- Music sounds BRILLIANT on this phone
- Speakers are too tinny for music
- High resolution screen looks great, if a little darker than some
- Auto brightness isn't great
- HTC 10 allows you to stream to Apple's AirPlay
- Speakers and screen are great for movie watching
The screen on the HTC 10 is something I've been looking forward to from the brand for a while - the jump to a 5.2-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution, making everything look a bit sharper, cleaner and overall, just nicer to look at than before.
The upgrade in resolution is combined with the move to Super LCD 5 technology - not a well-known display technology, admittedly, but it's one that HTC has been beavering away with for a while now, and it's working well.
The Super LCD choice means, once again, we've got a very natural screen to look at. Colors aren't over saturated, the contrast ratios are good and overall you'll find very little fault with what you're looking at, although it's a little darker when looking at it off angle compared to some others on the market. But given you'll mostly be viewing it head on, that's not a massive worry.
See how the HTC 10 fared in our phone speed test:
I will admit that I struggled to guess whether this was a higher resolution or not when I first clapped eyes on the HTC 10, as it doesn't scream out with sharpness the first time you look at it. Whether that's me becoming used to the sharper images or just that LCD technology doesn't have the 'wow' factor that Super AMOLED from Samsung does, it's hard to tell.
However, it didn't make me want to grab the phone the first time I see it and get a closer look, as I did with other devices like the Nexus 6, for example.
One annoying thing about the move up in resolution from HTC is that there's no way to put more icons on the screen. You're still stuck with the same 4 x 4 row choice, rather than the 5 x 5 choices others like the Huawei Mate 8 or Samsung Galaxy S7 offer. You CAN shrink the icons down though, so this move makes very little sense.
When it comes to watching movies or playing games, the HTC 10 is a little on the dark side, if I'm honest. I don't mean that it pops over to the Death Star on the odd weekend, but more that it can be hard to see what's on screen when you viewing it in bright light - particularly annoying when trying to take a picture in bright sunlight.
I shouldn't moan too much, I know - I remember trying the same thing on the HTC Desire, which had an OLED screen, and that was as much use as trying to take a picture with the screen off. But dammit, I live in the future now and I want to be able to see my screen at all times.
The issue could be a little to do with the auto-brightness on the phone, which isn't as good as some of its peers. I've been blinded when opening the display first thing in the morning and, as mentioned, struggled to see it in strong light - we're still waiting for HTC to improve this.
In terms of media, you'll see a more detailed breakdown on that in the following sections, but HTC's got a big ace up its sleeve in winning over Apple users: AirPlay compatibility - and using it is a case of simply flicking three fingers up on the screen of the content you want to share, and any AirPlay-compatible devices will pop up to connect to.
I'm still not sure why Apple's allowed an interloper into its walled garden, but HTC seems confident it's not going anywhere soon as a feature.
Let's get a little more in-depth on the movie watching experience - it's very good despite the slight issues with the darkness I mentioned earlier. Watching Netflix is a dream, for instance, when you shove the brightness right up and doing so leaves it bright enough to get your movie fix even next to the window on a train.
The sound of the speakers when you're using the HTC 10 without a set of headphones is much better too - music doesn't sound amazing, as you'll see below, but it's much more adept at bringing voices to life.
The QHD screen doesn't add much to many videos - unless you're recording in 4K - but it does maintain a level of sharpness that brings a more premium quality to proceedings.
If I had one criticism, it's that the colors look a bit too muted - but that's a personal preference and others will enjoy the more natural skin tones that are offered.
Right - I've been looking forward to this bit. The audio output on the HTC 10 is simply sublime. The best compliment I can pay the phone is that I would turn off anything playing music and reach for the phone to listen to anything that was put my way.
I've been listening to it exclusively while writing this review, and the portion where I needed to disconnect so it could run a battery test actually upset me a little bit.
It's helped by the inclusion of high resolution headphones in the box (if you live in Europe - sadly, the US is carrier dependent) which really make the most of the quality output. They're snug and not too heavy, but you can feel there are some hefty drivers in there.
If you want to use other headphones though, that's fine too - the HTC 10 is superbly adept at driving them. There are twice as many amplifiers included as before, both for the headphones and external speakers, and the quality is palpable.
I will say that the phone errs towards the bass notes a little, but it doesn't completely destroy the high-end and vocal frequencies.
Look, this is coming from someone that REALLY struggles to tell the difference between good and bad headphone sound (I feel a fraud even writing about frequencies to a degree), but even I can tell that I'm hearing something special here.
There's a richness and clarity that I really enjoy, and if you're a music buff then this could well be the phone you should look at. It supports Hi-Res audio, which sounds even better - but then again there are still relatively few ways to get that kind of sound onto your phone easily.
The reason for the impressive performance is simple: HTC's worked hard on the audio and managed to improve it throughout the phone. It'll roll with 24-bit Hi-Fi sound, can upscale even the lamest of Spotify tracks to sound half decent and blows your mind with properly encoded classical music.
I can't say the same for the external speakers though, as the BoomSound options HTC's run with here are nowhere near as good as previously for music.
High and low frequencies have been separated and fired out of two speakers - one facing downwards for bass, the other pointing at you for most of the vocal and higher frequencies.
When listening to music this leads to an obvious separation in the sound, which means it doesn't come across as coherently. It's an odd choice from HTC to drop the dual front-facing speakers, and even odder that it's claiming this is 'Hi-Fi sound' - I tried to listen to music using the speakers while writing, but it just wasn't good enough - it felt too tinny.
But as you'll see later - they're better for gaming, but just not a great choice for music or YouTube videos.
HTC's using the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset for the 10, combined with the Adreno 530 GPU for driving all those lovely pixels - and it seems like a very good option for the performance on offer with the new phone.
I downloaded Modern Combat 5, N.O.V.A. 3 and Real Racing 3 to check out the smarts on the 10 when it comes to gaming, and I really struggled to see any issues at all. The screen, again, could be a little better at firing itself up brightness-wise when gaming, but then again given this is one of the most intensive things to do in terms of killing the battery perhaps it's a good thing that we're not seeing a lot more power coming out.
You can actually tweak the performance of the gaming experience to help prolong the power if you head into the new Boost+ application, which lets you drop the resolution of some games to 'just' Full HD to put a little less pressure on the GPU.
I'll be jiggered if I could see a single difference between the two modes, but if that's the sort of thing that bothers you, tap it up. It's a lot like Samsung's Game Center, but that's a lot more fully-formed and lets you do things like locking the home button to stop it accidentally being pressed during gameplay - something I did a couple of times with the 10.
As I said above, the front facing speakers (well, one front and one downwards) are much better in gaming, with the bass notes in particular sounding excellent when holding the phone in your hands. You will need to wriggle your hand around to get the speaker clear, but it's worth it.