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HTC 10 vs. Samsung Galaxy S7: The ultra-premium tier of Android

The last few years have been rough for HTC, with several flagship phone launches that didn’t go as well as the company expected. At the same time, Samsung was reinventing its industrial design and implementing new screen technology. This year might be HTC’s last chance to show it still has something to offer in the top-tier smartphone market, and it’s making the argument with the HTC 10. This all-aluminum slab has very similar internals to the Samsung Galaxy S7, but they don’t have much in common beyond that. Let’s see how these two devices stack up.

The Galaxy S7 has a similar vibe to all of Samsung’s recent phones — it’s a glass and aluminum slab that feels incredibly solid and well-built. The rear glass panel is curved toward the edges to sit nicely in your hand, and the overall device is compact enough to use one-handed. The main drawback to this design is that the glass back is slippery and picks up fingerprints constantly.

The build of the HTC 10 is quite different. It’s a unibody phone with a solid aluminum chassis. The back is curved slightly, but there’s an aggressive chamfer all around the edge. It looks like it would be uncomfortable, but it’s actually very ergonomic and (in my opinion) beautiful. The HTC 10 is a bit heavier than the GS7 because of all that metal, 161g (5.7 ounces) versus 152g (5.4 ounces). The Galaxy S7 is IP68 water resistant, but the HTC 10 has only IP53 certification. That means it’s splash-resistant, but can’t be submerged.

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Both phones have a strangely similar button arrangement under the display on the front. There’s a home button in the middle flanked by capacitive back and overview buttons (HTC ditched on-screen nav buttons this year). HTC’s buttons are in the proper Android order, though. On the Galaxy S7 the home button is physical and clicky, but the HTC 10’s is just another capacitive target. Both have fingerprint sensors in the home button, but HTC’s seems to be more accurate. Samsung’s sensor works fine, but the HTC 10 can correctly ID fingerprints from just about any angle after they are enrolled.

Inside both phones have quad-core Snapdragon 820 ARM chips, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage standard with a microSD card slot. The HTC 10 feels marginally faster, I suspect because the CPU cores are clocked a little less conservatively. Both phones are plenty fast, though. HTC is still using the Boom Sound branding for its device speakers, but the arrangement is different. Instead of dual front-facing, one speaker is on the front (earpiece) and the other is on the bottom. They’re smaller and more tinny than previous HTC phones. The Galaxy S7 only has one speaker on the bottom edge. It’s not as loud, but otherwise it actually sounds as good the the HTC 10.

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HTC and Samsung are both using 3000mAh non-removable batteries this year. There’s virtually no difference in the battery life here. Both phones get great standby time thanks to Android 6.0 optimizations, and there’s enough screen time to get you through a day of moderate use and then some. They’re still phones you’ll charge every night, though. HTC has a USB Type-C port with Quick Charge 3.0. You can completely charge that phone in about an hour. The Galaxy S7 is only Quick Charge 2.0 with a microUSB. It’s roughly 30% slower to charge, which is still pretty fast.

Samsung equipped the GS7 with a 5.1-inch 1440p Super AMOLED panel. I’ve looked at a lot of phone screens, and this is without a doubt the prettiest one. The colors are bright, but not blown out. The viewing angles are perfect without a hint of distortion. This panel also gets brighter than any other phone screen, which makes it great for outdoor use.

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HTC used an AMOLED last year on the A9, but the HTC 10 has an updated 5.2-inch LCD panel at the same 1440p resolution. By most measurements, this is a good LCD. The colors are a bit hot with the default settings, but there’s an sRGB mode that looks nicer. The bigger issue is some color shifting when you get off-axis; lighter colors start to get pink. The brightness is acceptable, but it’s nowhere near the GS7.

I don’t think that anyone would look at the HTC 10 and think the panel looks bad, but it’s not as good as the Samsung Galaxy S7’s. Looking at them side-by-side makes that clear. I don’t know how often you’re going to do that, so maybe a few display foibles aren’t a big deal.

HTC had a lot of ground to make up after the M9’s disappointing camera last year, and for the most part, it has. The HTC 10’s 12MP camera sensor has optical stabilization, laser autofocus, and a wide f/1.8 aperture. The pixels are large too at 1.55µm — HTC calls this one of its UltraPixel sensors, but it’s actually the same module that was used in the Nexus phones last year.

The 10’s camera is certainly worlds beyond the M9. In good outdoor light it can manage shots that rival the Galaxy S7. However, indoor light is not as kind to HTC’s phone. The color reproduction isn’t very good, coming out far too warm in low-light. There’s also a lot of noise — click the sample at right for an example. Again, it’s not a bad camera, but it’s decidedly average. The laser autofocus usually works as intended, but it’s slower than I would have expected.

The Galaxy S7’s camera remains on top of the heap as far as I can tell. It’s faster, takes better photos in low light, and the autofocus is faster. The photos from this phone are more likely to be good the first time, whereas with the HTC 10 you’ll probably end up taking a few to make sure you get one you like. Samsung isn’t using a laser sensor for focus, but it licensed some neat Canon tech that lets all the pixels on the sensor contribute to acquiring focus. It’s crazy-fast.

These are both Android phones running Marshmallow 6.0.1, but each has a customized skin on top. Samsung’s TouchWiz skin used to (rightly) earn it the scorn of users, but it’s worked to make it a more agreeable experience in recent years. The version of Android on the GS7 has a more modern theme and there are some useful extras built-in like ultra power saver, configurable notification toggles, and an always-on display.

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At the end of the day, the Galaxy S7 still has a lot of stuff you won’t use. Samsung has its own version of almost every app that Google does. If you sync your account with the phone on startup, you’ll probably end up with a lot of duplicate apps; two calendars, two gallery apps, and so on. You can disable the things you don’t need, but that’s a bit of a pain.

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The HTC 10 has gone for a more minimalist approach with a slightly more stock UI and fewer manufacturer apps. The HTC 10’s Sense Android skin is a bit more pleasant to look at, and the theming engine is better too. The home screen has an optional news feed on the far left called BlinkFeed, which is actually rather nice. You can add Twitter, Google+, and RSS content to it. Samsung’s similar Briefing panel is pretty bad.

So, I’d say the HTC 10 has marginally better software than the Galaxy S7. With a bit of customization, the version of TouchWiz on the GS7 won’t really get in your way, though.

The Galaxy S7 is available from all carriers for around $670-700. On a payment plan, that’s $30 or so per month. It has excellent build-quality, despite being made of slippery glass. It’s a very attractive phone, and the camera is the best I’ve used.

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The HTC 10 is priced similarly at $700, but I feel like it should be a little less expensive. The screen and camera aren’t as good as the GS7, and paying the same price for it seems like a tough sell. The 10 is available from all the big carriers except AT&T. There is, however, an unlocked GSM version of the phone available from HTC. Samsung doesn’t even offer that in the US. You can certainly go that route if you love the way the HTC 10 looks, but the Galaxy S7 is a better overall choice.

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