Is the 10 enough to save HTC?

The Taiwanese company’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5 comes a few weeks later than those rivals, both of whom were announced back in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Having lost $101 million in the Q4 of 2015 alone, HTC needs the 10 to succeed, and given the bulletproof spec sheets of the S7 and the modular design of the LG G5, that’s a taller order than it has ever been. Whether the HTC 10 is up for the task or not is ultimately up to consumers to decide, but let’s delve in and see what HTC has put together to give their 2016 flagship the best chance at success.

Image from HTC 10 press release

The Basics

Clearly a thoroughbred HTC, the 10 is a design evolution of the HTC One M9 combined with elements of the HTC A9, particularly on the front end of the device. Featuring a fingerprint reader — mandatory for any self-respecting 2016 flagship — and for the first time since the One X in 2012, capacitive navigation buttons, the 10 maintains virtually the same dimensions as the phone it succeeds while accommodating a new 5.2" QHD display. Touted to have 30% more colours than its predecessor, this Super LCD panel is protected by Gorilla glass curved at the edges to flow into the metal build. Of course, this being an HTC flagship, your hands will be treated to a solid unibody aluminum construction, with a much more pronounced chamfer on the backside this time around. I personally really like the look, it’s unique and non-derivative — cough, HTC A9 — but of course that’s up to subjective taste.

Performance comes from the now-familiar Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, complemented by 4 gigs of RAM. Continuing the trend from the One M9, the Micro SD card slot makes an appearance to augment the built in 32/64 gigs of internal storage. Having learned their lesson, HTC upped the battery capacity to 3000 mAh and included Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, enabling charging the phone to 50% in 30 minutes. In keeping up with 2016 tech trends, they also made the move to USB Type C for the charging port, which also powers a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that they are producing in partnership with JBL. But USB-C is still in its nascent days, and having it is more cumbersome than it is a convenience; you won’t find a USB-C cable nearly as ubiquitously as you would a Micro USB cable.

Image from Dan Seifert of The Verge

The Extras

After the disaster that the M9 was in the camera department, HTC seems to have gotten their act together with the 10. Starting off with a 1/2.3" inch sensor with 1.55 micron pixels, a bright f1.8 aperture lens and Optical Image Stabilization, they have got the best hardware set of any flagship and it seems to have paid off: DxOMark awarded the HTC 10 with a score of 88, tying that of the reigning champ, Samsung’s Galaxy S7. In addition, HTC upped the ante on the front camera as well, adding OIS to the 5 megapixel f1.8 snapper, a world first. In the video recording department, the 10 can capture 4K video, with 24-bit high resolution audio.

Speaking of which, audio seems to be where HTC is really trying to differentiate the 10 from the rest of the pack. Having been lauded for their BoomSound speakers in the past, they went one step further this year and split the built in speakers by frequency, essentially giving the phone a dedicated subwoofer. It also features a built in headphone amp that outputs 2x the power compared to your average phone. As well, HTC added native AirPlay support to the 10, making all music apps compatible with Apple TVs and AirPlay certified speakers. This is something that could potentially be of value for iPhone users looking across the fence to the Android lawn.

Lastly, HTC has really held back this time on the software front. They’ve worked with Google to avoid duplicate apps such as Music and Calendar, updated their own built-in ones to fit with the Material Design theme, and they’ve pared down their Sense UI to ensure fast updates. They’ve also got a new theme engine that allows you to customize the home screen without being bound to the traditional grid and still maintain good aesthetics. All this is available for pre-order at $699 USD or $999 CAD (!!!) unlocked directly from HTC. In North America, it’ll come in silver and black, while global markets will have a choice of gold; Japan will have a special red edition which I bet looks totally awesome.

Image from Vlad Savov of The Verge

The Competition

How does the 10 stack up against the rest of the market? Just so, actually. Apart from audio, there isn’t really anything that sets the 10 apart from the established flagships in a meaningful, differentiating way. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10 both have the Snapdragon 820 (in the US) with 4 gigs of RAM, 12 megapixel cameras with OIS and 4K video recording, 3000 mAh batteries, similarly-sized QHD screens, None-removable batteries, Qualcomm Quick charging, and fingerprint readers in the home button. Even the Micro SD card slot that was lacking in the S6 previously has made a comeback, erasing what was once a check mark on HTC’s side of the board.

Samsung’s impressive spec sheet also has IP68 certification with to boot, in a device that’s thinner and lighter than the HTC flagship. This leaves the 10’s advantages as optical image stabilization on the Selfie camera, built in AirPlay compatibility, a superior audio experience… and that’s about it. I don’t think any of these pros will be enough to outweigh Samsung and their thinner, sleeker, waterproof and most importantly, already available flagship.

So, is the 10 enough to save HTC? My political answer is that we’ll have to wait and see. It’s a solid device and it definitely has a shot at succeeding. But short answer? No, I don’t think so.

I don’t mean to say that HTC will go bankrupt because the 10 will fall short of their expectations. They have a great product on their hand with the Vive virtual reality headset, and clearly have a long term vision for staying relevant down the line. But it’s no secret that HTC has lost a lot of ground in the lucrative and crucial smartphone market. Their previous flagship attempts have been poorly received, to put it mildly, and the marketing machines of Apple and Samsung have really put the squeeze on the Taiwanese smartphone maker, making the margin for error ever thinner. They both have their own mobile payment solutions, have the support of 3rd party accessory makers and have generally built a greater ecosystem around their flagships.

Smartphones have so quickly become the most important device we own. The entirety of the IoT industry is being built around them, apps and software development revolve around them, and consumers grow more and more fond of them every day. HTC needs to do a lot more than just match their competition to win back the mind-share that they’ve lost to the likes of Samsung and LG, never mind Apple. Having announced their flagship nearly 2 full months after Samsung and LG, I hoped they would push the edge and get the upper hand on their competitor, they haven’t; and to turn this boat around, they needed to. Given the state of their finances, I can’t help but doubt that this strategy will be what puts HTC back on the map.