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HTC 10 vs. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus : Is great audio more important than exceptional cameras?

iphone  vs htc apple
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

One of the most anticipated smartphone launches of the year has come and gone. Apple’s iPhone 7 is officially available for purchase online, in retail, and from carriers around the country — and it doesn’t disappoint. The Cupertino company’s newest flagship sports a stellar screen, a versatile A10 Fusion processor, a touch-sensitive home button, upgraded Force Touch capabilities, and an impressive pair of cameras that focus more quickly and take sharper, more colorful images than any iPhone before it. It’s water- and dust-resistant, too, and it ships in configurations with high-gloss finishes and storage capacities up to 256GB.

That’s not to say the iPhone 7 is infallible, of course. It omits the 3.5-millimeter audio jack and lacks the pricier, larger iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-sensor camera module. But at $650, it’s a heck of a package.

Related: See how the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode elevates mobile photography

The real question, though, is whether or not the iPhone 7 measures up to the high-end competition. HTC’s eponymous HTC 10, the successor to last year’s HTC 9, sports an all-aluminum design and a quality pair of cameras, and there’s much more to it than meets the eye. It’s got a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, a high-resolution display, Hi-Fi speakers, and a fingerprint sensor, to name a few highlights.

That makes the buying decision all the tougher. Do the iPhone 7’s hardware upgrades outweigh the lack of headphone jack? Is the HTC 10’s middling battery life justified by its ultra-fast fingerprint sensor? We pit the two handsets head to head in order to find out.

Specs

iPhone 7

iphone-7-6-220x220

iPhone 7 Plus

iphone-6s-plus-photo-2-293x588-220x220

HTC 10

htc-final-comparison

Size  138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 in) 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm (6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 in) 145.9 x 71.9 x 9 mm (5.74 x 2.83 x 0.35 in)
Weight 4.87 ounces (138 grams) 6.63 ounces (188 grams) 5.68 ounces (161 grams)
Screen 4.7-inch Retina HD LED-backlit widescreen 5.5-inch Retina HD LED-backlit widescreen 5.2-inch LCD Quad HD
Resolution 1,334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi) 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401 ppi) 1140 x 2560 pixels (565 ppi)
OS iOS 10 iOS 10 Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Storage 32, 128, 256GB 32, 128, 256GB 32GB/64GB
MicroSD card slot No No Yes
NFC support Yes Yes Yes
Processor A10 Fusion with 64-bit architecture, M10 motion coprocessor A10 Fusion with 64-bit architecture, M10 motion coprocessor Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820
RAM 2GB 3GB 4GB
Connectivity 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera 12MP rear, 7MP front Dual 12MP rear, 7MP front 12MP rear, 5MP front
Video 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps 4K at 30fps, 720p at 120fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.2 Yes, version 4.2 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Touch ID Touch ID Yes
Other sensors Barometer, 3-axis gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor Barometer, 3-axis gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor Barometer, 3-axis gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
Water resistant Yes, IP67 rated Yes, IP67 rated Yes, IP53
Battery Up to 12 hours of internet use on LTE Up to 13 hours of internet use on LTE Up to 19 days of of stand-by time (4G), up to 27 hours of talk time (4G)
Charger Lightning Lightning USB Type-C
Marketplace Apple App Store Apple App Store Google Play Store
Color offerings Gold, rose gold, silver, black, jet black Gold, rose gold, silver, black, jet black Carbon gray, topaz gold, glacier silver, camellia red
Availability AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
Price $649 $729 $699
DT review 3.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Processing Power

The iPhone 7 is a powerhouse under the hood. Its processor, Apple’s 64-bit A10 Fusion chip, is a 64-bit quad-core model that’s supposedly 40 percent faster than the A9 in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, and a whopping 120 times faster than the processor in the original iPhone. Graphics are significantly improved, too. Apple said the A10’s image chip is 50 percent faster than that in the A9.

Preliminary benchmarks seem to bear out those numbers. In the Geekbench 4 suite, the iPhone 7 crushes competition like the OnePlus 3, Samsung’s Galaxy S7, and LG’s G5 — all of which share the same processor as the HTC 10. In a widely publicized test result, the iPhone 7 scored 5,507 compared to the Galaxy S7’s 3,918 — a full 33 percent better. And in terms of graphics, it did just as well: 37,810 compared to the Galaxy S7 Edge’s score of 27,851.

But the A10 Fusion chip isn’t just more powerful than its predecessor. Apple said it’s dramatically more efficient, too, thanks to two dedicated co-processors designed for low-intensity tasks such as scrolling through social media feeds and refreshing email inboxes. A custom-designed performance controller determines when the faster cores kick in.

iPhone 7 A10 chip

Driving the HTC 10, meanwhile, is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820, a quad-core processor that’s zippy but lacks the power-saving cores present in the A10. That architectural quirk may work to its advantage in day-to-day usage, however, as our intrepid reviewer Malarie Gokey found it “lightning fast” in the course of testing.

The iPhone 7 has slightly less RAM than the HTC 10’s 4GB. Unofficial teardowns have revealed a 2GB module under the iPhone 7’s unibody hood, and a 3GB variant in the iPhone 7 Plus. The jury’s still out on how big of a difference that’ll make in day-to-day use, but the HTC 10, generally speaking, should be capable of juggling more tabs in Chrome, processing larger office documents, and handling larger open-world games.

Be that as it may, the iPhone’s processor appears to best the HTC 10’s silicon in synthetic tests. Its power-saving companion cores should also, in theory, help deliver superior battery life. For those reasons, we’re handing the iPhone 7 the win in the processing category.

Winner: iPhone 7 

Related: Apple’s waterproof Watch Series 2 also gets faster, brighter, and has GPS

Sound

Audio is the elephant in the room. The iPhone 7, as you may or may not be aware, ditches the standard 3.5-millimeter jack found on every iPhone, iPad, Mac, and MacBook before it (not to mention most laptops, smartphones, tablets, and desktops). Instead, the new iPhone’s Lightning adapter pulls triple duty, serving as a charging port, data connector, and audio output in one. The usability blow is somewhat mitigated by Apple’s inclusion of a Lightning-to-3.5-millimeter adapter and Lightning-compatible EarPods, but the fact remains: using your old pair of wired headphones with the iPhone 7 won’t be a walk in the park.

You could buy a Bluetooth pair, and that’s one solution that Apple is actively encouraging. The iPhone 7 sports a new, in-house Bluetooth chip, the W1, one that’s said to deliver audio much more efficiently than conventional wireless. It’ll pair with any off-the-shelf wireless headphones you can find on Amazon or at your local Best Buy, but optimally with the company’s wireless AirPods and headphones within the company’s new Beats lineup. This includes the Solo3 Wireless, Powerbeats3 Wireless, and Beats X.

You don’t have that problem with the HTC 10. It sports the familiar 3.5-millimeter jack, along with the company’s recently “re-engineered” BoomSound. It’s a heck of a package on paper, consisting of amplified speakers with a separate woofer (on the bottom) and tweeter (on the top). It also includes a hardware headphone digital audio converter that supports upscaling to 16- and 24-bit, as well as HTC’s Personal Audio Profile that lets you personalize the sound to your liking.

HTC 10

In practice, though, the HTC 10’s audio isn’t as good as you’d expect. We found the BoomSound speakers exhibited impressive depth and volume, but sounded “muddy and less crisp” compared to the iPhone.

Calling a winner is a tough one. The iPhone 7 has better speakers, but the HTC 10 has the all-important headphone jack. Given the state of smartphone audio accessories as they exist today, though, we’re inclined to hand HTC the crown — wireless headphones are nascent tech, and some of the best headphones around are wired.

The battery is a different story. You’d think the HTC 10’s 3,000mAh battery would easily best the iPhone 7’s 1,960mAh, but intricacies conspire to make the comparison a lot less straightforward. In truth, the HTC 10 lasts longer than the iPhone 7 — just shy of a day and a half, in our testing — but not dramatically so. The iPhone 7, by comparison, lasts around a half hour less.

Still, a win’s a win, and the HTC 10 edges out the iPhone 7 this round by a hair.

Winner: HTC 10

Display

The iPhone 7’s 5.5-inch display is a looker. One analyst recently called it “visually indistinguishable from perfect,” and other tests have praised its high contrast ratio, ambient light performance, and impressively high peak brightness. Apple has also said the Retina HD screen is 25 percent brighter than the iPhone 6S’s display, and exhibits a far wider color gamut.

The HTC 10’s 5.2-inch LCD likely doesn’t compete in terms of color accuracy or brightness, but it bests the iPhone 7 in resolution. It’s Quad HD — meaning it touts 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution — and substantially denser in pixels (565 pixels per inch) than the iPhone 7 (326 ppi). There’s an ongoing debate about whether resolution that high is necessary on a phone, but if display sharpness is a quality you hold in higher regard than all else, the HTC 10 wins almost by default.

Considering all the other characteristics, though, and it’s a different story. The iPhone 7 takes the cake.

Winner: iPhone 7 

Design and durability

Cosmetically speaking, the iPhone 7’s design improvements are subtle. It retains the curved, “seamless” aluminum unibody design of its recent predecessors, but the infamous antenna lines on the rear casing now curve around the back corners instead of slacking across it. And for the first time in history, the iPhone is resistant to liquids — it’s rated IP67, or water-resistant in up to a meter of water for about 30 minutes.

Other aesthetic changes are a bit more obvious. The rear-facing camera module, particularly on the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus, juts out a tad more than it does on older iPhones, and the iPhone 7 sports two speaker grills on its bottom edge instead of one. The headphone jack has been replaced with a larger Taptic engine, a self-contained motor which delivers a small vibration when you tap, double tap, or press and hold on the home button or display for an extended period of time. There’s also a new color option, Jet Black, which features a mirror-like surface and high-gloss finish.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

The HTC 10 shares little in common with the iPhone 7, aesthetically speaking. It’s noticeably heavier, weighing in at 5.68 ounces compared to the iPhone 7’s 4.87 ounces. It’s quite a bit thicker, too, given the HTC device measures about 9 millimeters in width, or about 1.8 millimeters more than the iPhone 7. Nonetheless, it’s attractive in its own way.

HTC’s flagship features an aluminum matte finish with chamfered edges around the back and front, and an all-glass front with capacitive navigation buttons on both sides. On top is a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, on the front is a fingerprint sensor, and around back are visible antenna lines and an ever-so-slightly protruding camera.

Related: As the iPhone’s headphone jack dies, Apple wins and you lose

The design is water-resistant, but not to the iPhone 7’s degree. It’s rated IP53, which means that, generally speaking, it can’t withstand much more than a bit of dust and a light stream of water.

Design, like art, is obviously subjective. Water resistance isn’t, however, and the iPhone 7’s ability to withstand deeper depths for longer is a selling point in and of itself.

Winner: iPhone 7

Camera

The iPhone 7 packs an impressive shooter. In the case of the iPhone 7 Plus, it’s a dual-camera system comprised of a 12-megapixel rear camera with a 28-millimeter wide-angle lens and f/1.8 aperture, in addition to a 56-millimeter telephone lens with f/2.8 aperture. That second camera is pretty nifty, too, given it delivers up to two times optical zoom and digital zoom up to 10 times magnification. It sports optical image stabilization (OIS), and an upgraded four-LED flash, True Tone, that’s 50 percent brighter than last year’s model.

Best of all, a forthcoming software update will allow you to add a bokeh effect to your photos. In pictures with close-up subjects, you’ll be able to selectively blur the backdrop of images much like on a DSLR.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

The iPhone lacks the Plus’ secondary camera, but isn’t all the much worse for it. Its single, 12MP, 28-millimeter, f/1.8 aperture sensor benefits from every improvement except optical zoom and faux bokeh. And it, along with the iPhone 7 Plus, packs other upgrades, like a flicker sensor that supplies a supplementary source of light in poorly lit environments. Apple said the sensors 60 percent faster than the camera on the 6S, and 30 percent more energy efficient. Both phones support RAW, a format which offers a greater degree of control over color data.

The front-facing cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7 are an improvement over last year’s model — they’re now 7MP and feature wide color captures and automatic image stabilization. Apple said sharpness has been improved, too, a claim our preliminary testing appears to confirm.

We were impressed with the quality of the cameras, especially the dual-sensor module on the iPhone 7 Plus. Pictures were sharp even in low light, and the optical lens adjustment produced some of the best zoomed-in smartphone photos we’ve seen.

Related: HomeKit app shows how Android users are out of luck with Apple smart-home tech

The HTC 10’s shooter is a bit different, but not dramatically. The rear-facing camera uses what HTC calls Ultrapixel 2, the second generation of the large-sensor camera tech that debuted on HTC’s One M7. Its pixel size — 1.55μm — is larger than most in its class, which HTC said dramatically improves the lighting. It boasts laser autofocus, an f/1.8 aperture, 26-millimeter focal length, dual LED flash, support for RAW images, and, like the iPhone 7, is capable of shooting up to 4K video at 30 frames per second.

Perhaps the HTC 10’s most distinctive feature is a front-facing, 5MP sensor with optical image stabilization — a boon for those with a penchant for live-streaming apps such Periscope and Facebook Live. It features a f/1.8 aperture, 23-millimeter focal length, and 1.34μm.

HTC 10

In our testing, we were generally pleased by the quality of photos produced by the HTC 10’s cameras. Colors appeared accurate, if a bit cool, and without the grain exhibited by other flagship smartphones in its class. But they weren’t faultless — the cameras occasionally struggled to focus on subjects correctly, especially in low light, and exhibited noisiness in dark and nighttime environments.

It’s a tough call between the iPhone 7 models and HTC 10 in the photography category, but we’re giving the edge to the former. In our testing, the clarity, crispness, and accuracy of the images the iPhone 7 produced were consistently exceptional, and the dual-camera zoom produces the best zoom we’ve seen on a smartphone.

Winner: iPhone 7

Operating System

The iPhone 7 run iOS 10, the newest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. The HTC 10, in contrast, runs Android Marshmallow, the second-to-newest version of Google’s smartphone OS.

Comparing the two is like comparing apples (no pun intended) to oranges. We’ve broken down the major differences rather exhaustively in the past, but suffice to say that Android the more customizable operating system of the two, while most people find iOS easier to use. If you want to be able to be able to master basics such as calling, texting, and using apps quickly, the iPhone is the way to go.

Related: Which smartphone OS wins 2015? Android Marshmallow, iOS 9, or Windows 10 Mobile?

That’s not to say Android isn’t easy to use — it just takes a little more work to learn. The HTC 10 sports software that other Android smartphones don’t. It’s the first to support Apple’s AirPlay out of the box, and has a new customization feature, “Freestyle Layout,” which allows you to drag icons and widgets anywhere. The latter also lets you replace icons and widgets with “stickers” from HTC Themes.

iOS 10 WWDC

Software features aren’t the only major differences between the platforms, though. High-profile apps and games generally come to the App Store first, and Android updates are frequently beholden to Android manufacturers and carriers who must approve them. HTC isn’t always quick to update its devices with the latest patches and upgrades, though it’s admittedly better than most. Apple is usually prompt in dispatching updates to all iOS users simultaneously.

You’ll always have the latest software if you own an iPhone 7, and that makes it a winner for us.

Winner: iPhone 7

Pricing and availability

The iPhone 7 starts at $649 for the 32GB model. You can choose from two more storage options — 128GB, and 256GB. The Jet Black model currently only comes in either a 128GB and 256GB configuration.

The iPhone 7 Plus costs $769, and is available in 32, 128, and 256GB configuration. Both devices are available in stores and online now.

All carriers have various deals and trade-in offers for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and Apple has its very own iPhone Upgrade program. You can read up about all the different ways to order the two devices here. Carriers share the same monthly price across the board, and we’ve listed the base price of the 32GB variant below.

  • AT&T: The iPhone 7 costs $650, but you can opt for monthly payments of $21.67 for 30 months. The iPhone 7 Plus costs $770, and a monthly payment plan will set you back $25.67 for 30 months.
  • T-Mobile: The iPhone 7 costs $650, but you can opt for monthly payments of $27.08 for 24 months. The iPhone 7 Plus costs $770, and a monthly payment plan will set you back $32.08 for 24 months.
  • Verizon: The iPhone 7 costs $650, but you can opt for monthly payments of $27.08 for 24 months. The iPhone 7 Plus costs $770, and a monthly payment plan will set you back $32.08 for 24 months.
  • Sprint: The iPhone 7 costs $650, but you can opt for monthly payments of $27.08 for 24 months. The iPhone 7 Plus costs $770, and a monthly payment plan will set you back $32.08 for 24 months.

The HTC 10 is comparable in terms of pricing. It starts at $700 unlocked for a 32GB model, or $600 if you opt for a bundle without JBL’s noise-cancelling headphones, the JBL Reflect Aware C.

  • Verizon is selling the HTC 10 for $27 a month for 24 months. The phone costs $648 if you buy the 32GB version outright. You can grab the 10 on Verizon’s website now.
  • Sprint has an installment plan of $26 a month for 24 months, or you can buy the device at full price for $624. You can read about it here.

The HTC 10 and iPhone 7 are fairly comparable in terms of pricing, but the HTC 10, thanks to its SD Card reader, has a slight value advantage: you can expand the phone’s storage with a removable card up to 2TB in size. That advantage doesn’t extend to the HTC 10’s availability: quite simply, HTC’s flagship isn’t available from nearly as many carriers as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

For those reasons, the iPhone 7 nabs yet another win.

Winner: iPhone 7

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus win

Deciding between the HTC 10 and iPhone 7 isn’t easy. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus pack spectacular cameras that put much of the smartphone competition to shame, but lack a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. The HTC 10 sports a Hi-Fi sound processing and loud speakers, but doesn’t match the iPhone 7’s degree of water resistance.

The HTC 10, truth be told, isn’t the best bang for your Android smartphone buck. Its display and cameras are not only in many ways inferior to the iPhone 7, but fall short of the bar set by Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge earlier this summer. Quite frankly, it’s already showing its age.

The HTC 10 isn’t to be dismissed out of hand. If the customizability afforded by Android is a must, it’s the obvious choice. But in terms of usability and camera performance, most users will find the iPhone 7 and iOS superior.