Despite giving off the appearance that it moves incredibly quickly, closer inspection of the smartphone market reveals that things tend to stay quite stable for long periods of time in terms of top-end handsets. The specs mature, as they are wont to do, but it happens gradually, and today’s best smartphones are typically not that far ahead of those from a year or two back, software and operating system advances aside. So with all the fanfare that surrounded the launch of HTC’s brand new One M8, we weren’t ready to allow ourselves to be taken in by the hype. We’ve heard all the promises of revolution before and, more often than not, they tend to fall a little short of the mark.
For the most part, one high-end smartphone is much the same as the next. They look the same, they do the same things and they feature the same specs. That all adds up to a pretty strong environment for the consumer, knowing as they do that whichever device they opt for, they’re getting something that’ll do a fine job, albeit a job that’s almost indistinguishable from its competitors. That’s where the One M8 differs from the rest.
Like its predecessor, the One, the One M8 is an incredibly stylish piece of design work. It’s got slick curves in all the right places, a fantastic screen that dominates its front side, and an attractive rear plate that just screams premium. This alone is enough to differentiate it from the bulk of the competition – it’s a unique aesthetic proposition among a sea of identikit pretenders.
That slick look isn’t without some minor issues though. Thanks to the brushed aluminum finish, the back of the device is a little tricky to keep as clean as most users would like it to be (at least through the initial honeymoon period), while it can also raise problems in keeping a firm hold on the device. Of course, with most users opting for a case to keep their investment safe for at least a couple of years, this probably won’t be an issue for too many.
Moving away from the look and feel of the HTC One M8, you’re getting a genuinely great device packed to the brim with raw horsepower and numerous great features.
This iteration of the one packs in a bigger screen than its predecessor at 5-inches, but that doesn’t come at the expense of the unit’s footprint, as HTC has managed to make some savings on space by reducing the size of the bezel, and only the curved rear of the handset makes it a shade thicker than last year’s model.
It’s still got the same 1920 x 1080 HD display, but the pixel density has seen a bump to a very impressive 441ppi, while retaining that same level versatility in terms of viewing angles and bright, rich and vivid display quality.
Underneath the screen lurks the brains of the device, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor running at 2.3GHz, which is adequately backed by 2GB of RAM in addition to internal storage space of either 16 or 32GB, depending on which model you opt for. This can be increased by a further 128GB through the use of a microSD card, so users shouldn’t have to worry about running out of space for photos, movies and apps any time soon.
One of the most impressive new features of the M8 is the addition of a second 2MP rear facing camera, which joins the main 4-ultrapixel snapper you’ll remember from last year’s model. This second camera allows the device to calculate depth much more accurately, adding some potential uses that are otherwise only found in the realm of DLSRs. Sadly, though, it’s all let down a little by the fact that the resolution just isn’t that great, especially when compared to some of the other smartphones already on the market. Even the device’s front facing camera manages to outdo its supposedly better brother, thanks to its 5MP sensor, making the One M8 feel a little like a lost opportunity for photo fans.
If you’re willing to make do, however, you’ll be rewarded thanks to one of the best pieces of camera software we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. You’ll have easy access to all the most important functions of your camera with minimal fuss, as the M8 offers white balance, ISO and effects control that dwarfs the capabilities of pretty much everything else out there. It might be a case of attempting to make a silk purse for a sow’s ear, but it definitely goes a bit of the way to making up for the curiously limited camera hardware.
On the performance front, the M8 is a speedy blighter thanks to the latest update of HTC’s Sense overlay. Sitting on top of the regular Android 4.4.2 KitKat installation, it streamlines the user experience in a way that genuinely makes you feel as if you’re using a whole new generation of smartphone hardware (which you technically are, even if it’s using most of the same bits and bobs in there as everything else on the market).
It zips along at lightning fast speeds, allowing users to keep track of their favourite social media websites, news feeds, messages and calls and apps in a wonderfully stylish and contemporary manner. We’re all for vanilla installations most of the time, but when custom UIs add as much as Sense it’s difficult to argue against them potentially being a good thing, and HTC has always been quite well behaved in terms of not loading our devices up with needless bloatware, which is a bonus.
Similarly impressive is the One M8’s 2,600mAh battery which, along with some clever battery optimization tools along the same lines as those found in Sony’s more recent high-end offerings, should ensure you never have to worry about running out of juice before the day is out – unless you plan on spending all your time browsing the web on your device via LTE, in which case you’re in for the same struggle as the rest of the world.
The HTC One M8 is a fantastic update to an already strong original, and although the camera is a disappointment, it’s got more than enough clever touches to make up for it. The fine mix of hardware and software upgrades ensures that this is easily one of the strongest Android smartphone offerings in a long time, and with the Samsung Galaxy S5 also out now, there has never been a better time to upgrade.