Hewn entirely from aluminum and glass, the HTC 10 is about as well built a smartphone as you'll find. Phone nerds of a certain vintage will remember the thrill that came from picking up the HTC One M7. Indeed, I felt an echo of that same excitement when I first started playing with the 10. That's more than I can say about either of the hero phones HTC has released within the past year.
Still, the 10's design won't be for everyone, especially with strong competition from the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge. It's a bit nondescript when viewed from the front: There's the 5.2-inch Super LCD 5 screen, swathed in a sheet of Gorilla Glass 3, with a fast fingerprint sensor/home button underneath. Flanking the home button are two capacitive navigation buttons; HTC would rather use every millimeter of the screen for content, but I know a few people who'd be less than pleased. Me? I'm not particularly bothered by it: The buttons are responsive, and unlike Samsung, HTC puts the Back and Menu keys in the right place.
Meanwhile, you've got a 5-megapixel camera above the screen, with optical image stabilization (!), along with the earpiece. That earpiece actually doubles as part of HTC's updated BoomSound system; it works in tandem with the speaker on the bottom edge to produce good (but not amazing) sound. We'll get into that in a bit. The rest of the tour is pretty prosaic: There's a USB Type-C port on the bottom for fast charging, SIM and microSD slots on opposite sides and a 12-UltraPixel camera on the 10's back cover.
Those broad strokes might not sound fascinating, but HTC's attention to detail is what makes the 10 feel exciting. A chamfered edge runs around the screen's Gorilla Glass cover, leaving virtually no gap between the glass and the metal. This time, the power button and volume rocker don't wiggle in their sockets. Another chamfered edge on the 10's back has a different finish that reflects light differently, and has the functional benefit of giving your fingers a comfortable place to rest. And unlike the curved backs we saw on the GS7 and GS7 Edge, the 10's more pronounced slope means it settles even more comfortably into the hand. I love the 10's look, and you might not. Either way, there's no denying this is one thoughtfully designed device. Too bad it's not waterproof; just water resistant.
As usual, some of the 10's most important facets can't be gleaned with the naked eye. There's a quad-core Snapdragon 820 chip inside that reaches clock speeds as high as 2.2GHz. That's paired with an Adreno 530 GPU and 4GB of RAM to keep things running smoothly. I know what you're thinking, though: That configuration is about as exotic as cheddar cheese these days. You're right, but even so, those internals generate enough horsepower that you won't see me complaining.
The unit I'm testing is the $699 "open-channel" model that supports T-Mobile and AT&T out of the box (even though the latter doesn't seem interested in selling the 10) and has 32GB of internal storage. Thankfully, the 10 can take up to 2TB of additional storage (good luck finding a microSD card that big). As it turns out, some markets will have more fun than others: a 64GB model will be available ... somewhere. Meanwhile, people who buy the HTC 10 in the US won't get the hi-res-certified earbuds offered in Europe and Asia.
Display and sound
Samsung is arguably the king of smartphone screens, but HTC managed to put up a decent fight with the 10. As mentioned earlier, we've got a 5.2-inch Super LCD 5 display running at Quad HD resolution. That makes it the first 2K HTC phone to land in the United States. As you'd expect, text is sharp and details abound, but I'm also really enjoying the screen's saturation levels. See, the panels used in Samsung's GS7 line are warm even on the default Adaptive Display setting, while the G5's "Quantum" display can appear lifeless at times.
The HTC 10, on the other hand, manages to chart a course right between the two: Whites take on an even, cool tone, and colors feel lively without getting in your face. And if these colors aren't to your liking, fear not: A quick jump into the display settings lets you swap them for the standard sRGB color gamut, a more conservative option. Viewing angles are great, too, but there's a rub: The screen takes on a slightly reddish hue when you look at it from too far off-center. It's a mild annoyance made more pronounced by how good the screen usually is.
In addition, the screen has one more thing going for it. HTC went with a low-latency panel to reduce the amount of time between when your finger touches the panel and when the panel senses it. It's hard to quantify what kind of difference we're actually getting, but the 10 feels seriously fast nonetheless.
HTC is also jumping on the hi-res audio bandwagon with its updated BoomSound Hi-Fi system. It manifests differently depending on what sound setup you're working with, and, obvious though it may seem, you're much better off with headphones. There are a woofer and tweeter built into the 10, so the phone's speakers produce sound with a nice, clean atmosphere. You've also got the option to switch between movie and music modes, though switching doesn't always make much difference. Sadly, all you'll get from those speakers is mono sound; the sweet, sweet channel separation that came with those old-school stereo BoomSound speakers might be gone for good. Don't get me wrong: HTC's speaker setup is the best you'll find right now; it just lacks the oomph that HTC used to be known for.
Plugging in headphones makes for a different story, though. You'll be asked to set up a personal audio profile the first time you do -- you'll listen for tones with each ear, which will ultimately leave you with a specific setup for your ears and headphones. And yes, you can have multiple profiles for different headphones. The result (in my case, anyway) was louder, slightly brighter audio all around. HTC says the 10 also upscales all audio to 24-bit quality, but some people will get more out of that trick than others.
In a few cases, the LG G5's optional Hi-Fi Plus DAC sounded considerably better, but that could be a moot point, since LG might not bring that module to the US at all. Either way, music fans will be pretty pleased with the 10; it just sucks that we aren't getting those hi-res earbuds in the box when the phone launches in the States. (They're a little too heavy on the bass for me, but still!)
The 10 is also the first Android phone that supports Apple's AirPlay streaming standard out of the box. Swiping up on the screen with three fingers launches HTC's Connect app, where you'll find all your DLNA-, Miracast- and now AirPlay-compatible speaker systems in range. Pairing the 10 with my Apple TV was surprisingly painless. A couple quick taps and I was listening to the soundtrack from The Last Five Years on my television. The connection was stable even as I moseyed around the house. The only real downside is that there's currently no way to stream video to the Apple TV.
A few years ago, HTC started reducing the impact its Sense UI had on Android's performance, as well as the general experience. I'd argue that any progress is good progress on that front, but with the 10, it feels as if HTC hardly painted over Android at all. What we've got is the lightest, cleanest version of Sense yet, and it's mostly a pleasure to use.
The core of the 10's software setup is a build of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow (which we've explored in detail here), but some of HTC's touches are hard to miss. Swiping right on the home screen brings you into BlinkFeed, which still populates your screen with news stories and social updates for when you're killing time in line. Beyond just new tweets and Google+ posts, BlinkFeed is also supposed to offer up recommendations for places around you to eat, drink and be merry, though they never appeared for me.