The HTC One was one of the highest rated smartphones of 2013. Unfortunately for HTC, this didn’t matter much on the whole, as it didn’t gain nearly as much traction as the OEM may have hoped. Although the device was released in South Africa, distribution was scarce due to many issues involving channels and other market factors. Based on the media event held two week ago [link], it’s clear that HTC are taking things a lot more serious this time around. And this is good, especially to the average consumer on the street. The HTC One (M8) is an important product for HTC, not simply because it’s replacing the original One as the flagship, but also because HTC cannot afford yet another slip up in terms of sales. Having been released previously in other international markets, all indications are there that the device already made a positive impact; HTC recording its first quarterly profit in recent times. On paper, the HTC One (M8) ticks almost every box it needs to, but how much of an improvement is it over its predecessor, and will it take a significant enough amount of market share to keep reproducing quality products year on year?
Build and Design
Without comparing the two phones side by side, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think that the M7 and M8 are pretty much identical. The M8 inherited many of the same features in terms of the overall design, while being slightly updated. The front facing speaker grills are a signature of the HTC One, and return on the M8, alongside the curved rear cover, horizontal lines across the front and back, as well as the brushed aluminium finish. The design is something HTC have made a priority and have improved upon, upping the aluminium percentage from 70% to 90% on the M8. This means the aluminium runs uninterrupted from the front to the rear, right up to the edges of the Gorilla Glass 3 screen. The M8 comes in three colour variants, including “gunmetal grey”, “arctic silver”, and “amber gold,” the latter two with a more anodised style finish. There are a few downsides to the extra metal, one of which is its new found slipperiness. Although I didn’t experience too much stress in this regard, I can easily see how many users would find this a big problem. The other concern is that it will, in all eventuality, pick up its fair share of scratches due to wear and tear. The use of a pouch then becomes a necessity.
The M8’s display has increased from 4.7” to 5”, which means the dimensions have also increased, from 137.4×68.2×9.3mm to 146.4×70.6×9.4. This also means that the M8 is a few grams heavier, now weighing 160g. Due to its abundance of metal, the M8 is heavier than many of its competitors, although lighter than the Xperia Z2 at 163g. The layout of the M8’s keys have been slightly altered. The power button, which has the IR built into it (and not the plastic strip), is now positioned on the top of the device. The volume rocker is found on the right, side of the unit, and has been raised slightly, making pressing easier over the flush-based layout on the M7. Above it there is a slot for an SD card. The opposite, left-hand side, houses the nanoSIM slot. The microUSB port sits on the bottom of the device, with the 3.5mm audio jack to its right. As mentioned earlier, the dual, BoomSound speakers are housed on the front face on the top and bottom, with the proximity sensor and front-facing camera on the top right. There is also an oversized bezel below the display on the front, which HTC has attempted to soften by adding its logo. The extra space on the front wasn’t designed for the logo, but rather as a result of the internal hardware not being able to be squeezed in much tighter. The brushed aluminium on the rear is only interrupted by the HTC’s dual-camera system and dual-LED flash, with the logo proudly displayed in the centre.
The HTC One (M8) isn’t all about design for the sake of making a smartphone that is good to look, but something that has equal amounts of function and purpose as well. One indication of this are the horizontal strips that run along the front and rear of the device. While it may seem purely design, its purpose is to aid phone and Wi-Fi signal, by permeating throughout the chassis. There’s a lot of engineering taking place throughout the chassis, something that many of us don’t fully appreciate.
During the build up to its release, there were many rumours floating around about the M8’s 2K display. Unfortunately, as with both the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2, this didn’t materialise. This, however, isn’t to say that the end result is worse off because of that exclusion, as the results are still respectable, albeit with similar results to that of the original M7. HTC has used the same resolution and display technology from the M7, although it has bumped the screen size up to 5”. Although this means there is a slight drop in pixel density, there is no visible reduction in quality, unless you’re comparing the two devices side by side. Images and video still look sharp and bright, with great viewing angles, while still being easy to read in direct sunlight. The overall performance of video and graphics quality is increased by means of the Adreno 330 GPU, but we’ll touch more on that in the next section.
The inclusion of Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 means that users can enjoy scratch-resistant use of their M8. It is worth mentioning that the glass has been raised slightly from the chassis, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easier to crack. HTC’s design team have added a special protective coating to prevent any additional scratches and impacts that normally put the device at risk. Although the M8 doesn’t have a water-resistant IP-rating, it does have an IPX-3 liquid protection rating. This simply means that the device is protected from spraying water; to be precise, at a pressure of 80kPA at an angle of 60 degrees, and up to 0.7 litres per minute. This should at least keep your device safe during a rainstorm.
Performance and Battery Life
The HTC One (M8) is fitted with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 Quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 400 CPU, coupled with the Adreno 330 GPU. While the chipset is the same as its competitors (the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2), it lags slightly behind their 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs. This version of CPU has been released for the M8 in Asia, but not in the remaining international markets. In addition, the Z2 also has an advantage in terms of RAM, 3GB compared to the One’s 2GB. The end result, though, isn’t all bad, and, in fact, the M8 makes use of what it has under the hood much better than its competitors. All three of these smartphones perform well under benchmark tests, with no noticeable lag in performance, as well as being smooth during use.
Where the M8 stands out is its operational temperatures, something that plagued the Xperia Z2 quite heavily, and being better than the S5 overall. A lot of this is, once again, down to optimised and functional design of the aluminium chassis. The M8 was put through its paces by running some of the most graphic and processor intensive games and processes, while being on charge and acting as a tethering hotspot for other devices. In most cases, many smartphones would simply overheat after an extended amount of time, which, as a result, stalls the charge. Not only did the M8 run relatively cool in comparison, it was also able to charge fully within a respectable timeframe. The M8 is fitted with a 2,600mAh, compared to the 2800mAh and 3200mAh batteries of the S5 and Z2, respectively. Even still, the M8 was able to punch above its weight here thanks to its operational temperatures, and was able to make it through a complete day on charge without too much trouble.
On the previous M7, HTC introduced its UltraPixel camera tech to the world. On the M8, the technology has been introduced once again, this time with the addition of the Duo-camera. The UltraPixel tech is all about taking the best quality rather than relying on high-resolution images. For a slightly more technical explanation, the M8’s camera has a 1/3” BSI sensor with 2µm pixels, while most smartphones only have around 1.1µm pixels. What this means is that it is capable of absorbing up to 330% more light particles. To round it off, HTC also make use of ImageChip 2 and a 28mm f/2.0 AF lens, which allows in even more light. The lens itself is ‘only’ 4MP, but the quality it produces more than makes up for its lack of resolution.
HTC’s Duo-camera isn’t exactly two cameras used in tandem, but rather one camera and one depth sensor. The secondary ‘camera’ is used in conjunction with the primary to provide users with nifty post-production image effects. The effects include UFocus, Foregrounder, Seasons, and Dimension Plus, as well as “moving image” option called Zoe. Quite a lot of time was spent editing photos after being snapped, largely because the features are offered after the image has been taken, but mostly because there are quite a number of options that make even better photos at the end of the day. Alongside the dual camera, HTC have added a dual-LED flash. This is specifically designed to rid your photos of glare, while making your low-light images appear more natural. One thing that is noticeably gone missing on the M8 is OIS (or Optical Image Stabilisation). HTC have gone on record to boast about its faster autofocus capabilities. Furthermore, it was also stated that OIS is incompatible with the Duo-camera, and devs chose to make use of other techniques such as anti-shake, etc.
All this technical talk and we have yet to touch on HTC’s software improvements to its Sense UI, and its accompanying apps. HCT has released its sixth version of Sense (which HTC have termed “Sixth Sense”), with quite a number small features added. The overall performance on Android 4.4.2 KitKat is already as smooth as users would need, but unlike the resource-intensive TouchWiz UI, Sense has a lot of trickery without the need for bulk. Many of the gesture-based features are easy to operate and, importantly, don’t need to be performed again to get the desired result. I really loved this fact, as it makes everything feel like one seamless integration. Many of these gestures are based on the device detecting movement, such as the device being picked up, and couple gestures in conjunction with these movements. There is no real learning curve for users coming from Sense 5, and under normal functionality. For many of the more intricate features doesn’t take a lot of time to figure out, but is worth spending some time with for ease of use.
BlinkFeed, again, forms part of the homescreen, and can be activated by a simple swipe to the left, while still being able to add additional panels to the right. There are also four basic themes to choose between, which yield different base colours. The chosen theme is also extended into the BlinkFeed section. As is the trend these days, some of HTC’s proprietary apps are available via the Play Store, which makes for easier updating, as well as providing some functionality across different devices. This means that users can benefit from updates to their apps without having to wait for a firmware update first. HTC are also offering some cloud storage options to users, as well as including a few features to be able to use your home PC as a host for a media server, from which your device can stream music and movies.
It’s very rare these days to pick up any tech and love it without giving it a second thought. On occasion, the love tends to diminish after having spent some time putting it through its paces. For me, the HTC One (M8) did just that. It captured my attention from the off, and became even better after continued use over the review period. The problem HTC have here is that I would assume many users in the market may have already switched to the Samsung Galaxy S5, and if not, have limited options in terms of their upgrades to go for the HTC One (M8). With a RRP of R8,999 (and some online deals at under R8,000), the M8 should really be more sort after when compared to the above R10,000 price points for each of its competitors.
The original HTC One may not have taken the market by storm, but was one of the most innovative devices of 2013. The M8 is as much of a game changer as that, but there are numerous improvements to warrant being labelled a “new device”, more so than Samsung’s iteration between the S4 and S5. It may not be entirely fair, but HTC’s success is now in the hands of the market. Producing great products is only as good as its marketing, and in some small aspect, the media. As it stands, the HTC One (M8) has my vote for favourite smartphone of the year, and it may take some beating from the like of the next iPhone or Nexus later this year.
You can find the full specifications here.