“Sculpted by light, illuminated by sound”. That’s the tagline for the HTC 10 evo (known as the HTC Bolt in the US). It’s a reflection on this upper-mid-range device’s design aesthetic and audio capabilities. The device is yet to officially launch in the UAE, and there’s no confirmation of pricing, though we understand it will be in the Dh1,800-2,000 range and a launch in penciled in for early next year. I’ve been using the evo as my primary device for a month. Here’s how the experience has been.
1. Design and build
HTC knows how to build a good-looking, solid device. After using the One X (2012), One M9 (2015) and current flagship 10, I can attest to this. With the evo, the Taiwanese brand has ditched the flagship’s curved polished matte finish in favour of an all-metal flat back with chamfers at a less extreme angle. The evo’s slightly rougher surface is more conducive to good grip than the 10 – I had dropped the flagship device a couple of times in my first month of use but am yet to drop the evo. However, my hands are slightly larger than average – smaller-statured friends of mine found the HTC 10 the easier device to grip (mostly thanks to the smaller screen).
As with the lower-mid-range Desire 10 devices, HTC is selling the idea that a smartphone should look good lying face-down. The evo is no exception. The phone’s non-reflective rear actually seems to absorb light, while the polished chamfer shines in well-lit environments to provide a nice contrast. It’s also nice to see a subtle logo, which ensures the design stands out over the device’s brand name when someone looks at it.
At 174g, the HTC 10 evo doesn’t feel particularly heavy or unwieldy despite its 5.5-inch display. This is probably thanks to ditching the headphone jack, the repercussions of which I’ll discuss later. IP57 resistance mean dropping the device in a sand parking lot didn’t give me heart palpitations, while the water resistance is good enough that I can confidently leave it in my pocket during particularly intense gym sessions (I’m a heavy sweater).
The HTC 10 evo comes with Android Nougat out of the box. Google’s latest OS is layered under HTC Sense, the Taiwanese company’s pared-down skin. The biggest addition is multi-window view, so you can now browse on Chrome
while listening to a song on YouTube. Nougat also offers a lot to do when swiping down from the top of your device’s display. Individual
notifications can be expanded to offer actions within specific contexts. For example, you can reply to WhatsApp messages without needing to switch to that app. Multiple notifications from a single app are also bundled together, so messages from three different contacts can be expanded in the notification window with a tap.
HTC Sense differentiates itself from rivals through flexibility. There’s no grid your apps must adhere to, and a range of themes are available that come with matching customisable elements – called stickers –that can be linked to individual or grouped apps, eliminating the need for conventional icons on your home screen. Whether you prefer traditional or freestyle, there’s a large library of layouts to pick from in the Themes app. There’s also a sizeable collection of fonts.
The HTC 10 evo has a Quad HD Super LCD 3 screen wrapped in Corning Gorilla Glass 5. The display plays well in sunlight and offers crisp colour reproduction. Pictures are reproduced accurately on-screen, even when compared to top-end devices such as the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7.
Catching up on the weather on Gulfnews.com via Chrome or going through a long-form feature on The Guardian app isn’t taxing on the eyes. Additionally, Android N’s sepia-tinted Night Mode makes evening reading a lot easier, without the need to download a separate app such as Twilight.
The HTC 10 evo’s rear camera f/2.0 aperture means night-time shots need a bit of care. The results are reasonable for this category of device, though if you zoom in a bit of noise becomes visible in evening shots:
The device lacks the laser autofocus offered in the HTC 10, with a more basic phase detection capturing option. Additionally, you won’t get the best shots from a slow-moving vehicle. It does, however, include the flagship’s Raw support, optical image stabilisation (OIS), Video Pic (the HTC equivalent of the iPhone’s Motion Photo), 4K video recording with high-res audio.
While the evo’s primary camera enjoys most of the features from the HTC 10, the selfie snapper has compromised on perhaps the most important one: OIS. A major reason users have trouble capturing the razor-sharp selfies seen in ads and on smartphone microsites is shaky hands. I had trouble in this regard, often needing to delete and retake photos from the front camera. However, it offers 8MP to the HTC 10’s 5MP but it is defeated by the latter’s f/1.8 aperture – the evo is f/2.4.
About that missing headphone jack. This was the first device I had the chance to extensively use without a port that was once considered untouchable. Removing the 3.5mm jack allowed HTC to keep the 5.5-inch evo slim but sturdy. The device has built-in Hi-Res Audio and three microphones with noise cancellation. This is in keeping with the 10. However, the evo also packs in BoomSound adaptive audio. Included in the box is the world’s first USB Type-C dual adaptive audio earphones.
Plug these in and you can adjust the headset to compensate for the ambient noise in your environment with a tap in the notification window while audio is playing. I found this useful at handling the acoustic difference between the car park and Spinneys, for example. Playback of audio is clean – both in bass and treble –although I wouldn’t wear these to the gym as the cord is a tad delicate (and tangly) for wear during anything more intense than a moderate workout. Watching The OA in the crowded Gulf News staff canteen allowed me to thoroughly enjoy an antisocial meal with the device.
As it’s not officially available in the UAE yet, we’re not yet sure whether the evo headset will come with a 3.5mm to USB C converter dongle. We’ve reached out to HTC and will let you know when we learn more.
One thing that didn’t impress as much is the built-in speaker. While sat in the passenger seat of a non-sports car with windows closed and no sound other than the engine, I struggled to hear an audio message sent over WhatsApp recorded by a friend in a quiet room.
6. Performance and Power Managment
No matter how good a camera’s aperture is, the GB of RAM crammed inside or the vividness of a display, a device’s power management is what differentiates it from a useful tool for communication, productivity and leisure, and an expensive paperweight.
The HTC 10 evo has an octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor supporting 3GB of RAM. Switching between apps is relatively quick, though not as fast as with the HTC 10. Playing Geometry Wars 3 on the device at an advanced stage, where up to 100 enemies are on the screen simultaneously, causes a slight slowdown but nothing to create serious inconvenience. The camera’s also quick to launch, though not as blazingly fast as a Samsung S7.
Despite the evo housing the same processor and RAM as last year’s flagship HTC One M9, it doesn’t suffer the same overheating issues that made the M9 difficult to hold at times.
However, like the M9, it does get pretty warm when plugged in to a wall socket via USB type-C. While the evo features QuickCharge 2.0, I’m afraid the HTC 10 has spoilt me with 3.0. Using the in-box charger, the evo took me from 40 to 64 per cent in 30 minutes. Meanwhile, my dead HTC 10 can reach 50 per cent in the same time, even after six months of use. Sure, you may be a well-organised person who always leaves the house with 100 per cent power in the morning and has a charger at their office desk. But sometimes Thursday evening sees a friend call and say, “I’m picking you up, be ready in 12 minutes.” It would be nice to get in 17 rather than 7 per cent in that time. It gives you the freedom to Snap with abandon, curate great Instagram posts and generally ignore the people around you while upvoting dog pics on Reddit.
That said, the management of power is superior to the M9. Using Google Maps on full brightness to navigate from Motor City to a remote spot in the Al Awir desert took my battery from 40 to 20 per cent. The same trip on the M9 would have killed the phone.
Compared to the flagship, the HTC 10 evo is a device of contrasts. It gives you a tougher, better-looking body but a weaker camera. The 3.5mm jack is absent but you get adaptive audio. An older processor, but one with the latest Android and power management that seems to overcome the issues besetting the One M9.
Would I recommend you buy this device? As we’re yet to receive confirmation of a price, it’s hard to say where it stands in terms of value. However, the HTC 10 evo provides a solid Android Nougat experience in a well-crafted body that will be more appreciated by music-lovers than photographers.