HTC is a name that many – and rightly so – will associate with some of the best smartphones, Android or otherwise, that helped put the category on the map. Even before Android there were devices like the HTC Touch Diamond 2 and the HTC HD2 that helped put HTC on the map. When Android arrived they were there at the very beginning, shipping the original T-Mobile G1, the very first Nexus phone and device designs like the HTC Hero in Europe. Talking of Android specifically, the Taiwanese firm is responsible for a number of firsts. The first big-screen smartphone with the 4.3-inch EVO 4G, the first 4G smartphones on Sprint and Verizon and the first manufacturer to make a smartphone sound good. These are things that people remember fondly of HTC, and with good reason, but now, HTC is less about trailblazing, and more about treading water. The HTC 10 however, has come out as one of the better devices of the year so far, but in a way that isn’t flashy and a way that isn’t going to win them any “wow” points, but is that such a bad thing?
When Apple released the iPhone SE, the industry took a step back and scratched their heads. The 4-inch screen factor, as we mused, is pretty much pointless in this day and age of rich websites, HD content and great mobile games, and yet the iPhone SE will still sell like hotcakes. Why? Well, it’s not because of that small screen. The iPhone SE will sell just like any other iPhone because it’s a solid smartphone that does everything its target audience could ask for and without hassle or fuss. Sure, the lower price tag and smaller form factor definitely play a part in how popular the iPhone SE will be, but the fact that it’s “just a great phone” is what will be the biggest selling point. As the HTC 10 doesn’t feature a curved-edge display, a pop-out battery and the ability to transform, or the option of all sorts of colors and materials does this mean the HTC 10 is Android’s iPhone SE?
To make things clear, we reviewed the HTC 10, and were very impressed with it, and people can read our review here. The question I’m posing here is whether or not the HTC 10 is really a top-class device that can trade blows with the rest of them, and whether or not that even matters. On the inside, the HTC 10 is every bit as capable as every other Android device released over the past few months, with a Snapdragon 820 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a large-sensor camera and a Quad HD display. On the outside however, is where things become less interesting. The HTC 10 is, in terms of looks, just another smartphone. There’s no display falling off of the edge as with the Galaxy S7, no fancy materials or color choices like a Moto X and there’s no way of opening it up to extend its capabilities, either.
While our Reviews Editor, Nick, who handled the HTC 10 review really liked the HTC 10 design, I’m not so sold on it. After all, we’ve been down this road with HTC since the original HTC One back in 2013, and while you can argue that there are a number of changes here in the HTC 10, the overall design language is the same. This is not just an HTC thing of course, Sony has been in long need of a design refresh, but HTC is the firm that used to compete side-by-side Samsung, and in the three years since the original HTC One, Samsung has redesigned their devices’s looks twice now. Samsung tried something different with the Galaxy S5, the users didn’t like it, and they came out swinging with the Galaxy S6 look and feel, which still feels fresh, premium and elegant a year later. The use of metal with plastic bands for antennas however, is looking a little long in the tooth now, and considering Apple liked the HTC One look so much they now use it, this design is far from unique any more. So, in terms of design, the HTC 10 could be Android’s iPhone SE, it will appeal to some as “classic” or “timeless” but in a world of Galaxy S7 Edges and LG G5s, this look will come across as dated and lackluster. HTC used to make striking and different designs, the original HTC One is a testament to just that, but now we’re simply seeing more of the same from HTC, year after year. This is the sort of lazy design we expect from Cupertino, not the firm that helped shape the very category they now find themselves struggling in.
Feature wise, the HTC 10 hits it out of the park. The BoomSound setup might not be what we’re used to, but as phones go the HTC 10 is easily one of the louder and more pleasing to the ear. It has a good camera as well, one that trades blows with everything else out there, and the software this time around is genuinely interesting and shows LG how its done. The freeform launcher design and a cutback in their own duplicate software creates an experience that is pleasing to use and looks good, rather than simply making changes for the sake of it. This is a definite win for HTC here, and it just goes to show that Android can still be modified and tweaked here and there for the better, rather than just making a mess of things.
There’s not so much anything “wrong” with the HTC 10, or the iPhone SE, it’s just that they’re clearly designed for certain people. The HTC 10 is designed for someone that wants an excellently made device with a few niceties here and there that will get the job done no matter what they want to do, and so is the iPhone SE. The Galaxy S7 Edge and LG G5 are designed for people that really value having a great smartphone, or are willing to pay the extra for something that looks great and has even more bells and whistles. The HTC 10 is perhaps, sadly, a product of the Taiwanese firm not having as much money to play with as it used to do, but regardless, the HTC 10 is a great phone. Sure, it might be the “okay phone” of the flagship Android market right now, but it gets a lot of things right, and will be all that a lot of users could ask for in a phone.
For some users however, this won’t be good enough, and this is where HTC will lose out. Those looking for a device with a little something about it, will undoubtedly start to look elsewhere, and LG and Samsung are more than willing to take that custom. A standard phone might not be exciting, or even interesting at all to some users, but there’s definitely a market out there for them, but how long that market sticks around for is unclear, and the likelihood of HTC being able to release another less-than-stellar flagship device and stay afloat next year is unlikely.