I was so disappointed in the HTC One M9 that I chose to replace my aging One M7 with a Galaxy S6 Edge. But the HTC 10 is the best phone the company has made in three years. From the design and the personalized audio profiles to the much-improved cameras, there's a lot to like about this Android flagship. But it's still a roller coaster of highs and lows.
Here the best and worst things about HTC's new flagship phone.
Best HTC Phone Since the One M7
The HTC 10 has leapfrogged the LG G5 and is now the second best Android phone on the market, behind Samsung's Galaxy S7. With its 4GB of RAM and Snapdragon 820 processor, the HTC 10 is just as fast as competing flagship handsets, and despite not having an AMOLED display, the 10's screen is almost as colorful as the panel on the Galaxy S7, which is no small feat.
The cameras on the 10s front and back have also seen a pretty big improvement, especially since the 5-megapixel shooter on the front is the first one in the world with optical image stabilization. And you still get a microSD card slot for increased storage, along with a USB-C port that'll be a real boon in the future as micro USB begins to fade away.
Bold, New Design
One of the worst things about the HTC One M9 was how boring it looked. There was very little difference between that phone, the One M7 that came out in 2013 and the One M8 that came out in between. In contrast, the HTC 10 features sharp, chamfered edges and a sleek, unibody aluminum design; it's strikingly handsome while still maintaining a sense of familial heritage. And when you hold the HTC 10 in your hand alongside another supposedly all-metal phone in the LG G5, it's instantly apparent that the HTC is the more premium and seductive handset.
New Minimalist Take on HTC Sense
I'm sure U.S. carriers will find a way to gunk things up, but the way HTC built Sense into Android 6.0 sets a new bar for how slick and seamless an Android skin can be. It does a pretty good job of enhancing Marshmallow with stuff like the Blinkfeed news app and the fun new freestyle layout feature, but without getting in your way like Samsung's TouchWiz tends to do. HTC even worked with Google to prevent having redundant apps, so you won't get multiple web browsers or calendars apps. Overall, this new version is clean, fast and functional.
Touch Fingerprint Sensor and the Return of Capacitive Buttons
These days, you can't call a phone premium if it doesn't have a fingerprint sensor. However, HTC went a step further by getting rid of the physical button and just giving you an indent so you know where to put your finger.
The HTC 10 also marks the return of capacitive-touch buttons for back and recent apps, which means you don't have to waste precious display real estate for on-screen buttons. There are no more moving parts to go wrong, and there's a better use of the bezel below the screen — that's two wins in one.
A New Take on BoomSound
In a perfect world, every phone would come with front-facing stereo speakers. But given the location of the HTC 10's fingerprint sensor, that wasn't going to be an option on this phone. Instead of completely giving up, HTC turned the phone's earpiece into a single front-facing speaker, then synced it up to another downward-facing speaker on the phone's bottom edge. This gives you a more balanced, and quite loud speaker setup, with audio quality that trumps the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and even the Nexus 6P (front-facing speakers and all).
It's not all roses and standing ovations for the HTC 10, though, as the phone comes up short in a couple different areas.
Meat Tenderizer Lock Button
Why oh why, on a phone that's so smooth and exquisitely crafted, would HTC tack on a lock button that feels like a mini meat tenderizer? Anyone who buys the phone will memorize the position of the button in less than a week, so there's no need to try to differentiate the lock button and the volume rocker. That makes the HTC 10's sharp, studded button not just an annoyance, but also an unnecessary sore spot.
No Camellia Red Option
The HTC 10 features a dazzling, sharp-edged new design, but unfortunately, the company is keeping the best-looking version of the 10 from hitting the U.S. (at least for now). The Camellia Red HTC 10 is stunning and draws your attention like the woman in the red dress from The Matrix. However, it's only going to be available in Taiwan and Japan. That leaves us in the West with the much less exciting silver and gunmetal-gray versions, which is pretty disappointing.
Finicky Laser Autofocus
I'm all for making cameras focus faster. It's better for video and also means that you miss fewer shots of fast-moving subjects like pets and babies. The problem with the HTC 10 is that its laser-autofocus system is so twitchy that an errant smudge or fingerprint on the lens will cause the camera to throw errors in your face when you try to snap a pic. That means you're often more worried about how clean the sensor is rather than what's in your viewfinder, which is the exact opposite of what this feature is supposed to do.
Top-Mounted Headphone Jack
If you have two ports on a phone, you might as well keep them in the same place. But on the HTC 10, its top-mounted headphone jack doesn't offer any tangible benefits, and makes the phone more ungainly if you choose to use headphones while trying to recharge your phone. There's a reason why almost every other smartphone company has abandoned top-mounted headphone jacks.
At a price of $699 unlocked, the HTC 10 costs $50 more than the Galaxy S7, which would be fine if this were a better phone than the Samsung — but it isn't. That also means the HTC 10 costs just $50 less than the $750 S7 Edge, which features a bigger and brighter 5.5-inch screen, better rear camera and slightly longer battery life. The S7 Edge is the best Android phone out right now, and offers the best bang for your buck.
At the end of the day, the HTC 10 has begun to restore my faith in the company, which had been on the brink of disaster. The Vive VR headset alone isn't going to save HTC, so it's essential for the company to keep this new-and-improved smartphone train going.
How do you feel about the HTC 10? Give us a shout in the comments.
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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).