The new HTC One, rather oddly called the M8, is the successor to the best Android phone of 2013, the HTC One. Confused? Can’t say I don’t blame you, but what HTC lack in their ability to name their devices, they more than make up in their ability to once again design the best Android phone of 2014. The HTC One M8 is by a long margin the best built, best designed, and most user friendly Android phone currently available on the market. STEVEN AMBROSE takes the HTC One M8 on his travels and reports back.
Greatness is often expressed in the small things. Take the balance of a phone, its emotional connection to the user, its lack of fuss in actual use, and the polish of the overall experience. This is where HTC shines. Despite, or perhaps in spite of their lack of market success in the past few years, they have pulled all the stops out with their latest iteration of their flagship device called the One.
The HTC One M8 features precision engineering and a fit and finish that is as good as, if not better, than any mobile phone currently on the market. The latest 2014 HTC One is even better put together that its outstanding predecessor the M7. The M8 has a pin sharp IPS LCD screen which has grown to 5” along with outstanding colour accuracy. The overall brightness and ability to see the screen in bright light was fantastic. Gorilla Glass gives the screen a silky responsiveness along with durability.
The screen is wrapped in an almost complete metal body, which is curved and just weighty enough to give a feeling of solidity. The premium feel is further enhanced by the balance and finish of the all metal housing.
The HTC One M8 is not all polish and sharp screen though, HTC have included the very latest technology, from the latest QUALCOMM snapdragon 801 processor, to the latest LTE radios and enough sensors to keep any hard core geek happy. The HTC is right up there with the current crop of high end devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2. There are a few differences worth noting. Both the Samsung and the Sony offer water resistance and dust protection that the HTC does not, and both have higher resolution cameras that may offer a better photographic experience.
The HTC features the best sound of the current crop of top end devices as it has front facing stereo speakers. This does make the HTC One a little taller than the rest, however the quality of sound for speaker phone use or casual music listening is outstanding. HTC additionally offer what they call BoomSound which is a combination of hardware and software to even further improve the audio quality of the phone. The quality and volume of sound was especially appreciated during voice calls and gaming.
Another unique feature was the camera. HTC have stuck with their Ultra Pixel arrangement of the previous One and this does offer very good low light performance. The main issue is that in good to bright lighting the camera’s sensitivity can make pictures a little washed out and overexposed, thought the speed of focus and actual ease of taking a picture was outstanding.
The camera interface is slick and simple to use, whilst sacrificing very little for power users. The other downside to the 4MP Ultra Pixel camera is in ultimate resolution. Both the Samsung and the Sony could take sharper more detailed pictures in ideal circumstances. If you don’t regularly enlarge or print your photos and view them electronically or use them mostly for social media, then you will not be disappointed with the HTC.
The HTC One does have another rear camera which allows for some really good and easy to apply special effects which rely on the ability of the software to see depth and change focus based on that. I played with the effects and was very pleased with the results. It does not make or break the device for me, but is a useful addition which HTC’s competitors have to do in software with far lesser results. The front facing camera, which is being used more and more for Selfies, is also very good and has a wide angle to allow a few group selfies should you so wish.
A key quality of most high end devices is sheer performance and more critically battery life. The HTC One M8 does not disappoint on any of these fronts. The combination of the latest silicon along with a large 3200mAh battery gives excellent speed, responsiveness and longevity. I was able to get through a busy day of emailing, whatsapping, and social media activities, along with moderate calls. The HTC One managed to get me to 10 PM with at least 15% battery life left.
HTC does offer a power saving made which will selectively switch off power hungry functions and with only 10% of battery life can give you an extra day of calling and basic functionality.
Call quality was another big step forward. On all the networks I used the phone on both in South Africa and Europe, the sound was crisp and clear with little echo. The HTC One M8’s ability to hang onto LTE signals where other devices slipped back to 3G or Edge was outstanding. The all new metal body seems to have done little to dampen the call ability of the HTC One, which is a very good thing.
Overall performance was fast fluid and polished. Games loaded quickly and played flawlessly. Videos were fluid and smooth and no matter how many apps I opened there was no lag and very little delay when switching between the various apps.
The HTC One M8 utilises the latest version of Android called Kit Kat or 4.4. This, once again, is now standard across this year’s flagship devices. What sets the HTC One M8 apart is the latest version of their own launcher, or skin over vanilla Android, called Sense. Sense 6 is the latest version of this launcher and is the best most integrated and smooth interface of any Android skin out there. Sense 6 is flatter and more unobtrusive that previous versions, but it is its integration and its comprehensive ability to get out of the way and make the users life easier that sets it apart.
Sense 6 does hide some of the complexity and power of Vanilla Android, and overall the HTC One lacks a few of the fancy features and options of the Samsung and even the Sony. I did not find this to be a negative at all. The simplicity and cohesiveness of the experience from setup to using the built in applications, made my life easier, and not more confusing. Most users will appreciate this ease of use and never miss half the features that they may never use.
Blink feed is still there as an optional home screen and takes a little getting used to. I found it useful and well executed. Blink feed aggregates news, social media, and selected feeds, into a block style interface that updates regularly. Other useful apps were the Sense TV remote, which works well, along with a kid’s mode which offers a safe environment for kids to play on your phone, should you wish them to.
The Fitbit app is pre-installed and takes advantage of the included motion tracker functionality and Pedometer built into the HTC One M8, without using an external Fitbit sensor.
It’s clear that I really enjoyed using HTC One M8. The sum is far greater than the parts. Yes the HTC has the latest hardware and software, yes the build quality is stellar, and yes the screen is outstanding. The key to the HTC One is all of this and a little magic that brings it all together. The HTC One M8 is an absolute pleasure to use, from the premium feel of the body to the responsiveness of the screen, and overall performance of the hardware, all the way to the integration and sophistication of the Sense 6 enhancements to stock Android 4.4.
There are a few relatively minor issues. The main one being the camera. The camera is very good overall, fast and easy to use, but lacks ultimate resolution and bight light ability. Android retains some of its quirkiness which Sense 6 can’t entirely hide, and the overall size and weight of the M8 is on the bigger and heavier size.
None of the above affect my recommendation. The HTC One M8 is now available in South Africa and should be at most larger independent and Mobile Operator stores from the beginning of July. If you are hankering after a top end device, or are ready to upgrade, you must at least try the HTC One M8 out before you decide. I expect you won’t be disappointed.