Smartphones are, in my opinion, in something of an innovation rut. Underlying technical advancements have slowed in the last couple of years, and reasons to upgrade from year to year seem to decrease with each new generation of device. That's in large part because smartphones are already, generally speaking, very good products.

This is not to say they are near-perfect, or even optimal. Of course not - batteries still don't last long enough for many people, their cameras have notable limitations versus traditional dedicated systems, and we still have real performance bottlenecks that could be widened. There is refining that can still occur, and when major companies like Samsung, Apple, Huawei, and LG keep pushing the envelope on that refinement, there is always a chance a new product simply won't stack up well against the competition.

The HTC 10 is not such a product. The 10 is highly competitive with Samsung's latest and greatest (the S7 and S7 edge) on numerous fronts and, I think, is an easy choice over the LG option this year, the G5. The M9's failings - particularly its camera and battery life - have been largely rectified. The 10's design harkens back to the original M7, but feels noticeably more coherent.

HTC, too, is a more palatable choice for fans of stock Android these days. The company's Sense UI has been pared-down over the years. There's more to it than that, but we'll get there. Many have been quick to point out HTC hasn't neutered Android 6.0's adoptable storage feature, either, allowing a microSD card to be utilized for native system storage. Battery life seems at least as robust as Samsung's [Snapdragon 820] S7.

However, the 10 doesn't pass every test with such high marks. A mediocre display panel feels like a bit of a cost-cut effort, and the capable camera still has a number of issues both in overall performance and usability. HTC's new Boomsound speakers aren't going to wow, either, and that's a bit of a letdown for fans hoping the dual-driver arrangement would continue HTC's long-standing dominance in this particular area. USB-C is either a boon or a wash depending on what exactly you want out of a power and data port, especially as HTC does not use the Nexus-spec USB Power Delivery implementation, but Quick Charge 3.0 (a QC3.0 charger is included).

But HTC's no doubt hit a critical high watermark with this phone - the question is whether it's simply come too late in HTC's downfall to matter, particularly for a product that, while competitive, is not an outright showstopper, and is quite pricey.

Video Review

Short on time? Not a fan of... well, written words? Check out our video review of the HTC 10 below. (Note: opinions in video review will vary, sometimes substantially, from the written review. Our video reviews are authored and shot by Mark Burstiner for the Android Police YouTube channel.

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The Good

Camera The M9's camera was... kind of terrible. The 10's fixes most of the issues and provides a genuinely competitive imaging system once again, even if I wouldn't call it world-class. The new camera app is also just great, in my opinion.
Battery life At least as good as the Snapdragon 820 S7 I've been using, and considerably better than the G5. HTC did something right here, at least for my particular smartphone use case.
Software Probably the most "stock" looking Android HTC has ever shipped, and with few unnecessary apps. HTC's also usually fast on OS updates, but they haven't renewed the whole 15-day OS update promise from the A9 for the 10.
Design This looks, feels, and smells like an HTC product. In a good way. This refinement on the original M7's design language is, to my eyes, the kind of clean, metallic image I hoped for in HTC's future. Granted, we kind of wanted this two years ago, but whatever. Now we have it!
Free accidental damage coverage HTC's UH OH protections offers one-time coverage for cracked screens or water damage, good for 12 months from purchase. 24 would be nice, but free is free.
Bootloader If you're still flashing ROMs and getting hacky with it in 2016, HTC will sell you the unlocked 10 with an unlockable bootloader, and unlocking the bootloader doesn't even necessarily void your warranty.

The Not So Good

Speakers HTC talked a big game about these speakers, but they've categorically under-delivered. These compare favorably to the S7's speaker in a few select scenarios, but fall flat in most, and even my old Moto Nexus 6 stomps the new Boomsound setup. Pass.
Display Even in the more accurate sRGB mode, HTC's 2K LCD panel has poor viewing angles (for something at this price point), weird pink-ish whites, poor to mediocre sunlight visibility, and typically lame LCD blacks. This panel reeks of 2K on a budget.
Camera issues I've had issues with the laser auto-focus and pink whites in low light and indoors (on a reference monitor, not just the phone's pink screen), and capture times are pretty so-so, especially when HDR kicks in. While this is a very good camera, it's a bit rough around the edges.
Capacitive keys Not so much their existence as their placement all the way near the bottom of the phone. It makes them unnecessarily difficult to use.
Wi-Fi range sucks It's been a long time since I've used a phone with noticeably poor Wi-Fi reception, but HTC has managed to get my attention with the 10. At the edges of my apartment, the 10 will often just drop Wi-Fi connectivity entirely. Holding it a particular way can also cause "death grip" with Wi-Fi.
Price $700? I dinged LG for $630-680 on the G5, but LG at least has [lame] pretenses for defending that MSRP. If I'm a consumer between an HTC 10 and a Nexus 6P with $200 under it, I'm walking out with the Google phone and two Benjamins. $600 on pre-order is more palatable, but HTC should be shooting for that as the final MSRP.

Hardware and design

If your idea of a beautiful phone is an HTC One M7 with a serious facelift, the 10 is basically your dream device. Iterative without being stale (the M9 in particular suffered here), the 10 meaningfully evolves the iconic design language HTC was so lauded for when the One M7 launched three years ago. One look at the back - even without the logo - makes it obvious this is an HTC device. The large chamfer is not at all sharp or unnatural when holding the 10, HTC has softened the edges carefully to ensure a comfortable grip. They're also totally distinct - I don't know of another phone that looks quite like this one, even if the overall design language has clearly inspired some of HTC's competitors, or been converged upon coincidentally, over the years.

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Compared to the outgoing One M9

Move to the front, and while not inspiring, the 10 is far from offensive. iPhone comparisons are simply not apt here - Apple has no ownership of black bezels or 2.5D glass, design features that have been around for years and used by dozens of smartphone manufacturers on hundreds of phones in varying combinations, Apple included. To say the 10 resembles in an iPhone is to say a Mazda 3 resembles a Honda Civic. They're products in the same category, doing the same job, and are attempting to appeal to the same market demographic. One just happens to be far more popular, and thus somehow is attributed "ownership" of extremely basic design principles and trends, even if it wasn't the originator of them. It's not insightful, helpful, or interesting - it's just backseat design critique from people who have no intention of buying the thing in the first place. And I say that as no great fan of HTC in particular.

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Overall quality seems pretty damn good, at least for a phone designed the way the 10 is. There are no odd gaps or unevenness (*cough* G5 *cough*), the volume rocker and power button both provide good, clicky feedback - though they could be raised up a bit more - and the 2.5D glass meets the aluminum edge smoothly. The M9, by comparison, had rather annoyingly raised edges around the left and right side of the display, making the phone feel a bit sharp. Fitment along the antenna bands on the back of the phone is extremely tight, and even the milled aluminum cutouts for the bottom speaker and power port feel smoothed out.

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Is it perfect? No. The rear camera module looks a bit glued-on, and the plastic antenna window on top is not perfectly flush or even. The headphone jack oddly juts into the chamfered area, making it look larger than it really is. The microSD and SIM card slots also don't line up flush against the body (the SD slot is sunken in slightly). These are the kinds of things Samsung and Apple can iron out with their attention to tiny tolerances and creative engineering, and HTC will likely never be able to perfectly replicate that level of external fit and finish. But they get surprisingly close here, to the point that it's not even clear if it particularly matters for all but the perfectionists out there.

And, unlike rivals LG, Huawei, or Xiaomi, HTC's design language is identifiable and striking. The only other Android manufacturer you can really say that for is Samsung, or arguably Motorola (though I have a hard time calling Moto phones "striking").

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Oh, one last thing: those capacitive navigation keys. Alright, yes, they're in the correct order, and they even look like stock Android iconography. That's cool and all... but they're way too close to the bottom of the phone. I am instinctively always tapping right around the middle of that bottom bezel, and that leads to an obvious problem: I don't always strike the capacitive area. Let alone that it looks a bit odd, it causes some ergonomic issues. I'm sure eventually you would get used to it, but it was an occasional frustration in my time with the phone.

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Display

At first blush, I was ready to say the 10's display struck out in pretty much every way against Samsung and LG - colors, sunlight visibility, viewing angles, you name it. The one redeeming quality? It has an sRGB mode. Out of the box, the 10's display is comically oversaturated to give it the "pop" quality of Samsung's Super AMOLED panels, and this just seems misguided. Not only does it look ridiculous, it makes reviewing photos or watching certain content difficult. The sRGB mode is much more palatable in this regard, with colors that approach trueness much better than the standard setup.

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Overall brightness is passable on the 10, but it's not got the ambient contrast of the latest screens from HTC's rivals, and there is fairly noticeable color cast (distortion) at off viewing angles, along with loss of brightness. Overall, the display is likely the 10's weakest attribute, with the aforementioned sRGB mode being the one saving grace that keeps it from being outright subpar. Still, even in sRGB mode, the display is simply way too pink, an effect that is considerably exaggerated at even slightly off-angles.

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The 10's panel is still an improvement on last year's M9 in some ways

I will say that the blueness of the M9's screen isn't even present in the stock Crayola-acid-trip mode, and this does appear to be a better part overall, and obviously bumps the resolution to QHD, if that's particularly important to you.

My personal opinion? I'd rather have had the 1080p Super AMOLED display from last year's A9 - you get better blacks, lower power consumption (on account of resolution and tech), better viewing angles, and probably reduced cost. I get it, QHD is what you "need" to justify a $700 phone, but the Nexus 6P manages to offer a good QHD Super AMOLED at $500. The 10's screen just feels like it got shortchanged. I may be in the minority for the suggested switch, though.

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Battery life

In my week with the phone, the HTC 10 got surprisingly good battery life. I'd say basically as good as the Galaxy S7 (US Snapdragon 820 version). In a day of heavy use on mixed Wi-Fi and mobile data, 4 hours screen on is easily achievable - just about what I get with my AT&T S7. I'd regularly get an hour less than that on the LG G5, so HTC did well here in taming the thirsty Snapdragon. Perhaps even better than Samsung, given that the 10 has a display with a 0.1" larger diagonal and the same non-removable 3000mAh of battery capacity.

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Standby battery life, too, has been excellent. I've had no weirdness with random drain or unexpectedly high consumption when in use - I am again reminded of the reliable experience I've had with the S7 and S7 edge's power consumption when I use the HTC 10, and that's definitely a compliment.

HTC does provide power saving modes, both regular and "ultra," with the former being set up out of the box to come on when the phone hits 15%, as has been the case on all recent HTC devices. While it's difficult to satisfy everyone when it comes to battery performance on a smartphone, HTC's definitely not dropping the ball here.

As to the USB-C port, it's Quick Charge 3.0 enabled, and HTC includes a Quick Charge 3.0 charger in the box (at least for the US unlocked variant, I can't confirm other regions / carrier versions). This doesn't really affect charge times a whole lot over Quick Charge 2.0 (around 15% at best), but it's good to have the latest version of the standard.

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Now, the 10 does not support quick charging with Google's USB Power Delivery spec USB-C wall chargers. It will charge with them, but much more slowly. This is because you can't have both Quick Charge and USB Power Delivery on the same device - it's one or the other. Like LG on the G5, HTC chose the Qualcomm option (I'm guessing it came down to cost). Frankly, this seems like the worst of both worlds to me: you don't get USB-C's enhanced power delivery capabilities (such as being able to fast charge your phone via a laptop or other USB-C device with USB-PD 2.0), but you do get to buy more expensive cables. Hooray.

I realize there's a hype-train around USB-C because Nexus right now, but please, let's look at this in the real world. USB-C means buying new cables, and that means spending money. And for what benefit right now, exactly? Future-proofing isn't a non-argument, but it is a weak one when so many of us already have a ton of perfectly good microUSB cables lying around that really aren't appreciably worse at much of anything than the new USB-C ones. But if you really consider USB-C a key feature, the 10 has it.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

The HTC 10 is sold in both 32GB and, at some point, 64GB variants. Unlike the LG G5 and GS7, the 10 does support Android's adoptable storage feature in the UI, and does not require ADB workarounds (there also seems to be an issue with the way the G5's storage is formatted to begin with, making the ADB method potentially nonworkable for that device). Having a separate slot for the microSD card probably helped make that an easy decision, as Google does not recommend enabling adoptable storage if the microSD card is in a location where it is likely to be removed regularly. That's definitely a notable plus for the HTC 10 over its rivals.

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Wireless connectivity has been good for me on mobile data, but Wi-Fi range has been noticeably poorer than other devices I've recently tested. The 10, in particular, seems to have "death grip" syndrome along the bottom of the device. I can completely lose Wi-Fi connectivity in my bedroom simply by holding the phone tightly in one hand with my thumb along the bottom edge. Even a gentle grip around this area will substantially reduce Wi-Fi performance, so I've had to rather consciously alter the way I hold the phone when using it in bed. Even when not being held, the HTC 10 has a hard time keeping a Wi-Fi connection in the outermost reaches of my [small] apartment, and that's disappointing in 2016. Wi-Fi problems aside, Bluetooth performance seems solid.

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I have had some cutout issues on calls, but it's hard to say if they're down to the network or the described death grip - I'm not sure yet. Call quality itself has been fine, though, when not cutting out.

Audio and speakers

HTC is pushing its more powerful integrated headphone amplifier on the HTC 10, and if you're driving a lot of high-impedance headphones with your smartphone, it could well be relevant. I still personally have a hard time getting appreciable distortion even on "regular" smartphones with my over-ears, but there are those people with old-school open backs and DJ headphones who may desire the power. I can't say much on the quality of the audio itself other than my usual assessment: in a reference test with my desktop DAC and amplifier, it sounds just fine.

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On the subject of HTC's Boomsound speakers, I'm sorry to report that there's nothing extraordinary going on here. They're good, but I actually even prefer newer single speaker setups to HTC's dual layout for spoken word content and most video. HTC's seem to have a bit more perceptible dynamic range - when there isn't much ambient noise. This is especially noticeable for music, likely owing to the enhanced midrange of the bottom-firing speaker, but that seems to largely come with a tradeoff on peak volume. But even compared to my old Nexus 6's dual front-facing setup, the 10 has noticeably less mid-range, lower peak volume (at any angle / holding position), and poorer clarity. These are decent speakers, but they're not the class-leading hardware that got HTC fans excited about previous M devices.

The one real benefit to HTC's layout versus a bottom-firing only speaker is improved perceived volume when the phone is being held but not cupped in your hands to direct the sound toward you, something I've taken to doing reflexively with any smartphone when using the built-in speakers for audio. Sitting on a table playing music, though, the 10 actually sounds quieter than some other single-speaker smartphones despite having two speakers. Given what HTC hyped, this is a letdown.

Camera

Alright, I get it: the HTC 10 got top honors from DxO Mark. I don't know what DxO's criteria really is, but while it is a very big improvement from the M9, this camera still comes up short for me in multiple respects. Daylight image quality is anybody's game, and I think in the right conditions you could favor the 10's camera subjectively above all others, or at least say it's basically as good. But even in ideal conditions, I found the 10 had issues with fringing if the sun was anywhere close to the frame - problems phones like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 don't typically have. But first, the mega-gallery.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Take these two images - one shot with the HTC 10, one with the Galaxy S7. Can you guess which is which?

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Both images have some fringe light issues, but the 10's are noticeably exaggerated, and there's even a lens flare shooting across the bottom right of the image. This isn't a huge deal - but it's one of those multiple little things I noticed when using the 10's camera consistently that keep it just a bit shy of being really great.

In low light, the 10's camera struggles in some respects. First: the laser auto-focus is unreliable and not especially quick. It often hunts quite a bit in darker conditions, making captures slow to initiate, and is quite sensitive to thinking it's "blocked" by your fingers because of its placement. Even in daylight, the autofocus is more finicky than I'd like, and I've noticed that getting macro shots in particular can be frustrating. Also, be sure to keep that laser module clean: even a hint of a finger smudge can make it go completely bonkers in adverse lighting, to the point that the camera becomes almost unusable. Seriously.

Capture times are also not great, sometimes even in bright light, as HTC has rather aggressively tuned the auto HDR mode to use HDR more often than not. I'm fine with that, but if Samsung's the bar for camera performance, the HTC 10 feels closer to the Nexus 6P. While dark shots often turn out pretty well with HDR enabled, the performance here isn't standout.

I've also noticed a pink tint to whites in a number of the photos I've captured indoors. This image of my ceiling (exciting, I know, but it's a good white point test) came out noticeably pink on the HTC 10, while the S7 skewed closer to a true white. While neither was exactly right (the S7 is too blue), the 10 was definitely further from the true color of the scene. This is less noticeable in other images (and it's not always an issue), but this test makes it much more obvious.

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Left to right: S7, HTC 10. Both images shot at ISO 160, shutter 1/60, aperture f/1.7 (S7) and f1/1.8 (HTC 10)

HTC does have OIS on both the front and rear cameras of the 10, which is welcome news in particular for those of you taking a lot of video on your smartphones. The 10 supports 4K video capture as well as true 240FPS slow-motion capture, making it feature-competitive with just about any other handset on the video front.

But the 10's usability and performance issues (slow capture, pinkish tint) in low light and cranky autofocus in a number of conditions just don't quite add up to a truly great smartphone camera. HTC's upped its game considerably from what was a near-disaster on the M9's rear camera, but it seems there are still some teething issues HTC needs to work out on this latest effort. But if you're looking for a camera that ticks all the feature checkboxes first and foremost, HTC hasn't disappointed, and the 10's camera can grab some very nice shots.

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I also think HTC's done a pretty great job on the new camera app. Modes are conveniently located in a pop-out menu that's easily accessible to your thumb when holding the phone with two hands. From there, you can adjust settings or switch to a specific recording or photo mode (like "pro" mode for RAW capture). This is probably the most accessible camera app of any phone I've used in a long time, and I like it a lot.

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Performance

The HTC 10 is quick, for sure. While HTC does have a tendency to speed up the animations on its devices to amplify this perception of speed, the 10 doesn't feel noticeably slower, at this point, than any other 820 device I've used. It also doesn't feel appreciably faster, so there's that, too.

The one area HTC's been getting flak in the benchmark wars? Storage. HTC opted for a SanDisk part for internal storage, and that part is an eMMC 5.1 chip versus the objectively faster UFS 2.0 found in the Galaxy S7 and LG G5. Testing bears this out - in the Androidbench storage benchmark suite, the HTC 10 is very clearly slower than its rivals from Samsung and LG. Here are my abbreviated results.

  • Sequential read: 435MB/s (S7), 251MB/s (10), 459MB/s (G5)
  • Sequential write: 150MB/s (S7), 74MB/s (10), 134MB/s (G5)
  • Random read: 121MB/s (S7), 32MB/s (10), 88MB/s (G5)
  • Random write: 17MB/s (S7), 14MB/s (10), 16MB/s (G5)

Now, how much does this actually matter? For certain applications - such as loading graphically intensive games into memory, or saving very large files - it may have some impact. But in day to day performance, it's less likely to be something you'll notice. If you do have a particular situation you often encounter storage speed bottlenecks in, it's something to be aware of.

On graphics and overall processing speed, the 10 stacks up just fine against the Snapdragon 820 versions of the S7 and G5, and all three phones perform fairly similarly in benchmarks and my subjective experience. The 820 isn't the lightning-fast superprocessor I think some of us were expecting, but it's getting the job done and isn't ruining battery life

I will say the HTC 10 got noticeably warmer under use than either the G5 or Galaxy S7. It wasn't uncomfortable, but the phone can generate quite a bit of heat even when doing something like web browsing, to a degree I didn't regularly experience on other Snapdragon 820 devices this year. It's nothing to worry about, given that the amount of thermal energy being generated certainly won't injure you, but it's just something I observed.

Software: what's new?

HTC hasn't made many adjustments to the newest version of Sense, Sense 8.0, compared to the Marshmallow iteration of Sense 7. But there are a few changes worth highlighting.

Settings gets a new, more stock look

While I would very much hesitate to call HTC's new settings app theme "stock," it looks far more stock than the outgoing version that was ported from Sense 6. The new settings app uses stock Android toggles and colors to give the illusion of stock Android, despite this still fairly obviously being HTC's app. There really aren't even any new features - this is all the same stuff you'll find on the HTC One A9 or an M9 running Marshmallow.

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Options specific to the 10's capacitive keys include illumination duration and the ability to long press the recents key as a menu button shortcut, or vice versa.

Some apps get the axe, some get icons

HTC has removed a number of redundant apps on the 10, some supplanted by Google versions, even compared to the already stark A9. Here's a list of stock HTC applications that have been retired:

  • Gallery
  • Calendar
  • File manager
  • FM radio (no FM radio on the 10)
  • Photo editor
  • Setup app

Other apps have received minor iconography or theme changes, like Voice Recorder, Flashlight, Mail, Themes, Weather, and the dialer. HTC's SMS app, Messages, got a more substantial rework and no longer looks like something pulled out of Sense 6, and a bit more like Google's own Messenger app. The Sense Home launcher is basically unchanged, aside from a fresh weather widget.

Boost+

Boost+ is an app that is designed to "optimize" your device's performance. The primary "boost" function deletes cached app data, which is a terrible idea unless you're actively having a problem with an app, and is nothing more than a placebo for obsessives looking for a magic pill that will make their gee-bees reappear. Don't use this crap.

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The "game battery booster" is probably a tool to simply force games into a lower resolution or frame rate - I haven't really played with it. It could be useful, but Samsung's own game tools on the Galaxy S7 are far less opaque and much more customizable. This is comparatively pretty lame.

There is an app manager that scans for "irregular activity." I have no idea how it works or what kind of activity it's scanning for. There is a "clear junk" button that is marginally less inadvisable snake oil than the "boost" function, as it also scans for cached ad data, app installer files, and temporary files. I scanned the 10 after using it for a week and it found, unsurprisingly, that I really didn't have any junk to clean other than the aforementioned app cache that dear god why would you clear that on a regular basis?

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Finally, there's a "lock apps" feature that, you guessed it, allows you to force an authentication to launch any apps you select. You authenticate with a pattern or fingerprint, so this could be useful for people with kids, I suppose. The Boost+ app is, by default, set to annoy you once it detects more than 1GB of "junk" on your phone, which again includes app cache, which seems ludicrous.

HTC, to their credit, allow you to uninstall this app, which I did immediately after writing this section.

That's it

Pretty much. I admit: the G5's "new stuff" section was just as short. Any other software feature you've seen on HTC phones of the past year or so is probably still here - gesture launch, the new and improved Dot View called Ice View (we didn't get a case to test, though I despise flip covers, so HTC was probably right not to send one), the Zoe editor, BlinkFeed aka Highlights. It's just not changed very much.

Software: generally

HTC has seen a narrative emerge around the latest iterations of Sense as being "mostly stock." While Sense 8.0 is probably the most stock skin among LG, Samsung, and HTC's in appearance, it's not on the level of Motorola's, and I'd argue is still closer to Samsung and LG's skins than it is to Google's interpretation of Android, even if it has edged closer to that direction.

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For example, the oft-cited power toggles in the notification tray - they look stock. But they aren't. They can't be edited, and HTC has chosen which toggles you get to use, and that's that. That's not very stock Android. The new settings app UI, too, looks oddly stock. Until you actually compare it to stock Android, at which point it's clear this isn't stock, it's just HTC's old settings app with a more stock color scheme and the stock Android toggle design. Sense still has a completely custom lockscreen. The status bar isn't stock, either, and HTC still uses that dreadful NFC icon for some reason. HTC also still has its own apps for SMS, email, weather, voice recording, the dialer, contacts, flashlight, and the clock. I'm not saying that they're unjustified in their existence, but they're not "stock-ish."

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Is this closer to stock Android than Huawei's EMUI, or Xiaomi's garish MIUI? Absolutely - and by a huge margin. Is it closer than TouchWiz or LG UX to stock? Sure, but only viewed through a fairly selective lens, and in ways that are almost exclusively aesthetic. If you mean your notification bar looks kind of Nexus-y, sure: this will look slightly more stock than a Samsung or LG phone with a new launcher slapped on. But HTC still uses plenty of its own UI in settings, various pre-loaded apps, the lockscreen, the Sense launcher, and the camera. And that's fine! But the notion that HTC Sense is appreciably more "stock" is largely based on appearance, not function, and I think we need to break that conversation out of the deeper, much harder to see changes manufacturers are making to Android versus what Google ships on a Nexus. Those are much more difficult to evaluate, and so instead we see a lot of bandying about what are essentially glorified themes.

And, as themes go, Sense is fine! Part of the reason Sense gets so much credit for the "stock-ish" thing, I think, is that Sense used to be the most aggressive Android skin of all. Sense has been around for ages, it was on Windows Phone! It was a software identity that literally transcended operating systems. The Sense of days long past was insane. I mean, just look at what Sense was four years ago.

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Hell, even TouchWiz today is a lot more consistent with stock Android than... whatever that is. So, does HTC deserve credit for turning what was historically a bloated, heavily skinned superlayer into something that doesn't basically melt your eyeballs? Absolutely. And if what you crave is a version of Android that looks and feels slightly more like Google's, sure: HTC is going to suit you better than Samsung or LG. If you want an Android that is functionally more consistent with stock? This is slightly closer, but it's still HTC's Android.

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Now, let's talk about bloat. HTC has made a marketing point of the "bloat-free" factor on the 10, meaning no unwanted preloads or other junk you don't need. That's good! 3rd party app preloads are blatantly anti-consumer and, in the US, are largely pushed by our mobile operators as ways to generate revenue. They suck. So, if your goal is "fewer entries in my app drawer," the unlocked version of the HTC 10 will oblige compared to a Galaxy S7, particularly when you're comparing unlocked apples to carrier-branded oranges (but I have a feeling the Verizon and Sprint HTC 10 won't come with that bloat-free marketing language). For example, a 32GB Verizon S7 edge comes with around 22.8GB of user-available storage out of the box. An unlocked HTC 10 comes with 23.9GB - a full gigabyte-plus more. But an unlocked Galaxy S7? 24.8GB - nearly 1GB more than the unlocked 10. (Of note: you can't buy an unlocked S7 in the US with a Samsung warranty.)

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This isn't to say HTC's phone is more "bloated" - bloat can come in the form of pre-loaded apps, services running in the background, unnecessary app drawer entries - they're all annoying. But it's one factor in the larger bloat equation, and that you may consider more or less important depending on your priorities. Granted, as stated, the 10 does offer Android's adoptable storage out of the box, so you can legitimately expand that system storage if you run up against capacity.

On the whole, HTC's latest version of Sense is going to have the most curb appeal to stock Android fans when put next to LG or Samsung's interpretations - I have little doubt of this. But I'd still place Sense in the same wheelhouse as TouchWiz and LG UX, as opposed to the Google / Motorola Android. HTC still makes a fair number of functional and aesthetic changes to the OS. But, they're headed more in the Google direction today than they were last year, and HTC should be applauded for that.

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As to future software updates? HTC has, unfortunately, said a lot in saying nothing: the company has made no promises of Android OS update timelines as it did with past devices. The One A9 received a 15-day commitment to new Android OS updates when it launched last fall, which seemed almost unrealistic, and I think HTC may have learned a lesson there. The company has generally been fairly quick with OS updates in the past couple years, but as HTC tries to cut costs, one can be forgiven for worrying at the silence around the 10's future support at launch. Hopefully, those worries amount to nothing. We'll have to wait and see.

Conclusion

For phone reviewers and fans alike, HTC often presents a danger of nostalgia - yearning for the days when HTC sat atop the smartphone kingdom, turned ugly and often inconsistent software into an identifiable, branded experience with Sense, and delivered stunning hardware with each new year. Those days, sadly, are gone: HTC's smartphone business is circling the drain, and the 10 isn't going to stop that. There's no way it could, and it would be irresponsible to put HTC's future as a company on the shoulders of this phone. HTC will have to deliver success after success to get back on track, and as competitive as the 10 is, it enters a market that is more competitive than it has ever been before. That doesn't make for good odds.

But the HTC 10 is a very good phone - easily the best the company has produced since the original M7. Sense's most offensive and annoyingly inconsistent quirks have largely been smoothed out or simply removed. The 10 delivers a very good and technically capable camera, solid battery life, a unique and interesting industrial design, and modern components.

That camera is also finicky. The display just isn't very good. And HTC's triumphant Boomsound speaker reboot is pretty lackluster when it comes down to real-world performance. The hype around this phone has been, indeed, quite real, and I'm hesitant to say HTC has built something that is extremely special here, as opposed to a phone that is simply quite good. Given LG's stumble with the G5, the 10 comes out looking a lot better than it otherwise might have to me.

At $700, I think HTC's simply asking too much. At $600 unlocked on pre-order? I think that's fair enough, especially for HTC fans. So, here's where I come down on the 10: at the right price, this is a very good phone. But at $700, HTC isn't making nearly as strong a case. I have a feeling that an MSRP drop is in the 10's future, though, so you may not have to wait terribly long to swing a deal on one. And if you can, I don't think you'll be unhappy - this is a very good product, I just wish HTC hadn't priced it like a revolutionary one.

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