After a string of middling flagship phones, HTC is back in a big way with the HTC 10. Featuring a strikingly handsome aluminum unibody design, good battery life and a slick, lightweight version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the 10 is the best phone HTC has made in three years.
But is it really the best phone ever for shooting photos and videos, like HTC's ads claim? No, not quite. Read on to find out why Samsung's Galaxy S7 — which uses the same camera as the Galaxy S7 Edge, our reigning champ as the best camera phone — remains on top.
Before we get to the comparison photos, we need to talk about specs — because, on paper, the HTC 10 certainly looks like a match for the Galaxy S7. Both phones feature 12-megapixel sensors with optical image-stabilization in back, and 5-MP selfies shooters in front. Only the HTC also offers OIS on its front camera, so your selfies can look just a crisp and shake-free as the pics from the rear cam.
At 1.55 microns, the individual pixels on HTC's 12-MP rear cam are also slightly larger than the 1.4-micron pixels on the S7. However, the S7's rear camera features a wider, f/1.7 aperture versus the HTC 10's f/1.8 shooter. This means that while more light is getting to the S7's sensor, the larger pixels on the 10's sensor allow this phone to gather a tiny bit more information than the Galaxy S7 can.
What the specs don't tell you is how well each camera processes all the photographic information it's pulling in, which is where the S7 pulls ahead.
In well-lit situations, both the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 take some impressively sharp and colorful photos. In our side-by-side comparison, both cameras do a superb job capturing the greenery in Union Square. There are slight difference in the shades of green on the shrubs and trees, and if you zoom in, the S7's image is a tad sharper. But overall, the HTC 10 does a good job of keeping up.
But when conditions get really bright, things start to go wrong for the HTC 10. High-intensity light or reflections often cause the HTC 10 to create white flares or to blow out certain photos. In a shot of some flower wreaths, the white background overwhelms the HTC 10's camera, creating a hazy bloom that creeps into other areas of the pic. Meanwhile, the S7's photo is better-exposed and significantly sharper.
MORE: Best Smartphone Cameras
In this set of pictures comparing colorful scarves, you can also see by the yellowed look of the HTC 10's pic that this phone struggled with white balance. That trend popped up in a number of the HTC's other photos as well. On top of that, when you zoom in to 100 percent, you can see that the S7's pic captured more details in the scarves' fine knitting than did the HTC 10.
Winner: Galaxy S7. The S7's ability to deal with all kinds of light, particularly bright light, allows this phone to produce better images than the HTC 10 can.
In darker conditions, the HTC 10 snapped pics that were close in quality to the S7's, but not quite as sharp or detailed. And unfortunately, when the lights go down, the 10's problem with flaring gets worse.
In a shot from the HTC 10 overlooking Midtown Manhattan, the flares from streaks of light coming off the street lamps become quite distracting. In addition, because the HTC blew out the headlights on the cars in the distance, there's more overall clarity in the S7's shot.
Indoors, in a dimly lit hotel, both cameras did a fine job capturing this dark, metal statue. However, once again, if you zoom in close, the S7's photo is just a touch sharper.
When I turned on the flash to snap a pic of a happy little shrub, the S7 again edged out the HTC 10 with a slightly crisper and better-exposed photo.
Winner: Galaxy S7. Whether you're using the flash or not, the S7’s camera produces sharper images when the lights go down.
When it comes to selfies, the HTC charges back, producing slightly better colors in a brightly lit selfie. The 10 also captured better details on my face and the highlights from the nearby window, but without completely blowing out the shot.
In low light, things were a bit closer. The HTC 10's selfie made my skin look a little too pale, although this phone's photo does looks slightly more detailed.
Winner: HTC 10. HTC scores a narrow win with its front camera, thanks to more-detailed selfies.
Under ideal conditions, both the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 can snap really great photos, but the S7 still holds a small advantage in sharpness and color accuracy. But when bright lights appear, the HTC often stumbles, producing distracting flares of light you simply don't get from the S7. This makes the HTC 10 a bit of a liability if you like taking photos at night, which is unfortunate because the phone's low-light performance is otherwise pretty solid.
Overall, while HTC has made some impressive gains with the 10's camera, in the end, the S7 is still on top.
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Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).