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HTC 10 review: A premium phone that focuses on the fundamentals

HTC’s new flagship doesn’t offer a lot of frills or gimmicks, but gets the basics right.

It seems like every high-end Android phone comes with a bunch of gimmicky stuff you don’t necessarily want or care about. Enter the HTC 10. A high-end phone that focuses on the basics: design, performance, camera, and audio.

You can tell it’s an HTC phone at just a glance. It has that familiar all-metal body with a gently curved back and rounded corners. But HTC has updated it’s trademark design with a big 45-degree bezel all around the back, and edge-to-edge glass in the front. The big metal “forehead and chin” and the annoying HTC bar beneath the display are gone, and the phone looks better as a result. It’s way more comfortable to hold, too. The One M9 felt like it would slip right out of your hand—the 10 has a much better grip, and nice clickly, well-placed volume and power buttons on the side.

This phone has all the specs you expect in a premium high-end phone. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 820 chip, has 4 gigs of RAM, 32 gigs of storage, with a microSD expansion slot. And it’s as fast as you would hope: everything launches quickly and runs smoothly without stuttering. My time with the HTC 10 was always buttery-smooth.

It’s also got 5.2-inch quad-HD LCD display--and it looks really good, though not quite as good as the AMOLED display on the Galaxy S7.

The 3,000 mAh battery will easily take you through the whole day, and topping off the battery is lightning fast. The phone has a USB-C connector and supports Quick Charge 3.0, which took me from 0 to 50% charged in only half an hour.

HTC deserves special credit for its Android interface, which is very much like stock Android. Yes, Blinkfeed is still there to the left of the home screen, and the settings menu is rearranged a bit. Plus you can download all kinds of fancy themes to customize your look. But the core interface looks and behaves like Android Marshmallow. It’s fast, fluid, and familiar. And while the phone isn’t totally devoid of bundled apps, there’s a lot less bloatware than on most other top-tier phones.

After blowing it last year with the 20-megapixel camera on the One M9, HTC is back with a killer camera. The 12 megapixel rear camera has big 1.55 micron pixels, a super-wide f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization, laser autofocus, and dual-tone flash. It takes fantastic photos, on par with the very best Android phones you can buy. And even the 5 megapixel front camera has optical image stabilization, which is a first. The camera app is intuitive and simple, with a pro mode that givesyou lots of control.

Then there’s BoomSound, HTC’s trademark focus on audio quality. Once again, it has produced one of the best-sounding phones on the market. The dual-speaker setup is sort of awkward, with a larger “woofer” firing downward at the bottom of the phone and a smaller “tweeter” on the front earpiece at the top. But in practice, it sounds pretty great. Headphone output sounds great too, especially if you go through the built-in audio tuning process.

So HTC has delivered a phone that’s really got it where it counts. It’s got great design, a very good display, it’s really fast, the software isn’t too heavily modified from stock Android, it sounds great, and the camera rocks. So what’s the problem?

It’s the $699 price tag. I’m not a fan of phones loaded with gimmicks, but at that price I expect a little more...something. Samsung gets away with that sort of pricing on the Galaxy S7 because it’s got Samsung Pay, wireless charging, GearVR, water resistance, and software features like multi-window and game streaming.

I’m fine with the idea of a premium Android that doesn’t throw in all this extra stuff. In fact, I this simpler, focused approach. But I feel like $699 is too much to ask for it. HTC is $100 to $150 off the mark here. It gets a 4 out of 5 for getting all the basics right, but it doesn’t bring anything new and innovative to the table. If the price drops, it’ll be a great buy.