A sequel is rarely better than the original and HTC undoubtedly faced one of its biggest challenges in creating a device that could take the torch from last year’s runaway success, the HTC One.
The company has just pulled the wraps of what it thinks is the perfect replacement to its best selling smartphone ever; meet the new HTC One (M8).
That’s right, same name, same approach, but what else could they do? Arguably, calling it anything else would have detracted from the gravitas of last year’s flagship, not to mention scrap a brand that’s built a solid reputation and now comes with a ton of awards behind its name.
So, suitably hyped, without further ado, this is what it takes to make the best, better, to use HTC’s own terminology. Let’s see what the M8 is made of.
HTC One (M8) Design: Full metal jacket
Last year HTC was one of the only manufacturers to embrace a flagship design predominantly made of metal. Last year's HTC One (we’ll call it the M7 from now on), also featured an injected plastic that in retrospect, cheapens the feel of an otherwise premium phone.
The M8’s bodywork is milled from a single block of aluminium, forming the back and sides of the phone. It has a more rounded finish than last year’s model that’s easily more comfortable in the hand.
The smooth, brushed finish of our Gunmetal Gray review sample looks like it means business. The levels of grip on offer aren’t great, but you can’t deny this phone has a powerful, elegant aesthetic.
The hallmarks of HTC’s most recent handsets are very evident, with the front-facing speaker grilles above and below the phone’s display, a centrally positioned camera on the back and subtle rounding along its corners and edges, all of which have been tweaked, toned and tightened over older designs.
It’s an impressive feat from an engineering perspective -- it's a wonder so much metal has been introduced without affecting the phone's radios.
You can also pick up the awesome Dot Matrix case if you want some extra protection, which is so funky we reviewed it separately.
HTC One (M8) Screen: The bold and the beautiful
The Super LCD3 technology used in last year’s flagship is back and just as stunning, this time taking the form of an expansive 5-inch Full HD panel which is unbelievably bright, and as the default wallpapers highlight, wonderfully vivid.
Colour saturation doesn’t get to the eye-wateringly intense heights of the Samsung Galaxy S5’s Super AMOLED screen, but it certainly feels like everything you see and every photo you snap, looks truer to real life.
The larger footprint mean that reaching the top of the screen won’t be possible with just one hand, provided your mits are of average size, but it plays to the entertainment strengths of the One, which also comes equipped with larger, more powerful BoomSound speakers either side of the screen for mobile movie watching goodness.
HTC One (M8) OS: Colour-coded
HTC’s own Sense user interface has always offered up a balanced take on Android, adding plenty of functionality over the stock experience, without being too overbearing or heavy on a phone’s hardware, despite its deep integration.
Sense 5 was a significant shift in the look and feel of what HTC was offering on its Android smartphones and whilst the new ‘Sixth Sense’ (a feature that debuts on the HTC One (M8)), doesn’t rewrite the rule book, it certainly builds on last year’s handsets in all the right ways.
The most obvious change is the use of colour. Depending on your theme, HTC’s own apps are placed into colour-coded groups by type. By default, blue headers appear on productivity apps like the Calendar and Tasks, whilst green appears across connected services like the Stocks app or BlinkFeed. The creative HTC Zoe app is orange. It’s a small change, but makes the experience moving from app to app that little bit slicker and intuitive.
On the subject of BlinkFeed, HTC has scoured the planet to expand the amount of content on offer from its personalised news stream. Internationally over 1,000 new providers have been brought in. What’s more, you now can now filter feeds, navigate BlinkFeed faster with kinetic scrolling and access it from the lock screen.
Two other new additions to Sense 6’s (sorry, Sixth Sense's) repertoire are the customisable quick settings in the notifications bar, which can be customised to suit your preferences and the new Motion Launch gestures. These let you quick launch certain features on the M8, even whilst the screen is off. This includes BlinkFeed, the widgets panel, the home screen and the camera.
On the whole, every key change or addition made in Sixth Sense is designed to speed up navigation and make it more intuitive. Sense 5 was possibly one of the best-skinned releases of Android last year and it looks as though Sixth Sense could continue that trend in 2014.
HTC One (M8) Performance: Need for speed
It would appear that Qualcomm, yet again, is the chipset maker of choice for this year’s Android flagships, with the new One boasting the latest Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz. It’s the same chip found in the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2, so as we’ve said before, comparisons will make for interesting reading (so stay tuned).
In real world use, we’re yet to see the One stumble. It’s like a tightly coiled spring, every button press yields an instantaneous response and despite the already fluid experience offered by last year’s One, this new model makes it look a little sluggish.
The processing power is really only put to extreme use by go-to intensive 3D titles like Asphalt, which it barely seems to notice. The camera experience is the other most obvious resource hog, but we’ll get to that.
On the subject of storage, M8 is the company’s only flagship since the HTC Sensation to tote microSD expandability. On the inside you’ll be able to pick up a 16GB or 32GB model, but both will also allow for an additional 128GB of space to be slotted in their side.
During the setup process you’ll find that HTC is also offering the new One owners an extra 50GB of Google Drive cloud storage on top of their initial 15GB allowance. When you do the maths, depending on your internal storage, you can push just over 200GB of content through this thing. Just, wow.
Although this is technically HTC’s largest smartphone to date, no millimetre of space is wasted and it comes packing a mammoth 2,600mAh battery. Although its non-removable, it should serve most users well, with our continuous prods and pokes keeping the phone awake for a full two days and a morning before we gave it some respite at the nearest wall plug. In general use, we suspect it’ll even go into a third afternoon, assuming you switch it off when you switch off for the night.
HTC One (M8) Camera: Double vision
We’re going to keep this section short as the Duo Camera system (it has two rear-facing cameras which work together) on the HTC One (M8) is so rich, that we want to give it the spotlight in its own story. Enjoy the shots in the meantime and decide for yourself if HTC’s 4-UltraPixel camera is any good.
Underneath, the main rear snapper uses a 4-megapixel sensor, but features much larger pixels, which take in more light than your average smartphone camera sensor, so you get greater detail in a wider range of environments (especially low light).
The secondary camera above the M8’s main eye is used to perceive depth, so you can pull off some impressive visual trickery after you’ve taken a photo. It also helps in the video department, enabling HDR (high dynamic range) recording too.
HTC One (M8) Conclusion: One phone to rule them all?
Some might say that HTC played it safe when working on the HTC One (M8), but too drastic a change would have skewed what was already a great smartphone experience. The HTC One (M8) boasts up to date hardware, one of the best designs on the market and a user experience that’s rich and enjoyable.
The company is clearly trying to do things a little differently to its main rivals and not everyone will share that point of view, but that’s why we have other great options like Apple’s, Samsung’s and Sony’s latest top dogs. If you’re willing take on a top-tier handset that doesn’t always play by the rules, then the M8 might be for you.