For a while there, it looked like the HTC vs. Samsung smartphone rivalry had been snuffed out, after HTC's disappointing 2015 flagship fell short of being a true threat to Samsung's envelope-pushing Galaxy S6. This year is a different story, though, as the companies have the two top Smartphone of the Year candidates (so far). Read on for our hands-on comparison of the HTC 10 vs. Samsung Galaxy S7 – which also includes the larger Galaxy S7 edge.

Even after having the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge in house for nearly three months and the HTC 10 for about two months, we're hard-pressed to find any major criticisms for any of these phenomenal phones. As always, there are minor differences that could nudge you in one direction or another, but these three gorgeous slabs of premium goodness are as close as you'll get to flawless right now.

If you put a gun to my head and made me pick one right now, I'd probably go with the HTC 10 – but only by a hair. It has a rare restraint to it – resisting the urge to rely on gimmicks, instead putting its chips in the refined quality from head to toe pot, trusting in quality without shortcuts. The HTC 10 also has the wild card of hi-fi audio support, with a built-in amplifier and 24-bit DAC (digital-analog converter) that pump amazing sound into connected headphones.

Listening to lossless Tidal (1,411 kbps) and compressed Pandora or Spotify streams (320 kbps) using Sennheiser's Momentum 2.0 Wireless headphones (connected via wire), the HTC 10's output sounds richer, warmer and more fulfilling to my ears than the S7's. The differences are much subtler when you go into wireless mode, where the DAC is no longer part of the equation, but we'd still give the slight edge there to HTC (and it's more noticeable on Tidal lossless tracks).

On the other hand, the Galaxy phones have a few wild cards of their own. You can sit in a pool, bathtub or jacuzzi and use the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge without any problems. You can't do that with the HTC 10 (or iPhones ... or many other phones, for that matter). There's also wireless charging, something HTC skipped on its 2016 flagship.

If you're eyeing the burgeoning virtual reality landscape and want to get your feet wet with mobile VR, then the Galaxy phones have another ace up their sleeve with the Samsung/Oculus Gear VR (above).

It's a little harder to get excited about the Gear now that the high-end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are here, but the Gear is still far and away the best smartphone-based headset. You can pop either the S7 or S7 edge into the $99 headset and get an instant – pretty damn good – VR experience.

HTC does happen to make the best VR headset money can buy, but it has nothing to do with the company's latest smartphone (it's a PC-based setup). And we don't yet know if the HTC 10 will eventually support Google's upcoming Daydream platform.

The design winner is going to depend on whether you prefer the HTC 10's all-metal build or the Galaxy S7's metal/glass construction. In both cases you get a premium, drop-dead gorgeous handset that will feel terrific in hand – no chintzy plastic in sight. These may well be the two best-looking phones around (though the latest iPhones and Nexus 6P are also in the mix).

In terms of size, the HTC 10 falls between the two Galaxies. And as far as weight goes, the Galaxy S7 comes out 6 percent lighter than the HTC 10, while the S7 edge manages to tip the scales at 2.5 percent lighter than HTC's phone, despite being bigger.

All three screens look amazing. HTC finally shifted its flagship's screen to QHD resolution this year, matching Samsung's standard since late 2014. The Galaxy does use AMOLED vs. the HTC 10's IPS – but we don't see that as creating a quality discrepancy one way or the other. The Galaxies lean more towards rich, eye-popping color, while the HTC 10's color range looks a hair more muted and realistic.

The AMOLED panels let the Samsung phones have an always-on display, a handy feature for looking at the time, date and number of messages without waking your phone.

If you're looking for the biggest, most immersive display, then the 5.5-inch S7 edge comes out on top in this threesome. Based on area, it gives you 12 percent more real estate than the 5.2-inch HTC 10 and a 16 percent bigger screen than the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7.

All flagships today, though, have spacious screens (well, unless you count the iPhone SE), so this should be more about finding your sweet spot than snatching the biggest phone on the shelf.

The S7 edge also has Samsung's trademark dual-curved display that slopes off on either side.

This makes the phone look absolutely stunning, but we think it's a bit silly to pretend this is a practical advantage. Don't buy a Galaxy Edge phone because you can swipe over from the edge to launch apps or call contacts (there's no reason Samsung couldn't have put that same shortcut on flat-screen phones). If you're going to buy it, do so because of cosmetics, not questionably useful gimmicks.

Both phones have excellent cameras, in both well-lit and poorly-lit settings. Here are a few unedited samples, running the gamut from bright outdoors to almost completely unlit (the Samsung samples were taken with the S7 edge, but the standard S7 has the same camera):

On the whole, the S7 tends to punch highlights and color saturation a bit harder, while the HTC 10's presentation is a bit subtler (that could also be a metaphor for the phones on the whole). In some settings, like the first outdoor one with the plastic owl, Samsung's shot grabs the scene and gives it an extra punch that the 10 doesn't reach. In other setups, though, like the medium- and poorly-lit coffee mug shots, the HTC 10 captures the scene more accurately, while the Galaxy's colors look a little overly-saturated.

Either way, there's very little to nitpick about with either camera.

Battery life is solid both ways, but the Galaxy S7 pair came out ahead in our battery benchmark. Streaming video with display brightness set at the same level (measured by a lux meter, not the phone's brightness settings), both Galaxy phones dropped just 9 percent per hour. The HTC 10 lost 11 percent per hour. That isn't a huge difference – and we didn't notice much of a discrepancy in regular use either – but the benchmark edge does go to Samsung.

Both support quick-charging tech (still one of Android's biggest advantages over iPhones). Only the Samsung phones have built-in wireless charging.

Comparing flagship smartphones in 2016 is a strange process. It used to be that phones took huge leaps forward every year, as the smartphone was still a maturing product. One year their screens could go from fuzzy to razor-sharp, performance could go from laggy to smooth as butter, and camera results could go from slow and fuzzy to sharp and smooth. Sometimes one brand of phone would bring a particularly innovative new advance, while another might be weaker there but stronger in other areas. It was exciting times to review these young but rapidly maturing devices.

Today phones are much better – more complete – than they were then. But without that rapid forward movement, comparisons like this end up being a bit less ... thrilling than they once were.

Both the Samsung Galaxy S7 (and edge) and HTC 10 are amazing phones. As we said at the top, we've spent months with all three and have trouble coming up with a single major criticism for any of them. That leaves you with a tough decision – near perfection vs. near perfection.

If you own a quality pair of headphones, and squeezing the most audio out of them on the go is important to you, then go with the HTC 10. If you prefer a restrained phone that feels greater than the sum of its parts, the HTC 10 may also be your bag. Go with one of the S7 phones if you crave water resistance, an always-on screen, mobile VR or wireless charging. And if you want the biggest screen in the bunch (or if you're smitten with those sexy curves) go with the S7 edge.

Either way, you're getting one of the three best phones from the first half of 2016.

If you still need help deciding, you can hit up our individual reviews of the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7 pair.

View gallery - 23 images