HTC One (M8) review: The flagship smartphone to beat

ZDNet Editors' Choice

HTC One (M8) review: The flagship smartphone to beat

Summary: The HTC One (M8) ticks most of our boxes: design, build and performance are all excellent, there's no app overload, and HTC Sense is improving with every iteration. Battery life could be better and some of the camera tools may seem unnecessary, but overall it's a winner.

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  • Editors' rating:
    9.0
  • User rating:
    8.4
  • RRP:
    £445.00

Pros

  • Superb hardware design
  • Storage expansion via MicroSD slot and USB port
  • Good gesture-based features
  • Well-rounded range of apps and UI features

Cons

  • Relatively heavy
  • Camera features need work
  • Battery life outside power-saving modes could be better

HTC has a rich heritage as a smartphone maker, and last year's HTC One was the company's best-selling and most-awarded handset ever. All of which makes a stark contrast to more recent HTC news concerning falling market share and repeated loss-making quarters. Hopes of a financial turnaround hang heavily on the HTC One (M8), the company's new flagship handset for 2014. Although it was announced later than key rivals from Samsung (the Galaxy S5) and Sony (the Xperia Z2), the One (M8) was available to buy at launch — before the Samsung and Sony handsets. Although this gave HTC a temprorary edge over its competitors, the One (M8) still needs to impress if it's to match or lead those rivals when they do hit the market.

htc-one-m8-main
The 5-inch HTC One M8 has a 90-percent-metal ‘zero-gap’ chassis, which looks very smart but contributes to a relatively hefty 160g weight. Last year’s HTC One weighed 143g. Image: HTC

Design

The HTC One (M8) shares some key design characteristics with its predecessor, while building on the original HTC One's best features. The aluminium finish to the back gives the phone a premium appearance, while the back's curvature make it comfortable (if somewhat slippery) to hold. Where last year's One had plastic edges, the HTC One (M8) has metal curving round the left, right and bottom — only the top has a plastic section. HTC says the One M8's unibody chassis is 90 percent metal.

There are two narrow plastic strips along the back just as there were with the HTC One. These have been injected so that you can't see a join between metal and plastic. HTC calls this a 'zero gap' design and it's one of several factors that make the One (M8) look every inch the premium handset.

htc-one-m8-movie
The One (M8)'s BoomSound stereo speakers deliver class-leading audio. Image: HTC

Another design feature carried over from last year's flagship is the pair of speakers bookending the screen. These do add height to the handset, so they need to be good to justify their presence. Not only are they good — they're probably the best speakers we've experienced on any smartphone. HTC has engineered them to be 20 percent louder than on the original HTC One, but volume is only part of the story; audio quality is also impressive.

Absent from the HTC One (M8) are the navigation buttons that sat beneath the screen of its predecessor. These are now incorporated into the screen area itself. The main downside of this approach is that some screen real estate is lost to the buttons when they're in use.

Entirely new — not only to HTC's handset line but to any smartphone — is a second rear camera. This Duo Camera system gathers extra depth information, giving you some interesting photo editing possibilities. That's one of the key features of this phone, and we'll spend more time on it below.

The 5-inch Super LCD3 screen has a full-HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. That's last year's specification, but we don't see much point in complaining — text is clear and sharp, colours are vibrant and viewing angles are good. There does come a point where increasing technological capabilities is more about showing off than about real utility, and we're perfectly happy with the screen in this case. Gorilla Glass 3 provides excellent protection against drops and scratches.

The screen size and those stereo speakers make for a large phone. At 71mm by 146mm by 9.4mm it'll be too large for some pockets, and its 160g weight is on the heavy side thanks to all that metal in the chassis.

htc-one-m8-dot-view
HTC's Dot View case costs £35 (inc. VAT). Image: HTC

One of the design features HTC was keen to mention at launch has nothing at all to do with the handset itself. Journalists were given the Dot View case/screen cover, which provides both protection and pixelated notifications of time, date, incoming calls and so on via the perforated screen cover. It's a smart and attractive approach to providing information when the handset itself is inactive. The Dot View case costs £35 (inc. VAT).

Features

HTC uses Qualcomm's 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801 SoC with 2GB of RAM in the One (M8). The Samsung Galaxy S5 has been announced with a 2.5GHz version of the Snapdragon 801 with 2GB RAM, while Sony's Xperia Z2 has the 2.3GHz version and 3GB of RAM. We found that the HTC One (M8) performed well, and we have no complaints about its speed or responsiveness (see benchmarks below).

There is 16GB of internal storage, but thanks to both Android 4.4 and the latest revision of HTC's Sense UI, now at version 6, as well as a number of add-on apps, this is reduced to 10.1GB of accessible storage. Thankfully HTC allows for storage expansion — a feature lacking in the original HTC One. There's a MicroSD card slot in a pop-out tray on the right side of the chassis, which HTC says will support cards up to 128GB in capacity.

Further memory expansion is possible via the MicroUSB connector, which supports USB On The Go (OTG) and which streamed video from my Kingston Data Traveller microDuo memory stick without any trouble.

The One (M8) takes a Nano-SIM, which sits in a slot on the left edge of the chassis. Its tray is relatively large in order to support a dual-SIM version of this handset.

Other specifications are from the top drawer. This is a 4G (LTE) handset with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (with aptX support for high-quality audio streaming) NFC, MHL and infrared. IR is making a comeback: it was present in early smartphones and disappeared for a long time, but handset makers are now realising that your phone can double as a TV remote control. HTC bundles a TV app, Sense TV, which combines remote control and channel guide functions.

Duo Camera
We've already noted the second camera on the back of the chassis. This is half of what HTC calls the Duo camera system. As in 2013's HTC One, the main UltraPixel camera has a resolution of 4 megapixels, using larger pixels and trading off detail capture for better low-light performance. 

htc-one-m8-camera-menu
The Camera interface includes Selfie and Dual capture buttons for, respectively, switching to the front camera and using both cameras simultaneously.

The real advance is the second camera, which captures depth-of-field information for images. This doesn't work if you have zoomed into a shot, but when its data is available you can pop into the editing app and change the focus on images via the UFocus feature. Usually you'll want to blur the foreground or background to generate interesting effects (see images below). You can also apply effects to particular parts of an image using the Foregrounder tool, cartoonising or adding sketch effects for example. You can also create a pseudo-3D effect, and drop animations into your photo based on the four seasons: falling leaves, snowflakes, dandelion seeds and so on.

htc-one-m8-ufocus
A standard image (top) and the same image with the Duo Camera's UFocus feature applied. Images: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Using these tools can be fun, although there are issues. The focus alteration feature isn't good at precisely identifying the edge of what you want in focus, for example. Things tend to look OK on the handset, but less impressive when moved to a larger-screen device.

There are plenty of camera settings, they're quite easily accessed, the camera software is responsive and fast to focus. Shots can be taken in quick succession. You can make manual settings for features such as ISO, and save your own presets — a rare and welcome feature. The front camera, incidentally, has a 5-megapixel resolution and you switch to it by tapping the 'selfie' icon in the camera interface. It also shoots 1080p video.

Sense 6 and BlinkFeed
HTC's Sense 6 user interface benefits from decluttering and the addition of some new features. It's a cleaner, sharper skin than Sense 5, and we're delighted that HTC no longer feels the need to tell us the time or weather when we pop into the apps drawer.

htc-one-m8-motion-launch
HTC Sense 6 now includes a range of Motion Launch gestures.

A range of motion gestures are now available. You can double-tap the screen to wake the phone, swipe right on the lock screen to launch BlinkFeed, swipe down to turn on voice dialing, or, in landscape mode, wake the handset into the camera using the volume button. There are other motion and gesture settings too — we particularly like the ability to answer a call simply by lifting the handset to the ear.

BlinkFeed, HTC's social and news feed app, has also had some attention. You can now customise the feed — you just type the text of the topic you want. We found this to be reasonably accurate, although our feed for 'orienteering' seemed to be quite keen to pick up unwanted news about football clubs with 'Orient' in their names. Clearly some refinement is required. Earlier iterations of BlinkFeed were a permanent fixture on a home screen, but now you can treat it like a widget and remove it if you don't like it.

HTC adds a few apps to the Android 4.4 staples, but thankfully does not go overboard. We've already noted Sense TV. Kid Mode, which lets you lock the handset down for child access, is a third-party app that HTC has chosen to preload, as is Fitbit — you can use the HTC One (M8) as your Fitbit pedometer if you wish. Scribble accepts hand-drawn and text-based notes. Zoe is HTC's photo and video app. Polaris Office allows you to create Microsoft Office-compatible files. There is also an FM radio.

Performance & battery life

The 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC with 2GB of RAM in the HTC One (M8) delivers a significant performance boost over last year's 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600-based HTC One (also with 2GB of RAM):

htc-one-m8-geekbench

Benchmarks aren't everything, of course, but as noted above, we found the HTC One (M8) to be admirably responsive during the test period. If you're into 3D gaming on your smartphone you'll find the One (M8) a good performer too, although HTC has been criticised for fine-tuning the handset's performance when it detects that a benchmark is being run.

htc-one-m8-power-modes
Power saver and Extreme power saving modes are available on the HTC One (M8).
htc-one-m8-eps-home
In Extreme power saving mode you get a minimalist home screen accessing basic functions.

The One (M8)'s 2,600mAh battery has only 300mAh more capacity than the HTC One's, and we had trouble getting through a day of use on a single charge. However, HTC has built two battery saving modes into the One (M8). The one you're most likely to use, Power Saver, allows you to decide whether you want to slow the processor, dim the screen, disable vibration and close the data connection when the screen is off.

The other power saving mode is much more drastic. Called Extreme Power Saving Mode, this cuts off access to most features and apps just leaving you with the phone, SMS, email, calendar and calculator. It can be set to automatically kick in when the battery drops to 20%, 10% or 5% and you can jump out of it if needed by tapping 'exit'.

Conclusion

The HTC One (M8), which costs £534 (inc. VAT, or £445 ex. VAT) SIM-free from Clove Technology, ticks most of our boxes and it's difficult to find much to complain about. Design, build and performance are all impressive, and the handset doesn't suffer from app overload. HTC Sense also seems to be improving with every iteration. Battery life could be better, but the power-saving options are well implemented and useful. HTC's camera tools may seem unnecessary to some, but they are harmless and easily ignored if you don't need them. Samsung, Sony and the rest of HTC's competition will have to do very well to beat HTC this year.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 70.6x9.4x146.4 mm
Weight 160 g
OS & software
Software included Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Processor & memory
Clock speed 2.3 GHz
Processor model Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
RAM 2048 MB
Storage
Internal 16000 MB
Display
Display technology TFT (active matrix)
Display size 5 in
Native resolution 1080x1920 pixels
Connections
Ports Micro-USB 2.0 (with MHL, USB OTG support)
Slots MicroSD
Networks
2.xG GPRS, EDGE
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG HSPA
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac
Short range infrared, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
GPS technology
Accuracy enhancement system A-GPS
Antenna built in
GPS receiver yes, with GLONASS support
Input devices
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Flash Yes
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 5 megapixels
Main camera resolution 4 megapixels
Power
Battery type Li-polymer
Removable battery No
Battery capacity 2600 mAh
Number of batteries 1
Standby time 496 h
Talk time 20 h
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter, Dot View cover (£35 inc. VAT)
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 445
Price USD 800

Topics: Smartphones, Android, HTC, Mobility, Reviews

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Talkback

11 comments
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  • Not sure why

    The HTC One has never really did anything for me aesthetically. I'm not really into metal for phones (what's the advantage with this material?) and since the Nexus line came out it just seems really hard to justify laying out that kinda money for a phone when, say, the Nexus 5 is about as good for 1/2 the price.

    The only phone that I can see myself blowing a lot of money on is the Note 3 because it just has features you can't find on other phones. Every other Android phone is basically the same.
    Rann Xeroxx
    • Not sure why

      10.0

      Agreed, Only Note 3 deserves this much price tag
      sourabhsorate
  • I'm very pleased with my M7 HTC One

    So much so I see no need to buy the M8 version. I'd like to buy the M8 but I can't see spending another $600 (I've already spent $1,800 on smart phones in the last year) when my current phone works great.

    I do like some of the improvements in the M8...specifically the longer battery life and the touch to wake feature (can this be added to the M7 as it seems like it's software based). But the larger size is a turn off for me.
    ye
  • Too expensive

    5.0

    The amount of money that phone costs is insane, you can buy a Chromebook for half price.
    malcarada
    • Terrible comparison

      You can't compare phones to chromebooks. They are in completely different form factors. It's like comparing apples to oranges. But in terms of other phones it's not bad.
      Brock Jones
  • Ridiculous

    10.0

    This phone is the most attractive phone on the market. When it comes to cars they all drive and have four wheels but some almost fly and turn heads at every corner. It's not just the hardware design that makes it so impressive but the interior is beautiful as well. The entire ui is gorgeous. Granted, it is not leaps and bounds better than the m7 (which says a lot for the m7) but it is a work of art in the mobile space. To give it a 5 for cost is insane considering every other flagship will have a very similar price tag. I traded my m7 for the G2 based on specs and just traded my G2 for the M8 based on everything. The only area it lacks in is the camera but that's debatable.
    devi0124
  • camera is a no go

    I really wanted this phone. Not with that camera. I've been looking at online photo comparisons and this camera Is incompetent. I'll be getting the s5 tomorrow. To bad. I own an HTC 4g lte now and really like it. I take too many pictures with my phone to compromise on camera. the u focus is pitiful. It's takes a good picture with decent detail throughout and blurs out the area around the focus point. How is that any good? I am hoping htc will change its mind about the camera and put in something better. Unfortunately I am not willing to wait that long.
    nalabo1
  • My new One M8

    10.0

    I love the new HTC One M8. Transferring data from my old HTC Rezound was a breeze with HTC's transfer tool, available on google play. Sound is phenomenal ! I use Dsp manager lite along side of Boom Sound which takes the volume to a new level ! Texting is a breeze with great predictive texting. The screen is beautiful, bright and clear even on a sunny day. MHL output is available. Playing games on my 42" plasma with a Skiva 6.5 feet MHL (Micro USB) to male HDMI cable. Built–in IR Blaster/Tv remote works perfectly and has an option for multiple rooms. You can customize buttons just by pointing a remote at the One (m8) and pressing the corresponding button to activate your custom button. Thanks to the One's sensors there's no need for a heart rate monitor or fitness gadget on your wrist. With the new One I use FitBit to monitor my calorie intake/output, steps taken and miles walked. The other feature that I have come to love is the motion launch feature which is really cool and convenient. Blinkfeed keeps me updated and is accessible through one gesture swipe to the right. Double tap activates the phones lock screen which gives me quick access to pandora and the time/weather widget. Pick up the phone in landscape mode, press the volume button and the camera activates. The camera is fast and is exceptional. I use it for the web and social networking sites. Nice bokeh effect , you can't use it on everything but it does look fantastic on some shots. Superior call quality with deep rich sound. Charging is fast (about 2hrs with quick charge 1.0) and will be faster with quick charge 2.0. Battery life is excellent even for a power user. Goes all day. Excellent look and feel! The back is curved for one hand use. My whole family is envious and wants the all new One.
    gamerbuilt1
  • Confused

    5.0

    I'm confused. Almost every reviewer from CNET, IGN, stated the battery life was good and went a whole day without needing a charge. I just got this phone and I can go from noon to 4 AM and still have 47%.
    joey07311984
  • Amazing Phone

    9.0

    Obviously it could use improvements, but it's still a fantastic phone. I'd rather have this than pay for overpriced cheap plastic like a Galaxy Phone. Not a fan of Samsung's TouchWiz either.
    joey07311984
  • Great New Feature for Radio Listeners on the M8

    10.0

    Apart from all of the awesome aspects of the HTC One M8 mentioned, as a radio listener, I really appreciate the new FM radio tuner that is built into this phone. It comes with an app called NextRadio, which in itself is the most innovative and interactive app I've ever seen in regards to radio. You can save your favorite stations, call/text them with the press of a button, and it's free. The best part about this is that it doesn't use up all of your data and battery life since the tuner chip is already installed into these phones because personally I hate how Pandora kills my battery.
    AlMcKinley