HTC One (M8) review
Despite its financial woes, HTC managed to release the most beautifully crafted Android phone to date. The M8 sets the standard for gorgeous design and precision engineering but does it get full marks?
HTC has carved a niche in the Android market by lavishing attention to design. As the latest version of the HTC One, dubbed the M8, looks stunning in every way. Sporting its completely redesigned brushed metal unibody frame, the M8 is not just great to look at but also feels great (having handled the previous version, I must say that it feels just as nice as the iPhone 5S). HTC, unfortunately, also seems to be the only manufacturer suffering from severe financial woes and while this might make some consumers nervous, there is no reason to dismiss the phone itself. The M8 comes with a variety of improvements and additions that help it stand out of the crowd. It doesn’t score full marks on every single feature. The M8 comes loaded with standout features such as the Duo-Camera system with HTC Ultrapixel, BOOMSOUND, Zoe, Motion Launch and the Dot-Case. However, its camera didn’t exactly score the highest marks. Moreover, it seemed to lack some other features unveiled by the S5 and the older iPhone 5S including the Download Booster (S5) and biometric security features (S5 and 5S). The question of bloatware also lingers.
● Brushed-metal unibody design
● Superior performance (in its current class)
● Motion Launch
● Camera itself is lacklustre
● Concern of bloatware
● Lack of biometric features (only some might find this useful)
● Currently no integration with wearable tech
The HTC One M8 has gone through quite a transformation but the curves are smoother, and the overall design features tapered edges. Moreover, 90% of the back is now made of metal (compared to 70% in the M7) with the antennas built-in to the system. Regarding design, the M8 outclasses every other premium Android smartphone on the market. For instance, the S5 comes with lots of innovative features such as the Download Booster and IP67 compliant waterproof and dustproof casing, but it is still made of plastic. Other high-end Android smartphones also fall short, including the Nexus 5 and the G2. Only the iPhone can rival the M8 regarding design, and some might be more partial to the M8 thanks to its larger screen and other features, but that’s subjective and let’s not delve deeper.
The new M8 has grown somewhat significantly regarding size. Its dimensions – 5.76 x 2.78 x 0.37 inches – is larger than its predecessor, the M7 – 5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches. Moreover, the M8 is heavier (160g vs the M7’s 143g). Personally, I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing, and other manufacturers have also ditched their obsession with becoming thinner. Instead, of starving their devices and compromising quality, manufacturers are becoming more confident in the features, justifying slightly bigger and heavier devices. Samsung’s S5 is also a good example as it has become larger and heavier than its predecessor.
The M8 naturally boasts an impressive list of hardware features, virtually every element of hardware has received some improvement. The standards rival the best of what other manufacturers have on the market, including the S5, which boasts some of the best features available right now.
● 5-inch 1080p Super LCD-3 display with Gorilla Glass 3 (441 pixels PPI)
● 4.1 MP Ultra-Pixel Camera
● Processor – Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, quad-core CPUs
● Bluetooth v4.0
● 2600 mAh battery
The M8 comes loaded with what is perhaps the finest display technology, the 5-inch 1080p Super LCD-3 display with Gorilla Glass 3 (441 pixels PPI), and performs better than its predecessor. The M8 is also better than the M7, featuring a larger display and sporting Gorilla Glass 3 (as opposed to the M7’s Gorilla Glass 2). The upgrade increases the durability and functionality of the screen. Interestingly, manufacturers will begin to move away from the PPI count because most high-end devices have such a high pixel density that any incremental increase will go virtually unnoticed. Instead, manufacturers are started to tinker with colours, brightness, and other features to enhance the visual quality.
Processor and RAM
The M8 boasts an incredible Quad-Core processor and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, quad-core CPUs system. This is enhanced with 2GB RAM and 16 GB /32 GB of inbuilt memory and a further expandable memory option up to 128 GB.
The M8 comes loaded with a 2600mAh battery, which is a moderate upgrade from the M7’s 2300mAh. However, like Samsung and others, HTC has gone out of its way to squeeze more juice from this one by introducing an extreme power feature (read the Standouts section).
The M8 retains a more standard suite of sensors for its key features. These conventional sensors include an accelerometer, proximity meter, ambient light detector, gyro-sensor and barometer. It’s not exactly chock of full of sensors like the S5, which included a far greater variety of sensors (it seemed as if Samsung had put everything but the proverbial “kitchen-sink” into the S5). The M8 also does not feature any biometric sensors because it lacks the security features found in the S5 and 5S.
The M8 comes loaded with an impressive primary camera system called Duo-Cam that features a primary 4.1 MP Ultrapixel camera and a secondary camera to measure depth. The Ultrapixel camera comes loaded with pretty much the standard features, but it allows the camera to use more light, which is ideal for low-light situations (the M8 also comes with dual-LED flash). Unfortunately, it seems the camera doesn’t do so well in bright lighting conditions, where it causes overexposure and reduces the quality of the pictures. This still means the HTC ultra pixel camera is a premium system, but it does fall short of the competition in this aspect. The second camera measures depth and as a result, allows users to change the focus of their pictures after the shot has been taken. The M8 also features a 5MP front-facing camera with a wide-angle lens and HDR capability.
The M8 will come loaded with Android 4.4.2 or “KitKat”. This 4.4.2 features key updates that fix some of the bugs associated with the previous version of KitKat. The interface, is simpler and more intuitive. Moreover, with KitKat, users have greater access to customisation options. Other enhancements include easier multitasking options and a consolidation of Google services. The new OS features Google Hangouts, Google Now and a variety of other Google services, designed to lock you into their ecosystem (for the better or for, the worse). I should also note that Google’s voice recognition system (on Chrome and Google Now) has improved immensely, so those of us with non-US, UK or other mainstream English accents can access the same features. Google Now will also be integrated fully into the next version of Chrome (version 34).
HTC One (M8) Standout features
HTC Dot View case: While not exactly a part of the phone itself, the Dot-View case is a good example of a manufacturer making good use of an essential peripheral. The dot-view case allows users to see who is calling without opening it. Moreover, answering the call only needs a simple swipe. If you think swiping is for cave dwellers, just put it to your ear, and the call is automatically answered.
Motion Launch: According to HTC, an average person presses the standby/power key 180 times a day. That’s a lot of wear-tear even for the best-built phones. Hence, HTC has introduced a simple feature that puts less emphasis on the standby/power key. It allows users to simply double-tap the phone to wake it from its slumber. However, I’m sure with security feature installed; you’ll need to double tap, enter your code and then get access to the feature. So it sounds better on paper, but in practice, it might not be as smooth. Motion launch also includes other features that allow users to just access Blinkfeed, quick call, and the camera by swiping or tilting the phone. These features are becoming standard, and that’s a relief.
Extreme Power-Saving Mode: This is not entirely a standout feature because lots of other manufacturers have begun using something similar. Nevertheless, it deserves some attention. According to the company, this mode allows 30 hours of operation on 10% battery. That’s the sort of claim that needs to be tested before believing. The science behind it is nothing spectacular. The phone kills all non-essential features (changing the display colour to greyscale, limiting the processor, switching off GPS, disconnecting WiFi when the screen goes dark and limiting most non-critical background apps). Frankly, all else held equal, a battery that exceeded 3000 mAh would have also been nicer. It’s also fast becoming a standard feature, Samsung merely calls it “Ultra Power-Saving Mode” (but you can count on Apple to offer the same feature with a name that is awe-inspiring).
BOOMSOUND: Dual speakers that leave the competition in the dust is an excellent addition to the M8. Most reviews and tests show that the M8’s speakers are marginally better than those of the M7. The M7 itself created a new benchmark for premium sound, and the M8 seems to be carrying the legacy forward.
UFocus: The reason the M8 has two cameras (actually only one – the Ultrapixel camera – takes the picture, the secondary camera just measures depth) is to allow users to change focus after taking the picture. This is something that sets the M8 apart from other manufacturers. The camera system itself is worthy of praise because HTC is one of the few companies in the industry that tries to improve its camera without just stuffing in more Mega Pixel capacity. However, the fact that it doesn’t perform well in bright conditions does limit the appeal of this standout feature.
Conclusion: Should you buy it? Yes
The M8 is the most beautiful Android smartphone on the market right now, and that’s highly unlikely to change until the M9 comes out (if HTC is still around at that time). While it may not have the low specs of the S5 (as featured in the last week’s column), it does come with some truly innovative and useful features. The metal unibody design, Ultra pixel camera, UFocus and the HTC Sense interface overlay are great additions that compliment each other well. If you are looking for premium Android phones right now, then it is down to the S5 and the M8. Lots of stores around Colombo are gearing up for the M8’s arrival, and you can always get it online. However, be warned, the price of the M8 will be just as premium as its quality.