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My Take on the Best Smartphones of 2017

The year 2017 is almost over now. I was just thinking at the number of devices I was playing around this year and thought to list out my experiences and feedback with smartphones this year. Without much ado, here we go!

Let me start with my most favourite topic, Camera.

Google Pixel had a great camera; probably the best this year. Google made people understand that, its not always the hardware but software that can make great difference to the picture. Without a dual camera setup, Google was able to achieve great portraits with its AI based algorithms. However, things weren’t all that green with the Pixel. Along with the LED screen issues. I also heard about the performance flaws on the Pixel 2 XL. Hopefully, Google can fix it via a software update. According to me, the Pixel 2 was a better bet than the Pixel 2 XL in terms of performance and hardware. I really wished Google had chopped these bezels and made just one Pixel 2 this year. Would’ve made life so simple. Pixel was a great camera for Pictures, especially portraits.

The most practical flagship for me was the Apple iPhone 8 Plus. Looked very similar to the earlier iPhones, nothing great on design; bur still performed the best when compared to other Android flagships and iPhones. The A11 Bionic was slick. The 8 Plus stood slightly lower in terms of the camera when compared to the iPhone X. However, when you consider the price and the extra ‘plus’ features, it won it over. The iPhone X is a great phone, but definitely not worth a lac. The iPhones this year has the best cameras for videos, especially the slo-mos.

The Samsung Note 8 is a clear winner; probably the best smartphone of this year. Its amazing on how this company pulled off especially after that debacle of the Samsung Note 7. Great optics, IP68, Stylus and most importantly, less forked android made this a winner. Samsung Pay was great for the company this year. Probably, the 3rd most thing I used on the Samsung phone after camera and screen.

Out of all the devices I tried this year, one device that caught my attention was the MiA1 from Xiaomi. This device was so totally off the Xiaomi strategy. With Mi A1, the company offered stock android along with their nifty add-ons to make this device a worthy re-entry to the Android One segment in the country. Well, as much as I wanted the stock android experience, using it on a Xiaomi device felt totally different. MIUI has been the most important component to Mi Phones that makes it stand out from its competition regardless of the segments the devices belong. Sometimes this also made me wonder if Xiaomi is a software company or a hardware one. The MiA1 had Great Optics and was a good all around performer in the segment.

Introducing Mi Mix 2 in India was a brave attempt from Xiaomi India. I honestly wished they do well in this segment because that would open up more opportunities for the company to introduce flagships in India close to the global launch dates. Further, it also opens up the segment for them.

While the Redmi phones were the clear winners in the budget segment, it was nice to see brands like 10.or (Brand name owned by Amazon) and Comio play in the segment with interesting devices up their sleeve. While 10.or brought in stock feel android phones in this segment, Comio was pretty aggressive with their focused marketing. Hope we will see more in the coming days from them.

It was Impressive to see Huawei India introduce some great models this year. The Honor brand phones were aggressive and one has to appreciate their strategies to bring devices quick to India. They were audible all through the year and brave in pitching through various channels. Probably only brand that leveraged not just tech bloggers to reach more people. I really wished we saw the Huawei P10 or the Mate series in India. Leica is love.

The LG V30 is a great phone. The DAC on the phone is worth a mention.Wonder why it doesn’t get a worthy mention whenever someone wants to recommend a flagship to friend or foe; maybe, its because of the software and lack of its optimisation. Also, the price game that LG plays every time – Launch at a price, reduce it in a week, reduce it even further in few weeks.. the cycle just goes on.

Well, OnePlus was the winner in affordable tech. Not once, but twice this year. Both the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T were brilliant phones. Great optics, good screen and decent software. They have almost become a brand everyone recommends. Flagship Killer? well may not be. I don’t think, even they claim that title anymore. So lets spare this topic going forward. The OnePlus5T was probably my Best All around phone in India. I’m still amazed at how blazing fast the Face Unlock worked. Of-course, worth mentioning that it is a convenience feature and not a security one.

Summing up, this was just my experience with these devices and I hope, we see even better smartphones coming up next year. Till then, wish you a very happy new year. Do let me know your thoughts and comments.

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Product Reviews Smartphones

HTC 10 Review: Great Design Let Down by a Mediocre Display

We reviewed the all new HTC 10, the company’s 2016 flagship which is currently available in India for a price of 52,990 INR. HTC 10 competes with other flagships like Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, Xiaomi Mi5 & OnePlus 3 which feature the mighty Snapdragon 820 processor.  Without further ado, let us get in to the HTC 10 review in detail.

The HTC 10 is powered by the latest 64-bit Snapdragon 820 quad core processor clocked at 2.2 GHz and comes with 32/64 GB inbuilt storage depending upon the variant with additional microSD support up to 2TB and 4GB of RAM. Additional features include Quick Charge 3.0 through the Type-C port which supports USB 3.1 standards with a battery capacity of 3000mAh.

Hardware, Look and Feel:

The HTC 10 is a 5.2” 4G LTE Nano-SIM device with a Curve Edge Display at the front which blends seamlessly to the metal unibody. The Design is exquisite. The highlight of the device is the bold chamfered contour on the back that runs around the edges.

Users familiar with the Mi5 will find the phone very similar in terms of in-hand feel attributed by the 5.2” form factor. However unlike the Mi5, the back has a gentle arch resulting in a slightly thicker body of 9mm and little heavy at 161 grams.

HTC 10 Review

The phone is well-built and actually sturdy enough to withstand everyday bumps and knocks. Full marks to HTC for the impeccable construction quality and attention to details. The phone is designed to last. We were thoroughly impressed by the quality of buttons too.

HTC gets full credit for focusing on minute details like going with metal buttons and especially the textured finish for the power button to distinguish it from the volume keys. Other fine touches include a fast fingerprint sensor with a matte finish touch sensitive key. We liked the idea of HTC not going with a physical button here.

HTC-10-Finger-print-sensor

During our review, we stumbled upon an online drop test video where the HTC 10 is pitted against the Samsung Galaxy S7. The HTC 10’s screen is operable and survives 32 continuous drop tests before giving up. On the contrary, the Samsung Galaxy S7’s screen freezes in the first test. Although both screens shatter and develop spider webs in the first round itself, it’s clear that the HTC is the ultimate fighter here. The HTC 10 also currently tops the list in the bend test for being non-bendable. Of course we have Samsung’s Galaxy S7 in the league as well.

The trademark HTC boom sound speakers that went missing in the HTC one A9 mark their return in the HTC 10 but in a different avatar this time. The front facing stereo speakers from the recent HTC One M9 are not available anymore and HTC calls the new audio setup as Boom Sound Hi-fi edition.

So, we have a front facing speaker (tweeter) at the top for the highs and a bottom-firing speaker (woofer) for the lows. Even though the new speaker setup is definitely better than the ones from other flagships, we cannot deny the fact that the original boom-sound front facing stereo speakers sounded better.

Unlike speakers from other phones like the mi5 and Galaxy S7, the HTC 10’s speaker audio does not get muffled while blocking either of the speakers, which is good. To enhance the audio experience further, we have a music/theatre mode audio profile available. We liked the theatre mode which sounded better while watching videos.

Display:

The HTC 10 sports a Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) Curved Edge LCD Display protected by Corning® Gorilla® Glass with an impressive 564 PPI pixel density and offers a maximum brightness of 372 nits.

Display is vivid and images are sharp. The display is however a big letdown when it comes to outdoor visibility. The screen is barely visible in bright daylight conditions. To compare, the LG G5 offers a maximum brightness of 800 nits and the mi5 with around 600 nits of brightness. Our current favourites in terms of display under direct sunlight are the mi5 and the OnePlus 3.

Other software features include display options to specify custom color temperature.

Camera:

One of the highlights of the HTC 10’s camera is that it features OIS in both front and the rear camera.

The Rear camera is a 12MP (1.55μm pixel) BSI sensor with laser Autofocus and f/1.8 aperture with OIS and supported by a dual tone LED flash. There is Pro mode for manual control and 12 bit RAW file support as well.

HTC-10-back-rear-design

Other camera features include Face Detection, Auto-HDR, Panorama, Zoe capture and Video Pic for photos. Video options include Hyperlapse, Slo-mo and 4K Recording with stereo 24-bit Hi-Res audio support. Gesture support for camera includes a double swipe up gesture for launching the interface.

The camera performs pretty well in most of the lighting conditions. Colors are natural and aren’t over saturated. Auto exposure adjustments and light metering could’ve been better though.

The Front camera is a 5MP shooter with 1.34μm pixels and f/1.8 aperture that does a great job while taking selfies. There is screen flash available for those night time or low-light selfies. Selfie shots can be triggered using smile, voice etc.

There is Live-makeup support but results are not so great. Front camera supports Full HD 1080p video recording with OIS which comes handy for vloggers.

Have a look at some of the pictures clicked using the HTC 10.

Software, User Experience:

The HTC 10 runs Android™ 6 Marshmallow with HTC Sense on top which offers a near stock android experience.  HTC tied up with google and reduced duplicate apps and bloat ware by choosing the best from Google and HTC. HTC has already announced that the HTC 10 will receive the Android Nougat update.

Gone are the black bars at the bottom of the screen and the on-screen keys should now provide more screen real estate for apps.

HTC 10 Review

In addition to the built-in 32 GB of storage, the HTC 10 offers support for Android’s Flex Storage through micro SD card. This is the only flagship in the market at this moment which supports this feature.

Audio:

The HTC 10 offers an incredible high resolution audio experience through headphones, driven by a 24-bit DAC built into the device. The Personal Audio Profile feature measures individual hearing abilities and dynamically adjusts specific sound frequencies to each of your ears thereby offering an enjoyable music experience which we loved every bit of it. I tried listening to hi-res music on an Audio-Technica ATH M50x and I was blown away by the quality.

There is built-in theme support for personalising your phone. In addition to classic themes, there is a new Freestyle Layout that frees you from an on-screen grid and lets you drag icons, stickers and widgets anywhere. You can link these stickers to apps, and get rid of on-screen icons entirely.

Theme store offers access to thousands of professional looking themes, each with its own icons, background, sounds and more. The only downside we see with the themes app is the need for an active internet connection for applying offline themes.

On the software front, HTC 10 features a Boost+ app for power & system management. Boost+ regularly cleans up accumulated junk files, makes switching between apps smoother and maximizes battery life by reducing the power usage of background apps. It can even give games a performance boost by lowering the screen resolution to FULL HD during gameplay resulting in less battery usage.

Powered by the Snapdragon 820 processor, the phone is incredibly fast while opening apps, unlocking the device and watching videos. Thanks to the Adreno 530 GPU, gaming performance on the HTC 10 is great and there are no issues like frame drops or lag during game play.

Gesture support include Double-tap to wake/sleep, Quite ring on pick up, pocket mode, flip to mute etc.

Connectivity options include NFC, DLNA, Miracast, Chromecast. HTC is currently one of the fewer Android phones to support AirPlay out of the box. We sorely miss the IR Blaster from the older HTC flagships.

Call quality is really good. With the Quick Charging 3.0 rapid charger, the 3000 mAh battery on the phone charges up to 50% in just 30 minutes and gets fully charged in 1.5 hours without much heating issues.

To help better battery life, the HTC 10 includes a Power saving mode and an Extreme power saving mode for extending the last drop of juice from the battery.

Pros and Cons, Value for Money:

Great design, styling & performance are the positives for the HTC10. The phone offers close to Stock-Android User Experience for simplicity. Battery life and Camera are worthy mentions too.

The device is slightly expensive in some of the regions.  The display lacks adequate brightness when compared to the competition. It doesn’t matter indoors; however, when you step outside on a bright day, the visibility gets difficult. The Auto-exposure adjustments on the camera could’ve been better.

Summing up, the HTC 10 is meant for hard core HTC fans and audiophiles who warrant exclusivity and do not mind spending the extra buck for a great experience. The HTC is currently available in India in Carbon Grey and Glacial Silver colours.

Thanks for reading. Do let us know your thoughts and questions.