After a fair bit of discussion, we've decided that if there's one manufacturer in 2016 that stepped up its game across the board, it's HTC. And, of course, we think that step up was embodied in the HTC 10.
HTC has gone through something of a rough patch since its release of the One M7 back in 2013. The M8 and M9 were nowhere near as highly-regarded, and the stale design language of the phones left many fans and critics thinking HTC had lost its way. The One M9, in particular, seemed a low point. It had a mediocre display, subpar camera, middling battery life, and didn't even feature a fingerprint scanner. Its design felt rehashed, and in the face of radically revamped phones from Samsung, the M9 seemed a couple of steps behind the competition in most meaningful respects. Its Snapdragon 810 chipset didn't help.
But with the 10, we saw HTC go from arguably its darkest hour - at least, critically speaking - to high praise. When the 10 was released and I reviewed it, I called it too expensive for what it was, but I'm not sure I feel that way anymore. HTC provided an all-around good smartphone experience, even if the 10's camera isn't quite up to the Galaxy S7's or the Pixel's. It has excellent battery life, Sense is the lightest it's ever been, and I still adore the new design language. It's definitively HTC, but also feels modern and interesting. The 10 is now getting Android 7.0, showing HTC is trying to take OTA updates seriously, as well. The phone performs very smoothly, and the display is a huge step up from the M9's.
We considered a number of manufacturers for our Most-Improved award, and while many companies have substantially upped their smartphone game in 2016, we felt HTC had the strongest year over year improvement. That's not to say the 10 was the best smartphone of the year, or that HTC as a company is out of the woods, but the 10 was damn good - it made HTC feel relevant again. We'll have to see if they follow up next year.