HTC’s best yet is an interesting evolution: HTC 10 reviewed


One area that HTC has always been in — at least for its One range — has been audio, and this was the first company that saw standard audio in smartphones as being just too standard.

Back in 2013 when the first One was launched, we saw loud speakers in a phone that could do away with the need for a Bluetooth speaker, when HTC partnered with Beats Audio for a pair of front-facing “BoomSound” speakers.

Since that time, the collaboration with Beats has faded away, but BoomSound has continued to improve, and in the HTC 10, we’re seeing a new breed: BoomSound HiFi.


In this generation, HTC is bringing 24-bit sound support to the package, hence the term “HiFi”, but it’s more than that, with a relocation of speakers from both on front to one on the front and one at the bottom — tweeter up top, woofer at the bottom — to what should be a little more volume.

Truth be told, we weren’t as impressed with the BoomSound speakers in this generation, and turning it up made us feel that HTC’s repositioning wasn’t quite as successful as the company would suggest, but speakers are just one part of the audio package in this phone, and easily one of the more interesting inclusions would have to be what HTC has done on the headphone side of things.

For one, you actually get a not terrible pair of in-earphones in the box, and while they won’t win awards for style, they’re definitely not bad to use, with a relatively detailed experience designed to listen to 24-bit audio.


Now if you don’t have any 24-bit audio and most of your music comes from either CDs or iTunes (or something that was made for every standard 16-bit player out there, because 24-bit audio is a bit of a specialty area at the moment), don’t worry, because there’s a 24-bit DAC in here up sampling your audio.

It’s never really going to help you hear any difference — because creating something out of nothing never really works — but the audio quality still sounds pretty good here all the same, provided you turn of HTC’s BoomSound.

While it works well enough on the speakers to amp them up, left to do its own thing on headphones will push the bass to the nth degree and leave even the otherwise decent HTC-supplied earphones sounding like the sort of trash that the old Beats cans were, with overly heavy bass, heightened highs, and a mid section that sounds like it’s been torn to shreds for doing its job. Or, in other words, bassy yet shallow.

Seriously, turn HTC BoomSound off on your headphone settings and everything sounds better. Sorry HTC, but it’s just not one of your better efforts.


What is a solid effort, however, comes from HTC’s audio profiling, and this is a rather interesting one, asking you to answer either a few questions in the basic analysis or listen to tones in the more advanced profile setup. When either is done, you’ll have an audio profile matched to a pair of earphones that will change the volume and slight tonality to match a specific ear and the earphones.

This is one of those things that devices have needed for years, and is strangely one of the more interesting parts of the HTC 10, even though you’d never realise it since it’s not part of the advertising.

In fact, HTC’s sound profiling goes a good way to delivering balance to our ears, making it ideal for people who feel they might have damaged their ears by standing near amplifiers and quad-box speakers for a good chunk of their life.



So audio isn’t bad, but what about the other part in the multimedia world: what about the visual?

HTC has already promised a great deal with the 10, even getting the DxO Optics lab to grade the sensor ahead of the launch, telling journalists that it has the highest rating of 88, something it shares with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

That makes the question clear: if the sensor is as good according to one of the web’s most recognised ratings, does the HTC 10 have a camera that is as good — if not better — as the Samsung Galaxy S7 series?

Yes and no, but yes only when the camera decides to work, and no when it, well, doesn’t.


Tackling that rear camera head on, it’s pretty clear HTC has done some work on the UltraPixel concept, because now we’re at a second generation, even though it’s merely a nice way saying “bigger pixels on the sensor to let more light in”.

Every manufacturer is doing that these days and not calling it “UltraPixels”, though HTC is also claiming the biggest pixel size in this generation, so does it work, and does it let more light in?

Test image from the HTC 10
Test image from the HTC 10

For daylight photos, you’ll find the images are fairly crisp, with better images coming out of the camera than what you’ll see on-screen.

Generally, images are shot with a high-dynamic range (HDR) on the HTC 10 camera, though your screen won’t show that. In fact, sometimes you’ll find the screen is showing you a totally different image, with white balance often and exposure not exactly what you get in the final image.


This disconnect between what the camera interface is doing and what the camera spits out is no more evident than when you start using the camera at night, where the laser autofocus plays havoc with your activities.

When it’s so dark that the laser autofocus on the back has trouble finding anything in the dark, it will pop up with a neat error message telling you to stop hiding the module behind something an to make sure the back is clear, even if it is.


You can still force the camera to fire despite this, but depending on the situation, you may find the focus works eventually or just doesn’t and fails with soft focus results, which may even be nicer than the image.

It’s a shame the autofocus has such extreme issues at night, because the HTC 10 can make a nice image at night, with expected amounts of noise that recreate colours and shadow quite well.

Essentially, it’s not all one noisy mess, and we have the UltraPixel 2 sensor and f/1.8 lens to thank for that.

Test image from the HTC 10
Test image from the HTC 10 when the focus has worked.
Test image from the HTC 10 when the focus module has failed to find focus.
Test image from the HTC 10 when the focus module has failed to find focus.

Up front, the older first-generation UltraPixel technology doesn’t feel like it really nails the selfies, because while you can get a decent shot, even with the “make-up” setting turned right down, you may find the 5 megapixel sensor still makes you look a little blotchy.

HTC 10 front-facing camera with the image in full (left) and at 100 percent crop (right).
HTC 10 front-facing camera with the image in full (left) and at 100 percent crop (right).

Beyond the performance, the camera speed is good, but it doesn’t always feel as fast as HTC suggests.

While it’s clear the company has worked on getting the time to fire improved, some times you’ll find the camera doesn’t load as quickly as you’d like, while others the shot doesn’t actually feel as fast as competing phones.

It’s good — very good — but not the best we’ve seen.