HTC One M8: London launch and first impressions

HTC One M8: London launch and first impressions

Summary: HTC continues to produce high-quality high-end smartphones, the new flagship One M8 taking over where last year's One left off. But will it be enough to improve the company's fortunes?

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TOPICS: Smartphones, Android, HTC
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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.

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The 2013 HTC One family: One max, One, One mini. Image: HTC

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:

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Data: HTC
htc-share-price

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.

The launch

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).

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HTC's chairwoman Cher Wang shows off the One M8. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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.

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HTC's SVP of design and user experience Scott Croyle, onstage at the One M8's London launch. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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).

The phone

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:

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Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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.

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The Dot View case for the HTC One M8. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Outlook

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.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, HTC

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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3 comments
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  • Um ...

    Maybe it's me, but why is Charles bringing up the business issues HTC is having? They have absolutely NOTHING to do with the quality of the phone, and only cloud a persons judgment on whether it's worth buying or not.

    If the phone is as good as the One (I own one), then buy it, if it's a lousy phone, then don't.

    Ludo
    Ludovit
    • Why is Charles is bringing up HTC's financial woes? Because he thinks.

      Because Charles realizes that when making a mature buying decision and considering investing one's hard earned money in a device that you are going to be "stuck" with for two years or more it is wise to take into account not just the fact it has a pretty, fetching face, but also that the company is going to be around long enough to back it up and, given his experience and time spent in this field, he knows that this is not an inconsequential thing to consider and he is trying to help you avoid problems - that's why.

      If you have done any following of HTC's situation at all, you should know that they are currently at risk of being bought out and ceasing to exist as an independent company because of poor sales performance of their products. Yet, they are pulling the same shenanigans as last year this year - apparently expecting a different result.

      HTC's woes in terms of sales are the DIRECT result of their having produced products that don't serve the public terribly well - NOT because they don't have Samsung's advertising budget - as so many offer up as the "reason" - excuse - Samsung is beating the pants off them.

      Samsung - unlike HTC - looks at their market and its prospects - from a broader, wiser perspective. They know that they are in a market where pizzazz and power and excitement, yes, are of paramount importance - but they also realize that if they don't build products that provide long term sustained value - as in being water/dust resistant, offering the flexibility and serviceability of a removable battery and micro SD card (and yes I know HTC did include on in the M8) as well as (unlike the HTC M8) making it so their units can be serviced relatively easily - that in the end, when people - who value value - have problems that such responsible adults will remember that it was SAMSUNG who made their lives EASIER rather harder.

      Keep this in mind - if you drop the HTC M8, if you get it wet, if the battery stops - due to a defect or just wears out - you WILL have NO option save to send it back. Ask yourself - are you willing to give up your phone for however long it takes - 3/4 weeks? If so, go for it; because sooner or later Mr. Murphy will come visit you and teach you the err of that way of not thinking.

      I would not touch an HTC M8 and I predict it will shortly be viewed as a failure. The management of HTC has chosen to focus on the glam, form over function factor. Watch their “behind the scenes” video; you will see that almost 3/4's of it is devoted to extolling the virtues of the case and how hard it was to make, etc., etc.

      There is ONLY one company that can look in the mirror and say to it,

      "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all - even though you and I both know I'm not exactly a spring chicken anymore or best of the best?" and get back an answer like:

      "Why you my dear, are the fairest of them all. How could you ever doubt that you are not the Apple of mine eye - today, tomorrow and ever more?"

      And that company, sad for HTC, it is not HTC.
      The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
  • removing hardware buttons is a step in the wrong direction

    I prefer phones and tablets with hardware buttons, so much that it is basically a deal breaker.
    HTC already made the One a little bit crappy without the menu button and now they made it fully crappy.
    Everyday, Samsung fans email Samsung feedback reminding them never to drop SD slot, removable battery AND the hardware buttons! We also tell them we don't want a slippery, heavy alluminium slab and make it light.
    SAMSUNG LISTENS!
    HTC doesn't. They try to follow Apple.
    warboat