Almost exactly a year ago HTC surprised the world with a new smartphone that focused on design and build quality more than any previous Android handset maker. That was the HTC One (M7) and, today, we’re here with our full review of the follow-up HTC One (M8). The phone is an improvement on its predecessor in nearly every way: it has faster components, a larger display, a unique camera and an even more refined hardware design, but HTC has big shoes to fill. The One (M7) was an award winning handset and, yet again, the new smartphone faces competition from Samsung’s latest Galaxy flagship smartphone. Is the HTC One (M8) a worthy successor to the M7? Does it offer enough features to stand apart from the bevy of other flagship smartphones on the market? We’ve been using the HTC One (M8) for more than a week now, and we’re ready now to chime in with our opinion on the promising new device.
HTC One (M8) Video Review
HardwareThe front of the phone is largely dominated by the bright Super LCD 3 display, which functions well in all lighting conditions. The BoomSound speakers — which I’ll address later — are improved and flank the screen on top and bottom. The buttons have been replaced by on-screen controls, leaving more space for the screen. The front-facing camera now snaps 5-megapixel photos, too. On the right, you’ll find the volume up/down toggles, though HTC opted for a more flush design than the metal buttons on the M7, and I kind of preferred the way those accented the device. Also on the right, however, is the new microSD card slot that can be popped out with a SIM-tray pin. Speaking of the SIM, a new nanoSIM (the M7 used a microSIM) slot rests on the left-side of the phone. The power button remains up top, and you’ll find the microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the device. The back of the HTC One (M8) is home to the new Duo Camera setup, which includes a 4-Ultrapixel (4-megapixel, technically) camera and a secondary lens that captures depth information. There’s also a new dual-LED smart flash that replaces the single LED flash on the original M7. Internally, you’ll find some of the best specs that are possible for a smartphone maker to add right now, including a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage (our unit had 32GB) and, finally, support for expanding your storage with up to a 128GB microSD card. All of that hardware was more than enough to cut through apps and games without any issue — the whole system just flies. For those keeping track at home, however, the One (M8) received a Quadrant score of 22,500. Personally, and I know everyone won’t agree with this, I liked the more palm-friendly size of the HTC One (M7). It was much easier to tap every corner of the screen with a single finger, and now — since I can’t reach the far corners without adjusting my grip — I have a constant fear I’m going to drop the M8. HTC could have avoided this, but only at the cost of removing the fantastic BoomSound speakers or with a smaller screen. Trade-offs, for sure, and I’ll take the 5-inch display at the risk of a drop. Before I end, because I want to drive this home: this is the most beautiful phone I’ve ever held. I want to applaud HTC’s engineers and design team, some of whom TechnoBuffalo has met with in the past. I know how much work they put into their products, and how unwilling they are to cut any corners. The work paid off — there isn’t an Android handset I’ve seen that comes close to beauty of the HTC One M8.
SoftwareThe Gallery has a lot of changes in Sense 6, too. You can sort by album, event, location and more, and it all looks really clean. Despite the phone’s Snapdragon 801 processor, however, the gallery is still slow to load my thousands of pictures that are stored on a microSD card. I also wish there was an option to easily view the photos I have stored elsewhere, like on Dropbox, though that’s no longer an option. If you’ve used Sense 6 before, you’ll feel right at home. If you haven’t, I think you’ll like all of the options that are available. My biggest gripe is that the One (M8) doesn’t have an always-on speaker for executing voice-based commands, something that’s available on the Nexus 5 and the Motorola Moto X. I like waking up, saying “Ok Google Now” and then asking the weather, for example. There’s no quick way to do that—out of the box—with the One (M8). The camera UI is one of the other major changes in Sense 6, but I’ll go over that in the camera section where we discuss that aspect in detail. Overall, though, HTC did a nice job building on an already solid user interface without going overboard.
CameraAlso of note: while the original One (M7) had optical image stabilization (OIS), the One (M8) does not. It’s certainly not ideal for folks who are moving and trying to snap photos, like a parent chasing a child around, and I noticed a lot of blurry images in my camera roll because of this. Shots where I deliberately held the camera still – like resting it on my windowsill, came out much better. The secondary Duo Camera lens is capable of pulling in all of the depth data in a photo. So, the One (M8) knows what objects are in the background and foreground. It can then use that information to blur photos to add a “bokeh” effect that you usually find on DSLRs. The feature, called UFocus, is not perfect but it does work better than other phones that have attempted this task, like the Xperia Z1s and Nokia’s Refocus app. The depth data can be used for other functions, too. You can apply filters to the background of a photo using a feature called “Foregrounder,” or create photos with a unique parallax effect called “Dimension Plus.” The latter, however, can only be viewed on an HTC One (M8), so it’s a feature you’ll only be able to show off to friends who are looking over your shoulder.
The smart dual-LED flash is really solid. Instead of blowing out subjects with a bright white light, it adjusts itself to make sure that skin tones and other colors still look accurate. We first saw this tech used on the iPhone 5s, and it works really well on the One (M8), too. The camera UI is super fluid and easy to use, but HTC removed the “Zoe” function from the default app and put it in another setting. That’s because the depth camera doesn’t work with the Zoes. If you open the Zoe camera, however, you can still record the short clips, snap photos and even record longer videos. You can even pause a video and then resume filming right where you left off. Again, the photos snapped in this mode don’t have depth data. It seems silly, but that’s just how the sensor works. HTC is going to release a new Zoe app that will allow people to collaborate and create multi-user Highlight reels, and I can’t wait for it to launch. It’s not out yet, however, so I can’t address that just yet. Also of note: there isn’t a default HDR mode in the camera. However, you can turn on HDR and then save the camera settings as a separate camera profile — a feature I really dig — and you’ve essentially created your own default mode to tap into. You can create custom camera setting profiles for anything, too, so if you want to save one with specific ISO and white balance settings, or another with a filter that’s always active, you can do so. Finally: the front-facing camera. It works really well, and I love the wide-angle aspect that HTC pulled in from earlier handsets like the One M7 and the Butterfly. The images are far better, too, because it shoots 5-megapixel shots instead of the 2-megapixel shots on the One M7. Overall, if you’re chasing megapixels then look toward other phones. The HTC One (M8) still takes great shots though, and I’ve really enjoyed the performance of the camera save for the lower-res shots.
Call Quality and Data
The One (M8) delivers on every last thing that I look for in a smartphone…
The One M8 is the best Android handset you can buy right now. I think there are plenty of folks out there who might try to say that this phone is iterative because it carries a similar name to last year’s model, but that’s basically the only iterative jump that was made here.
HTC improved nearly every aspect of the phone possible. It made the design even better — something I didn’t see coming — Sense 6 is a nice bump from Sense 5.5, the BoomSound speakers are larger and crisper than before, the camera is improved (though now lacks OIS, which will no doubt upset some fans), and the hardware is leagues better thanks to the Snapdragon 801 processor and the new option for expandable storage.
The One (M8) delivers on every last thing that I look for in a smartphone, and even excels with its battery life, an area where I typically worry the most. I’ve spent nearly 3,000 words talking about the phone and yet I know that I could continue on in several areas, and that says a lot: there’s so much to talk about here that you really need to just try it for yourself.
The One (M8) easily deserves a 9, and if it just had a slightly better camera it would be pretty much perfect in every way. We don’t say this often: need a new phone? Buy the One (M8).
Disclaimer: HTC provided TechnoBuffalo with a single unit for early testing under embargo. AT&T and HTC then provided AT&T with two phones for testing in our Irvine and New York City/New Jersey offices for the written and video sections of this review. Jonathan Rettinger used the International phone for 9.5 days as his daily driver before switching to the AT&T unit. Todd Haselton used an AT&T unit for 7 days as his daily driver.
- First-class design
- Excellent Battery Life
- Excellent Hardware
- Camera Resolution May Be Too Low for Some