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HTC One (M8) review

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PaulOBrien

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Introduction

‘Like when you have the best phone in the world but you have to make it better.’

When HTC introduced the HTC One (M7) last year, they threw away the signature features of it’s predecessor, the One X. Polycarbonate body? Gone. Tegra chipset? History. Excessively heavy Sense skin? Not any more. The result was a device that has been scooping up almost every award imaginable since it’s release and one that still feels fresh today, a year on from it’s unveiling. There’s no denying that as a product, the HTC One was a triumph.

The best product of course doesn’t equate to the biggest sales numbers and although most would agree that the HTC One is superior to the Galaxy S4, the latter massively outsold the former, due in no small part to Samsung’s monstrous marketing budget. ‘This baby sells itself!’ doesn’t seem to apply in the phone market. HTC’s effort to resolve the advertising problem continues, but it’s an uphill task while the companies finances continue to look rather precarious. Even though the One has become HTC’s best selling Smartphone ever, to even have a chance in the next round it’s vitally important that they once again bring a product to market that sits atop the flagship handset pile (and is accompanied by equally compelling lesser siblings, but that’s a topic for another day).

Enter the HTC One (M8).

When you’ve got the best Smartphone in the world under your belt, you don’t throw it away and start again. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is how the old adage goes and it’s a sensible approach. The HTC One (M8) looks to take best bits of it’s predecessor better, round off (literally) a few of the M7’s weaknesses and give the whole thing a liberal coat of ‘2014’.

But how does it do? Let’s find out!

Review device

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to a full UK retail device - a 16GB, Gunmetal Grey unit, running release software. If you go into a shop and buy the phone today, you’ll get one exactly the same.

I have had the phone for a week now, so initially consider this a living review - i’ll update it over the next week or two as I settle in with the device! The software is also getting almost daily updates prior to launch, so I will tweak the review as appropriate.

In the box

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In the box (which is in the same style as all of HTC’s boxes of late), you’ll find the phone itself, a charger (which may be removed by your operator (*cough* O2 *cough*), a microUSB cable, a headset, a SIM removal pin and - unusually for HTC - a TPU type case. One wonders whether this is related to HTC’s pledge (in the US at least) to replace broken screens on devices for the first 6 months of ownership... it seems sensible to help save users from breaking their screens in the first place.


Hardware - overview

First up, the raw specifications. There are a few different variants of the M8, regular, dual SIM, Developer and Google Play editions and the processor spec is slightly bumped for China / Asia models. LTE bands of course are also different dependent on territory. We’ll focus on the European model here.

Titanium Grey, Glacial Silver and Amber Gold colours are available, with the grey being the ‘hero’ colour and also the only of the 3 shades to feature a brushed metal look on the back.
  • Android™ 4.4 with HTC Sense 6 and HTC BlinkFeed
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2.3GHz quad-core CPU in US/EMEA / 2.5GHz quad-core CPU in Asia/China
  • 16GB/32GB ROM, microSD expansion card slot (up to 128GB)
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 5.0 inch, Full HD 1080p Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • HTC Ultrapixel Duo camera (rear)
  • Wide angle 5 Megapixel camera (front)
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz)
  • GPS + GLONASS, Digital compass
  • Gyro sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, Barometer
  • 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
  • Consumer infrared remote control
  • HTC BoomSound
  • DLNA + HTC Connect Micro-USB 2.0 with MHL
  • Sensor hub
  • nanoSIM
  • 2600mAh battery
  • 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm
  • 160g
As you can see, it’s a relatively subtle spec bump from the M7, partly necessitated by being launched prior to Qualcomm’s major CPU upgrade cycle. The Snapdragon 801 processor is present (in 2.3GHz form for most markets, but at 2.5GHz for China / Asia), RAM remains at 2GB, the camera remains a 4 Megapixel ‘Ultrapixel’ unit (although overhauled and with that secondary ‘duo’ camera) and the ROM size starts at 16GB. There’s microSD expansion though, which is great news.

A particularly interesting addition is a ‘sensor hub’ which, as on the iPhone and Moto X, allows the device to monitor sensors without having the main processor awake, preserving battery life and opening up a whole host of sensor based opportunities while the device is asleep, such as step tracking and gesture control. When I first fired up the M8, I was a little surprised to see the inclusion of FitBit as a preloaded app. The reason for this soon became clear - you can create a Fitbit account and use the M8 as the step counter, a function also offered on the iPhone 5S. Advanced Fitbit functions such as sleep tracking and floor counting are not supported of course.

A major complaint from many users of the original One was that the battery life was underwhelming and with that in mind, the M8 bumps capacity from 2300mAh to 2600mAh as well as featuring the more efficient Snapdragon 80x series with Qualcomm Quickcharge 2.0.

A notable omission is a fingerprint sensor, given it’s inclusion on the One Max and the rival Samsung Galaxy S5. I personally don’t think it’s a huge problem. If it’s not going to be as good as the experience on the iPhone 5S, don’t bother.

Hardware - around the device

‘Like when you already have the best feel of any Smartphone and you step it up a notch.’

There’s two things you’ll notice when you first pick up the M8. The first is that it feels even more beautiful in your hand than the original (you didn’t think that was possible did you!). The main reason for this is that the plastic insert around the edge of the device (which on the white model discoloured over time) has disappeared completely and the metal back now curves round to the edge of the screen. It might sound like a minor change, but it gives the device a very different feel and once again inspires a fair amount of awe at HTC’s engineering ability. The second is that the M8 is big. The screen has grown to 5 inches and now includes on screen buttons, but the side bezels are about the same size as on the original and the area below the screen where the capacitive buttons used to be remains (with the HTC logo on), making this a very tall device. Of course, HTC’s BoomSound speakers are a big contributor to this too.

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HTC’s approach is almost the opposite of LG’s on the G2. LG have slimmed the side bezels down as far as possible even though it means moving buttons to the back of the device and they’re using on screen buttons in order to shrink the top and bottom bezels. The effect on the G2 is that it feels ‘all screen’ and despite having a 5.25” panel it’s considerably shorter than the M8. HTC are piling in their signature experiences and if it makes the device taller, so be it.

So let’s do a quick tour around the device.

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The front is of course dominated by the 5” 1080P screen, sitting atop the aforementioned HTC logo. Above the screen is the first boomsound speaker (with a hidden dual colour notification LED), the proximity / light sensors and the wide angle, 5 Megapixel front facing camera. Below the screen sits the other boomsound speaker grille. I think the speaker pieces on the front are metal (like the original), although on my unit it looks as though the holes could do with a little bit of extra ‘micro drilling’ for a uniform look (see the image above).

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The back of the device is still one single piece of metal with plastic strips to isolate the various antennas. This is very good news, as on the One Max and the One Dual SIM, the removable back definitely compromised overall build quality. Up top sits the Duo camera, below the first plastic strip sits the main camera and dual tone flash, in the middle is a black HTC logo and at the bottom are the various FCC / CE bits and pieces. Small white text tells you to ‘only user power supplies listed in safety guide’. Hmm.

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On the top you’ll find a glossy black plastic panel, behind which sit the IR transmitter and a number of the device’s antennas. This area is a concession to losing the plastic all around the edge, but I actually think it looks OK - it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for sure. The power button is on the top right of the device, which I know is an unpopular location for lots of users. At least on the M8 you can turn on with a double tap now (but not off).

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The left of the device has a large SIM tray. The phone itself uses nano SIMs and the tray is designed in such a way that the same metal back and tray size can be used for single and dual SIM devices. Clever.

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The right of the device has another tray for the microSD card (up to 128GB is supported) and the volume rocker. The buttons don’t protrude a huge amount, but they have a decent click action.

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The bottom of the device has the customary ‘inverted’ microUSB socket and, in a departure from the original, the 3.5mm headphone socket. I have to say I’m not particularly fussed whether my device has the socket on the top or bottom, but I understand a lot of people will be pleased by this relocation!

All told, the design works well. In the leaked images I was a bit worried about the curves on the corners (which somehow seemed more pronounced than they do in reality) and whether the speaker grilles would look strange with their different sizes. I’m pleased to say they don’t and even the unusual Duo camera doesn’t look out of place.

Software

As you’d expect (but of course it’s not always the case!), the M8 launches with the latest version of Android - 4.4.2 - out of the box. Like it’s predecessor, a Google Play Edition will be available for those who want stock Android and our sources tell us that once again, flashing between Sense and GPe ROMs should be possible as the devices are effectively identical. Good news!

The M8 ships with a new, improved version of HTC’s own tweaked version of Android, Sense 6. Now, the words ‘HTC Sense’ used to instill fear into the hearts of Android fans much the same way as ‘TouchWiz’ does today, but times have changed and Sense is by far the best manufacturer interpretation of Android. Sense 5 and 5.5 did away with the excessively heavy graphical flourishes of earlier versions to focus on genuinely enhancing Android rather than changing things for the sake of it. Sense 6 continues that trend.

Bloatware is noticeable by its omission on the M8. The original One really pared back the additional apps, but the new device takes things a step further. SoundHound and TuneIn Radio, stalwarts of HTC software builds for a long time now, are nowhere to be seen and the only piece of software that really verges on unnecessary bloat is the 7Digital music player. That really is about it, everything else that is pre-installed serves a useful purpose. Don’t think this means that the M8 ROM is slimline - the system partition is still 2.6GB in size with a shade over 2GB of that used, but it does at least ‘feel’ slimmer! On the 16GB model just under 11GB is available for use, which is at least as capacious as it’s peers.

With this device HTC are taking the first tentative steps to updating the device’s apps via the Play Store - ‘BlinkFeed’, ‘TV’, ‘Zoe’ and ‘Get Started’ will both be deployed this way, allowing faster updates of key components. At the time of writing, pre launch day, this hadn’t ‘gone live’ on the store, but it’s coming.

Sixth sense

‘Like when base Android is awesome but you make it better.’

The original HTC One launched with Sense 5.0 and received an update to 5.5 during its lifecycle, which fine-tuned a lot of the aspects of Sense (such as Blinkfeed). The M7 will also get an update to version 6, which is great to hear - HTC have done a excellent job of steadily improving the device as it’s aged, it really feels like quite a different product with the latest release compared to the original shipping ROM.

At first look version 6 of Sense looks familiar. KitKat of course brings transparency to the home screen navigation and status bars together with the mandated-by-Google white icons up top, which helps to lend a clean look to the whole experience (and some consistency across Android devices).

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The simple lock screen has the latest interpretation of the famous HTC clock / weather widget up top, 4 shortcut icons down the bottom (which match the icons configured in the dock on the home screen) and an unlock slider that can be pulled upwards to return to where you last left the device, left to return to the home screen or right to drop straight into BlinkFeed. Lock screen widgets are supported, so don’t worry - you can get Dashclock on there!

When the original HTC One launched, there was much debate about the usefulness of BlinkFeed and about how customers would respond. The overwhelming feedback to HTC has been positive, a large number of ‘normal users’ take advantage of Blinkfeed and overall customer satisfaction is higher amongst those that do. The success of Blinkfeed is probably due in no small part to the fact that HTC have steadily improved the experience. Sources were originally very limited, but in today’s iteration there’s certainly no shortage of content. As well as all the usual social networks, custom feeds can be added and Sense 6 also massively improves the content discovery features, suggesting content you might like depending on the feeds you already have added. Evernote and Pocket integration lets you save interesting articles to your reading list of choice and offline reading is also supported - you can let Blinkfeed cache content ready for your tube journey. The appearance of Blinkfeed is also slightly tweaked… in previous iterations the main feed view would scroll a screen at a time, mandating that article blocks had to be sized appropriately to ‘fit on a screen’. This is no longer the case, you can now scroll freely in the list, giving the feed a lot more variety. It looks good. As you’d expect, Blinkfeed takes advantage of the clear navigation bars allowing content to ‘scroll up from behind the buttons’. A small change but one that feels very slick.

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Overall in Sense 6 everything feels a little bit sharper, crisper and ‘flatter’. The flattening of the UI was a major push in Sense 5, but the new release takes it that little bit further. For an example of this take the Calculator app. It really couldn’t be more simply designed, but it just works and looks great.

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On the whole HTC’s own apps are very derivative of their previous releases, which is a good thing. Everything feels instantly familiar, but is that little bit better. You will notice when you open some applications that the action bar and transparent status bar change to a different colour - this is all part of HTC’s new theme system. The themes (of which there are 4 pre-installed) specify a number of colours that are then applied to the UI highlights (such as the toggle buttons of the pull down quick settings) and headers of different app types. On the stock theme for example, the Calendar app gets a blue header, as a productivity app. The FM Radio app gets an orange header as a media app, as do the Gallery and Music apps. Blinkfeed is green. It’s pretty neat - it’s not a feature that adds any real value per se, but it looks good. Unfortunately themes aren’t something that third parties can easily create and third party apps aren’t able to use the ‘category colours’ at this time, but I suspect this is something that HTC will enable further down the line (here’s hoping!).

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It’s good to see HTC still supporting FM Radio. Although it’s not something that is used that much over the pond (and plenty of manufacturers have dropped the feature), here in the UK at least I find it very useful. Bear in mind that if you switch to a Google Play Edition ROM you’ll probably lose the radio app.

The Sense TV app has been upgraded for Sense 6. The M8 still has the IR transmitter allowing you to use the device as a remote control, but HTC have made a concerted effort to make the app more useful as a companion when you’re watching TV, particularly when watching sports. When viewing a show, you can review social activity for that show and if you are watching sport, stats about the game appear in the app too. It’s nicely done and the best implementation of the TV remote experience around today. With the demise of HTC’s own ‘Watch’ service, streaming service integration is limited to Sony’s ‘Crackle’ (at least in the UK), which feels a little bit weak - HTC could do with some more partnerships here.

As before, if you are in TV remote mode, just picking up the device will turn on the screen, which is a clever touch.

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HTC Car is present as always, with big, easy to use buttons for navigation, dialer, music and voice control. I have to say that i’ve never really used the car app very much and i’ve never really felt it necessary, up until recently. I’ve seen the future… and it’s awesome. It’s called ‘MirrorLink’.

MirrorLink is a technology (run by an independent consortium) which is looking to bring enhanced device integration to cars. The premise is that you’ll plug your phone into a USB port in your car (or, in MirrorLink 1.1, connect via WiFi Direct) and your car stereo’s screen will replicate your phone screen. Touches on your car’s infotainment screen will be replicated on your phone. HTC had a demo of the functionality in a Golf GTI on their stand at MWC and it looks fantastic. This is how I want phone integration in my car, I don’t want any OS in the car itself (*cough* iOS in the car *cough*) and the M8 supports it. Now, if only I can get support on the stereo in my car…

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I find it a little odd that HTC are still including their ‘Internet’ app on the phone when Chrome is pre-bundled. It seems unnecessary now, particularly as Flash is no longer supported.

In use

So what’s the device like to use?

When you first turn the M8 on you’re greeted by the familiar ‘HTC One’ boot screen and the signature boot sound. One thing is different though… at the bottom of the screen it says ‘Powered by Android’, just like it does on the Galaxy S5. There was some speculation that this change might be due to a future Tizen device coming along from Samsung, but it appears as though it’s actually a Google mandated change. Strange eh!

When the device boots up, you arrive at the custom HTC startup wizard, which takes you through setting up your device. HTC offers tools to help you setup your device online, migrate from a previous device or restore from a previous backup - worth a shot over and above the awful Google backup alternative! You can also set up your Google Drive account at this point and score yourself 50GB of free storage for 2 years. Very nice!

We talked a bit about the lockscreen already, but when your device is asleep there are some interesting ways of waking it instead of using the power button on the top. The M8 features double-tap-to-wake (as is common on a number of devices now), but it doesn’t accomplish this by keeping the touch panel alive all the time (with the associated battery impact). The M8 uses the sensor hub, which is always monitoring the motion of the device, to power up the touch panel as you pick up the device. In practice this is flawless - perhaps a little annoying if you want to double tap to wake while the device is flat on a desk, but the double tap itself is very reliable. Strangely there’s no double tap to sleep at all, root / xposed / gravitybox ‘double tap status bar to sleep’ is really a must have then.

The M8 adds a feature called motion launch, which takes DT2W to the next level. Rather than just double tapping, you can pick up your device and slide left on the screen to go straight to BlinkFeed. Doing the same but sliding right takes you straight to the home screen. Sliding upwards takes you back to the last app you were using and sliding down initiates voice dialling.

If you pick up the phone and holding it sideways (as though you’re about to take a picture) and press the volume down button (like it’s a shutter button), the Camera app opens. The same button then takes a picture (it IS a shutter button). It works well, although of course it’s no substitute for a real dual stage button.

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With the M8 packing a Snapdragon 801 processor you’d expect it to be quick, but actually that doesn’t really cover it - it really flies. Forget about custom Android skins slowing things down, the new One feels at least as fast as stock Android on, say, a Nexus 5, if not faster. Everything is incredibly silky smooth, despite various visual flourishes throughout the experience. The phone might ‘only’ include 2GB RAM, but very rarely did I find applications being closed down due to lack of memory. Sure, the 3GB RAM on the Galaxy Note 3 is a ‘nice to have’, but we’re certainly not at the point where it’s a ‘must have’. There’s a reason why Samsung included 2GB in their S5 too.

As with previous generation ‘One’ devices, the M8 includes fast boot functionality, where if you turn your device off, it’s actually just in a lower power state meaning it can start back up quickly. If you’re hacking about on the device be aware of this though, you should turn it off if you’re, er, ‘messing about’. ;-)

BoomSound

‘Like when your phone is already crazy loud and the speakers get 25% bigger.’

We talked already about how the size of the M8 itself was due in no small part to the Boomsound speakers. I recall fondly how, when the M7 came out, the volume was SO loud that the first notch of control wasn’t low enough (fixed in a later update). Well, HTC claim that Boomsound on the M8 is 25% louder and also has additional advanced dedicated processing to reduce clipping and optimise sound quality.

So how is it?

I don’t know if it’s 25% louder, but it is LOUD and most importantly the sound quality is astonishing. It’s a little surprising really that when I switch from a One device to something else, the speakers are probably the thing I miss most, even though I don’t listen to a huge amount of music on my device. Just for immersive gaming, they really are incredible. The M8 doesn’t include any Beats technology but let’s be honest… who cares? I certainly don’t miss it.

Camera

‘Like when you have a cool new camera tech, but you can’t quite make the most of it yet.’

So the rumours are true. The M8 has two cameras on the back (‘Duo camera’ in HTC speak) and the specifications of the 4 Megapixel ‘Ultrapixel’ main camera match that of it’s predecessor (although we’re told it is an upgraded unit with a similarly upgraded Imagechip processor). The widescreen front camera is bumped to a 5 Megapixel resolution, creating the rather bizarre situation where the front camera has a higher megapixel count than the rear camera. Go figure!

What this means is that from a pure camera performance perspective, if you’ve used the original HTC One then you know what expect. The camera on the M8 offers incredible low light ability while slightly compromising compared to its peers in ideal shooting conditions. The upgraded flash on the M8 definitely produces less ‘dazzled’ pictures than on the original One, although with the Nokia 1020 and its xenon flash being the notable exception, I try and avoid using mobile phone camera flashes at all costs.

HTC’s take on the M8’s camera - as with the M7 - is that the majority of users take pictures that they don’t need to display / print at ridiculous sizes, so the relatively low ‘real’ resolution is a moot point. They’re right, to a degree, but I feel that sometimes (particularly in those aforementioned ideal conditions), the lower megapixel count does compromise some of the ultimate sharpness of the shot. One year on from the original One we are seeing other companies doing a good job with their cameras in challenging low-light conditions without compromising quite as much as HTC have in the raw specs.

Autofocus and picture taking on the M8 is fast, taking only 0.3 seconds. Although in a test the raw burst mode seemed a little slower than the iPhone 5S (which is insanely quick), one of the M8’s strengths is that the autofocus is extremely fast indeed, resulting in fewer blurry pictures than you’d get on it’s predecessor. I’m not sure whether this is helped by the secondary camera or not, but it’s a definite improvement.

There was a good deal of speculation in pre-launch leaks about the exact purpose of the secondary camera on the back of the M8. What it does is add depth information in the EXIF data of the picture, which in turn allows the HTC software (and in the future 3rd party software) to do some clever things with that data.

I think it’s important to squash one of the rumours straight away about the secondary camera - the depth data doesn’t allow you to refocus pics after-the-fact Lytro or Nokia Refocus style. Unfortunately. What the primary ‘Ufocus’ experience does do is allow you to do is to automatically apply a ‘bokeh’ (background blur) effect to images, based on the captured depth data. You can change which object in the image is maintained in focus by touching on the screen. It’s quite cool and works well for some pictures… but if something isn’t in focus after your initial shot, it’s never going to be in focus.

The ‘Foregrounder’ function uses the depth data to automatically determine what is in the foreground and allow you to add a number of effects to the background, Zoom Blur, Sketch, Cartoon and Colorize. Colorize is always a popular one and the depth data allows it to be fully automatic, but it doesn’t feel to me like that secondary camera is really revolutionising the experience. Yet.

The other main effects offered are even more incidental - you can apply a ‘Seasons’ filter to overlay falling leaves, falling snow etc., you can apply a strange 3D effect that alters the image as you move your phone and you can cut people’s faces out of one picture to paste in another (actually a decent idea but it needs a little refinement).

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So here’s the thing. I think the Duo camera on the M8 has the potential to be really excellent. I mean, to have the data to allow you to manipulate an image not just as a flat surface but with information about depth, foreground and background gives some really interesting possibilities… I just don’t think that HTC have either a) really worked out what those possibilities are yet or B) had the time to implement them and really make the most of an innovative piece of hardware. I really don’t want to write it off as a gimmick… but i’m still on the fence on this one.

Thankfully, the overall camera experience on the M8 is just as good as it was. I talked before about what HTC’s Sense software adds to the user experience over stock Android and the Camera app is a fantastic example of that… the stock app is awful.

The main modes in the Camera app are Camera (of course), Video (up to 1080P, no 4K video although slow motion, 60FPS full HD and full HD HDR are offered), Zoe camera, Selfie (!), Dual capture and Pan 360. The app offers a huge degree of control of your image… as well as a full auto mode and various modes such as HDR, Anti-shake, Portrait etc. etc. there is a full manual mode allowing complete customisation of settings in very much the same way as you can on the Lumia 1020. AE and AF can be locked with a long press on the screen, making it a very powerful camera application. Note that unlike it’s predecessor there is no OIS on the M8, as the hardware is incompatible with the Duo camera configuration.

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The Zoe option in the camera has changed a little. The confusing Zoe / Video Highlights naming from the M7 is now combined under the ‘Zoe’ umbrella, which from a branding perspective makes a lot of sense. The same, powerful features of capturing Zoe sequences exists and the highlight videos themselves are better than ever… the online hosting experience is also being upgraded to make it more ‘social’ than before.

Dual Capture is exactly what you’d expect - the main camera image overlayed with the front camera image. Does anyone ever really use this? Pan 360 is the panorama function expanded to a 360 x 180 degree experience. HTC’s Panorama modes always worked well, and they still do.

Apparently we live in a world obsessed with selfies nowadays and with that in mind, bumping HTC’s already very good wide angle front camera up to 5 Megapixels seems like a good move. It’s not a bad camera actually - definitely better than most front shooters, with support for a reasonable degree of manual control, auto timers and face detection.

Strangely both the front and rear cameras seem to struggle to get a good result in HDR mode. For example, taking a picture towards a window with bright sunlight outside, in HDR mode, should allow me to get a nice clear picture of the darker inside too. I don’t seem to be able to achieve that at all on the M8.

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The Gallery application is a vital part of the camera experience and, in common with HTC’s other customisations, it’s very good. Snapped images can be filtered Instagram style to within an inch of their life, framed, rotated, annotated, cropped, flipped or straightened. Images can be viewed in a timeline, by album or by location, with those aforementioned auto highlight videos taking pride of place.

I'm in the process of taking a bunch of pictures on the M7, M8 and G2 for comparison... you can find them shared in this Dropbox folder.

If you'd like to learn more about the camera on the M8, HTC have published their own 'white paper', which you can download in PDF form.

Battery life

The battery life section of a review is certainly the hardest part to write because it is so subjective. For example, I personally am incredibly hard on batteries, not only because I use devices a lot, but because I frequently have my phone hooked up to both Glass and Pebble, use GPS, play power-hungry games - lots of worst case battery scenarios basically!

I switched to the M8 - which has a 2600mAh battery - from the LG G2 which has a 3000mAh stacked battery, having also used the original HTC One recently. The best way for me to quantify battery life is by comparing its stamina to those. In normal use, with all HTC’s trick power saving features turned off, it considerably outlasts the original (although not by HTC’s claimed 40% improvement) but just can’t keep up with the G2 which has quite unbelievable longevity. By the end of a heavy day’s use the M8 is pretty much depleted for me when the G2 is still going strong, although HTC believe a ‘normal’ user should have no trouble getting 2 days of ‘regular’ use out of the handset.

HTC have included some features in the software to help the battery last, which will make a big difference. One new addition is around screen brightness. Screen is a big battery killer and HTC phones have particularly good, bright screens. I’ve generally found however that auto-brightness is either too bright or not bright enough, inevitably leading to it being turned off. This isn’t the case on the M8 - a slider is now present (as we’ve seen on other devices) allowing you to set the auto-brightness maximum point - a big improvement. The brightness changes are ultra smooth and barely noticeable - a big thumbs up.

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The M8 also has a ‘Sleep mode’, which turns off the data connection during long periods of inactivity. Of course, this isn’t really an option if you have your phone hooked up to a Smartwatch or similar (or if you want to receive up to the minute notifications), but if absolute optimum battery life is a priority for you, it’s a good option to have.

The ‘Power saver’ option seen on the original One is on the M8 too, allowing you to flick a switch to throttle the CPU, lower the screen brightness, turn off vibration feedback and have the data connection switch off when the screen is off. This also happens automatically at 15% battery.

The big new addition is ‘Extreme power saving mode’, which is very similar to a feature Samsung announced for the S5. The mode, which again can be manually activated or automatically switched on at a specific battery level, tries to eke out the longest possible time from your phone by activating all the options in ‘power saver’ mode but to a higher degree, turning off the pedometer and limiting which apps can run. You can phone, text, email, check your calendar and use your calculator, but that’s about it. It does work very well in a real critical situation. HTC claim that even with just 10 percent battery, you’ll have 30 hours of standby time with the extreme power saving mode. Amazing.

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The M8 includes Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 technology in the device, but not in the included charger. Net result - the phone charges fast and will charge even faster when the QC2 charger becomes available! There’s no wireless charging support of course - it would be virtually impossible to implement with the device’s all-metal body.

Conclusion

‘Like when your new flagship raises the game rather than changing the game.’

Once again the HTC One (M8) embodies what HTC is all about. Achingly beautiful industrial design and build, equally well crafted software and a number of signature experiences (Ultrapixel, Zoe, Boomsound, etc.) that cement the very essence of HTC within the device.

The M8 feels so much like a careful upgrade of the original One that it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying that it’s not ‘different enough’ to be exciting. HTC have done a fantastic job of fixing the (few) things that people wanted changed about the original, together with upgrading the specs in just the right way to produce a blistering fast, beauty of a Smartphone.

With all that said, the M8 doesn’t change the game, even with that innovative Duo camera (as it stands today) and during the lifetime of the product; I worry that someone else is going to come along and do just that.

If there’s one thing the M8 shouldn’t lack, it is shelf appeal.

Now, how about ‘Like when you build the best phone in the world and people actually buy it...’?

Pros and cons

Pros
  • Beautiful design and construction
  • Extremely fast and smooth
  • Great camera low light performance
  • Improved battery life
  • The best Android software experience
  • Boomsound
Cons
  • Device is large
  • Battery life falls short of some of its rivals
  • Ultrapixel camera ultimately limited by 4 Megapixel resolution
  • Duo camera potential under utilised
Roots and ROMs

‘Like when a bug reported at the launch of the original HTC One remains unfixed.’

The M8 follows HTC’s now well established bootloader unlock policy. All SIM free devices will be bootloader unlockable but there will be some exceptions where operators have mandated that this should not be allowed. Vote with your feet - if your operator is one of those committing this cardinal sin, buy a SIM free unit instead and write to them to have a moan.

If you do decide to unlock the bootloader on your phone there is a very important issue you need to be aware of and it’s the same one that affected M7 devices. When you carry out the unlock, the /data partition is wiped (for security reasons). The problem is, as before, HTC have put some preload APK content on the data partition, such as 7Digital, Flashlight and a couple of other apps. These get destroyed too, so when your device comes back up these will be gone forever. Sure, you can back these up and restore them afterwards, but there is a bigger problem. We saw on the M7 that some OTA releases updated these preloaded apps, and failed if the APKs weren’t found - the same is sure to happen on the M8.

tl;dr - unlocking the bootloader may affect your ability to receive OTA updates in the future.

A root solution for the M8 is imminent and there will be lots of custom ROMs, just as there are on the M7. It’s sure to be a well supported device in the community.

Accessories

The new Dot View Case gives you a cool dot-matrix view of your screen through holes in the cover. It’s an innovative way to protect the phone but still see alerts without opening the cover of your device (when you do open it the screen turns on). You can take calls and make calls using voice dialling with the cover closed, as well as responding to alarms and notifications. I’ve seen an orange version of the case in person and it’s brilliant!

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Should the Dot View Case not tickle your fancy, a regular Flip Case is available (again with auto screen on when opened). The case also has cutouts top and bottom to let the BoomSound out.

The final official case option is the Double Dip Case as seen on the M7. It looks as though more colour options will be available this time (and more custom tops and bottoms will come with each case) - no word yet on whether the custom case designer will be updated to support the M8.

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A car kit will be available and the Fetch, Battery Bar and frankly ridiculous (but great) BoomBass accessories are all compatible with the new device,

HTC Mini+

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The Mini+ accessory is also compatible the M8.

The diminutive handset, paired with your device using NFC and Bluetooth, is designed as a remote for your phone. Really. As well as being able to make and receive calls on it (when you are in a heavy gaming session perhaps!) you can receive notifications, use it as a hands free camera controller, control your device when it’s hooked up to your TV and use it as a laser pointer and remote for your presentations when displaying them from your phone.

To be honest, it all sounds a bit crazy, so we just had to get one in. We have, and we’ll be covering it separately from this review. Stay tuned!

Have your say

Do you have a HTC One (M8)? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!

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