HTC One M8 review

HTC are up against some stiff competition – that’s hardly news, it has been that way for a while now. However, the fierce competition has inspired them to deliver better devices over time.

Devices that not only match what they’re up against, but excel in some areas.

Making a good device hasn’t been enough for them to get the reward they’ve been fighting for, they needed something amazing, and they just might have it with the HTC One M8.

Design

It’s not every day that you pick up your phone and marvel at its solid construction or how beautiful it is, with the HTC One, though, you do.

The HTC One is truly a beautiful, eye-catching phone. The aluminium exterior feels solid in hand and provides more than adequate protection from bumps, scrapes, and those accidental drops. The only downside to this is that it adds a significant amount of weight – it totals at 160g (the S5 weighs in at 145g, the G3 is 149g and the Nexus 5 is 130g).

With the irremovable back, HTC have opted to have the nano-SIM and microSD card slots on the left and right side of the phone, respectively.

The volume rocker sits on the right, below the card slot, while the bottom holds the 3.5mm jack and microUSB port.

The power button is, annoyingly, on the top of the phone and is frustratingly hard to reach. However, HTC diminishes the need to reach it by providing simple gestures to wake (double tap) or unlock (swipe up) the phone when the screen is off.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the gestures. Going from reviewing the One back to my Nexus 5, I found myself still trying to use the gesture and getting annoyed that it wasn’t a more common feature.

HTC One M8 without cover
HTC One M8 without cover

The front of the device is dominated by the 5”, 1080p screen. It’s a wonderful, crisp, vibrant display, which will make most people quite jealous (although LG G3 owners may feel smug about their ridiculously-resolutioned monstrosities).

The fact that it’s slightly less pixel dense than its predecessor is completely unnoticeable. The two capacitive hardware buttons that existed on the previous iteration of the One are gone – replaced by software buttons.

Though the screen takes up most of the front, HTC have once again reserved some space for two speakers – one above, one below. These are easily the best speakers you’ll get on a modern smartphone and it means that showing some friends a quick video isn’t a struggle between volume and clarity.

These do make the phone quite long, although I didn’t find that to be a problem.

This year’s HTC One isn’t a far departure from last year’s model and HTC have made enough adjustments and improvements to keep it fresh.

Performance

HTC One M8 with cover
HTC One M8 with cover

It goes almost without saying that the HTC One is fast. Just about every high-end phone is fast enough for whatever you throw at it these days and in my time with it I didn’t notice any slowdowns or stutters.

Gaming, browsing, and all the other things we demand of our smartphones were a breeze, and the great screen and sound truly made gaming a pleasure.

The HTC One performed almost exactly as expected during benchmarking – beating everything except the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Battery life on the One was excellent during the review period, with it easily making a day’s worth of heavy use – Wi-Fi and 3G on, browsing, gaming, some short calls, IMs, listening to music, watching a video or two on YouTube.

However, not everything is great with the HTC One. While other phone manufacturers are trying to put as many megapixels onto their cameras as possible, HTC have opted to go for fewer on the One – a 4MP sensor with Ultrapixels.

This allows it to capture more light and, hopefully, create a better photo in low light environments.

While this does give the One’s camera better dynamic range and lower noise levels, it suffers heavily with detail in comparison to rival phones. Photos taken in low light were a lot brighter, but produced soft, almost out-of-focus images.

A higher megapixel photo would give you some room for error, allowing you to crop out quite a bit, and the HTC One doesn’t give you much of it at all.

Ultrapixels are a good idea, but the sacrifice in quality isn’t an acceptable compromise.

HTC do try and make up for it by putting a second camera on the back, which is used for capturing depth data, allowing you to change the focus and depth of field of your photo after it’s been taken.

Google’s camera app (and a number of OEM camera apps) allow you to do a similar thing with a software trick and the results are much the same, making me question where the value in the extra hardware lies.

HTC’s camera software is, however, very good. It offers various modes and filters to play with, and even exposes manual controls if you’re so inclined, while managing to keep the interface simple.

Speaking of simple interfaces, HTC have done just that with their new version of Sense. Sense 6 is basically just a slight theme on top of stock Android – things aren’t changed around for the sake of it. In general, I liked it.

HTC One M8 rear Duo Camera array press shot
HTC One M8

Conclusion

This year’s model of the HTC One isn’t a big change from its predecessor, but there are a bunch of small tweaks and changes in both hardware and software that end up making it a much better phone overall.

The one place I wish HTC had spent some time on is image quality, as that would have easily made the One the best smartphone on the market.

That said, if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of low-light image detail, the HTC One is a great phone for you.

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HTC One M8 review