HTC One M8 (REVIEW)

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

I’ve gone and done it, I am now officially a user of an Android smartphone and have given up on the iPhone, a platform I have been ingrained in for the better part of the last couple years. I won’t get too into why I switched (that’s a story for another time) but seeing as how geeks hate change, I’m glad to say that adjusting to something so foreign to what I was used to has been so easy I can’t help but applaud it.

Beautiful design, from edge to edge

Beautiful design, from edge to edge

Last year's HTC One (M7) was an impressive phone; in fact last year I was contemplating switching over to the M7 when exploring options outside the iPhone-a-sphere. While initial specs and high profile praise from such tech industry giants like Walt Mossberg and the Boy Genius Report did pique my interest, there wasn’t enough “new” to really push me to give up on what I had with iPhone, maybe I was more stubborn last year… who knows. If the M7 is a highly praised indie film, the M8 is the Oscar winning box office sequel.

Form and function are beautifully explored with the M8, this is a phone meant to garner as much attention for its form-factor as it does for its performance. Right out of the box, the HTC One M8 is absolutely gorgeous, very similar to the previous model featuring a unibody aluminum frame, dual front-facing speakers, and a brushed metal backing. The M8 frame incorporates less polycarbonate in its construction, opting for a full metal build with a curved shape instead of the plastic bezel of the previous model. This does add some noticeable heft to the device (weighing in at 160 grams as opposed to the 143 grams of the M7) but it never feels uncomfortably heavy when holding.

The "Duo Camera" system

The "Duo Camera" system

The rear camera (or cameras) is one of the biggest changes from the M7 to the M8, featuring a “Duo Camera” system. Much like the M7, a 4 megapixel camera acts as the primary rear cam but new to the M8 is a 2 megapixel camera above it that acts as a depth of field sensor. This basically allows you to take a photo and refocus it as you see fit (using the “U Focus” feature bundled in the editing software). It does have its disadvantages, when using flash/shooting in low light, “U Focus” is unavailable and some photos can look washed out when shooting in bright conditions. Extreme macro shots also don’t benefit from “U Focus” as well, initially it may seem like a gimmick, but using the feature is pretty damn cool and with the SDK for the “Duo Camera” system available to developers, I’d love to see what third-party apps can do with the technology. Built into the software are several editing tools from basic edits, like cropping, to a myriad of filters. The flash on the rear has also been revamped, touting dual white and yellow LEDs. The end results are more natural looking photos when using a flash. I rarely use flash when shooting and prefer natural light, but in dimly lit areas, the dual flash helps produce some pretty stellar photos.

Oh I hate the word “selfie” and cringe whenever I see it, but the M8 is a true “selfie taking machine.” A 5 megapixel camera sits on the front, it’s rare to have a front facing camera with higher megapixels than the rear, but it’s welcome. Whether selfie (slowly dying inside saying the word) or snapping photos with the rear camera, the experience is much better than that on my previous device, an iPhone 5.

U Focus set to focus on the building in back (click to enlarge)

U Focus set to focus on the Blue Moon Burgers sign (click to enlarge)

Running on the recently released Android 4.4.2 KitKat, using the M8 is a whizz! Apps load fast and the experience is intuitive and snappy. I could delve more into KitKat but since this is my first foray into having an Android phone, I have nothing to compare it to. Instead I will focus on some of the HTC exclusive features. Sense 6 makes considerable strides from the previous version of HTC’s software. Color themes, a minimalist design, and optimizations for larger screens are just a few of the improvements made in “Sixth Sense.” BlinkFeed has been one of the most useful when testing, revamped from version 5’s BlinkFeed, version 6 touts a simpler design and allows for third party apps to be integrated into the feed. This ensures that information I find useful is fed to me in a beautifully delivered package. When only a few of my services were linked I personally didn’t find much use for it, but as I added in Twitter, Facebook, and FitBit; I found myself using BlinkFeed more religiously. Gesture based commands allow you to wake the device, go to BlinkFeed, activate voice dialing, or simply unlock your device. It was a bit jarring getting used to not have any face buttons on my phone, but as I used it I found it intuitive and very simple, a winning combi in this reviewers humble opinion. In US Markets the device touts a hefty 32 GBs of on device storage that can be expandable up to 128 GBs. Now, being used to the whole iPhone thing, having the ability to expand my storage is a VERY welcome change and something I will be definitely taking advantage of.

The screen is a 5 in/1080p Super LCD display touting a pixel density of 441 ppi and housed in Gorilla Glass 3 with a scratch resistant coating. Initially, I though the decision not to use an AMOLED was a bit baffling, with their biggest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S5, touting a brilliant AMOLED display and the iPhone with their “Retina Display,” the choice to employ LCD felt like a bit of a step backward. Though upon using the device and researching a bit about Super LCD, the advantages became crystal clear. Power consumption is much lower than AMOLED displays (my battery thanks you) and glare when using in brighter/outdoor conditions is considerably reduced when compared to the S5 or the iPhone 5S. Sure AMOLED/Retina purists can argue about “deeper blacks” this or “truer colors” that, but I never found the HTC One M8’s display to be inferior to other devices in the same category.

"Selfies" *cringe* look great with the 5MP front facing camera (click to enlarge)

the dual LED flash makes for impressive shots in a dark bar (click to enlarge)

Videos look great and text is crisp and easy to read, overall I found the screen to be an absolute winner; and the fact it doesn’t sap my charge too quickly is a very welcome tradeoff. I did find that when using it, I would accidentally tap apps or send messages when I’d grip the device a bit too tightly (keep my phone away when I drink) and unless you calibrate the touchscreen, regular typing can be a bit frustrating, but speaking of issues, one aspect I found puzzling though was the wasted space at the bottom of the display. Directly below the screen is a black bar (much like where haptic touch keys would be on other devices) simply branded with the HTC logo. The waste of space makes me wonder if originally they planned to put haptic keys on the device, but with KitKat’s penchant for on screen navigation keys, they had to quickly shift gears. This feels like and unfortunate case of design being dictated by software, I hope future devices in the HTC One line will make better use of screen space and not waste it, feels like the screen could have been much bigger if they utilized the space better, but who am I to complain? I used to have an iPhone.

No more plastic bezel and a curved back

No more plastic bezel and a curved back

Rounding out the hardware, I feel I need to comment on the Boom Sound front facing speakers and the battery. The speakers are one of the most unique elements of the device. While I don't sit there and watch movies for hours on my device, I see myself enjoying doing so without headphones. Hands down the best sound production (sans headphones) of any device I’ve used. Not only does the M8 look great, it sounds great. While I would rather watch movies and TV at home on a big television screen, when I’m on the go, the experience is noticeably better on the M8 than my old iPhone or even on an iPad (again, sans headphones). The battery life is phenomenal, I am almost forgetting what it’s like to NOT run around with a Mophie Juice pack day in day out. The power save function is a great tool, but for regular use it almost isn’t needed. In my tests, I’d unplug my device at around 7AM and use it throughout my day, navigating to a few places and using some social networking apps or responding to emails (nothing intensive like streaming video) and my battery would still be around 40% when I head home at around 4:30PM. In one test I set it to power save mode and my device was still at around 75% at 3PM, even after using it heavier than I did during my day without using power save mode. While playing games constantly or watching YouTube video after YouTube video can drain it down to a sliver, I never found myself cursing my device’s battery life.

Overall, the HTC One M8 is a strong competitor to other high-end smart phones in its respective class. Gorgeous form-factor, luxurious materials, and software that is both snappy and simple to use make this device a serious contender for top phone of the year. I mentioned I wouldn’t get too into why I left iPhone, but one deciding factor was the lack of true innovation on the platform. HTC’s newest flagship phone has innovation in spades, something I wonder if Apple has forgotten that. I was already sold on the M8 when comparing it to the S5, but I guess we’ll have to wait until Fall to see if HTC can really make that big of a dent into Apple’s iPhone user-base, in my opinion… chances are looking good.

PROS:


+ Beautiful form-factor
+ Stellar battery life
+ Best sound in its class

CONS:


- Wasted space on front
- Edges of the screen are VERY sensitive

SPECS:

Size: 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm
Weight: 160g
SIM: Nano-SIM
Display: 5 inch 1080p Super LED display
Camera: 4 MP primary with 2 MP secondary / 5 MP front facing
Storage: 32 GB / 128 GB expandable (microSD)
RAM: 2 GB
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
CPU Speed: 2.3 GHz Quad-core
OS: Android OS 4.4.2 “KitKat”