HTC Desire 10 preview: Flashy outside, ordinary within
HTC's new Desire 10 comes in two varieties, but chances are only one — the higher-end Desire 10 Pro — is worth your time.
HTC's Desire family has seen it experiment with many polycarbonate-based styles over the past few years — from two-tone plastic to quirky micro-splash patterns more recently. Now it's time for Desire to get a bit more extravagant, with a duo of new Desires borrowing their name from HTC's flagship, and their look from the art deco style.
Meet the HTC Desire 10 Pro and Desire 10 Lifestyle — two new phones HTC hopes will bolster its mid-range brand.
Both Desire 10 models have a bold new visual style that's sure to be at least a little polarizing. In a meeting ahead of the launch, HTC told me it's inspired in part by art deco designs; and the influence is clear to see, with bold golden accents and a prominent lens bulge contrasting with a loadout of relatively reserved colors.
These are not second-class citizens.
HTC is enthusiastic about the design of its latest Desires; the company's VP of Global Marketing, Darren Sng, told me "these are not second-class citizens" in the world of the HTC 10.
Yet they're still plastic smartphones at their core. The metallic accents — laser-etched as they are — aren't actually metal, and there's something about the in-hand feel that seems a little insubstantial. Maybe I've just been spoiled by the barrage of recent (often really good) metal phones elsewhere in the mid-range world.
The Desire 10 hits the same stride as other members of its family — plastic, but not cheap-feeling nasty plastic. The gold accents are laser-etched to ensure tight tolerances, and the darker colors have a pleasant soft-touch finish that I'd almost forgotten existed from using so many glass and metal phones this past year (Nextbit Robin notwithstanding).
It's not a universally appealing look. (To some, it'll be gaudy — particularly in the glossier white color option.) But the Desire 10's aesthetic grew on me in the short time I spent with the phones. The soft curves and ostentatious lines were a welcome respite from a market dominated by interchangeable slabs. Whatever you want to say about the Desire's latest incarnation, you can't deny it's unique.
The look isn't universally appealing, but it is unique — a respite from a world of interchangeable slabs.
So what's different about the two models? Mainly it comes down to display, internals and camera. Both phones pack 5.5-inch screens, but on the Lifestyle you're limited to a decidedly icky 720p resolution, and with it colors that appear a little dim next to the Pro's 1080p IPS panel. And while the Pro packs MediaTek's Helio P10 chip — a capable little processor, but one we've not seen in too many phones in the West — the Lifestyle uses an ancient Snapdragon 400. Yeah, as in the same three-year-old chip powering the original Moto G from 2013. Now, in my brief time with the phones neither seemed slow, but the use of a three-year-old, 32-bit processor doesn't fill you with confidence over the Desire 10 Lifestyle's lifespan.
Cameras are another point of difference — the Pro has a 20-megapixel shooter behind an f/2.2 lens, backed up by dual-LED flash and laser autofocus. It's disappointing to see that there's no OIS (optical image stabilization) included, which will likely limit its low-light performance, but in the moderately lit office room I tested it in, the Pro's camera managed just fine. Same goes for the Lifestyle's 13-megapixel shooter, though with images appearing somewhat grainier.
The Pro boasts fingerprint security, a better display, specs and camera. But the Lifestyle has the edge in audio.
And the Desire 10 Pro includes fingerprint security via a rounded sensor on the rear of the device — something I didn't have the chance to test, but if it's even close to the quality of the HTC 10's sensor, I'll be happy.
The Desire 10 Lifestyle does have one unique trick in its arsenal: the HTC 10's BoomSound Hi-Fi speaker setup and high-resolution audio support, backed up by Dolby Audio tuning. The difference in playback quality between the two devices is subtle but noticeable, which makes it all the more baffling that the more expensive Pro lacks this feature.
When it comes to software, the Desire 10's UI is a spitting image of the HTC 10's layout, right down to the pared-back interface and lightning-fast speed, thanks to whatever secret sauce HTC packs into its devices. The latest version of Sense — which HTC isn't numbering this time around — is lighter and closer to vanilla Android than ever, but augmented by features that matter, like the BlinkFeed reader, a loadout of themes, and the wacky Freestyle mode, in case you prefer cats and robots to icons.
It all adds up to a decent overall package, but it's hard to know where to side on the Desire 10s without taking into account the price.
At the time of writing, all we know is that the UK price will be £249 (SIM-free) for the 3GB/32GB Desire 10 Lifestyle. That's not horrible, but it's a tough ask when the same money also gets you a Nexus 5X or Honor 5C with money to spare. It's not especially promising given the ancient SoC and less than impressive display.
My hope is that the Desire 10 Pro will strike a more palatable balance in terms of pricing, but we'll just have to wait and see. Obviously the competition is even hotter around the £300-400 mark, with the likes of the OnePlus 3, Honor 8 and Moto Z Play making up the main competitors there.
The HTC Desire 10 Lifestyle goes on sale September 20, followed by the Desire 10 Pro in October.