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HTC One (M8) Hands-On: Making a Pretty Good Phone Into a Great One

by Brandon Russell | March 25, 2014March 25, 2014 5:00 pm PST

The big unveil may have been spoiled, but HTC has finally announced its HTC One (M8) flagship. This is easily one of the biggest superphones to come out this year—certainly in the HTC camp. There’s a possibility we’ll see smaller and larger versions down the road, but the (M8) will be the device smartphone fans will be fawning over in the immediate future. Samsung already grabbed headlines and mostly impressed with its Galaxy S5. But this device—from the design, to the Duo camera, to the tweaked features—is doing everything it can to upstage the Samsung machine. Will this be HTC’s year?

On the surface, the new HTC One looks like a typical rehash of a previous device. But HTC actually did quite a bit to make the design and features feel fresh. Rather than giving customers some extra unnecessary sparkle, HTC took a lot of time to tweak the design, to improve on last year’s camera, and to make fan favorites (BoomSound and BlinkFeed) even batter. These are the kind of upgrades customers expect in annual releases. Android 4.4 is onboard with Sense 6, and the 5-inch display is Full HD with Gorilla Glass 3.

The HTC One’s famous design? It’s now 90-percent metal, instead of 70-percent, wrapping all the way around the side and up to the edge of the display. And instead of the bulkier body and flat side, the (M8)’s subtle curves make it more ergonomic in the hand. It’s really beautiful (as expected), managing to feel even more futuristic than last year’s, and it now comes in three colors at launch, including dark gray, silver and gold. People seem a little peeved about the dark gray, and I tend to agree that it doesn’t look as nice as the previous One, but we’ll have to wait and see how the other colors look in person. There’s also plenty of beauty under the hood, too.

Aside from design, most attention will be focused on the HTC One’s Duo camera, which features a dual lens—4.0 UltraPixel with a secondary 2-megapixel—that’s capable of capturing depth of field information, allowing customers to edit after a photo is taken. HTC has added a feature called UFocus that collects this information, and then provides users with tools to focus on any subject or object in that photo. HTC highlights portraits in particular, but it’ll work in other situations, too, such as pictures of food and other closeups. There are other features, too, including Dimension Plus, Seasons, Foregrounder and Image Match. Working in conjunction with the Duo camera is a dual flash, which HTC claims is capable of automatically selecting tone and intensity so photos look natural.

HTC has also added new motion launch features, allowing users to use specific gestures and swipes to launch specific functions. Hold the (M8) in landscape and press the volume button, and the camera app will launch. You can also double tap to wake your device (like on the G2), and swipe down when the screen is off to launch voice dialing. There are also gestures to swipe to the left when the display is off to launch the widget panel, while swiping off will reveal BlinkFeed. In addition, when you receive a call, you no longer have to swipe or press any buttons to answer, simply bring the device up to your ear.

Another new feature is HTC’s Extreme Power Save mode, which is capable of giving users up to two weeks of standby time while still allowing for manual access to calls, email, texts and other basic functions. We saw the same feature introduced in the S5, though it appears HTC’s implementation is a bit more beautiful; with 10-percent battery, users can get up to 30 hours; 15 hours on 5-percent and 60 hours with 20-percent. Unless you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without a charger, chances are you won’t need power-saving capabilities, but the feature is nice to fall back on if you ever find yourself in such a situation.

Some of HTC’s familiar features have returned as well, including Zoe video highlights, enhanced BoomSound, improved BlinkFeed, HTC Sense TV, robust media integration, and a sweet 50GB Google Drive offer good for two years. That extra storage comes in addition to the 16GB or 32GB onboard, and the microSD support up to 128GB. HTC is also making accessories for the M8 a priority. There’s an HTC Dot View case, Flip case and Double Dip case. Customers can also choose from a car kit, Fetch tracking device, and some other gadgetry, including an external battery and something HTC is calling the Mini+, which is essentially a phone for your phone.

In the time we’ve spent with the device, it definitely feels like a more premium version even though the darker gray color does look a bit odd. The brushed metal might be the culprit, but it feels wonderful in the hand regardless, much different than last year’s One. We’ve still yet to really put the Duo camera through its paces, and we’re still adjusting to the device’s lockscreen swipe shortcuts. All in all, there’s a lot to like here; it doesn’t seem to get in its own way, and the new Sense 6 really seems to accentuate the experience quite nicely. The 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip—there’s also a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip headed for the U.S.—seems snappy, and gets through the OS very quickly.

Of course, we’ll have more in-depth thoughts about the HTC One (M8) as we spend more time with it. We were big fans of HTC’s effort from last year, so we’re definitely going to give this device the time it deserves before coming to any big judgements. Gut reaction: it’s a worthy update to what was already a solid device. But has HTC done enough to come out of Samsung’s immense shadow? That’s the question everyone will be asking.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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