For the record, both the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 phones have been great choices. As models abandoned by their manufacturers for software updates due to being end of life, both ran LineageOS from the beginning, mine with MicroG replacing Google Services, hers with standard Google services. There are minor design failings in each, no doubt (the HTC 10’s display is its weakest feature relatively speaking; the S7’s camera is its weakest feature), but both phones are small yet with QHD displays, and nobody makes phones both physically small and with high definition displays any more .
Normally speaking, I would have gone for the Galaxy S9, which as it’s no longer in production, is end of life and which you can buy as new but from clearance stock from eBay right now for under €300 delivered. It’s a great phone for that money, it has official LineageOS support so it’ll be trouble free, and it’s almost exactly the same width as the HTC 10 or S7, just slightly taller. It’s overwhelmingly the rational choice if you want a high end phone for great money which has a first class LineageOS experience. Anyone sensible should buy that phone as a very reasonably priced high end LineageOS phone.
And of course I, not being rational, didn’t do that. I went for the Galaxy S10 instead, currently available new on eBay for under €500 delivered thanks to the recent price cuts due to the S20 release. Is the S10 66% better than the S9? Absolutely not: sure, the S10 has twice the RAM, twice the storage, twice the number of cameras, +33% more CPU grunt, +66% more graphics grunt, fancy in-display fingerprint reader, an even better HDR+ display than the S9, and much louder speakers than the S9. But its LineageOS support is still a work in progress, and the ‘decent cases’ story is really terrible for the S10, which doesn’t seem to have anything like the cases choice that the S10e, S10+ or S10 lite have.
Nevertheless, I still chose the S10 over the S9 for three reasons: (i) I like to listen to the radio when in the shower, and the HTC 10 just isn’t quite loud enough, and the S9 is about the same loudness as the HTC 10 (ii) I have a sneaking suspicion that older batteries, even if unused, don’t last quite as long as newer unused batteries (iii) I don’t take many photos, but when I do I take panoramas. The dedicated wide field panorama lens therefore appealed to me.
All that said, if I were you, I’d choose the S9, unless you like installing quirky LineageOS betas. Don’t get me wrong, three months from now the S10’s firmware story will likely be far better. Almost without doubt, the most rational high end LineageOS phone to buy next year will be the S10, and that was also a factor in choosing the S10 over the S9.
Comparing the HTC 10 to the Samsung Galaxy S10
I’m about to do something really unfair, and review both phones comparing them against one another. The HTC 10 went on sale in April 2016, whereas the S10 went on sale March 2019. Three years separate these former flagships from both companies. Is there any doubt which will win?
My HTC 10 runs LineageOS Android 9, whereas the Galaxy S10 runs LineageOS Android 10. What few differences between those two Android versions there are I have so far found meaningless. Result: Draw.
My HTC 10 is plenty swift for most things. The Camera app is slow, but that’s because I’m running a hacked Pixel 3 camera on it, which works just fine on my older Qualcomm DSP, just at a fraction of the speed of the Pixel 3’s Qualcomm DSP. Can’t say I care though, it takes pictures just fine, just with a bit of lag. And said pictures are very, very good (as we shall see later). But for general day to day use, it’s very rare I could find myself frustrated with the HTC 10’s speed. Its Snapdragon 820 didn’t have the heat nor throttling problems of immediately preceding Qualcomm CPUs. Anything I ever tried with it, including games and VR, ran absolutely fine.
Now, as much as I just said that the HTC 10 always felt fast, it wasn’t until I used the S10 did I realise just how much snappier the UI could be. Per-core, the S10 is about 70% faster, and it is very noticeable when using the phone. Result: S10 win.
Yeah this isn’t even a contest. The HTC 10 has what was even in its generation only a rather good Sharp IPS LCD panel. Not terrible by any means, but not class leading at the time: Megan’s S7 AMOLED panel easily beat it back then, even with its uneven coloration and blow out of blues. The S10 meanwhile, well I’ll straight out say that it’s the finest display that I have ever seen or used, on any device ever including pro workstation displays. Unlike earlier AMOLED displays, the HTC 10’s is ridiculously accurate (no blowouts or colour hues overdone), whilst simultaneously having this really deep richness and gamut. Colour is somehow simultaneously understated AND detailed and fine. My 2019 Dell XPS 13 laptop has a fine HDR 4k panel with 80% DCI-P3 gamut, but comparing the same photos side by side on both displays the S10’s display (113% DCI-P3!) just blows that right out of the water. No comparison: the S10 has the best display ever seen in mass production, period. Result: S10 win
I haven’t tested headphones yet on the S10, though the HTC 10’s headphone DAC would be very hard to beat: it can drive very high current headphones with ease, and is widely regarded as one of the best headphone drivers ever made. On speakers which I have tested across multiple days, the S10’s stereo speakers can reach far louder volumes than the HTC 10’s stereo speakers, I will without doubt be able to listen to radio in the shower. Neither phone distorts audio at maximum volume.
But do you know something? The S10’s speakers are tinny. Perfectly clear, but there is absolutely no bass. Whereas in the HTC 10, the bottom speaker is a ‘bass’ speaker, in so far as such a thing is possible in such a small space. But do you know, it makes all the difference. Radio from the HTC 10 is much richer, fuller, pleasant sounding. Male voices in particular sound much better. The HTC 10’s speakers are as crap as the S10’s for music however, only on radio are they clearly superior. Sorry Samsung, I know the S9 was far, far better than preceding phones for the speakers (the S7’s single speaker is awful), but the S10 still falls far short of the HTC 10. Result: HTC 10 win
Perhaps surprisingly both phones have almost identical main camera units: both 12MP, both almost identical field of view, both optical image stabilised. I took some photos earlier today from my office, and I’ve got to be honest, there is very little between them in bright sunshine, even zooming into the pictures real close. When the HTC 10 launched, it was lauded for its camera which was much lower resolution than the competition at the time, but its much larger sensor pixels gave far superior low light performance. Samsung copied the idea for the S9, which had only a 8MP camera, and thus after a few incremental evolutions weirdly the S10 ended up exactly where the HTC 10 was at three years ago. And taking a picture just there in the almost-dark, both cameras still perform about the same – maybe, just maybe, the S10 is marginally better despite its smaller sensor pixels, but it does have a larger aperture to let in more light. Result: Draw.
Let me be very clear here: the S10’s camera absolutely blows away the S7’s camera. Megan and I often noted just how shit the S7’s camera was compared to my HTC 10’s, with her even going so far as to deliberately use my phone if the photos were important. That’s just how good the HTC 10’s camera was, and at least now we know the S10’s camera is no worse.
I should also mention that the S10 is using OpenCamera, which uses the generic AOSP Camera2 API, whereas the HTC 10 is using a hacked Pixel 3 camera, which is Qualcomm and Google proprietary and consistently wins the annual camera phone reviews. So the comparison isn’t entirely fair.
Fingerprint reader and buttons
The S10 has a fancy ultrasonic fingerprint reader built into the screen, whereas the HTC 10’s is an ugly slatted thing in the hefty bezel below the display. I’ve got to be honest, both work well. The S10’s had a reputation for being laggy, but perhaps that was early firmwares, I’ve found it not noticeable. Its usable surface area is a little small though, and it’s not entirely obvious where to exactly put your finger always. Whereas the HTC 10’s fingerprint reader ‘just works’, and doubles as a ‘home button’ in addition to the other two hardware buttons next to it for back and switch apps. I know it’s ‘not cool’ to diss bezel-less phones, and yes the S10 has a screen reaching almost entirely from the top to the bottom of the phone. But most of my time is spent clicking and moving around apps rather than watching content (and for which the HTC 10’s aspect ratio is just fine for typical widescreen content in any case), and I hate to say it, but everything is just a touch more fluid in that department on the HTC 10 than on the S10 which has the screen do everything.
And oh, there is one other major difference: the HTC 10 has its volume button on the right, so it’s available for use with a folio case closed. The S10, for no good reason, has the volume button on the left, hidden beneath the hinge of your case, so you have to open the case to change the volume. Which sucks. Between both of those differences: Result: HTC 10 win
Holding both phones in your hand, naked, they are surprisingly similar. I know that earlier I said that the S10 is taller, and it is, but really there is barely anything in it: the case you choose would make more difference. They are almost identical width, the S10 very marginally less so. The S10 is noticeably thinner, but the HTC 10 is all aluminium and doesn’t feel as plasticky. They feel about the same weight, both with more weight towards the bottom to aid balance, and the HTC 10 having more mass towards its centre, whereas the S10 has more mass around its edges. I know nobody uses their phones naked, they always have a case on, so to be honest I’m calling them so close that the case makes the difference. Result: Draw
I think that coming from the S7, Megan will find the S10 pretty much better in every single area. I think that she’ll be very pleased with the upgrade, because on every individual measure, the S10 is better than the S7, and as it ought to be coming from Samsung.
Coming from the HTC 10, the picture is more mixed, as you’ll notice by the draw in the results above. I really wish the speakers produced better quality sound whilst still being louder: my Dad’s high end iPhone just blows all our phones out of the water for speaker quality, and I don’t understand why Samsung can’t achieve the same in their flagships. I would strongly prefer the button layout of the HTC 10, I have no idea why Samsung chose the left side for the volume button.
So I’m giving up more than Megan will be, particularly on audio. I therefore think I’ll miss my HTC 10 in some aspects, despite the three years of evolutionary distance. I remember feeling a similar loss when I transitioned from my Huawei Nexus 6P which was another great phone. I summarised my thoughts about leaving it for the HTC 10 at the time. Preceding the 6P was the Nexus 5 which I still have, and unlike all my other preceding phones, is still working well. Maybe due to being manufactured by LG? Still, whilst a good phone, the Nexus 5 wasn’t a great phone like the 6P and HTC 10 were. I’d even throw the Nexus 4 into the ‘great phone’ category, I only used it a bit because it was Megan’s phone, but it was showstoppingly good in its day, and I remember it remained competitive in terms of CPU and display even years after she got it. And all those phones were far better than the original Samsung Galaxy Nexus which was very expensive at the time and not very good, except for its early AMOLED display and its outstanding build quality which puts even the S10 to shame even today.
Going forth, given that you can’t get clearance unused Pixel phones at sufficient discount, I can see Samsung Galaxy or Xiaomi devices being the only high end LineageOS choice from now on, with a possible surprise dark horse for OnePlus devices. HTC have pretty much given up on making great phones. Huawei don’t seem to provide bootloader unlocking for recent devices, nor do whatever the company is making those very nice Nokia branded devices nowadays. Sony as always are all over the place, and the uncertainty means very patchy LineageOS maintainers. OnePlus’s recent devices look competitive, but like Google they don’t currently dump to eBay heavily discounted clearance stock of unused devices, so they aren’t price competitive for older devices with similar spec to Samsung or Xiaomi. Xiaomi devices currently trail in specs to Samsung devices, and they tend to not do 1440p displays, and even then the displays they use are much inferior to Samsung’s. But I can easily see them catching up next few years. Shame actually that Huawei don’t allow bootloader unlocking, as their devices are good competitors for Samsung’s right now. But, equally, they’re no cheaper for the same spec to Samsung at dump prices, and Samsung devices do always reliably draw in lots of LineageOS maintainers. So I can see myself and Megan going to the Galaxy S30 next, then the Galaxy S50, and so on. A one trick pony, but I’m very sure that Samsung will ensure they remain competitive going forth.
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