HTC 10 versus Galaxy S7: A grown-up rivalry
No better rivalry out there today.
It’s no mistake that the Galaxy S7 seems to be everywhere right now. Say what you will about Samsung’s past mistakes, because that’s largely what they are; this is a company iterating at the top of its game, and based on early sales reports, enjoying the fruits of that patience.
HTC, on the other hand, can’t seem to catch a break. Admittedly a much smaller company, it has recently diversified its product lineup to include partnerships with Under Armour in fitness, and Valve in VR. But can it still make a decent smartphone?
In many ways, the HTC 10 mirrors the Galaxy S7 in its acknowledgement of past mistakes, moving to correct what was wrong with the M8 and M9. It’s also a damn fine smartphone.
But how does it hold up to the best Android has to offer? We’re taking a gander at the HTC 10 versus the Galaxy S7.
The HTC 10 feels familiar in the hand because despite its slightly wider body it is, like its M9 predecessor, machined from a single block of aluminum. Solid and hefty, there are no seams or joints to weaken, nor any glass to crack. Even though it is ever so slightly too wide for my hands, preventing it from being used comfortably with a single thumb, it attempts to find good balance between screen size and overall dimensions. This is perhaps even more pertinent because the phone does away with the bottom front-facing speaker that represented HTC’s unique BoomSound solution since the M9. Instead, it moves the second speaker to the device’s underside, going with a front-facing fingerprint sensor in its place.
There is something mature and confident about the HTC 10 — even if it is just another black rectangle.
Around back, the iPhone-like camera bump of the A9 has been replaced by something more familiar for HTC fans. But it’s also on the back where you get a sense of the precision taken to mold the HTC 10 into its current state: an angled bevel that shimmers in the light, appearing smooth or textured depending on the environment.
There is something mature and confident about the HTC 10. Even if it is just another black rectangle, HTC has reason to celebrate what is easily its best, and best-looking, phone to date. From the screen quality to the camera, this is HTC making the best use of the resources available to it. Unfortunately for it, though, when compared to the industry leader, Samsung, some proverbial seams do show through.
The Galaxy S7 is Samsung, too, at the top of its game. And this year, the drastically altered metal-and-glass design language meets Samsung’s cool maturity. Sure, the S7 is immediately recognizable as a Galaxy, but everything from the curved glass back to the matte finish on the aluminum sides represents the company well. And the fact that Samsung was willing to thicken its main phone in order to squeeze a larger battery and waterproofing finds successfully placating its power users while attracting new users.
At the same time, the S7 is not the S7 edge, which is bigger, curvier and altogether more interesting. Instead, the S7 is just another great phone — kind of like the HTC 10 — which presents a problem at the more expensive end of the Android market. When every $700 phone is great, it’s hard to know which one to buy. No one is going to be disappointed with either device, since the feature variation between the two is a matter of degree, and the stylistic differences a matter of taste. Welcome to Android in 2016.
Both the HTC 10 and the Galaxy S7 are tremendously well-equipped for an early-to-mid 2016 flagship. Each one bears the latest processor —in the U.S., both run Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chip; in Canada and Europe, the S7 runs Samsung’s Exynos 8890 — along with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, 12MP rear cameras, 5MP front cameras, and a variety of value-added options.
There are some subtle things about the S7 that immediately stand out. For starters, it is IP68 waterproof, which allows it to be submerged in up to one meter of water for an hour. It can also be charged wirelessly, using either the Qi or PMA standard. The former feature is something many people care about, and it’s an engineering feat in itself that Samsung was able to close off all the ports and protect the internals without unsightly covers or obvious gaskets.
On the other hand, the HTC 10 has a USB Type-C port with USB 3.1 transfer speeds, which future proofs it for many years to come. Samsung, in order to ensure backwards compatibility with the increasingly-important Gear VR, maintained a microUSB port with USB 2.0 transfer speeds. Not a huge deal, but certainly something to think about.
The GS7 also has the edge in terms of screen technology. While the HTC 10 has one of the best LCDs on the market today — the company called it the fifth generation Super LCD — it is trounced in terms of vibrance, viewing angles and brightness by the Galaxy S7’s Super AMOLED panel. Slightly better screen density aside, the Galaxy S7’s screen just looks better in more instances, especially outdoors, where it has traditionally been difficult to crank brightness to adequate levels.
The GS7 has the edge in terms of screen technology.
Both devices have fingerprint scanners on the front, but it could be argued (and I’d agree with said arguer) that HTC’s implementation is superior. Not only is the HTC 10’s home button more capacitive than physical, which prevents mechanical problems down the road, the device can be unlocked without turning the screen on. This inevitably affects battery life, by constantly polling the fingerprint scanner, but it’s likely no more disruptive than Samsung’s on-by-default Always-On Display. Pick your poison, I guess. Oh, and HTC’s fingerprint scanner seems a tad bit faster.
Speaking of battery life, both devices are equipped with 3,000mAh non-removable cells. That should equal roughly the same battery life, but in our early tests, the HTC 10 doesn’t stand up to Samsung’s latest flagship. I’m not willing to say that the S7 has demonstrably better uptime, since I’ve only had HTC’s latest for about a week, but it appears that both the camera and the LTE connection engage the battery much more readily than on the S7. It’s possible software updates could fix these issues in the future, but we have to review what we have now (and I’m using a retail version of the S7 that has yet to receive a single patch).
|Operating System||Android 6.0.1||Android 6.0.1|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 82064-bit Kryo quad-core||Snapdragon 820 quad-core or Exyos 8890 octa-core|
|Display||5.2-inch QHD (2560×1440, 565 ppi)Super LCD 5||5.1-inch QHD (2560×1440, 534 ppi) Super AMOLED|
|Rear Camera||12MP Ultrapixel + OIS, f/1.8 lens4K video, 120fps slow motion||12MP + OIS, f/1.7 lens 4K video, 240fps slow motion|
|Front Camera||5MP Ultrapixel + OIS, f/1.8||5MP, f/1.7|
|Storage||32GB + microSD||32GB + microSD|
|Charging||USB Type-C Quick Charge 3.0||microUSB Quick Charge 2.0 + wireless Qi & PMA|
|Audio||HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi EditionTwo speakers||Downward-facing mono speaker|
|Dimensions||145.9 x 71.9 x 9.0mm||150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm|
In years past, I’d say that comparing the software between an HTC and Samsung device would be akin to difference between biting your lip and pulling a large chunk of leg hair. Both are painful in competing ways.
Today, running Android 6.0.1, both companies have largely resolved their design foibles, likely by the stern-but-fair hand of Google. HTC’s software, which is still lightly glancingly referred to as Sense but has little resemblance to its predecessors, maintains some of what made the M7 to the M9 great, but recalls the promise of the A9 to defer to Google’s first-party services whenever possible. This means as little app and service duplication as we’ve seen outside of a Moto X — no separate browser or gallery, and very few preloads.
I really like this HTC. It’s careful not to overload users with features.
There are some lingering areas of concern, though: HTC has struck deals with Facebook to pre-install its core app, plus Messenger and Instagram, along with the of-dubious-quality News Republic, and its own Boost+ optimization app. None of these are particularly egregious, and we haven’t had the privilege of seeing how badly T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint will mess things up, but based on the bloatware found on the S7, anything is possible.
I really like this HTC. It is careful not to overload with features, but retains some of the more useful power user shortcuts, such as Motion Gestures and quick music streaming. Its default theme has some of the nicest icons I’ve seen on an Android device, and features like Personal Audio Profile, which optimizes sound output for your specific headphones, are welcome.
When we turn to the Galaxy S7, it’s clear Samsung tried to tone down its service duplication, but lacked the same commitment as its Taiwanese competitor. There is still a heck of a lot of doubling, from Samsung’s own browser to its own app market, but somehow this is more forgivable this year because it all coheres.
Even though both the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 sport 12MP camera sensors, the experience of using them is very different. This is an area HTC has struggled in previous years, and while the fundamentals are dramatically improved, it hasn’t yet caught up to the industry leader just yet.
First, while HTC has revamped its camera app to be both more intuitive for novices and pro users alike, it still can’t capture great images with the consistency of the Galaxy S7. Whether in bright daylight or lowlight, the Galaxy S7 is able to focus, expose and shoot with very little compromise. But when you blow up the S7’s photos, you see Samsung’s subtle manipulations: it abundantly applies sharpening and noise reduction to make photos look cleaner on a smaller screen. HTC, despite having a more difficult time finding the correct exposure, often captures a scene more true to life. This is a technique Apple has employed with the iPhone, and it has both fans and detractors, depending on where you stand on how smartphone photos are meant to be shared.
See HTC 10 initial photos and video samples
Both those arguments are moot, though, when you refer to the phones’ professional modes, which allow for manual tweaking of shutter speed, focus, exposure and light sensitivity. With a bit of tweaking, the HTC 10’s slightly larger pixels — 1.55 microns to the S7’s 1.4 — produce cleaner shots that, especially in low light, are more readily editable in post-production.
Both the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 are tremendous products, but it’s clear that Samsung has the… edge.
On the selfie side, the HTC 10 boasts a 5MP sensor with optical image stabilization, a first in the industry. While that alone is unlikely to have much of an impact on photo quality, it negates having to use the (gasp!) front-facing flash that Samsung was eager to steal from the iPhone. In sufficient light, both phones produce competent shots with the selfie cam, and that’s all that needs to be said about that.
Both the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 are tremendous products, but it’s clear that Samsung, even without the aesthetically-arresting edge, has the… well, you get it. Both devices are as fast as a flagship should feel in mid-2016, but Samsung has the edge in screen quality, camera experience, and value-added features like waterproofing.
The HTC 10, though, shouldn’t be dismissed: its combination of superb design, painstaking machining, pared-down software, and pro-friendly camera options helps it appeal once again to the hardcore users who would at one time only consider an HTC product, and today likely migrate towards a Nexus.