HTC sent over their new top of the range 5 inch Smartphone the HTC One M8 a few weeks ago, since then we have had plenty of time to really get to know the device, its quirks, its high points and in general a much clearer picture of where HTC fits in with this year’s current crop of headline devices. Let’s get stuck in to the details first of all and assess what HTC has brought to the table with new HTC One code-named M8.
Detailed Video Review
Before we get embroiled in the full written review below, be sure to check out this deep-dive review video featuring Nicole Scott and myself.
Finding a New and Improved Direction: HTC One (M7)
The HTC One was a ground breaking device for HTC as a company who in our opinion were lacking a real direction in terms of device design and differentiation from its competitors at the back end of 2012. The respect that they had garnered with the HTC Desire and Droid Incredible in early 2010, followed up with the Desire HD later that year, had in truth really begun to dissipate. Successive Desire models seemingly trying to cater for every possible kind of user with myriad feature sets and price points, spoke of a company desperately trying to find a direction and a true identity once more.
The original HTC One was launched almost exactly a year ago and did a really good job of changing that perception, re-establishing the company once again as a major force to be reckoned with in terms of producing a truly industry-leading smartphone.
The HTC One M7 had everything it needed to be a real winner, but for many of us Mobile Geeks, the thing that made the device stand head and shoulders above its brethren was the solid aluminum chassis design that for first time actually placed an Android device in the same design and build quality bracket as an iPhone. The HTC had a solid in hand feel that got your attention the moment you picked it up. It felt totally solid and unlike any other Android phone design on the market. The display on the HTC One was also a real head turner. A 5.0 inch IPS with a Full HD 1080p resolution and a pixel density of 443PPI, it was arguably as good as anything on the market.
Here you can compare the HTC One M7, HTC One Max and HTC One M8 specs side by side:
HTC One Comparison Table
|HTC One||HTC One Max||HTC One (M8)|
Corning Gorilla Glass 2
Corning Gorilla Glass 2
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|RAM||2GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l|
|Storage||32GB / 64GB||16GB / 32GB||16GB / 32GB / 64GB|
|microSD||None||Up to 64GB||Up to 128GB|
|Cameras||4MP & 2.1MP||4MP & 2.1MP||4MP plus BSI & 5MP|
|Weight||143 grams||217 grams||160 grams|
|OS||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean||Android 4.4 KitKat|
|UI||HTC Sense v.5||HTC Sense v.5.5||HTC Sense v.6|
HTC also made some brave design decisions when it came to the camera and sensor array on the One. Instead of ramping up the Megapixels as pretty much all other smartphone manufacturers have continued to do with each subsequent generation, HTC decided on a different path. The HTC One’s Ultra Pixel camera design combined a much larger 2.0 micrometer (UltraPixel) approach to taking photos that included an industry-leading f/2.0 aperture which provided much more light to the sensor. The overall result had its limitations in mode zoom where the 4MP sensor would struggle, and in certain outdoor situations the good quality photos could prove difficult, but generally speaking the HTC One provided top class photography capabilities once you understood the issues involved with the unique design in your hands.
Improving Your Best: HTC ONE M8
The new HTC One, now dubbed the M8 in the company’s marketing campaign, has the almost unenviable task of trying to build on the success of the original (which we can now refer to as the M7) without deviating too much from a design that HTC could now call its own. In our opinion the HTC One M8 does a pretty awesome job of achieving this aim. It builds on the same solid aluminum chassis design that we really enjoyed on the One, distinguishing the new HTC One M8 as true One family member. The M8 is a touch longer and more rectangular than its predecessor, enough to be apparent to M7 users. But while the design is pretty similar on first inspection, as you’d expect with a new flagship device, there are plenty of areas where HTC have made significant changes and improvements.
First, let’s look at where HTC’s new top dog makes its case and check out the specs in full:
HTC One M8 Specifications
• 5” Super LCD3
• 1920 x 1080 (Corning Gorilla Glass 3)
• Snapdragon 801 (Quad Core @ 2.3GHz/2.5GHz*)
• 2GB DDR3L
• 16GB /32GB /64GB Internal Storage Options
• microSD Support up to 128GB
• Duo Ultrapixel (2 micron) 4MP Rear Camera plus Depth Sensor
• 5MP Front Camera, 1080p@30fps, HDR
• Beats Audio Speakers
• HSPA+, LTE Support
• Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0
• A-GPS, GLONASS
• Micro USB 2.0 port (MHL Compatible)
• 146.4mm x 70.6mm x 9.4mm
• 160 grams
• Nano SIM
• 2,600mAh Battery (non-removable)
• Available colors; Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, Amber Gold
• Android 4.4 with HTC Sense UI v6
HTC One M8 Image Gallery
One of the first things you’ll notice in the spec sheet above (especially of you are as geeky as we are) is the larger 5 inch screen. The size difference from 4.7 inch display compared to a 5 inch one is, well, exactly 0.3 inches or exactly 7.62mm. Not a massive change, but one that does alter the overall shape of the device a little, making the M8 a longer device at 146.4mm compared to 137.4mm. The additional bulk of the screen is backed by a larger battery which all translates into an additional 17 grams of heft. These changes are fairly minimal, and once again, while a side-by-side comparison will reveal all and ardent HTC One fans will notice a difference for sure, in truth the extra length is a non-issue, especially if it means enjoying a larger 5″ screen.
Interestingly however, this also a trend we have noticed happening in general through the mobile device industry. Take these recent examples; the Xperia Z series from Sony which moved from 5 inches to 5.2, or the Samsung Galaxy range which sees the S5 move from 5 inches to 5.1 – the general trend in the 5 inch smartphone segment is that the displays are generally moving in the larger direction. One could argue that perhaps customer feedback is showing an audience which is more accepting of larger screens in general, or perhaps it is just a case of current IPS LED manufacturing leaning towards slightly larger panel sizes. Either way it is certainly a trend in this space.
The HTC One M8 actually has a lower screen pixel density than the M7 due to same 1920 x 1080 resolution being used on a slightly larger display (441 PPI vs 469). Prior to Mobile World Congress a month or so ago, there were plenty of geeks out in the geekosphere (you know who you are…) that had hopes and dreams of the major smartphone device manufacturers moving past the perceived limitations of Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution displays. Alas, Full HD has survived the hardware release onslaught of 2014 thus far, and remains the resolution of choice on pretty much all headlining 5 inch smartphones.
The general feeling we get from the device vendors is that 1080p on a handset is a sweet spot which will be around for some time to come. Greater pixel density in the same form factor, using current the Android 4.4 OS would perhaps mean smaller icons and a consequently whole lot more eye strain.
Here’s a fantastic article from our buddy Edgar on the pros and cons of moving past Full HD resolutions.
Design and Build Quality
The new HTC One M8 is immediately recognizable as a HTC One phone, having the same chiseled aluminum body, only this time if anything it feels even more metallic and solid than before. HTC describe it as “beautiful, durable, high quality metal unibody”… as soon as you pick up the device, you’ll agree with me that this is a pretty accurate description. It feels better in the hand than any other device on the market; solid, well balanced and out-right classy compared just about every phone you’ve ever held.
That extra 0.3 inches of screen translates into the device being a longer by exactly 9mm, which does impact slightly on the way it feels in your hand, but it is not just the length. The rear of the M8 is slightly more curved too, fitting snugly in the hollow of your hand to feel even more like a genuinely honed and chiseled piece of metal – indeed HTC’s marketing tells a tale of the M8 chassis being 90% metal, compared to last year’s M7 which used 70%. The resulting device is astonishingly attractive.
Looking at the front of the device however, we cannot but feel that HTC could have been more economical with the devices length – there is one small band just below the display where we have nothing but an HTC logo. The M7 used a similar design, but here HTC logo was either side of two hardware buttons, so at least the area had a genuine purpose. This time around, the space seems inefficiently used, sporting a logo only. Does the phone really need to have a dedicated area for the company logo? If not, then why have it? Why not include hardware buttons anyway? The new OnePlus one will have options for hardware and onscreen buttons, so why not the M8? For me the HTC logo on the back would have been sufficient – it actually looks great, etched onto the metal chassis.
One other minor gripe I have is that the M8 now has the power button on the top right side edge, whereas on the M7 it was placed on the left. Both positions are in conflict to Samsung and Sony for example who are consistent in their right side positioning. In truth, if the power button has to be on the top edge, I’d prefer it be on the right side – my first HTC Desire was designed in this way and I can deal with it. I wonder however how users moving from the M7 to the M8 will feel however. Seems like an odd design change to me, and one that could annoy some fans of the original HTC One.
Overall, the design and build quality of the One M8 truly is ‘industry-leading’, and it is not often that we get to say that. HTC are ahead of the pack (with the possible exception of the OnePlus One phone which uses a solid magnesium body design, plus of course Apple who also know a thing or two about solid body devices…). I am almost surprised that more solid body designs have not appeared since HTC launched the One last year. It would seem to be clear way forward for device design and one that Apple has been pioneering for sometime.
The HTC one M8 uses the MSM8974AB processor also known as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 system-on-chip, arguably the best performing mobile platform on the market today. In most benchmarks the 801 surpasses Intel, MediaTek, Nvidia, Apple, as well as its predecessor, the Snapdragon 800. Synthetic benchmarks can be disputed and are not always true indicators of real world performance, but our own testing confirms the Snapdragon 801 to be current top dog in mobile.
Here’s a table comparing the HTC One M8 to two competitors also running the Snapdragon 801 SoC. Although the HTC One M8 wins several benchmarks, I would conclude that all three devices exhibit similar performance levels.
Top 5" Smartphone Benchmark Comparison
|Sony Xperia Z2||Samsung Galaxy S5||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||11.7fps||11.5fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||26.9fps||27.1fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||18753||18373||20594|
|Sunspider (lower is better)||762.4||665.2||669.6|
The Snapdragon 801 is in fact basically a higher clocked version of the 800. It is a quad core processor that combines four Krait 400 cores with an Adreno 330 graphics processor, all of which receive a clock boost compared to the 800. The dynamic Krait cores can hit a peak clock of 2.36GHz, while the Adreno GPU gets a bump from 400MHz to 578MHz. Memory bandwidth is also improved, moving from 800MHz to 933MHz. This all amounts to a very slick and well powered user experience. Android 4.4.2 Kitkat is very smooth, app switching and loading is as fast as ever – thanks possibly to the Snapdragon 801 also supporting faster eMMC 5.0 NAND flash. Overall the device purrs like a spoiled kitten, delivering all the goodies you would expect from a flagship smartphone in 2014.
You can also check out our head to performance comparison of the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2:
Of course we also put the HTC One M8 through its paces in terms of gaming apps, just to confirm real-life performance measured up to the benchmark results. The Qualcomm processor performed exceptionally well as expected, bringing great frames-per-second on the fantastic looking LCD 3 display.
You can find a full HTC One M8 Gaming video here:
Arguably, alongside the overall design and build of the HTC One M8, the other area where HTC has deliberately chosen its own path is with its choice of camera and sensor hardware. As we mentioned earlier, the M8 builds on the design choices of the M7 with a decision to use an 4MP Ultrapixel camera sensor that abandoned the MegaPixel race entirely, opting instead for 2 micron pixels and a 1/3” sensor that allows more light. The M8 uses the same 4MP Ultrapixel camera, adding an additional depth sensor; note HTC markets its camera array as the Duo Camera, but in fact there is only one true camera, the 4MP. Sitting next to it we have a depth sensor which adds depth information to the image which can then be manipulated later.
The addition of the depth camera has given HTC the opportunity to add some interesting new technologies, at least two of which actually count as good solid camera features. Firstly there UFocus which allows you change the focus of an image after the fact. The feature only works when you have objects in the front and foreground as you’d expect the depth sensor really makes a huge difference, compared to Samsung’s Selective Focus for example which recommends the shot be taken between 10 and 50 cm from the subject. With UFocus you access the edit menu, tap effects, select UFocus and then simply tap the area you wish to be brought in to focus. If the result looks good, you can save it. We had plenty of fun with this feature and I honestly think that many users will enjoy using it.
There are also effects that exploit the depth sensor less well however. Foregrounder allows you to add a sketch background to any image, while Seasons will let you add falling snowflakes, autumnal leaves etc to a scene. I think most users will try these effects once or twice – you might show it off to your friends perhaps, but only once. Check out these examples of seasons using Snow and Sakura effects:
Of more interest we have 3D mode. This is a very interesting if perhaps slightly gimmicky effect that allows the image to be manipulated in 3D. After you apply the effect, you can tilt your device from side to side and watch the viewing angle of the device change in relation to the angle of the phone. It can be quite disconcerting at first and for sure it is a feature that again you be showing to friends and family. You also have the option to save the image from a different angle.
Finally, the depth sensor hardware also allows the HTC camera app to literally copy and paste an image into another image. It doesn’t always work so well, but it can be done, if a little clumsily at times. Again this is a feature you may use sparingly, if at all. Dual capture mode allows you to add a selfie of yourself using the impressive 5MP font facing camera, while simultaneously taking a shot on the rear camera. The result looks like this:
Enough of the depth sensor stuff. How does it shoot in regular conditions? In all honesty the HTC One M8 is capable of taking breathtaking photos and has a solid software app to help you get the most out of them in terms of post processing. The problems arise when your conditions are not as optimal. Despite all the marketing talk, the sensor struggles in low light conditions where you do actually get plenty of light, it’s just a grainier kind of light. The ISOCELL sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S5, and the 20.7MP sensor on the Sony Xperia Z2 are much more adept at producing good quality snaps in difficult conditions.
HTC has plenty of tricks up its sleeves thanks to its depth sensor, but when it comes the main trick of being a really good point and shoot camera, it remains behind the competition somewhat.
We have already done some pretty in-depth comparisons of the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia X2:
Software – HTC Sense V.6
As with many Android 4.4 KitKat devices, the HTC One M8 has removed its physical buttons in favor of on screen software buttons. You get a back button on the left, home in the middle and a multi-task button on the right – so you quickly jump from to app, or close apps running in the background. In terms of visuals the OS looks pretty close to vanilla Android. Not as stylishly flat as Samsung’s latest TouchWiz implementation but it is obvious that HTC is not veering too far from a Nexus Android experience.
HTC Sense would not be the UI it is today without few HTC staples, one of which is the new and updated Blinkfeed app – digital update screen that presents feeds from your Twitter, Facebook accounts and other web services or RSS feeds in one scrolling app. It was quite annoying to see that Blinkfeed was enabled by default on the left side of the home panel, taking up the entire panel of course we can forgive them for promoting their own software, but it just feels like many top tier vendors spend too much effort trying to differentiate on software, creating apps that they then force on unsuspecting users. I am not a fan of Blinkfeed. I admit to deleting it after only a matter of hours.
Overall however, HTC has to be praised for letting go of its ambitions to be a software and services eco-system hub. Unlike Samsung and the excessive bloatware they bundle with their devices, HTC it seems has woken up to the idea that they don’t need a HTC app for every task, that most users have a preferred app anyway and loading a phone with software I will never use is almost criminal. HTC should be applauded for their efforts to resist the urge to completely fill the device with their own flavored bloatware (looking at you Samsung) .HTC calendar and music apps look good and are simple and unfussy. The menus and navigation of the Sense UI v6 look reasonably stylish and well thought out. Overall I really enjoyed HTC’s new Sense UI.
HTC Sense UI v6 Image Gallery
The HTC One arrived banging a big loud drum in the form of its BoomSound speakers which blew the competition out of the water with extremely loud crisp integrated speakers on either side of the display that delivered the best audio heard on a smartphone device.
With the HTC One M8 we have the same BoomSound speaker system this time with a touted 25% more volume due to a new amplifier and redesigned speaker chamber. The result is that once again HTC are leading the way with far and away the loudest smartphone you have ever heard. My only gripe is that at full volume we did detect a little distortion. Perhaps the HTC engineers have been a little overzealous in tuning the audio output of the device.
Catch our in depth review of the speaker systems of both the HTC One M8 Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2:
The HTC One M8 will set you back around $700 USD depending on configuration which puts it in direct competition with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and other high-end smartphones. In light of what you are getting for that price, I would say the pricing is reasonable except that right now we are living in a time of constant change, where the really high-end smartphone user has more options than ever before. And some of these new options – Xiaomi, and OnePlus immediately spring to mind – are under cutting HTC’s asking price considerably.
I expect that the price will drop, if it has not already by the time this comes to press. I predict that the HTC One M8 will be the last smartphone that HTC retails at $700.
I was a fan of the original HTC One, personally happy to see HTC finally exploit their manufacturing expertise to arrive at a killer product. We loved the HTC Desire when it first arrived and being a resident of the Republic of China (or Taiwan if you prefer) for almost a decade and a half, I was glad the country had a phone manufacturer that could rival Samsung and Sony. The One made me believe in them again, and the One M8 has had a similar feeling this time around too.
The marketing slogans talk about making the best getting even better, and I’d usually balk at such mediocre pitches, but in this case the company is stating fact; the One M8 is in my mind better than the M7. It has everything that made the M7 a fantastic device, adding a faster processor, slicker KitKat OS, an improved camera and even a better chassis design. It also has an microSD slot and the power button in a more logical position – all little details that make the HTC One M8 an absolute classic.