Monday May 5, 2014 2:44 pm
HTC One (M8) review: The best Android phone gets even better
Last year, HTC impressed us with the release of the original HTC One, a phone that featured what we believed to be the best build quality of any Android smartphone. This year, the HTC One (M8) takes its place as the flagship handset from HTC.
On the surface, the HTC One (M8) improves upon the original in a multitude of ways. Faster internals. Dual-lens UltraPixel camera. Larger display. Improved industrial design. The question is, though, does the final product add up to being another that can stand above the crowded Android line-up? We've put the device through its paces, and we are here to answer all of those questions here in our full HTC One (M8) review.
HTC ONE (M8) UNBOXING VIDEO
In The Box:
- One (M8)
- USB Cable
- Start Guide
After a year with the HTC One (M7), we expected HTC to take things to the next level with the M8, and as soon as you hold the phone in your hand, it's apparent that it was successful in surpassing its previous effort. The aluminum unibody enclosure on the HTC One (M8) takes up 90% of the surface area, up from 70% on the M7.
The brushed gunmetal finish on our device curves up the sides, meeting the 5-inch display at the front. The previous model had the front and rear separated by a plastic strip that ran along the edge of the device in order to allow the phone signal through. Strategic moving of the antenna has allowed the improvement on the new model.
The M8 comes in at 5.6 ounces, just over a half-an-ounce heavier than the M7. Obviously, some of that is due to the larger Super LCD 3 display. The top and bottom or the face once again feature the HTC BoomSound speakers, and the button touch panel is now gone, replaced by on-screen functionality. The front facing camera now takes 5-megapixel ultra wide images, which is a vast improvement.
On back you've got the Duo Camera, which is comprised of the 4 UltraPixel (4-megapixel that lets a lot more light in) camera with second camera lens above it that capture the depth information for images. A dual LED flash replaces the single LED flash found on the predecessor.
On the sides of the device you'll find the power button on top, volume rocker and nano SIM card slot on the right, microSD card slot on the left (another new addition,) and the microUSB and AUX ports at the bottom.
Inside the HTC One (M8) you'll find top-of-the-line hardware, including the new quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB of storage space (or 32GB if you pay for the higher-capacity model,) and space for a microSD card to add up to 128GB storage.
As far as radios go, you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi (which also supports 802.11a/b/g/n,) Bluetooth LE, LTE, and GPS.
All together, the combination of the external appearance and internal hardware makes for one of the best-looking phones on the market, and also, one of the fastest.
Out of the box, the HTC One (M8) rocks Android 4.4.2. For those keeping track, that is the latest public version available, known as KitKat. Running on top of Android is the latest version of HTC's user interface, Sense 6 (or, as HTC likes to call it, 6th Sense.)
While I'm not the biggest proponent of the skins that the different Android manufacturers put on their phones, I do think that HTC's Sense 6 does a much better job at providing access to real functionality than Samsung's TouchWiz interface. BlinkFeed, a feature of Sense 6, is reimagined from last year, refined to allow you to show as much, or as little, activity from your social networks, news sources, and topics you care about at a glance.
The skin is also customizable with different color themes that change the way BlinkFeed, the media player, and other design elements look.
Some areas of concern are places like Gallery, which is just slow, even though the phone has the new, speedy Snapdragon 801 processor in it. You won't notice the slowness until you've got a good bunch of images on your phone or microSD card, but it's there. You also lose the Dropbox viewer integration in Gallery that was on last years model.
We also wonder why HTC hasn't integrated the always-on microphone for Google Now that's found on competing Android phones like the Moto X and Nexus 5. With the HTC One (M8) all of that is done with touchscreen taps and swipes rather than on-command by voice.
HTC ONE (M8) vs. HTC ONE (M7) COMPARISON VIDEO
Sure, voice commands aren't there at all times, but to make using the phone more intuitive, HTC has built in gesture support for the One (M8). For example, if you want to quickly get to the camera app, take the phone out, turn it sideways, and press the volume button to launch right into the camera. Another example would be when the phone rings, you can just lift it to your ear to answer it. These are cool features, but the thing with hardware gestures is that you need to know all of them so that you know when to use them, and also when you are accidentally doing something that you didn't mean to do by moving the phone around.
Let talk about the HTC One (M8) Duo Camera. HTC brand this as an UltraPixel camera, their own word that means that the pixels are larger, thus allowing much more light to be captured. It's only a 4-megapixel camera, and yet, it's one of the best you'll find on an Android device. The one issue is that, since the images aren't super high resolution, zooming will make much more obvious imperfections. Compared to the (M7) from last year, the camera performs much better in bright conditions. It's also faster, focusing and capturing snaps in 0.3-seconds, similar to the Galaxy S5.
One way that the camera actually got worse is that it no longer includes optical image stabilization. The One (M7) had it, and it was great, and the (M8) doesn't, and that means you'll be finding more blurry images in your gallery as a result. Be sure you keep the (M8) still when capturing those precious moments.
As for the secondary lens, this one is there to grab all the depth information for the photo, which then lets the One (M8) know which portions are in the background and which are in the foreground. With that, you can add DSLR-like bokeh effects, letting you blur and focus different portions of the image, and it works quite well. You can also apply photo filters in the background of an image, as well as parallax effects with the help of the depth information. Fun ways to play with your images for sure, though some may find this type of thing gimmicky.
HTC copied Apple's iPhone 5s True Tone Flash on the One (M8), incorporating a dual-LED flash, one white and one amber colored. This helps with keeping skin tones and colors accurate despite using flash, and it performs as expected--better than just using white LEDs, but not good enough that you'll want to keep it on at all times.
Moving on to the front-facing camera, you get the 5-megapixel wide-angle shooter, and it's pretty great. Definitely gives you the room to take multi-person selfie shots without everyone having to squeeze in. Also, most front cameras are a lower resolution, so the HTC One (M8) has a leg up on the competition there.
This is one area that most people seem to care less and less about these days, as smartphones become more and more about data and less about phone conversations. That said, on Verizon Wireless the HTC One (M8) sounded great when being used for phone calls. Conversations were clear, and the BoomSound speakers didn't degrade anything either.
Gallery: HTC One (M8)
The HTC One (M8) boasts a 2,600mAh battery, and it performs fantastically. We were able to get over 7 hours of performance from a single full charge, beating out the other Android smartphones we tried, and getting almost two hours more per charge than last years HTC One. A dedicated power saving mode is still coming, which HTC says will allow an HTC One (M8) at 5% battery to last for 15 hours, allowing only for phone calls, text messages, and manual email checking, while keeping everything else shut off.
If you're on the lookout for an Android phone to pick up right now, the HTC One (M8) is it. What you get in return for your money is what we consider to be the best-looking smartphone hardware available right now, with powerful internal hardware that will make most everything fly. Storage is easily expandable with an inexpensive microSD card, the display is large, and the BoomSound speakers are unique. Battery life is nothing to shake a stick at, either, as it is the cream of the crop in 5-inch smartphones.
The only area that isn't absolutely excellent would be the rear camera, but it's still passable in most situations, and the front camera more than makes up for it if you're more of a selfie type. It's a trade in functionality I'd make any day in exchange for the top-notch design and hardware that's married to the greatly-improved HTC Sense 6 software. This is the phone to beat in 2014.
You can pick up your own HTC One M8 right now from these various retailers:
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