HTC 10 review: hands-down the best phone for nights out

10 out of 10 for photos in dingy bars

and dups

Written in accordance with our Reddit-inspired review policy.

Since falling in love with the HTC One M8 back in 2014, we haven’t had too much luck with HTC’s flagships. The M9 wasn’t different enough and copped out on the camera, while the A9’s¬†specs were¬†hobbled in the UK and sold¬†at a much higher price. So we were a bit nervous about the HTC 10 (no ‘One’ this time), because as with the A9, we¬†wanted¬†to love it – we just weren’t expecting to.

Thankfully, this time¬†we were pleasantly surprised with HTC’s newest flagship, priced at ¬£569.99 in the UK. Read on to find out why: here’s our HTC 10 review.

1. The handset

  • 145.9 x 71.9 x 3-9mm
  • Gold, Grey, Silver
  • ¬†161g

The HTC 10’s handset strikes the perfect balance between looking like something new, and looking like an HTC. It has the familiar all-metal unibody design of the M8 and M9, with the addition of faceted edges that catch the light and beautifully frame the back of the phone.

The front is very similar to the HTC One A9 we saw¬†last year, just thankfully without the iPhone-clone back. The fingerprint-enabled home key is there below the screen again, though this time without the HTC logo – that’s only on the back on the 10. It’s one of those strange home keys that looks like a button but can’t be pressed – if you’re coming from an iPhone or a Samsung it’ll take a little getting used to.

The fingerprint sensor unlocks the phone decently quickly and can store up to 5 fingerprints. On either side you’ll find fixed capacitive buttons: back on the left, apps on the right. Annoyingly, the icons for these (which only light up when in use) are tiny and don’t look properly centred to me, and they’re also quite tricky to touch. I’ve missed the Back button more times on the 10 than on any other phone – the active button area seems quite small in relation to the space.

There’s a long volume rocker on the right with the power button below, which is handily very textured to help you find it without looking. The SIM tray’s above the volume keys, and you’ll find the microSD slot on the left edge. The headphone port is pleasingly centred on the top edge of the phone,¬†with one speaker grille and a USB type C charging port on the bottom.

Overall, this phone feels well-thought out and has a decent heft to it, which makes it feel sturdy and expensive. It’s very smooth, which means it can be quite slippery, leading to a few quite major drops. But as far as I can see it sustained no damage at all: it’s a tank of a phone. It would have been nice to see water resistance at this price, as on the Galaxy S7, but you can’t have everything.

2. Audio

  • BoomSound¬†Hi-Fi edition speakers
  • Free hi-res earphones

This section is usually one of the guaranteed high points of an HTC phone review. HTC have been fitting their phones with class-leading front-facing speakers under the BoomSound brand (after they parted ways with Beats) for some years now. Whenever I get a substandard phone speaker, I compare it to HTC’s.

Sadly and inexplicably, they’ve ‘fixed’ something that clearly wasn’t broken on the 10, putting in a separate woofer and tweeter on either end of the phone. If you hold the phone in portait orientation, this sounds fine. But if you’re in any other direction, you get more of one than the other, and the overall effect – I’m sad to say – is a bit rubbish.

I usually put the phone on my desk and walk around the room with music on. In this case, from a few metres away it sounded like I was listening to leaked sound from someone’s headphones on the bus, only louder. Sigh.

On the bright side, the phone has three microphones built in to add 24-bit sound to your videos (switch it on in the dropdown menu in Video mode – it’s off by default), and the headphone amp¬†delivers superb results.¬†Combined with the certified high-res earphones¬†you get free in the box, listening to music through headphones on this handset is an absolute joy. I just wish I could say the same for the speakers.

3. The screen

  • 5.2 inches
  • Quad HD (2560 x 1440, 564 pixels per inch)
  • Gorilla Glass 4

The glass on the HTC 10 is ever so slightly curved, as it was on the A9. This gives an attractive 3D-ish look to the super-glossy screen, which offers colour, clarity and brightness to the high standard we’d expect on a flagship. The adaptive brightness is a bit temperamental, though: it sometimes suddenly ratchets up or down to an unrealistic level. You can turn it off, but it might dent your battery life.

The display’s coated with the latest version of Gorilla Glass, so you won’t have to worry too much about it getting scratched up or smashed. I’ve (accidentally) put it through some pretty major drops, including two face-down on concrete, and it hasn’t shown so much as a nick. Thankfully there have been no repeats of the OnePlus X incident!

4. The hardware

  • Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor (2 x 2.15 and 2 x 1.6 GHz)
  • Adreno 530¬†GPU
  • 4GB RAM

For the money, we were a little surprised to see a quad¬†(four)¬†core rather than hexa (six) or octa (eight) core processor, but in fairness it works perfectly well. The phone is fast and smooth, switches apps ably and hasn’t run into any crashes or hangs in the weeks we’ve been using it. It runs intensive games with relative ease, although you can turn down the resolution to full HD (it’s a strange world when that’s a¬†downgrade) with¬†the preinstalled Boost+ app to save battery, and perhaps improve performance a little too.

4GB of RAM is always good to see, although strangely the aforementioned Boost+ app includes a facility for “clearing memory” to improve performance – which is not usually considered necessary or useful on Androids, despite the many memory-clearing apps claiming the opposite. We haven’t found ourselves needing to use it, in any case: performance on this phone is plenty good enough as it is.

5. The software

  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with HTC Sense

It’s great to see how much HTC have innovated with the software on the HTC 10. It has the Sense Android overlay that their phones always have, but with the addition of a really cool new feature called Freestyle Layout that I’m in love with.

Instead of using the grid system for the app icons on your homescreen, Freestyle lets you place them anywhere. Put them in a circle, let them follow the contours of your wallpaper, you can even place them on top of each other. Even better, the phone comes with a set of Freestyle themes, with co-ordinated¬†icon packs and wallpapers, and these include ‘stickers’ you can stick to your desktop.

In these screenshots, the planet, astonauts, spaceship and satellite are stickers. You choose them from a menu (on the right, it changes by theme) and put them wherever you want on the homescreen. You can even layer them.

Why is this cool? Because the stickers can be linked to apps. So you can tap on that satellite¬†and it’ll open WhatsApp, for example. You can link and relink them at any time, to any app¬†on your phone (not just native ones¬†– hooray) and if you turn the labels off, that means you can have apps on your home screen that aren’t obviously apps. Useful for hiding things you don’t want other people looking at or tapping on – like Tinder and your selfie gallery.

HTC say they’ve tried to cut down on duplicating apps that are already included in Android, so the 10 doesn’t have its own gallery, just Google Photos. However, as you can see here, they haven’t done an amazing job at reducing duplication.¬†Why do I have two clocks and two messaging apps?

Thankfully though, it does have HTC’s camera app, which is packed with useful features like Pro mode for full manual control, Live Makeup (basically beauty mode – it doesn’t actually add makeup), slow motion, hyperlapse and Zoe camera (their version of iPhone Live Photos – though HTC’s came first by some years, it’s just not as famous). This is a good decision, because while Google Camera is fine, it’s pretty basic.

HTC Sense also always includes BlinkFeed, HTC’s version of a Flipboard-style social curation app. It’s to the left of the home panel, and if you’re not a fan (I’ve never found it useful), you can remove it by pinching with two fingers as if you were trying to zoom out on a photo, then dragging the BlinkFeed panel to the bin. I’ll curate my own news, thanks!

6. The storage

  • 32GB
  • Expandable by¬†up to 2TB¬†with microSD

There are theoretically two sizes of HTC 10: a 32GB and a 64GB. Sadly, since the universe apparently hates¬†the UK, we’re only getting the smaller one. But at least HTC didn’t pull the trick they did on the One A9 and give us way lower specs at a way higher price than the US (the internet never forgets, HTC).

Still, it doesn’t matter much because the phone has a microSD tray for cards up to the theoretical 2TB, so you can expand your storage any time you like.

7. The selfie camera

  • 5MP
  • BSI sensor
  • Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS)
  • f/1.8 aperture,
  • 1080p (full HD) video

The two cameras on the HTC 10 perform broadly the same way, in that they’re both OK for the majority of photos, but¬†really really good¬†in low light.

Selfies in good light come out clear and perfectly shareable, and the oddly-named Live Makeup feature does a good job of improving how you look without getting unrealistic (unless you turn it up to max). But in darkened bars and on midnight walks, the front-facing camera incredibly good at capturing detail and faces without flash. This is the phone to take on a night out.

HTC 10 selfie camera samples:

It’s not terribly obvious, but these shots were taken in a¬†very¬†dark bar, and the fact that you can actually see our faces is truly impressive – especially without flash:

It’s worth noting that with all the photos on the HTC 10, though, the images look better on the phone screen than when they’re transferred elsewhere.

8. The main camera

  • 12MP UltraPixel 2
  • Laser autofocus
  • BSI sensor
  • Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS)
  • f/1.8 aperture
  • Dual tone LED flash
  • 4K video recording with hi-res audio
  • Slow motion video recording at 720p HD, 120fps

The main camera on the 10 is surprisingly changeable. Sometimes focus just won’t lock and you get a fuzzy result (and I’m getting spammed with “laser autofocus is blocked” messages, which apparently is a bug that’ll be addressed soon), sometimes the sensor gets overwhelmed with light and blows out the highlights, and sometimes photos come out perfectly well with no issues. Overall, it’s OK, but I’d expect better on a phone costing this much.

However.¬†As I mentioned in the headline and the selfie cam section, the low light performance on this phone is phenomenal. So good that if I were rich, I’d buy this phone just for nights out. I took it to a birthday party at the weekend and the photos I was taking were so much brighter, clearer and just¬†plain better than anyone else’s, and I was out with a bunch of tech journos so it was a pretty good set of flagships to compare against. The HTC 10 was head and shoulders above them all in dark¬†surroundings, and got shareable photos where¬†other phones¬†only saw shadows.

The software for the camera is pretty great, too, with full manual control and RAW shooting in Pro mode, 4K videos with high-res audio (ideal for gigs, though I haven’t had the chance to take it to one yet), and super-easy Hyperlapse and Slo-mo modes.

Overall then, if you take a lot of shots in daylight, this camera is fine but not the best on the market (I’d probably go with the S7¬†or the LG G5). If you mostly use it for night time shots of you and your friends, though, you’ll love the camera on the 10 – and your Facebook photos will be better than anyone else’s.

HTC 10 camera samples:

In some tricky lighting situations, it struggled – neither HDR nor RAW Enhancement could save this one:

And sometimes focus just won’t lock:

HTC 10 low-light photos

The following photos were taken in very dark surroundings – in the case of the tree, I could actually see more in the photo than in real life.

Camera tip for the 10: there’s no double-tap quick-launch function, but in Motion Gestures on the settings menu, you can activate a shortcut so that swiping down twice on the screen launches the camera. It only works when the screen is off, and it’s a bit fussy, but better than nothing.

9. Battery life

  • 3000mAh
  • Non-removable

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by battery life on the HTC 10. 3000 mAh is pretty standard for the current generation of flagships, but it seems to last better on the 10 than other phones I’ve used. I’m what most people consider a heavy user, and phones rarely last me the whole day, but I haven’t found myself having to give the 10 many emergency top-ups at all, and that’s rare.

Note the percentage mismatch on the right

However, while stamina is good, it’s not as good as we’d expect from a flagship. An hour’s screen-on time at max brightness will cost you 18% of your battery¬†on the HTC 10, while the sub-¬£200 OnePlus X and Honor 5X got 18% and 19% respectively. It’s also¬†a fair bit worse than the 12% we got from competing flagships¬†like the Nexus 6P and Samsung Galaxy S7.

There’s no wireless charging to sweeten the pill, either. We asked HTC about that, and they said they don’t think people want it yet – they’re waiting until it’s faster. We disagree that speed puts people off¬†wireless charging (it’s usually used for top-ups at your desk, or for overnight main charges), so that seems a bit of a cop-out – but then Apple¬†don’t offer it either.

On the bright side, the charging port is the new USB-C style, which is good to see: yes, everyone still has the old style of cable at home, but this is the way things are going. HTC even told us they’ll have a special pair of high-res headphones out later this year that plug in through the USB-C port. We’re looking forward to those.

10. Gadgette’s verdict

The HTC 10 is somewhere between the M8 and the A9: we haven’t fallen head-over-heels, but there’s a lot to like here. The 10 seems like¬†a step back in the right direction for HTC, who have been dismissed¬†by many as “just a VR company now” – it proves they still know how to make a good phone. Here’s hoping¬†this¬†means they’re back on the road to Android glory.

The 10 is¬†the first HTC we’ve felt fond of for quite a while. The handset is attractive and very robust, the¬†hardware performs well, and the software tweaks give it a genuinely fun and innovative twist that stands out from the racks of identikit Androids.

The cameras can be temperamental, with some photos coming out worse than others for no clear reason, but that low light performance is genuinely something for HTC to be proud of. Combined with how tough the handset seems to be, this is a great phone for taking to bars, gigs and restaurants, so a good choice for your main phone if you go out a lot.

HTC 10 UK price and availability

The HTC 10 goes on sale in mid-May. It’s available to preorder now for ¬£569.99 SIM-free directly from HTC, as well as from Carphone Warehouse¬†(who currently has exclusivity on the Gold colour) and Three. We’d expect it to be available on all major networks shortly.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.