Review: HTC One (M8), Excellence Incarnate

One of the best smartphones of 2014

Our score: 5/5
Reviewed: April 10, 2014 9:14 AM
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Published: April 10, 2014 9:14 AM
By Florence Legrand
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
With Guillaume Letoupin
Johana Hallmann
HTC didn't waste any time dilly-dallying after announcing this 2014 version of last year's hit HTC One smartphone. The handset immediately hit UK stores and can already be found for free on contract. This year its chief Android challengers will be the formidable Samsung Galaxy S5 and imposing Sony Xperia Z2. HTC is relying on the One M8 to lift it from the mires of its recent financial troubles and restore some of its market share, to which end HTC went to all means to give the M8 the hardware it needs to compete.

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The HTC One M8 sports a carefully similar design to the original One, but with a slightly larger 5" Full HD display. It boasts a 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 801 processor with 2 GB of RAM and adds a microSD card slot to the mix for a whopping 128 GB of extra storage on top of the 16 GB/32 GB of internal memory. The dual façade speakers have been carried over from last year's model, but with upgraded sound quality.

One of the One M8's central features is its rear Duo Camera which combines the first One's 4 Mpx UltraPixel sensor with a second, 2 Mpx lens that opens up new possibilities in the editing process. On the façade is a 5 Mpx camera for selfies and video chats. The phone has a 2,600 mAh battery, which is good, but a step behind the Xperia Z2 (3,200 mAh) and Galaxy S5 (2,800 mAh).

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Design & Handling5/5


When the first One was released, it was immediately lauded for its sleek, original design, quality materials and phenomenal manufacturing quality. "Never change a winning team" is surely the thought that ran through HTC's head as they brought this phone to the drawing table. And right they were. The One M8 reiterates the concepts that worked so well on its predecessor, gaining an advantage over its rivals, which have been criticised for a lack of imagination and too great a penchant for plastic. It's only a shame the One M8 doesn't boast a waterproof frame like the Xperia Z1, Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5 do.

HTC has presented us with yet another a stylish, impeccably built device. Protected by a 90% brushed aluminium unibody shell that showed no noticeable scratches after eight days of testing, the One M8 is clearly a quality object. The body may be an obvious reworking of last year's model, but it still impresses.

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2013 HTC One (top) and 2014 HTC One (bottom)

The HTC One M8's display is larger than the original, and so is its overall frame. But that doesn't make it particularly any harder to handle—either way, at 5" diagonally and 160 grams, we tended to use both hands—and the weight is well distributed. Some may see in this not-quite-light weight a sign of quality and solidity. As for the brushed aluminium, it's definitely eye-catching, but it has more chances of slipping from your hand than a phone with a soft-touch plastic surface.

We aren't big fans of the black strip on the bottom of the façade. The navigation buttons are integrated in the touchscreen, so why even have it? Is the HTC logo on the façade really necessary? This section could have been done away with altogether to knock several precious millimetres off the length of the phone. The vertical edges of the screen are thinner than last year, but not as thin as the LG G2's near-zero bezel.

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HTC Dot View Cover, £35. This flexible plastic cover offers new ways to interact with the phone, all while protecting the screen. Downside: dust and crumbs love finding their way into the holes. Opinion: the plasticky material clashes with the phone's elegant, high-end design.

Display5/5


HTC aligned itself with the competition by giving the M8 a 5" Full HD 1080p LCD3 screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for added durability. We were already bowled over the first time we looked at the screen, and the results from our screen tests only confirmed that impression: this is a ravishing display.

It has a fantastic average contrast ratio of 1,279:1, coupled with high brightness (480 cd/m²). These two figures help counter the effect of reflections on the glossy screen. The average Delta E is 4.5, which means that the colours are not far from accurate (the original HTC One had even more faithful tones with a Delta E of 3.2). Colours aren't something this screen particularly excels at, but the shades are balanced enough to make for a relatively natural image. The viewing angles are wide open, allowing the screen to be clearly visible from most angles.

The touch response time is an incredibly low 46 milliseconds. This means that 46 ms go by between the time when you touch the screen and when the screen responds. The HTC One M8 has one of the fastest touchscreens of any phone on the market.

However, we encountered the same issue as on the first One: sometimes the auto-brightness has a mind of its own, raising or lowering the brightness even though the ambient light hasn't changed. That can get annoying.

Interface & Navigation5/5


HTC usually makes it a point of honour to infuse Android (here, in its 4.4 KitKat form) with its own user interface. The firm didn't break with tradition this year, giving the One M8 the latest version of its UI, Sense 6. And it's just as well optimised for the hardware as ever. Sense 6 is anything but a radical departure from Sense 5, but it does come with its share of improvements. Most notably, HTC has opened up BlinkFeed, the home screen's news feed aggregator, to third-party developers, allowing it to show any RSS feed, not just the default selection.

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Another new feature is Motion Launch, which lets users interact with the phone without touching any buttons to, for example, unlock the screen by swiping up, wake the phone by tapping twice (à la LG Knock Knock) or answer a call by bringing the phone to your ear. These gestures aren't anything new in the mobile world, but they come in handy and work superbly here.

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The HTC One M8 uses the same chipset as its upcoming rivals, the Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, which is basically a revamped Snapdragon 800. It's a 2.3 GHz quad-core SoC with an Adreno 330 GPU, supported here by 2 GB of RAM. On paper, this is without a doubt the best set-up there is right now for an Android phone. In practice, it's a bona fide speed racer. The fluidity and responsiveness of the entire ecosystem are simply majestic. Films, demanding video games like Asphalt 8, app downloads, multitasking... nothing deters the new One's system-on-chip. Each of the benchmarks we ran confirmed this impression.

Multimedia5/5


With this kind of display and performance, the One M8 couldn't have missed its mark when it comes to multimedia. It's truly a pleasure to browse the Internet on it, where web pages load promptly and scroll fluidly. Video games and films execute just as smoothly.

The sound quality is surprisingly good. Through headphones, the One delivers unusually high volume in "standard" mode (nearly four times as high as most competing smartphones), and goes even higher if you turn on BoomSound. Even the most power-hungry headphones will be at ease here. The pair of speakers on the façade are extraordinarily good as smartphones go; they provide loud volume, good intelligibility and a well-balanced spectrum. Like the first One, the One M8 has amazing sound quality.

Camera4/5


Despite the flack it received for the first One's sub-par camera, HTC hasn't thrown in the towel just yet. The primary lens in the Duo Camera system uses another 4-Megapixel sensor, which is quite low in today's world. The secondary 2.1-Megapixel BSI sensor is located directly above that (and therefore often gets blocked by your index finger when you hold the phone in landscape mode) and plays sidekick to the main sensor by taking in information that can then be used to change the focus and add depth after-the-fact during editing (UFocus).

Does the trick—or gimmick, depending on your point of view—work? It does, and pretty darned well at that (close-ups excluded). UFocus is swift and precise, honing in exactly on the spot you point to, allowing you to focus on a new object in the foreground or background after having already taken the picture. It takes no time at all and the end results looks natural and quite astounding. As for the 3D effect, it's cool, but we'd call it more gimmicky than useful.

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The picture quality is necessarily similar to the first One's: fair, not outstanding. On the phone's display the pictures look fantastic, but once you enlarge an image to full size on a computer screen or over-10 x 15 cm print, all the same flaws from the first One come rushing back: the colours are relatively neutral and there isn't much noise, but there's a considerable lack of detail and sharpness. The sensor's low resolution is a real disadvantage compared to competing smartphones like the Lumia 1020, Galaxy S4, Xperia Z1 and LG G2, that all have, at the very least, 8 Megapixels and a quality sensor.

In low lighting, however, the camera functions very well, with good modulation in darker areas of the frame and acceptable white balance. The camera interface is intuitive and chock-full of options: panorama 360 mode, night mode, selfie mode, grid mode, ISO sensitivity, insert-selfie-into-frame, and so on... Zoe is also back for more time-bending action shots.

The One M8 handles well as a camera and shoots and saves with exemplary speed and precision. For us, this is a key aspect for a smartphone camera, and it's why we gave the M8 four stars instead of three in this section.

Then there's the front camera, which has higher resolution than the main camera (no comment) and a wide-angle lens that delivers better selfies than any other smartphone. 

The video quality is satisfactory. Unlike certain rivals, the M8 doesn't shoot 4K/Ultra HD video, but is that really a problem? After all, you can't enjoy the high resolution unless you also own a 4K TV, which most people don't.

Battery Life5/5


The One M8 has a 2,600 mAh battery, which is slightly higher in capacity than last year's, but it's lower than Samsung and Sony's high-end models. That said, it's still enough to last well over a full day. In Battery Benchmark it matches the longest lasting smartphones on the market (LG G2, LG G Flex...) and with just over 20 hours of use, it's neck-and-neck with the Xperia Z1 Compact. It doesn't last quite as long as its raw performance results might suggest, but you're definitely good for a whole day of intensive use (GPS, camera, editing photos, music, texts, calls...). There will even be some juice to spare.

Extreme Power Saving Mode adds even more life by leaving only a few basic functions like texts and calls active and lowering the brightness on the battery-sucking screen.
5/5 HTC One (M8) DigitalVersus 2014-04-10 10:14:00

Pros

  • Top-grade design, assembly and finish
  • One of the best Full HD displays on the market
  • Perfectly responsive and fluid
  • Very good camera experience: shoots quickly and nice interface
  • Sense 6
  • Excellent sound quality (speakers and line out)
  • Memory expandable by up to 128 GB
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Pictures lack detail
  • Body could have been shorter

Conclusion

The HTC One (M8) delivers on practically every front. Inside its stylish, beautifully designed body is one of the best Full HD displays on the market. We love its impeccable performance, its remarkable sound quality, its great battery life and its fun camera function. Our only real beef is the lack of sharpness from the camera. All in all, HTC has hit its mark for 2014.

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