple, Samsung LG and Sony.

At an event a couple of months ago, another writer spotted my slightly scarred but still stylish-looking HTC One M8 and commented, “you don’t see many tech journalists with HTC phones”. It was a pretty good point, and a concerning truth for the struggling Taiwanese manufacturer: if even the journalists who are pretty positive about the handsets don’t own them, how do they convince the public to consider a HTC instead of the latest all-singing, all-dancing Apple or Samsung flagship?

One option would be to undercut their opponents, but that’s not an approach HTC seems keen on. The “One” and “M” may have been dropped from the title, but the HTC 10’s launch price is doggedly staying up there with the big boys. At £570 SIM-free, it’s the same price as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and £30 more than the entry-level iPhone 6s.

Say what you like about HTC, that’s a bold statement of intent. Unfortunately, despite being a fantastic smartphone – and the best thing HTC has done in years – it doesn’t quite live up to the billing.

HTC 10: Appearance

From the smash-hit One M8 to the somewhat underwhelming One M9, HTC should have learned that the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t always pay off in the technology world. Not only did the HTC One M9 offer few obvious advantages over its predecessor, but also it looked almost identical.

This isn’t the case with the HTC 10 – if you’re looking for an elevator pitch description, it’s a bit like the One M8 and One A9 has a baby. A big baby, at 5.2in, but, since both of those handsets are good-looking, this is far from a bad thing. Our review model, which arrived in Carbon Grey, is a rather stylish-looking phone. Since HTC has ditched the logo and speaker beneath the screen, it has found room to swell the screen size a tad and add a touch-sensitive home button that doubles up as a fairly reliable fingerprint scanner.

There are other changes, too, the most obvious of which is that all of your micro-USB cables are in danger of redundancy: HTC has decided that USB Type-C is the way forward. The power button has moved from the top of the handset to the side and now comes with an oddly serrated texture. The headphone jack now sticks out the top, which will prove something of a Marmite move. So far, you might argue, it’s all change from previous HTC flagships.

Turn it over, however, and things feel more familiar. The all-in-one metal design – pioneered by the Taiwanese manufacturer and subsequently “adopted” by almost everyone else – is proudly on display again, as are the familiar lines that slice across the curved corners. The round camera housing is as distinctive as ever, but now protrudes by a couple of millimetres. The HTC logo is embossed in the centre, as before, but the rounded rear is now framed by sharper, chamfered edges running around its circumference.

It’s not the lightest phone. Tipping the scales at 161g, it’s a fair bit heavier than the iPhone 6s (129g) and the Samsung Galaxy S7 (152g), although nowhere near as weighty as the iPhone 6s Plus (192g). Make no mistake, though: the HTC 10’s build quality makes for a phone that feels wonderfully solid and substantial.

Once again, there’s no removable battery, but you’re free to pop in a microSD card and expand the 32GB of storage to your heart’s content (as long as your heart is content with a 2,032GB cap).

HTC 10: Screen

For three generations, HTC has clung doggedly to 1080p as its smartphone resolution of choice. However, with this larger screen comes a substantial resolution boost – the new display now stretches to a Quad HD, 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. The screen is sharp and vivid, although, to the naked eye, the leap from 441ppi to 564ppi is a marginal improvement. At least HTC hasn’t gone down the route of chasing 4K magic beans like Sony.

And a fine screen it is, too. It uses Super LCD 5 panel technology with a protective layer of Gorilla Glass 4, and in our tests it performed very strongly indeed. It reaches a maximum brightness of 449cd/m2, covers 99.8% of the sRGB gamut and serves up an impressive contrast ratio of 1,793:1.

HTC 10 Samsung Galaxy S7 Apple iPhone 6s LG G5 Google Nexus 6P
Pixels per inch 564 534 326 554 518
Brightness 449cd/m2 354cd/m2 542cd/m2 354cd/m2 357cd/m2
sRGB gamut covered 99.8% 100% 93.3% 97.1% 100%
Contrast 1,793:1 Infinity:1 1,542:1 1,621:1 Infinity:1

To be clear, these are all really good scores – as you’d expect from a selection of handsets very close to the top of our best smartphones of 2016 list – but the HTC 10 locks horns with the best of them, performing solidly in every single metric. For me, the Galaxy S7 just snatches it, despite its seemingly duller screen (a quirk of Amoled technology: it sometimes goes brighter when required, but you can’t manually turn it up that high yourself to prevent it burning out), but the fact the HTC 10 is in the same ballpark is a strong start.

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