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HTC One M8 international retail package
Most phones stay in my pocket for one to three months, but the HTC One M7 has been my companion for a year. I have been testing out the new HTC One M8 for the past several days, but will not be purchasing one for myself for a couple of key reasons. It is a nice evolutionary improvement over last year's model with improvements in a few key areas.
It is very difficult to launch a revolutionary smartphone today since it seems we have reached the limits of hardware technology and the form factor is fairly standard across all phones. Companies stand out today with some additional tweaks, such as Sony's waterproof design, and their custom software enhancements. HTC's Sense 6 definitely competes well in the software department and their hardware fit and finish is fantastic, but I wonder if that is enough for them at this time.
I didn't pick up the new HTC One M8 and immediately think I must go out and buy it now, likely because of the additional height with an insignificant increase in usable display area and the use of the same resolution UltraPixel camera that now disappoints me. However, it is improved in a few areas over last year's model and will satisfy those demanding a microSD card slot, although Google has limited the usefulness of expansion card storage.
Last year the HTC One earned several awards for hardware design and they again show that elegant hardware is a focus for them. Other manufacturers are also focusing on hardware, though and I don't think there is as much of a differentiator this year as there was last year.
Last year's HTC One was 70 percent metal and this time around we find the content at 90 percent. Much of the difference is in the metal covering the sides where we previously saw plastic sandwiched between the display and back metal piece.
The new HTC One M8 will initially be available in Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, and Amber Gold, depending on the carrier and region where you live. We may see other colors launch in the future, similar to what HTC did with the current One.
Size: One thing I liked about the HTC One M7 was the size that made it just about perfect for my hand and pants pocket. Unfortunately, the HTC One M8 grew quite a bit taller (9 mm) and a bit wider (2.4 mm). It is about the same thickness and does feel great in your hand thanks to the curved edges and back, but it's going to take some time to get used to the additional height.
I wouldn't mind the height increase if it meant significantly more usable display, but, due to the removal of dedicated areas for the bottom buttons (they are now part of the display), when you line up both Ones on the home screen you will find that the original actually has more height available on the display. There is a row for the capacitive button areas and a taller row for home screen shortcuts that end up being taller on the new One. The M8 does have a slightly smaller side bezel and more width so the viewable display is slightly wider.
HTC has a black bar below the display that contains HTC branding in the center. I understand there are internal components in this area and that the space is functionally necessary. The buttons never bothered me on the M7, so I personally would have liked to have gained more usable display area and kept the buttons.
The display is the same fantastic 1080p Super LCD3 they had before that shows true colors and is top notch, IMHO. The PPI is slightly less, 440, because the display is slightly larger in dimensions. There is now a 5-megapixel-wide angle front facing camera and HTC is likely to be crowned the top selfie camera in 2014 too.
BoomSound speakers:You will again find BoomSound stereo speakers on the front, but they are much improved over the HTC One M7 speakers. HTC states they are 25 percent louder and that seems about right to me. I listened to several of the same songs on both, and the M8 provides louder and significantly richer audio quality. They are so good that they actually now have me feeling a bit disappointed with my current One.
There is still a volume button on the upper right, but you will also find a slide-in tray above that. Yes, HTC is now providing users with a microSD card slot that supports up to the 128GB cards. I recommend reading this Android Central article for a complete explanation about the status of storage card expansion on KitKat devices. You will find the nanoSIM card slot on the left side. It appears a bit long, but that's for markets outside the US where dual SIM capability is provided with the same tray size.
When you look at the bottom, you'll see they still have the same upside-down microUSB port with the addition of the 3.5mm headset jack. Back on top you will find one of the plastic areas with the dual power button/IR sensor near the right corner. It is a solid phone that also now comes with the six-month screen replacement coverage.
UltraPixel camera: When you flip the HTC One M8 over, you'll immediately notice a couple of differences. The same 4.1-megapixel resolution UltraPixel camera is used, but there's an improved flash module (Smart Flash 2.0) and a secondary camera centered above the primary camera. The secondary camera is used to help capture depth of field information and give HTC the ability to provide enhanced photo editing tools. This is called the Duo Camera and I will have an article delving deeper into this functionality soon since there is a lot going on here in regards to photo editing and sharing.
The flash is similar to the Apple iPhone 5s with warm and cool lights that automatically figure out what's needed for proper flash intensity without completing blowing out photos like HTC flashlights have always done.
OIS is no longer included in the HTC One, but it wasn't that good on the One (M7) when compared to what Nokia has on their PureView cameras. HTC did improve the camera technology so that capture begins before you even press the button and it is an extremely fast camera so I really do not think slight movement of the camera will be a problem.
Motion Launch gestures: Similar to how Nokia, LG, and Motorola use screen touches when the display is off to perform functions, HTC has taken this to the next level with screen touches and device movement to create Motion Launch functions. If you just double-tap the display when it's off and resting on a table, then nothing will happen. You need to first pick it up and then tap or swipe across the display to make the following happen.
Motion Launch action Result Pick up phone in landscape with volume button pressed Camera app launches Pick up phone in portrait and double tap the display Display wakes up, but is still locked Pick up phone in portrait and swipe down HTC's voice dialing app launches Pick up phone in portrait and swipe up Display wakes up and is unlocked Pick up phone in portrait and swipe right to left Application launcher appears Pick up phone in portrait and swipe left to right BlinkFeed launches
HTC also uses motion to try to assist you with phone calls. When your phone rings and the caller ID is shown, you can answer simply by putting your phone up to your ear. No pressing on the display or swiping is required. HTC is using the motion of you looking at the display for caller ID, followed by the action of holding up to your ear to determine that you intend to answer the call. My testing revealed this works very well. It's custom features like this that make your phone work smartly and enhance your phone experience. You can always turn this setting off as well.
Extreme Power Saving Option: The only phone I found that lasts a full day (4 am to 10 pm) is the Motorola Droid Maxx, but every other phone requires me to hit the charger at some point. Since there are no revolutionary innovations in battery technology, HTC is offering an extreme power saving mode option that looks like a winner. You can set up this mode to turn on when your battery is down to 20, 10, or 5 percent. When enabled, the phone interface changes to a very simplified one, similar to their HTC Car mode, with large buttons for phone, messages, mail, calendar, calculator, and exit (used to get out of extreme power saving mode).
In this mode, you can still get calls and messages, but background services are disabled so nothing is getting pushed to your phone. You have to manually sync email if you want to download messages with this mode enabled. HTC states you will get 60 hours of standby time if enabled at 20 percent, 30 hours at 10 percent, and 15 hours at 5 percent. I turned it on for 10 percent and, if I'm away and can't get to a charger, then it looks like I found a way to keep using my phone and make it through one long day. I only have an international model so can't judge the battery life until I get one optimized for US networks.
The HTC One M8 includes the Qualcomm 801 processor and it flies. I didn't have any real complaints about the One M7, but can still tell a noticeable improvement in responsiveness with the M8 and again my M7 now is looking dated.
HTC is including a back and side cover with every One that seems to add a bit of protection and help you hold it a bit easier. They showed me their HTC Dot View case that I can't wait to purchase. It is a flip cover case that shows you information through the front holes and even allows you to perform basic functions through the cover.
They will also be offering the HTC Flip Case that doesn't have interactive holes and a Double Dip case, similar to what they had for the One (M7), that will include two additional tip and bottom covers so you can have a number of color combinations for your case.
Other accessories include their Car Kit, HTC Fetch, HTC BoomBass speaker, HTC Mini+, and HTC Battery Bar. Availability and pricing was not announced, but I understand some retail locations may be getting these at different times.
Here's the HTC M8
The HTC One M8 launches with Android 4.4.2 and Sense 6. All the innovation is contained in Sense 6 and it's my personal favorite Android custom UI. I think Samsung's TouchWiz and LG's UI have way too much going on and I prefer a simpler interface. Sony and Motorola do a great job with their software enhancements, but HTC seems to meet in the middle with features and simplicity.
One of the first things I noticed was the thinner fonts and loss of all the color icons in settings. I like the new look, but can't say I minded having colored icons there before either.
BlinkFeed: I use BlinkFeed all the time on my HTC One and while there were significant improvements in Sense 5.5, there are even more being made in Sense 6. You can set whether or not BlinkFeed is your home screen panel, and if it isn't then the large clock and weather widget does not appear at the top. Like in 5.5, swiping from left to right slides out a BlinkFeed control panel where you can tap to view your selected topics, recently viewed topics, social networks, and more. I really like that you can now create custom feeds and let HTC do the work at pulling in data for those topics.
You will also find that BlinkFeed no longer advances page by page, but rather scrolls along continuously. This gives me a feeling that it's faster while also making it easier to scroll through your feed and find stories of particular interest.
The app launcher also looks quite a bit different with an upper-left menu that lets you organize by custom arrangement, alphabetical, and most recent. You can control the grid size, rearrange apps, high/unhide apps, and manage them from the app launcher.
Camera software: One of the focus areas for HTC is the improvements in the camera software. The main camera is the same with the secondary camera providing depth of field for some of the advanced editing tools. I will be posting a follow-up article on the new camera since there's so much packed into the software and it will take more time to check it all out and talk about the new Duo Camera effects.
I like the new interface where a single tap pops up the different camera modes for you to select, including camera, video, Zoe camera, selfie, dual capture, and panorama 360. Similar to Nokia's Lumia function, you have to make a choice at launch that will drive what you're able to do with your photo after capture. The key thing to remember is that to use any of the Duo Camera effects, you must be in automatic camera mode. I accidentally held the capture button down too long and took some burst shots that I could not later add any effects to.
The effects are extensive and include ufocus, foregrounder, seasons, dimension plus, sticker, copy and paste, and touchup. You will also find a ton of filters, frames, and basic tools to draw, rotate, crop, flip, and straighten.
While taking photos you can change ISO, exposure value, white balance, filters, and more. In addition to auto mode, there are modes in the camera for night, HDR, sweep panorama, anti-shake, manual, portrait, landscape, backlight, text, and macro. The manual mode lets you choose and manipulate settings along a vertical line, much like the Nokia Camera app.
IR and Sense TV: I find having an IR blaster in my One to be pretty beneficial, but I see that it will soon be much more useful to me in my new house. I am a cord cutter, but am planning to get cable when I move in a couple of weeks so I can watch my Sounders, Seahawks, and Mariners again. The new HTC Sense TV looks like it was made for sports fans with it serving as a companion to the live coverage with other scores, stats, fan chatter, and even official team feeds.
Like the iPhone 5s and my Moto X, the new HTC One also supports motion-sensing apps with Fitbit as a launch partner. You can now use your HTC One with the Fitbit app to track your movement and monitor your health without having to carry around a Fitbit device. My phone is with me all the time so I plan to see how well this works moving forward. You can even have Fitbit data show up in your BlinkFeed, although I have yet to get that working on my evaluation unit. I still prefer the UP24 and it works like a champ with the new HTC One.
Quick settings can be customized, with up to 12 selected as active. The task launcher, lower-right button, now has an X in the upper right to let you close down all running apps with one tap. There are now device themes that can change the look and color of your entire HTC One experience. These are fun to try and give you a more personalized view of your information.
Usage and experiences
HTC did a fantastic job maintaining a high level of design quality while improving on some of the already outstanding aspects of the One, like the BoomSound speakers, 1080p display, and Sense 6 user interface. I am very pleased with the Motion Launch functionality that almost makes the placement of the power button irrelevant.
I do wish HTC would have kept the device near the height of the M7. The additional size of the display doesn't add anything of real value to the One, except for removing the hardware buttons.
One thing I was hoping would be improved was the UltraPixel camera. I would have liked double the resolution support with the same UltraPixel approach, 8 megapixels instead of the current 4.1. I understand that the Duo Camera adds more fun editing tools and options for working with your photos. While all of these software tricks are fun, I had many of them on my HTC One M7 and rarely used them since I didn't want to take the time to edit photos after I captured them. Also, I think the novelty of such software enhancements would wear off after a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, HTC's strategy here with the UltraPixel hardware is to promote their "photoshopping" software to try to make the photos better.
There is still a major lack of detail captured, even my Moto X does better, and I keep finding the software fails to provide high-quality editing (artifacts and imperfections are present) that I want to share with others. The HTC One M8 has a nice portrait camera for sharing photos on social networks, but you can't use it to replace a point-and-shoot camera and I can't recommend you use it to capture memories where you want to see the details of the image in the future. So far, no one has been able to come close to what Nokia has done with their PureView cameras and I will stick to carrying around my Nokia Lumia 1020 for photos I really care about.
I am a fan of Sense, and Sense 6 continues to improve upon that experience with a very customizable BlinkFeed utility, solid Exchange experience, functional Quick Settings, slick personalization tools, and more.
After using the Moto X, there are a couple of things I was hoping to see that are not included in the new HTC One M8. These include support for trusted Bluetooth devices, active notifications, hands-free voice support when the display is off, and Motorola Assist type of service. However, the fantastic BoomSound speakers, inclusion of a microSD card slot, advanced battery management utility, Motion Launch functions, and more still make the new HTC One (M8) pretty compelling.
Pros and Cons
To summarize my experiences with the HTC One (M8), here are my pros and cons.
Pros Cons Fantastic HTC LCD3 display Rather tall device (9 mm taller than M7) Awesome use of 90 percent metal materials Same ultrapixel resolution camera that lacks detail Motion Launch functionality 2GB of RAM (expect 3GB in today's high-end devices) Significantly improved BoomSound speakers Limited Google Now voice activation support (Google Now has to be active on the display) Intelligent extreme power saving mode No optical image stabilization in the camera Fun camera software and advanced camera modes
Pricing and availability
I am rather stunned by HTC's ability to get the new HTC One M8 out on all three of the four major US carriers at the same time and the same day as the announcement. T-Mobile really disappoints me here by not making the HTC One M8 available today, but at least it makes my decision not to purchase one easier. Not even Apple has been able to get a device out the day of the launch and I think beating Samsung by a couple of weeks may have an advantage for those looking for a new smartphone.
The HTC One M8 will be priced at $199 and $249 with a two-year contract, depending on the carrier. T-Mobile will eventually have it available beginning on April 11 for $0 down with the full price of $636 paid interest-free over a two-year period. The T-Mobile version will also support WiFi Calling, which is a great utility for those who are traveling or have a weak signal at home.
There will be a Google Play Edition that works with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, available for $699. It will be up for pre-order on the Google Play Store and available in silver. I could order a Google Play Edition device, but I think an HTC One without Sense isn't worth the price, due in large part to the camera technology.
A Developer Edition is also going to be available on HTC.Com as a SIM unlocked model for $649. It's based on the AT&T SKU, so there are limits for T-Mobile customers.
The prime competitor in the US will be the Samsung Galaxy S5; outside the US, the Sony Xperia Z2 will also compete. It's a good time for HTC to launch a new Android device with the next iPhone a couple months away and devices like the Moto X and LG G2 getting a bit dated.
The HTC One M8 bests the Galaxy S5 in the design department and also will be available in 16GB and 32GB variants at launch. There is still no way to pre-order a 32GB Galaxy S5 and, given the extremely high amount of storage consumed by Samsung's software, I would never personally purchase a 16GB model. The S5 camera is likely going to be better than the HTC One M8.
The Sony Xperia Z2 looks to have the best specifications out of these three devices, but there's no word on when we may see this in the US so it isn't really an option for US buyers. If I was outside the US, then I would seriously consider the Z2 and I still may look for an import model that supports T-Mobile's data networks.
I know my Moto X is getting a bit long in the tooth, but functions such as active notifications, touchless controls, Motorola Connect, Motorola Assist, and trusted Bluetooth devices are extremely tough to beat once you use them. I like my custom Moto X so much that my SIM is going back in after I post this review.
Specifications Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3 GHz processor (2.5 GHz in Asia) 2GB RAM 16 and 32GB internal storage options with microSD card slot 5-inch 1920x1080 pixels resolution Super LCD Gorilla Glass 3 display HTC UltraPixel camera with secondary depth camera and 5-megapixel front facing camera HTC BoomSound front-facing stereo speakers 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX 2,600 mAh battery Dimensions of 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm and 160 grams
The new HTC One M8 improves upon the HTC One M7 that I used for nearly a full year as my primary device. The competition in the hardware fit and finish has caught up to HTC though, and there are solid competitors in 2014. My biggest gripe about the M7 was the lack of detail in the UltraPixel camera. Since that wasn't fixed, I think I'll be skipping the M8 for now.
There's no comparison with the Galaxy S5 in terms of HTC's design and high-quality construction. The metal device feels wonderful in my hand and you don't have to worry about dropping it (at least for six months) with the new HTC Advantage screen replacement coverage. I look forward to also trying out the HTC Dot View case.
The Motion Launch gestures are slick and, combined with other HTC smart features, such as auto answer, BlinkFeed, and extreme power-saving mode, the HTC One M8 will please many folks.
Contributor's rating: 8 out of 10