Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the whole Samsung vs. Apple thing and forget about HTC. But this year you'll do so at your own peril, because the company's 2016 flagship looks like an absolute beast. Based on our first impressions, the HTC 10 has a chance to join with the firm's Vive VR headset as one of the best one-two punches in recent consumer tech history. This is a serious contender for best smartphone of the year.

Late last year HTC's mid-ranged One A9 showed the first sign that the Taiwanese company was ready to let go of the three-generation basic design of the HTC One lineup (ye of front-facing speaker grilles). But the A9 also looked a little too much like an iPhone, making us wonder, a little worriedly, just what design path HTC would be taking after that.

After seeing the HTC 10, those concerns are no more relevant than Donald Trump at a climate change summit. The phone perfectly marries the iconic look of the classic One line with the best, least iPhone-like, features of the A9 (like fingerprint sensor and cleaner front face). The 10 is a simply stunning smartphone – simultaneously familiar and new.

It still has that beautiful all-metal design: from the back, it looks like the next logical successor to the One M7, M8 and M9. The big difference is its chamfered edge that wraps around the edges, angled so light dances off of it playfully, as you admire this chiseled beauty resting in your palm.

HTC has been designing some of the best-looking mobile devices since 2013, but in the last two years it was guilty of being too iterative of its past successes. The 10 finally breaks that mold, while maintaining consistency with the established brand – a difficult balancing act that HTC is now toeing brilliantly.

It's too early to go into much depth on the phone's camera and other features, but let us give you a quick impressions run-down of what's shaping up to be quite possibly our favorite phone of 2016:

  • The HTC 10's HiFi audio sounded incredible on a pair of active noise-cancelling earbuds we listened to in the hands-on area; noticeably fuller and more nuanced and powerful than the sound from the Galaxy S7 edge I've been using lately.
  • The 10 uses Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, and should juice up a bit quicker than the S7, which Samsung (oddly) left on the older QC 2.0.
  • It has a microSD card slot and, unlike the S7, supports Marshmallow's Adoptable Storage feature, which lets you format external storage for the OS to use as extra internal storage (i.e. pop in a 200 GB microSD and you effectively have a 232 GB smartphone – take that, Apple, with the cruel 16 GB drivel you're asking your entry-level customers to work with).
  • With the same chip (Snapdragon 820) and RAM (4 GB) as the S7, the HTC 10 looked like an incredibly fast phone in our demo.
  • It's hard to get a clear impression of the quality of its camera quality in a demo area, but we can say we're liking what we see so far there (stay tuned).
  • HTC's custom UI is less obvious than ever – and that's a good thing. At one point I had to remind myself this wasn't a Nexus device. And the custom tweaks that are there look genuinely cool.

We'll have a full review before long, so be sure to check back. From where we stand now, though, it's clear that ignoring this phone will be your loss. HTC just started shipping the best VR headset money can buy; next month it may very well start shipping the best smartphone.

The HTC 10 is available to pre-order now, starting at US$700 for 32 GB (expandable) storage. Its starts shipping in May.

Product page: HTC

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