HTC One (M8)
The HTC One (M8) arrived with a bang this week, going on sale within an hour of being announced. After years of critical acclaim but soft sales, the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer is looking to get in the door before Samsung’s Galaxy S5 hits on 11 April, and on paper this is the phone to do it.
As ever, HTC’s got an uphill battle on its hands however - Samsung’s cheque book and marketing budget mean it holds the higher ground, even if last year’s S4 was a mediocre update in comparison to the beautiful HTC One (M7). But make no mistake, even if it gets overlooked by the masses, the new HTC One (M8) is the phone we were hoping for, and then some. Read on for our full HTC One (M8) review to find out more.
So here’s what you need to know: the HTC One (M8) is the most beautiful Android phone ever made. No question. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that only Apple’s iPhone 5 and 5s are better looking - and they’re much smaller. The new one is wrapped in metal from screen edge to screen edge, and the slick brushed metal reminds us of Apple’s older iPod touch models, only much more streamlined. Even the infrared sensor, a strip along the top which few will actually bother to use to control their TV, feels like an essential part of the design. And in spite of this new monolithic look, you can still pop in a micro SD card, bumping up the 16GB of internal storage with up to 128GB of your own.
The full HD five-inch screen - ever so slightly bigger than last year’s model - looks absolutely glorious, with broad viewing angles, but really, it’s the audio that helps the M8 stand out from the pack when it comes to performance. Sure, the HTC One (M8) is fast, powering along on a quad-core 2.3GHz processor with a healthy 2,600mAh battery that lasts the best part of a day - but the same is true of most of its rivals. Not a single phone can compare to the M8 for sound though: the stereo speakers on the top and bottom are in a league of their own for volume, fidelity and bass on a phone. HTC really wasn’t lying when it said it had managed to make the M8 louder without any distortion. Tunes and movies sound anything but tinny on this - just try to not to use the M8 to blast out tunes at the back of the bus. We’d understand if you did, it’s that good, but it’s still not really cricket.
The HTC One (M8) runs Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, but once again it’s been skinned with what the company calls Sense (Sense 6, this time, for those keeping count), which gives it a slightly different feel to regular Android. Last year’s HTC One users will be instantly at home on HTC Sense 6, with its news feed (BlinkFeed) that’s reminiscent of the large tile notifications in Windows Phone. Really though, HTC’s most useful addition are the motion gestures you can now perform - a swift double tap of the screen will turn it on, for instance, saving you having to reach for the power button at the top of the phone. These are all possible courtesy of new low power sensors inside the M8 that are always on and waiting - handily, they can even log your steps and shunt data onto Fitbit for you, no accessory needed.
Lastly, though the UltraPixel camera technology inside the HTC One (M8) doesn’t seem to have made many visible advances, we’re impressed with the new look camera app that accompanies it, with easy settings you can adjust on the fly and most importantly save. Combined with the new depth sensor on the back, which can let you pull people in the foreground out of images and drop them in others, or drop your subjects in a cartoon world at the drop of a button, and you’ve got one fun to use camera. We can easily see this Lytro style tech, which allows you to refocus images after you’ve taken them (without having to take multiple shots) becoming the norm in phones. As a bonus: the five megapixel front camera is a thoughtful touch for selfie addicts and video chats, and far superior to any rival’s secondary sensor.
Let’s talk problems with the HTC One (M8) - but let’s also make clear that we’re nitpicking. The main one we have is with the navigation buttons - last year’s HTC One sported two below the screen, worked into the bezel, but this year’s model works in the more standard Home, Back and Multi-tasking onto the display itself. It’s easier to use, but here’s the thing - the bottom bezel remains just as wide, presumably to fit in those superb speakers. The result however is that the phone is very nearly as tall as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, with a screen that’s effectively as small as the original One’s, in the same footprint as a phablet. We’d say the otherwise spectacular design makes this a worthy trade off, but be sure to check one out in store first to see if your thumbs and fingers agree - hitting links at the top of a page can be quite a stretch on this unusually lanky phone.
We’re also not entirely convinced that the rear camera actually takes better images. It copes well in low light, but for all the talk of UltraPixel technology, shots from the 4MP sensor simply don’t leave us in awe, in the same way pics from the Nokia Lumia 1020 can once you figure out what you’re doing. Optical image stabilisation is also gone, making the HTC One (M8) a downgrade in some ways - be wary if you’ve got shaky hands.
Lastly, while Sense 6 is a noticeable improvement without adding any confusing new navigation options into the mix, there are still elements we’re not totally in love. Real news addicts will still prefer Twitter or an RSS app like Feedly to the BlinkFeed screen, and the stock HTC keyboard is cramped and unintelligent compared to SwiftKey and Google’s own swiping, predictive QWERTY. Don’t like either? No worries, you can simply install another launcher or keyboard - this is Android after all. You could also opt for the Google Play edition of the HTC One (M8), which runs (near) stock Android as Google intended instead on the same beautiful hardware. Either way, you’ve got options that render this problem a niggle at worst.