htc one m8  04The best HTC smartphone ever just got a successor. The all new HTC One (aka HTC One M8) has been officially, and it will replace the HTC One M7 which came out just a year ago. There were quite a few leaks ahead of this launch, and many of them were spot on, but when I saw the HTC One M8 for myself, I though that none of the leaked photos did justice to the actual design and build quality of this handset. Now that it is out, you may want to check it out for yourself because if you thought that the original HTC One shined with its industrial design, the M8 takes it to the next level. Let’s take a closer look.

Update: we have published out complete review of the HTC One M8, which contains more information than this post. If you still want to read our initial impressions, read on, but if you want to full-blown review, follow the link above.

Specifications

  • 5” screen (vs 4.7”) 1080p
  • Snapdragon 801 processor 2.3GHz (2.9GHz in some parts of Asia).
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16/32GB of internal storage + microSD slot (128GB max)
  • Android 4.4.2
  • LTE support depending on the region
  • WiFi up to AC (2.5GHz/5.0GHz)
  • 2600 mAh battery
  • nano-SIM (I’ve also heard of a dual nano-SIM option…)

Industrial Design

It undeniable that those who loved the original HTC One did it because it was well built, with “noble” materials such as aluminum. With 75% of metal, the HTC One M7 was one of the most praised phone design. It looks like HTC pushed things much further since the HTC One M8 housing is 95% metal.

Now, the aluminum goes all around the sides of the phone, making it feel great in the hand. Despite the larger width and height required to accommodate the 5” screen (up from 4.7”), the size difference isn’t immediately obvious or shocking, thanks to the smooth curves of this new design. The new brushed metal finish is much smoother than before, and it almost feels like highly polished steel, since it does not have the classic aspect of brushed aluminum.

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As you can see in the photo above, the all new HTC One will come in Glacial Silver and Amber Gold in addition to Gun Metal Gray. I like the Gun Metal, but if you prefer the classic silver color, it’s available, and I can think of a few countries where the Gold version will be popular. HTC has made sure that there’s something for everyone.

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Boomsound, the dual front-speaker setup of the handset gets a new amplifier (for a better sound clarity). HTC has increased the internal volume of the speaker to provide more “depth” in the sound. I have listened to it at “max volume” and the sound was loud, clear and without any saturation. HTC continues to invest and highlight its loudspeaker because it believes that this is one of the easiest feature to understand.

Camera

UltraPixel Camera

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HTC is pursuing and improving the same camera strategy initiated by the HTC One: keep the Megapixels low (4 MP) and focus on low-light photography, image quality and ease of use, thanks to UltraPixel. The idea is to have less, but bigger pixels on the light sensor. HTC says that it can gather 300% more light than its competitors. In the past we have seen that this can be an advantage in low-light, but nature scenes with a lot of details were not as detailed as higher Megapixel cameras.

HTC has updated the camera sensor and even added a 2 Megapixel Depth Sensor (the module at the top. More on that shortly). This year, HTC has worked on the photo quality, notably with improvements in the metering etc. Both the sensor and the image processor have been updated and it looks like HTC is using one of Sony’s newer EXMOR sensor in this handset.

The new Camera app user interface (UI) has a new mode in which nearly every important setting (Shutter speed, ISO) is only 2 taps away. This is great for those who want to get the most of the camera hardware in the most demanding situations. Even better: it’s possible to save the manual settings as groups with a clear name. There are no limits in the number of custom settings that can be saved as it is only limited by the local storage of the phone.

When using the camera in a regular (simple) mode there is almost no UI, and the singe shutter button does all the work. A short press takes a photo while a long press could take a video. To make things cleaner, users can now pause a video recording so that several clips remain in a single video file instead of being split into many files.

The 5 Megapixel Front camera: gets a 88 degrees view angle, which can be used to capture a selfie with 4 people.

Depth sensor (secondary camera module)

"THE RESULTS ARE EXCELLENT - THE BEST OF THEIR KIND"   The secondary module at the top is also a camera, but it is there to measure the depth (depth is actually measured with two shots main camera + depth module, thanks to the slight separation). With the full-size photo and the additional depth information, HTC is able to blur parts of the photo at will. Since the Camera app can estimate the distance between the camera and the point selected by the user, it can effectively create a circle of confusion and estimate what should be in or out of focus.

From what I have seen, the results are excellent, the best of their kind actually – but keep in mind that this can’t completely reproduce a bokeh (very blurry background) from a 50mm f1.8 DSLR lens, but in a smartphone this is pretty much as good as it gets with you want this type of photos.

Having a dedicated camera module gives HTC a definite advantage for post-processing blur, because: 1/ the HTC One does not need to take 2 photos one after another, so there is no problem with subjects that are in motion. 2/ the separation between the main camera and the main sensor is much larger and it is stable, which is much better than taking two photos and relying on some tiny movement between the two.

Software

HTC Sense 6

Since this version of HTC Sense (HTC’s proprietary user interface) lends itself very for a “6th sense” parallel, the HTC has decided to add and promote features that “anticipate” the user needs. It also comes with some design changes, the most obvious of which is in the new Blinkfeed user interface. Blinkfeed started out as a news reader for HTC, but has grown to be much more than this in Sense 6.

Blinkfeed items are now categorized by colors and users can navigate using a free flowing (infinite scroll) design. As it detects popular/trending news articles, it will automatically fetch and bundle tweets and other side content to anticipate the user curiosity for this topic.

Many apps, including Foursquare have been integrated into Blinkfeed to provide contextual information tto facilitate the discovery of new or nearby places, among other things. HTC has an SDK to open this feature to 3rd party developers.

With this new capability, Blinkfeed can function a little bit like a more open and more private version of Google Now – minus the search. It is really interesting how Blinkfeed went from being a news reader to become a contextual information HUB for HTC smartphones. Given that many users spend quite a bit of time looking at it, there is a potential for improving the experience there.

Android Market App Distribution (faster HTC app updates)

"THOSE APP UPDATES WILL NO LONGER WAIT FOR CARRIER CERTIFICATION"   HTC is going to distribute many of the internal apps via Google Play instead of embedding them in the firmware. ZOE, Gallery, HTC’s TV App and Blinkfeed will now be distributed via Google Play. This lets HTC push new features and improvements as fast as possible instead of waiting for additional and sometime unrelated firmware testing by the hardware group or the carriers.

HTC is adding a number of gestures to save time when performing common tasks such as turning the phone ON/OFF (2-tap on the screen), placing a call (swipe down) , launch an app (swipe to the right), check the news (swipe to the left). LG had introduced the double-tap Knock-On with the LG G2, but HTC adds gestures and functions to extend this to more tasks. My metric of success for this is whether or not this saves “taps”, and it sure does, so Mission accomplished.

Battery Life (40% better, says HTC)

HTC estimates that the HTC One M8 will have 40% better battery life than the earlier HTC One M7. This is done with the help of a slightly larger battery life, a more optimized processor and more importantly, with a lot of software optimizations.

Extreme power savings mode

HTC has added this mode to help users to either squeeze the last 5% of battery life to the max, or to let someone who doesn’t use the data connectivity to push the battery life to new lengths. HTC estimates that switching an HTC One M8 which has only 5% of battery left to extreme power savings mode will extend its standby life to 15 hours (yes, hours). With a full battery charge, extreme power savings pushes the standby time to 14 days. The Galaxy S5 has something similar, and I think that it is a really good idea, so I’d like to see this in even more phones.

This works by turning wireless data OFF and by shutting down (or slowing down) as many things as possible while still making the phone basic functions usable. When turned on in that mode, the phone is able to make calls and send SMS calls normally. The cool thing is that the data is turned back on automatically when users pull or send emails, so there is no visible friction point for email communications.

The extreme power savings mode users a simplified graphic design, again, not unlike the Galaxy S5. Although the Samsung phone also does this because AMOLED displays use less power while displaying simple black and white graphics, that is not the case for the HTC One M8 Super LCD which draws as much power with the simple interface than with the regular one.HTC design team has chosen the simplified design as a way to show users that the phone is in a different mode. This is efficient, and visually it works well.

HTC One M8 Case

htc one m8  07HTC has come up with a cool case that protects the phone with a little twist: you don’t need to open it to interact with the screen. HTC has used a meshed plastic front that lets you see what’s going on on the screen, and at the same time, the screen is sensitive enough to know if you tap or swipe despite the relatively thick plastic.

This is cool looking, with an 8-bit look even, but instead of copying the Window case introduced by Samsung and redone by just about everyone else, the HTC design team has built something unique that is completely functional.

Conclusion

If you have been waiting for the all new HTC One, the wait is over (it is available today), and by now, you may have realized that it was well worth it. To push forward, HTC has doubled-down on what made the HTC One successful: a great metal base design, a new HTC Sense and an improved camera user experience. At the same time, they also address concerns important to any user, such as battery life and handset protection (case).

I’m looking forward to taking a closer look and using it in the real world, so keep an eye out for the complete review. If you want to see particular points addressed in the review, please leave a note and I’ll check them out. What do you think thus far?

Filed in Breaking >Cellphones . Tags: Android, HTC and HTC One M8.
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