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With the introduction of the HTC One M8, HTC upgrades its flagship offering and offers a new version of its most famous phone to date. And since the original version (M7) had such a staunch -if not fanatical- following, the company has decided to double down on everything that made the One such a high-praise phone: design, performance, software and camera sensor have been improved.

I have spent a few weeks with the HTC One, and in this review, I’ll do my best to give you a clear picture of how it feels to use it in the real world and provide you enough information so that you can answer this question: is this your next phone? Let’s start with a short technical overview and move on to real-world usage. Ready?

Specifications

HTC One M8 HTC One M7
Display Size 5 4.7
Display Resolution 1920×1080 1920×1080
Display Density 441 468
Main Camera (MP) 4 4
Front Camera (MP) 5 5
Processor Snapdragon 801 Snapdragon 600
RAM (GB) 2 2
Internal storage 16,32 32, 64
WiFi AC N
Battery Capacity (mAh) 2600 2300
Dimensions (inches) 5.76×2.78×0.37 5.41×2.69×0.37
Weight 0.35 0.32
Network LTE HSPA+

Full HTC One M8 specifications

Context: How I use my phones

Before we get deep into this review, let me tell you how I use my phone: I don’t call much, maybe 5mn a day, if at all. Most of my time on the phone is spent checking emails, Facebook or browsing the web. Casual photography has to be second activity next to text-communications. I don’t use too many apps, less than 20 and nearly all are for productivity and not entertainment. There you go, keep this in mind as you read the review and you should be able to map my experience into your own.

Industrial design

The HTC One M8 is a strikingly beautiful device, and it’s no surprise if HTC has doubled-down on the best asset from the HTC One M7 version. It is one of the Android phone that has the most loyal and dare I say, nearly fanatical following.
Like any other “bold” design, the HTC One M8 may be polarizing.

Last year, we had very heated internal debates about the M7, and while Eliane Fiolet loved the design, not everyone in the team agreed and there was quite a rift at time. The HTC One 2014 will help close the gap and I suspect that more people will agree that this is a better design and a few will think that it is a step back. htc one review m8 labshot 12 640x359 The build quality is even better. It’s hard to believe for HTC fans, but for those who like metal, the external housing has gone from 75% metal to 95% metal. The phone is also available in several colors and in my opinion, this helps a lot. For example, I was a mild aficionado of the original silver aluminum color (called Glacial Silver by HTC). However, I find the gunmetal version to be much more appealing. There is also an Amber Gold version which should be very popular in certain regions. htc one review m8 labshot 17 640x359 Since the phone is noticeably larger than the M7, HTC has made its curve more gentle and round. While holding the phone, it feels like the volume is the same when compared to the smaller one. It is very nice to hold and to use. The only time where you can clearly tell that it is longer, is when you search for the Power control, which is at the top. If you hold the phone near the bottom, it’s not always easy to use the Power button. HTC’s solution to that is a double-tap on the screen and gestures to fire it up. Yes – that’s the same concept than LG introduced with the G2 and G3 (compare the HTC M8 to the LG G3), and it works.

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HTC One M7 (left), and HTC One M8 (right)

Some people say that the new HTC One is “too big”, and while it is most definitely a matter of personal opinion, this kind of statement is as ridiculous as saying that some cars are too long, or too wide — it just depends on your needs. The argument is always the same: your thumb can’t reach the opposite side of the screen.

I would advise you to take a look for yourself and form your own opinion. Despite hearing some “pundits” say that big phones are problematic, the reality is that people do buy them, are happy with them and demand even bigger screens. Fortunately, there is also a market for smaller phones, and the iPhone 5S or the Moto G are proofs of that. Want a small phone? There are plenty of those to choose from. htc one review m8 labshot 21 640x359 In the front, you will easily recognize the dual-speaker setup that is so typical to HTC’s recent phones. Boomsound is now an integral part of HTC’s design language and is used on the high-end, but also on mid-range phones like the attractive HTC Desire 816 that we have seen at MWC14.

HTC’s VP of Design Scott Croyle told me that this is one of the features most associated with HTC, and one that is the most desired by consumers, since “stereo is obviously superior to mono” is a very easy message to understand. It’s actually surprising that no-one else has copied this, says Scott, but despite the excellent sound quality (more on that later), there is one undeniable downside: it adds length to the phone design.

It’s true that the HTC One M8 has a lower body-to-screen ratio than other phones, and HTC even had to explain itself as for why it was doing with the internal volume underneath (it’s filled with electronics). In the end, HTC decided to increase size to get a higher sound quality. htc one review m8 labshot 11 640x359 In the back, there is an impressive camera sensor array with a main camera optimized for low-light photography and a new depth sensor that is used to optionally “re-focus” every photo taken with the HTC One. More on that in the photography section. htc one review m8 labshot 16 640x359 If you pay attention, you will also see a nano-SIM tray that is big enough to support dual-SIM if needed, and there is now a microSD card tray that can accept 128GB of additional flash memory for power users. In terms of storage value for the price, it is much (much!) better than the iPhone.

HTC has made the right call by improving the existing design on nearly every single aspect. There are some HTC One M7 fans who will be disappointed by the larger form-factor, but hopefully HTC can help them with a future HTC One mini M8. In the meantime, I think that the new design will help HTC a lot.

Display (excellent)

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Once again, HTC is using a Super-LCD display, but this time, things are different. In the past, I have noticed that HTC displays sometime underperformed in quality, especially when it comes to contrast-ratio. Despite having excellent specs, I often found that Samsung and LG just had better displays.

But this time is different: HTC’s Super LCD display in the HTC One M8 does perform very well, and has very good black levels (for an LCD) and produces very nice images that “pop”..  I think that the color saturation is tuned to be higher than the average LG IPS LCD, but not as much as Samsung’s Super-AMOLED screens. This is not a bad thing, and it looks great.

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This is not really and edge to edge display as this photo shows

I have heard that some people complained about accidental touch screen action because of the “edge to edge” screen design. Well, as you can see for yourself, although it may appear so, this is not an edge-to-edge design. There is a couple of millimeters on either side of the screen and it’s not really more prone to accidental touch action than other designs.

Camera (very good… on small screens)

There are two aspects of the HTC One M8 camera that we should go over. First, the  overall image quality that is derived from the sensor and subsequent image processing done within the basic camera function. Secondly, there the overall camera software and user experience that is quite unique to the HTC One. Check our full-size photo samples on Flickr if you want to take a close look. htc one m8 flickr group 640x366

Image quality

Ultrapixel Sensor: Excellent Low-Light Shots for web use

HTC has optimized the HTC One for low-light photography and want to provide high-quality pixels, rather than just more of them. This is why the company is using a technology called Ultrapixel in which the sensor features less pixels (4 Megapixels), but each of them capture more light than competing sensors. More light = better quality, it’s that simple, in theory.

The idea makes sense, but in practice, a combination of low-shutter speed and low-resolution photos makes the HTC One pictures look great on the device itself and in most web applications (Facebook, Instagram etc…), but on a larger screen, they can appear blurry/mushy.. htc one m8 vs lg g2 night 563x640 I have to say that the 4 Megapixel argument is more compelling now than it was with last year’s M7 version, mainly thanks to improvements in the Camera app. In terms of low-light photography, the HTC One M8 is one of the best because a higher megapixel count typically doesn’t help much since details are difficult to see anyway.

The two other competitors that come to mind are the latest Nokia phones (Icon, 1520, 1020) and the LG G2. We’ve already established in the LG G2 review that the iPhone 5S isn’t really a contender in low-light photography anymore, so the next stop is iPhone 6 for iOS users. However, the i5S remains a very good camera phone in good lighting conditions.

Ultrapixel Sensor: Caveat

htc one m8 vs nokia icon As I said, with only 4 Megapixels, the HTC One will typically snap great photos for web usage, so things that you post in Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest etc will look great, but you won’t have as many options when it comes to cropping, digital zoom and possibly printing.

Even at comparable resolution (2688×1520 and 3072×1728), the Icon takes much sharper photos than the HTC One M8. Outside of the low-light situations, the HTC One loses its slight advantage and higher megapixel high-end phones will win at every turn when it comes to sheer image details, and if we look at the photos from up close on a PC it is undeniable.

User Experience

Fast

As I said, the user experience counts nearly as much as the photo quality. For example, when the Nokia 920 came out, it brought superior photo performance, but the shutter lag qas quite low, and so was the focus and the metering process. Taking a photo on the smartphone should be fast and easy – at least, that’s my opinion. And that’s why holding the phone in landscape mode and pressing “Volume Up” will turn the camera ON right away.

Easy

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If you want to access the advanced settings, it’s quick too

To that end, I really like the HTC One Camera interface. First, it’s very simple with very little clutter. Secondly, there’s very little shutter lag, so when you press is when it takes the photo. It is so fast that going back to other smartphones can become a bit frustrating. If you need to tweak some settings, nearly every important feature is only two taps away.

Additionally, it is even possible an unlimited number of to save custom settings that can be accessed immediately later (limited by memory and storage only). This is very handy if you end up in a few common situations for which you want to have an immediate “best settings” handy.

Ufocus

Depth sensor: I had a lot of questions about the additional 2 Megapixel Depth sensor of the HTC One M8. For some reason, many people think that they can somehow add 4 Megapixel from the main sensor with the those 2. Well, no. Although it is technically an optical sensor, its function is not to augment the image quality, but to gather depth information that could be used later to run effects such as refocusing.

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Photo courtesy of iFixit

Using a secondary sensor is great for a couple of reasons: For once, most competitors have to take two sequential photos then use the minute movement (the separation) in between photos to extract depth estimation. Taking multiple pictures can be a problem when subjects move around in between photos.

htc one m8 samples ufocus

Ufocus in action: from top to bottom, the normal photo and two photos with a bokeh effect. The green circle shows where I set the virtual focus point

HTC’s sensor can do this in a single shot by taking the two photos simultaneously., thus sidestepping any subject motion. Secondly, the separation between the main photo and the sensor image is much larger, and therefore it helps the depth estimation to be more accurate, resulting in a better, more natural blur.

Now, let’s be clear: although the feature is called UFocus and works very well, it should actually be called UBlur. Like any other photo application based on the same principle, it is impossible to improve the sharpness of an already blurred picture."IT SHOULD ACTUALLY BE CALLED UBLUR"  

What is really does is add more blur to the photo to create a “bokeh” effect which is typical of large-aperture lenses in DSLRs. Given the small size of smartphone lenses, it’s not really possible to get the same effect using optics only. It’s a fancy processing effect, but this is the best of its kind so far.

HTC finally gets Pan360, which is the equivalent of Google’s Photosphere. It is  used to create a virtual 360 degrees image that works best for static scenes where people don’t move around. The HTC implementation takes advantage of the wide angle of the camera,and you have to take less photos to create a complete sphere. It also works extremely well in low-light, which is impressive.

This is also the best implementation of a 360 virtual scene to date. I really like it. The Front Camera is a 5 Megapixel camera (I know, it’s unusual that the front camera gets more megapixel), and it is using a wide angle to allow for selfies with multiple people, since this seems to be the new hot thing these days.

Multimedia

As you can imagine, the new HTC One has no problem handling multimedia activities. From movies, to games to music, it can do it all with ease. The nice screen does make a big difference and at this point, it takes a bigger screen to beat the movie or gaming user experience for example. There’s not much that the HTC One M8 can do, but as a user, it’s up to you to decide how big you want to go.

The front speakers are awesome

htc one review m8 labshot 25 640x360They will provide a powerful sound that has more depth than any other smartphone. The difference is so big, it’s ridiculous. But I don’t only use them for music or gaming. In fact, it is during conference calls that I have been the most impressed. First, the ear speaker was powerful enough that I thought that I was in speaker mode with the volume down, but when I activated the speaker mode, wow, I was impressed by the power and clarity of the conference call.

HTC says that the M8 has 25% louder speakers do to a new amplifier and a larger internal volume that allows more air to be pushed out.amplifier And since HTC users may particularly care about audio, they would be glad to know that the stock earphones are better than the iPhone’s.

Software: HTC Sense 6

HTC Sense, HTC’s own user interface built on top of Android 4.4 is and has always been a differentiator for HTC smartphones. That was particularly true in the pre Android 4.0 days, but even if the stock Android has gotten to a point where most people are completely happy with it, Sense still has a few tricks up its sleeve. It is very fast and responsive, which is primarily an advantage over Samsung’s Touchwiz, the nemesis of Sense on Samsung’s phones. HTC users will often claim this to be one of the reasons why they chose an HTC phone.

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The HTC Sense keyboard is super-responsive and well designed, even with the sound feedback and suggestions on, and it is a pleasure to use. That said, it doesn’t handle multiple languages simultaneously, and I find that Samsung’s out of the box suggestions are better because they are powered by Swiftkey. If HTC could improve on this, it would be the perfect Android keyboard. If you happen to want something else, it’s possible to download Google’s stock keyboard.

Blinkfeed, which used to be a news reader has now become a more general newsfeed in which you can not only see the latest news or feeds that you subscribe to, but social media updates and even notifications and reminders. In a way, Blinkfeed is expanding its role, and while I was skeptical to start with, I have to admit that it’s pretty cool and I find myself using it regularly to check on news and FB/G+ updates.

To remove friction from turning the phone on and opening key applications, HTC has added a double-tap to wake up the phone, and a series of inward swipes from each corner of the screen. This takes a little bit of time, and if you repeat that dozens of times a day, it adds up and makes the phone a bit nicer to use.

The quick settings are very clean and readable. I’m not sure that there is a particular “advantage” against the competition, but I like the fact that there is a ton of options.

System performance (very good)

Since it is the first phone to hit the market with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, it’s fair to say that the HTC One M8 will land a spot among the fastest smartphones. As of today, this is pretty much the best hardware platform on the market.

I’ll throw some numbers so that you can get an idea of where it stands in general, but keep in mind that synthetic performance does not really reflect real world performance (especially with all the “cheating” going on with handset makers), especially when it comes to phone responsiveness in general.

Synthetic Benchmarks

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htc m8 benchmark geekbench single

htc m8 benchmark geekbench multi

As you can see, there are some incremental against when compared to Snapdragon 800 and running a wide array of benchmarks would yield a difference from anywhere to 1% to 20% with an average of 15% gain. It really depends on the task at hand.

Since the M7 version was running on the older Snapdragon 600 chip the difference would be even wider. Graphics performance is the most obvious to spot, although unless you’re playing modern 3D games, it won’t matter that much.

Perceived performance

The perceived performance is much more interesting in my opinion, because that’s something that can actually benefit from on a daily basis, every time that you turn the phone ON. Fortunately, HTC has done a great job with HTC Sense 6 and with its user interface in general.

"IT’S SO FAST, IT BECOMES ADDICTIVE"   The phone is extremely responsive at all time, and this remains true after weeks of use, with a phone that is well loaded with apps, emails and photos. Actually, it’s so fast, it becomes addictive.

From the keyboard, to the camera, to nearly every aspects of the phone, it’s fairly rare when you have to wait for the phone, and when compared to other phones on the market right now, I would say that the HTC One M8 had an edge when it comes to responsiveness (which is mainly a software issue btw).

Sometime, Phones can be fast when you first turn them on, and later, they start to get sluggish – typically, after you load all your emails, apps and photos. That’s why it is so important to review those phones in a real-world context, used as the primary phone of the reviewer.

Dot View Case

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I usually don’t like to use phone cases because I think that they hide the phone design and make them thick, but I also understand one’s concern to protect an expensive device, so with that in mind, I put the Dot View case on, and used it for a week.

I like the fact that HTC tried to find a new option to the “window cases” introduced by Samsung and copied by everyone else. As you can see, the Dot View cases is perforated with a lot of small holes, and thanks to that, you can see it is possible to see details like who’s calling, what time it is, and other forms of notifications. It is also possible to swipe to answer a phone call, without opening the case, which is very nice as well.

The case looks good and because the phone is pretty thin to start with, the added bulk is noticeable, but not a deal breaker. Because I’m very careful, I usually don’t scratch my phone, but a case like this offers good protection, without turning your phone into a “tank”. It is also less slippery than the metallic body, and I found that to be particularly useful when taking photos.

As cool as it is, the case is not perfect: it can be cumbersome to open and hold with one hand (I use my left hand) and doesn’t always feel nice to hold while opened. Unfortunately, this is mostly true with cases that open on one side of the phone, so I’m not sure how HTC could completely fix this.

Battery life (very good+)

Since last year, the HTC One has had an increased battery capacity of 13% going, thanks to its 2600 mah battery. It’s not the greatest capacity that you can get: for instance, the LG G2 which is a smaller phone, has a 3000mAh battery.

"HTC HAS DONE A GREAT OPTIMIZATION JOB"   However, the handset maker has turned to software optimizations to make the best of what is available, and it looks like HTC has done a great optimization job. The battery life of the HTC One M8 is very good. I’ve been able to use it for a couple of days without recharging it (moderate use since I’m mostly in the office), and it will last a good day if I’m at a trade show or something like that.

60mn of HD mp4 video stored locally took out 8% of the battery, which brings us to a theoretical 12hrs of movie playback. 60 mn of running the Riptide GP2 demo loop took about 24% of the battery, which would yield 4 hours of 3D gaming. That was with the speaker OFF, WiFi & LTE ON.

Since the battery is not removable, you can’t really do a “hard reset” by removing it, but typically some long-press button combination should do the trick. I’m glad that I haven’t had the need for it at the moment. This should not be much of an issue, except in Korea where every high-end phones *must* have a removable battery or face the wrath of users.

There is no integrated wireless charging, but the HTC One does supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0. Weirdly enough, the power adapter that is included does not support QC 2.0, and you will have to find another one, if you want to benefit from it.

Ultra low power mode

HTC will also add an ultra low power mode that will consume as little power as possible. It does that by shutting the data radio (leaving the voice ON) and will switch into a different user interface, not to save power, but to indicate clearly that it is running in a special mode.

Besides some obvious battery emergency, like you have 4% left, this could also be useful if one goes to a camping trip or in a place where data is not really needed or available, but where voice is still working. While driving in many places in the U.S, I found myself without a working data connection, but the voice network was OK.

Thankfully this is becoming rare – at least for me. What i really like about the HTC low power mode is that it will wake up the data without user intervention if you need to send an email. This is great because other phones may not do this, and this makes the whole thing more convenient. Note that Facebook and Twitter updates don’t get the same treatment.

Conclusion (excellent, but…)

"LOVE THE DESIGN AND USE PHOTOS ON THE WEB? THIS IS THE ONE"   All in all, I found the HTC One to be an excellent phone all-around. By improving all aspects of the previous handset, HTC has gotten to a point where it got just about everything right (design, responsiveness, camera interface, typography…), and the real question is whether or not you like the design of the phone and if you are OK with the low-resolution of the otherwise excellent 4 Megapixel camera. If that’s the case, I would give a 9/10 review rating. If you need photos for non-web usage, then I would drop the rating to 8/10.

HTC has done a remarkable job and I’m glad that they have soldiered on. Now, the hardest part is to get this is front of their prospect customers, and this is no easy task given the amount of marketing money that is thrown around these days.

If you want something with more battery capacity, a bigger/smaller screen and a high-megapixel camera, there are other choices on the market. If you are hesitating between the HTC One and the Galaxy S5, let me know why and I will try to answer some question based on my experience of the S5.

Overall product rating: 9/10
Filed in Cellphones >Reviews . Tags: Android and HTC.
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