In the past, there’s been a set formula for developing a flagship Android phone. Grab all the latest hardware components you can get your hands on, cram them into a body that’s somewhat attractive, sprinkle on some customizations over the latest Android treat and call it a day. But HTC decided to change things up a little with the HTC One (M8). The phone still has an amazing spec sheet and the obligatory software tweaks, but HTC has spent a lot of time fine-tuning the hardware and software experience to deliver the best Android smartphone the world has ever seen.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been Piecing Together the HTC One (M8) Review. We’ve explored the phone’s design, hardware, performance, camera, accessories and battery life to give you an up-close look at how the phone performs. We did run into a few issues, which HTC will probably address in a future device, but you’ll need to forgive us if the HTC One (M8) brings smiles to our faces.
Design: dem curves
The designers at HTC had a hit on their hands with the M7. Opting not to break from that mold this year was a wise decision. The changes they did make were for the most part in response to some of the limited criticisms that existed regarding the M7. The hard edges of the M7 are softened into gentle curves on the One (M8), resulting in a phone that is more pleasant to hold. The finish on the One (M8), particularly the Gunmetal Gray version, looks fantastic and is a clear departure from any of the competition. Even if you removed the logo, the One (M8) couldn’t be mistaken for another phone–a far cry from the sea of black slabs of a couple years ago.
My two complaints about the One (M8) design are that it is too tall and the power button placement is terrible. The height of the phone is at least partially due to the BoomSound speakers that you can pry from my cold dead fingers. But if they had traded a bit of height for width in the One (M8) design that would have been preferable in my mind. And the power button issue is made tolerable by the new wake gestures.
The Duo Camera on the back of the HTC One (M8) is comprised of two sensors – a 4.1 megapixel (UltraPixel) main sensor and a 2 megapixel depth sensor. That’s right, the secondary camera on the back of the new HTC One isn’t really used for much besides recording how far different objects are from the camera. The information captured from the depth sensor can then be used to apply a handful of effects to your pictures that involve blurring the background.
While most of the software features tied to the Duo Camera are gimmicky at best, UFocus does have a certain appeal. The bokeh effect can look really good, but only if the image if framed just right. The 5 megapixel front-facing “Selfie” camera on the HTC One (M8) is the best we’ve ever used. Pairing the large sensor with a 88-degree wide angle lens produces selfies that are actually worth sharing with your friends.
Is the Duo Camera on the HTC One (M8) perfect? Not one bit. But neither is that $1,200 DLSR that you were checking out last week. Each camera has pros and cons that you learn to live with. Having an inferior camera may actually force you to become a better photographer. It all comes down to what you’re looking for. Do you need a phone that captures pixel perfect images, or a phone with a camera experience that allows you to capture sharable moments?
Performance & specs: moar power!
This one is simple. The HTC One (M8) will handle any app you throw at it for the next year or so without breaking a sweat.
Software: common Sense
The true essence of a phone isn’t revealed in the subtle curves of its aluminum unibody design. You find it in its software. In how the phone interacts with you. Overall, we came away quite impressed with HTC Sense 6′s new look and functionality. Features like BlinkFeed and the outrageously bright colors throughout the UI can be off-putting, but they tend to grow on you once you spend some quality time with the device. Some seem to think that in a perfect world, HTC Sense would not exist. If that’s your stance, we’d encourage you to take a look at the Google Play edition HTC One (M8). Sense 6 still isn’t perfect, but we’d definitely recommend the HTC One (M8) with HTC’s full software experience if you want to take advantage of every last feature the phone has to offer.
Accessories: add-on gizmos
The Smart Sensor Hub is really the star here, and FitBit is the first 3rd party to take advantage of it. While ultimately I felt that using the FitBit app natively on the One (M8) just made me crave the more rich and accurate data available by using the FitBit Flex, I can imagine for many users it’ll be enough. You’ll notice if you’ve had a sedentary day with the app alone and that is really the point after all.
When it comes to the HTC one (M8) Dot View case, we’re a bit torn. The dot matrix information that displays on the case is as cool as a flip case can get, and the way you can interact with the device without flipping the case open is pure genius. But the design issues with the Dot View case make it harder to hold the HTC One (M8) in one hand while using it. If you’re willing to live with a few tradeoffs, we’re sure you will be delighted with the Dot View case. We can guarantee your friends will be astonished the first few times they see it in action. Just be sure to pick a color that’s more exciting than the gray model we were given.
Battery: c'mon, die already!
HTC has equipped the HTC One (M8) with a battery that gives enough power that you can go through a full day without ever worrying about finding the nearest outlet. Yes, the 2,600 mAh battery may last you less than 10 hours if you’re constantly watching YouTube clips or trying to beat The Walking Dead in a single session, but that’s pretty much par for the course.
On our highest use day, we managed to kill the HTC One (M8) in just under 12 hours. But that’s the worst case scenario. Over the past 16 days, we’ve managed to use the phone 12 full days (from the time we woke up until the time we went to sleep) without worrying about the phone’s battery charge. On most days, the battery still had 15-20% charge. We also spent a few days to see just how long we could extend the life of the phone by not playing any games, capturing pictures of watching video. We finally plugged the HTC One (M8) into its charger after 39 hours. the remaining 3% charge could have gotten up to the 40 hour mark, but the One (M8) had already proven its point.
Call and audio quality: boom, boom, boom
Let’s not forget that the HTC One (M8) is still a phone. That’s right, you can make phone call with this thing too (who knew)! Over the past two weeks, we have had zero issues with reception or call quality. Audio during calls comes through clear and crisp. People on the other line have always been extremely impressed with the noise cancellation even when we’re calling while walking down a busy street in the middle of rush hour.
And then there’s BoomSound. The front-facing speakers on the HTC One (M8) may look the same as what we saw last year on the HTC One (M7), but don’t be fooled by appearances. HTC has equipped the One (M8) with new speakers, larger audio chambers and upgraded amplifiers resulting in a 25% increase in volume. If you thought BoomSound on last year’s HTC One was good, you’ll melt when you hear the front-facing stereo BoomSound speakers on the HTC One (M8) in action.
With the similarity in appearance to the original One people might be inclined to suggest that HTC was playing it safe with the One (M8). But after a couple weeks with the phone, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Despite a couple quibbles, this design taken as a whole is perhaps the best we have seen.
Where the original One let down in a few areas once you got past the beautiful exterior, the One (M8) is nearly the equal of that design once you start using the device. The performance is virtually unmatched at the moment and yet the battery life is excellent. Sense is better than ever, but remains an acquired taste or at least a flavor that is not for everyone. For those people the Google Play Edition thankfully exists.
The camera is one area that could prove a misstep with the One (M8). While we still found it excellent for most normal use, it feels like the resources put into the Duo Camera could have been better spent elsewhere.
We’ve been over this ground before, but HTC has created an excellent option with the One (M8) that we feel most users would thoroughly enjoy.
We’ll just have to wait and see if this time around the sales figures can match its accolades.