It's rare these days to attend a high-profile smartphone launch without a good idea of the new product's design, specification, and sometimes performance too, thanks to the assiduous work of numerous rumour sites and leak-peddlers. So it was with HTC's 2014 refresh of its flagship One handset, the One M8, which was officially unveiled yesterday in London (and simultaneously in New York). We came, we confirmed what we (mostly) already knew.
Despite glowing reviews for 2013's 4.7-inch HTC One (which was followed up by the 4.3-inch One mini and the 5.9-inch One max), the company's increasingly gloomy financial figures show no sign of turning around:
In HTC's Q4 2013 financial results report on 10 February, CEO Peter Chou said: "We will continue to stay focused on making the best smartphone and building a compelling mid-range portfolio. Meanwhile, we are going to communicate better with consumers."
HTC began that communication process by unveiling its 2014 mid-range portfolio at Mobile World Congress on 24 February, starting with the Desire 816. The 25 March launch of the One M8 is HTC's attempt to retain the 'best smartphone' crown.
HTC's London launch took place at Olympia, whose Grand Hall is an imposing Victorian (1886) iron-and-glass-roofed hall that has hosted a multitude of events in its time — including, between 1926 and 1950, the National Wireless & Radio Exhibition (aka, post-1936, Radiolympia).
Taking to the stage at the somewhat less imposing Olympia West, HTC chairwoman Cher Wang naturally made no mention of the company's financial situation, preferring to concentrate on HTC's heritage in the smartphone industry ("We were building smartphones before most people knew what a smartphone was") and the multiple awards garnered by the HTC One ("the best selling smartphone in HTC's history and the most awarded phone in 2013"), before proudly unveiling the new One M8: "We decided to make the best even better", as Wang put it.
Wang was followed by HTC's SVP of design and user experience Scott Croyle, who took us through the detail behind the phone's design, manufacture and feature set. Croyle began by bigging up the One M8's unibody design "which has allowed us to push the use of metal further than anyone in the industry".
The 90-percent metal back housing, with its brushed-aluminium finish is indeed very smart. It's also rather slippery in the hand, and most users will probably promptly hide it in a case — which is how HTC's review unit was delivered (in the rather nifty Dot View cover).
ZDNet's Matthew Miller has already delivered a detailed preview of the One M8, so do go and take a look at that. We've also provided a feature comparison between the One M8 and its main competitor, the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S5, on page 2 of this article.
Despite pre-launch speculation that the One M8 might be the first smartphone to feature Qualcomm's next-generation Snapdragon 805, this didn't happen. However, its 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 is no slouch, as the handset's AnTuTu system benchmark score of 34,434 shows:
We'll have more benchmarks and battery life tests in our forthcoming full review.
In our brief experience with the HTC One M8, there's a lot to like on top of snappy performance: superb industrial design; an excellent full-HD LCD3 display; the redesigned BlinkFeed and Sense 6 interface components; Motion Launch (gesture control) functionality; the new Extreme Power Saving Mode; improved BoomSound audio; the Dot View case, and more. We're not convinced by the dual UltraPixel cameras and some of the frankly gimmicky post-capture effects, but many users will undoubtedly appreciate them.
Last year's experience with the HTC One has demonstrated that, in a mature smartphone market dominated by Samsung and Apple, building a high-quality flagship handset that gets rave reviews and wins awards is no guarantee of massive sales success.
And HTC's competition can only get tougher now that Lenovo has strengthened its Android hand by buying Motorola Mobility from Google.
One trend in the high-end smartphone market is that vendors are increasingly expected to accompany their flagship handsets with smart watches. Both Samsung and Sony have done this, and there are persistent rumours about an Apple iWatch.
HTC didn't unveil a wrist-borne companion for the One M8 yesterday, but has promised a wearable device for the second half of 2014 (HTC is listed as a hardware partner on Google's Android Wear website).
Will HTC's 2014 portfolio turn its fortunes around, or will it continue to struggle financially and be snapped up by one of the big players? By the end of the year, we should either know the answer to that question, or have a good idea which way the wind is blowing.