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June 30, 2014

HTC One (M8) Review

HTC made one of the best-designed, probably the best one there is, smartphone in 2013. So they made a lot of great improvements, and a few not so great ones, for this year’s release. Check out our full review of the HTC One M8 after the break.

Right out of the box, the new HTC One M8 doesn’t look any different from the previous HTC One (M7). They both have the same aluminum unibody design, dual font-facing stereo speakers, and the 4MP ultrapixel camera.

There were subtle cosmetic improvements, a lot of them, which made an already great smartphone even better.

While the HTC One M8 is not yet officially released in the Philippines (and we’re not certain if it’s ever going to be since HTC has closed its offices in the Philippines sometime ago), we were able to purchase a unit for review. This model is the Asian version which has the faster 2.45GHz chip.

For reference, you can also read our review of the 2013 HTC One M7 here.

Design & Construction.

The HTC One M8 comes with a 5-inch display but the extra area at the top and bottom ends made the handset much taller than many other typical 5-inch smartphones. This is where HTC placed the two front-facing stereo speakers that provide the loudest and the best ones ever made on a smartphone.

The aluminum body gives it the heft and a solid feel. It’s actually pretty heavy at 160 grams. The size is just enough for single-handed operation. The smooth and semi-matte finish glides to the touch and can be slippery at times. The Amber Gold color leaves a pale hue yet complements the contrast of the dark lines drawn across the surface while the metal gray has a horizintal brushed finish.

The volume rocker is on the right side along with the microSD card slot. The nano-SIM card slot is found on the left side. The microUSB port is at the bottom end together with the 3.5mm audio port.

On top is the power button that sits on a translucent polycarbonate strip that hides the IR blaster. Up at front is the thick slab of glass that stretches from edge to edge, sandwiched only by an aluminum sheet that houses the speakers.

The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is very prominent at the top right corner while the HTC logo uses a row of metal at the bottom, which we think is a waste of space.

At the back are two more cameras — one is the 4MP ultrapixel which is the same as the older model, while a second 2.1MP camera sits right on top of it. HTC uses the second camera to help create depth-of-field to the output images.

The dual-LED flash is similar to the one on the iPhone 5S in such a way that it offers varying color temperatures which best complements the ambient light and the current shooting condition (more on that later).

While an aluminum and glass combination is what we think is the most premium in terms of build materials for a smartphone, it also introduces some unwanted side effects — heft and body temperature.

Display.

Perhaps one of the more uncommon display panels used in a smartphone today is the Super LCD3 (mostly used by HTC). Unlike AMOLED displays, Super LCD is more power efficient with displaying white backgrounds. It has also improved in terms of viewing angles and produces less glare because of the absence of the air gap between the outer glass and the display element. AMOLED’s produce darker blacks though so there’s a trade-off.

The HTC One M8 has a full HD resolution packed in a 5-inch display. That brings it down to a 441ppi pixel density, a bit lower than the 469ppi of the previous HTC One, but you never see the difference anyway.

The bezels are not the thinnest (almost the same as the old one) but since the front panel is designed in such a way that the glass is fused into the aluminum body, the black border matches the bezel giving it an impression that the display stretches from edge to edge.

What gave us some slight concern is the large black area just below the active screen where the HTC logo is etched into the glass. It did not serve any practical purpose and only added unnecessary space in the front panel.

OS, Apps & UI.

The HTC One came with Android 4.4.2 Kitkat right out of the box so it benefited from all the optimizations and OS improvements Google has introduced into the platform. That, and the hundreds of thousands of apps and games in the Google Play Store.

The new HTC Sense UI 6.0 still remained the same compared to the previous UI that HTC has been using. The Blink feed is no longer the default home screen but it is permanently placed on the left home panel.

HTC also changed the layout of the soft keys — before they had it outside the active display with only the Home and Back button flanking the HTC logo. The new layout involved all three soft keys right on the active display with the additional Recent apps button included.

Practical features like double-tap to wake/sleep, two-step camera shot (press volume up to go to camera from sleep, and volume down to take the shot), customizable LED notifications, among others are certainly useful to a lot of users.

Multimedia & Camera.

HTC introduced a number of firsts with the M8, particularly in the imaging department. It’s the first one to have 3 cameras, one up front and two at the back. It’s also the first one to have a camera with a bigger sensor at the front compared to the rear — 5MP vs. 4MP. All that in the name of their “ultrapixel” technology.

The handset also employs a dual-LED flash at two different color temperatures that helps with the tone of the subjects. This is the same technique used by Apple with the iPhone 5S.

The purpose of the second 2.1MP rear camera is to provide some depth of field into the subject. It does not, in any way, contribute to the final image quality so we found it to be a gimmicky function which even Google has already incorporated into the native Camera App of Android recently. Because of this, HTC also lost the OIS on video recording.

One other great feature of the HTC One is the (Boomsound) stereo speakers up at the front. It was first introduced in the M7 last year and has been improved again in the M8 this year. Needless to say, it is the best speakers in any smartphone we’ve ever used to date. The volume is loud and the sound quality is crisp and has surprisingly very good bass.

The speakers are positioned facing the front so it is unimpeded and well-balanced. If there’s one thing that HTC has managed to perfect in their handset, it is the speakers on the HTC One.

Performance & Benchmarks.

With its Snapdragon 801 chip the M8 is, without a doubt, a beast in terms of performance. It’s one of the most powerful smartphones around with a quad-core processor running at a maximum clock speed of 2.45GHz each.

We ran a number of benchmark tools on the M8 and the scores it delivered are just impressive. In fact, if we just based it on the scores, the HTC One M8 fared slightly better than the Galaxy S5 we reviewed earlier (you can check our comparisons here).

Quadrant Standard: 25,169
Antutu Benchmark: 38,769
Nenamark 2: 59.3fps
3DMark: 17,167 (Ice Storm Unlimited)
Vellamo: 1,804 (HTML5), 1,300 (Metal)

(Note: Antutu, 3DMark and Quadrant are all showing our unit as having MSM8974AB but with max clock speed of 2.45GHz, which could be a detection error).

We’re pretty impressed with the performance of the M8. It’s fast, responsive and pretty efficient. It manages active apps and games against background processes and is able to handle any task we throw at it.

Call Quality, Connectivity & Battery Life.

While it is an isolated case, we occasionally bump into some issues with calling as the voice of the other party seemed to be low in volume. We’re not sure if it is the network or the handset itself. We have yet to test it thoroughly to identify the culprit.

Otherwise, call quality is good and signal strength seems to be better compared to the M7. SMS are sent and received in timely manner and reception for WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular signal looks to be decent to normal when compared to other flagship handsets (iPhone 5S, Z1 Compact, LG G2 and Galaxy S5).

The HTC One M8 is equipped with an LTE modem that is compatible with majority of the global LTE networks, including that of Globe and Smart. We’ve been able to test the network speeds and would normally get somewhere around 16Mbps (down) in the weeks that we’ve used it.

The IR blaster is still a nice addition and we’ve been able to use it like a conventional remote control for numerous household appliances.

As for battery life, we were also impressed with the performance — we managed to get a little over 10.5 hours on a single full charge using our standard bench test (HD video loop at 50% brightness and 0% volume).

Conclusion.

Truth be told, we could not find any glaring flaws on the HTC One M8. It’s got everything we’ve always wanted in a flagship handset — gorgeous design, solid build quality and material, blazing fast performance, and very good battery life.

Of all the upgrades we’ve seen from major brands (Xpera Z2 from Z1 by Sony, Galaxy S5 from S4 by Samsung and iPhone 5S from iPhone 5 by Apple), the HTC One M8 from the M7 by HTC is one that has the most improvements.

It’s got a better design, very significant performance improvement, longer battery life, more solid build quality. So, it’s either the M7 wasn’t that very good in the first place (which it was) or the new HTC One M8 is definitely a huge jump from last year.

We’re also seeing IP67 certification being adapted by other brands (like in the Galaxy S5) so we’re hoping HTC would look into it in future iterations.

What really gave us those lingering mixed feelings is the use of the dual rear camera. It did not improve much on the image quality. We’d readily admit the camera system introduced some really nice effects but aside from the faster focusing time, we think it’s no more than a hardware gimmick.

Nevertheless, despite the minor shortcomings, we bow down to HTC’s impressive feat in making this year’s HTC One M8 a superbly well-made and well-equipped Android smartphone.

HTC One 2014 (M8) specs:
5-inch full HD Super LCD3 @ 1080×1920 pixels, 441ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.45GHz quad-core CPU
Adreno 330 GPU
2GB RAM
16/32/64GB internal storage
up to 128GB via microSD
4MP and 2PM Ultrapixel rear cameras, dual-LED flash
5 megapixel front-facing camera
LTE, HSPA+
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, WiFi Direct, DLNA, WiFi hotspot
Bluetooth 4.0 w/ A2DP
NFC
GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
IR Blaster
Stereo FM Radio w/ RDS
HTC BoomSound
Android 4.4.2 Kitkat w/ HTC Sense UI 6
Li-Ion 2,600mAh battery
146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm (dimension)
160 grams (weight)
Metal Gray, Silver, Black, Gold (colors)

What we liked about it:
* Impressive performance
* Beautiful design and build quality
* Great display quality
* Long battery life
* Great audio quality
* Very good camera performance
* Android Kitkat out of the box
* NFC and LTE connectivity
* IR blaster

What we did not like:
* Gimmicky dual-camera system
* Could be pricey (when it officially arrives)

The HTC One M8 is not yet officially released in the Philippines but is available in stores like One Stop Shop Gadgets for Php26,500. You can check them out on their FB page or Twitter/Instagram (@ossgadgets) or call them at 09175405663/09322305208.

All New HTC One press shots leak ahead of launch
All New HTC One vs HTC One 2013 video comparison
HTC One 2014 (M8) now official!

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Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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