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    September 9, 2014

    HTC One M8 Review: The One who would be king

    On the day we are eagerly awaiting the new iPhone model we usually reflect back on the years‘ latest and greatest in the world of flagship smartphones. This year we have seen some great devices being produced by the top names in the industry. Samsung elicited shock and awe with their latest Galaxy S5 and their trademark over-the-top marketing, Sony presented their hardware powerhouse Xperia Z2 and LG built on their ever increasing pedigree with the G3. Today we will see the last of the so-called “œBig 5“ release their 2014 model.

    “œBut I only count 4 there!“, I hear everybody saying. And you would be correct. The missing smartphone would be the HTC One M8. Much like the brand philosophy of HTC the One M8 has quietly gone about its business. This beautiful phone is probably the hardest device to find when you walk into any Vodacom, MTN or Cell C store. Why? Because HTC is known for the best design on the market, advanced hardware and an all-round brilliant package. Bandwidth Blog was lucky enough to get our hands on the One and this review will surely back-up all of these statements.

    The original HTC One (code name M7) saw HTC draw level with Apple when it came to sheer design genius. The One had a full metal design which in itself is an engineering achievement due to the well known reception issues that go hand in hand with metal designs. Having a phone that looks good is only the first, albeit important, step to developing a good smartphone. The One also delivered in every other category; hardware, software and of course the camera.HTC_005

    To gain market share in the most competitive tech industry in the world a company has to be able to produce consecutive products of outstanding quality. Can the new One M8 live up to its predecessor? Let‘s have a look at the specs (compared to the old One M7):

    Specifications HTC One M7 HTC One M8
    Dimensions 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm
    Weight 143 g 160 g
    Operating system Android OS, v4.1.2 (Jelly Bean), v4.3 (Jelly Bean), upgradable to v4.4.3 (KitKat) Android OS, v4.4.2 (KitKat), upgradable to v4.4.3 (KitKat)
    Display 4.7 inch Super LCD 3 (1080 x 1920 @ 469 ppi)
    Multitouch, Corning Gorilla Glass 2
    5 inch Super LCD 3 (1080 x 1920 @ 441 ppi)
    Multitouch, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
    Rear camera 4 MP, 2688 x 1520 pixels, autofocus, optical image stabilization, LED flash Dual 4 MP, 2688Ñ…1520 pixels, autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
    Front camera 2.1 MP, 1080p@30fps, HDR 5 MP, 1080p@30fps, HDR
    Storage, internal 32 or 64 GB 16 or 32 GB
    Storage, expandable None micro SD card slot (up to 128 GB)
    RAM 2 GB 2 GB
    Processor Quad-core 1.7 GHz Krait 300 Quad-core 2.3 GHz (US/EMEA)/ 2.5 GHz (Asia, China) Krait 400
    Battery Non-removable Li-Po 2300 mAh battery Non-removable Li-Po 2600 mAh battery
    Cellular data HSPA+; LTE, Cat3, 50 Mbps UL, 100 Mbps DL HSDPA, 42 Mbps (21 Mbps – AT&T), HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps; LTE, Cat4, 50 Mbps UL, 150 Mbps DL
    NFC Yes Yes

    Design and Build

    I should only be posting photos and videos at this point. No words are quite adequate to describe the look and feel of the M8. Hands down the best looking phone on the market today. Even with the iPhone 6 launching today I can’t see it beating the sheer brilliance of the HTC One M8 design. HTC are the masters of metal design and their crown jewel is the M8. When it comes to first impressions the M8 with its curved design and 90% aluminium body fits the hand like a glove. Should a noob smartphone buyer compare the best smartphones only on design the M8 will win every time. Apologies for this particularly praising paragraph but do yourselves a favour and just pop into a mobile store sometime just to gawk at this beauty.HTC_004

    Right, back to the review. The front of the M8 sports dual reflective metal speaker bars at the top and bottom which also includes the microphone. The front-facing camera (and accompanying LED flash) sits neatly tucked into the front right-hand corner. On top you will find the sleep/wake button on a rare piece of black plastic. To the right of the M8 is the volume rocker and hidden micro SD card tray (Yay!). The left side has a similar (albeit larger) hidden slot for the nano-sim. At the bottom you will find the micro USB port as well as 3.5mm headphone jack.

    The backside is definitely the M8‘s best viewing angle. The hairline brushed metal look is broken by two darker plastic stripes at the top and bottom along with a similar in color HTC logo in the middle. At the top, one of these bars split the dual lense cameras (more on that later) as well as the dual LED flash. The rounded corners of the device meet at the front around the screen that lends a moulded feel to the whole handset.

    The design comes together perfectly. The button layout works very well but I found them to be quite sensitive and are easily activated in your pocket. Combine that with the volume rocker and you will constantly be changing the ringer volume without noticing. The 3.5mm jack should be at the top in my opinion but that is just nit picking.HTC_008 HTC_001 HTC_002 HTC_003

    Display & Sound

    The 5 inch Super LCD3 display of the M8 does a “œsuper“ job. Whilst it may not reach the dizzying heights of the LG G3 the One M8‘s display looks great. The 1080 x 1920 resolution produces vivid colors, great viewing angles and does more than a decent job in full sunlight. There is virtually no space between the glass and the display which makes the experience just so much better.

    The screen reaches to within about 3mm of the side bezel (G3 much tighter) and stops at the bottom with a centimetre wide black space emblazoned with the HTC logo. The bottom part of the screen is reserved for the Android onscreen “œBack-Home-Apps“ buttons (which are hidden in most apps and games). I find the the OLED screens to produce better and deeper blacks than the M8‘s LCD version but the total display package of the HTC delivers in every category.

    When it comes to raw audio power the M8 doesn’t hold back, at all! Introducing BoomSound! The dual front facing speaker bars deliver an astonishing sound, whether it is just a ringtone, alarm or pumping some tunes when relaxing at home, the Boomsound technology delivers. The speakers have specially designed cavities behind them to create a full (and louder) audio experience. The phone was so loud that I gave myself and my wife one hell of a fright the first time my alarm went of in the review period. I had to turn down the alarm volume as not to wake up the whole apartment complex every morning. The audio also delivers on the quality front with deep bass notes and no tinny or tunnel type qualities at all. Needless to say you will definitely hear your phone ringing from anywhere in the house/suburb.HTC_006

    Performance, Call Quality and Battery

    The Snapdragon 801 processor seems to be the most popular CPU of 2014 under Android devices. The HTC‘s quad core 2.3 GHz processor keeps up with everything you can throw at it. There is a 2.5 GHz version available in China (and some other Asian countries) but I don‘t really see how 200 MHz is going to improve on the already blazing fast response.

    The 32 GB model we had to review had oodles of space for music, apps, photos and the odd video or two. HTC as also included expandable storage with a SD card slot which will make those media hungry users quite happy! The 2 GB‘s of onboard RAM works hand in hand with the CPU to deliver a seamless experience. I also think much of the performance is down to the efficient way HTC Sense (HTC‘s Android skin) uses the available hardware.

    The call quality of the M8 was at best satisfactory. On the one hand I had no problems with dropped calls at all (only in low signal areas) which I found great (I normally use an iPhone 5). On the other hand the actual call audio left a bit to be desired. The Boomsound speakers provide enough volume and clarity but the voice audio comes across quite unnatural and robotic. The audio almost sounds generated and quite flat. My iPhone 5 delivers natural voice tones and cuts out more surrounding noise.

    The battery delivers as expected. Although we see an increase of 300 mAh (2600 vs. 2300 mAh) over the previous model I could easily drain the battery by the end of the day. This was par for the course in my opinion as my iPhone 5, but its Android competitors do a bit better with their larger capacities. The M8 also has a “œPower Saving“ mode which alters your screen brightness, data connections, vibrations and CPU power to save up some juice.

    Software and UI

    The M8 ships with Android 4.4.2 KitKat and HTC‘s custom designed UI skin called Sense 6.0. The device features all of Google‘s bells and whistles including Chrome, Gmail, Maps and Drive and the Play Store. The exceptionally handy Google Now feature is also available by swiping upward on the home screen. HTC has not gone overboard with changes from the stock Android version and most importantly they have stayed true to Google‘s original notification / quick settings layout (bar changes in font type). Notification can easily be reached by swiping down on the home screen. By swiping down with two fingers you go directly to the quick settings where you can toggle WiFi, cellular data etc. on and off.Combo1

    The M8 also includes a tap to wake function (created by Nokia and made famous by LG) which I found a bit erratic. The phone did not respond on many an occasion and I feel LG has done a much better job with the G3 (even the G2).

    The device also ships with a feature called BlinkFeed. This app can be accessed by swiping right on the main home screen. BlinkFeed is HTC‘s version of Flipboard, a centralised magazine-like news aggregator which pulls together your social feeds and interesting articles from vetted websites that suits your tastes (search filtered). You can customize the content you are interested in and BlinkFeed has been extended to include information from FitBit and Foursquare. Both these elements are excluded in Samsung‘s My Magazine version.The integrated FitBit app acts as a central fitness tracking hub for the M8 and I found the app quite useful on our recent trip to Europe as we did quite a lot of walking.Combo3

    What I did found a bit annoying is the fact that sometimes the phone registers two taps when you only press once. When opening mailboxes the phone would sometimes immediately open the mail which lies in the same spot as my Gmail icon. This may be a hardware or software bug and could also be isolated to my device but it was a bit frustrating. The biggest issue I have with the HTC‘s software (and Android as a whole) is the lack of a quikview notification feature on the lock screen. iOS provides a quick view of any notification be it 3rd party or phone related when you wake the phone, without accessing the device. There are 3rd party clones of this feature available but even the best ones I tested did not lend the same experience.Combo2

    Camera

    Probably the most interesting new development to the One M8 is the camera and imaging system. The device ships with two camera lenses (and dual LED flash) at the back essentially making the imaging system bifocal. While the larger of the M8’s eyes supports its main camera and handles traditional photo duties, the smaller lense (which sits next to it) is meant for an altogether different purpose. The secondary eye’s sole responsibility is to capture depth information. This gives the user the ability to refocus a photo AFTER it was taken. Cool huh?IMAG0110

    You can for instance create blurred effects by only keeping the focus on images in the foreground or vice versa (see images below). The Nokia Lumia range (famed for their excellent cameras) only provides the function through clever software processing and not actual lense technology. The post processing can be done on a photo with the “œUfocus“ function. HTC has also added functions like “œForegrounder“ which applies special filters to the background ranging from comic and black and white themes. Many other features are also included such as 3D Dimension Plus (creates different 3D angles to your photos) as well as a range of “œtouch up“ editing functions.

    Normal Photo

    Normal Photo

    Focus edited photo

    Focus edited photo

    The Zoe function (which now been released to the wider Android market) works the same as the previous version but you have to select the “œZoe“ button in the camera settings. For those of you who don’t know a Zoe is a short video clip from which you also can extract still images, and they’re used as source files for Video Highlights.

    The camera shutter speed is crazy fast with virtually zero lag between pressing the button and taking the pic. It will push the laser focus tech found in the G3 quite close. The image quality of the M8‘s photos is more than satisfactory (on par with the S5 and Z2), that being said I find the G3 and iPhone to have better color scales. Where the M8 does fall down a bit is high contrast photos. The camera tends to blow out bright skies in outdoor photos.

    High contrast photo - HDR still creates "blow-outs" on bright skies

    High contrast photo – HDR still creates “blow-outs” on bright skies

    Camera2 Camera1

    Conclusion

    I really loved my short time with the HTC flagship. The smartphone worked like a charm in every area I needed it to and it did it all inside one of the best looking bodies out there. Such a shame that I would probably envelope it in a sturdy case had it been my own. HTC has really produced a stunner of a device yet again and without much marketing fanfare this baby will fly off the shelves creating insanely long waiting lists.

    For me the HTC One M8 sits alongside the LG G3 as the best smartphones of 2014 (pre iPhone 6 release). If you fancy a better camera and display go for the G3, if you want a top notch designer phone get the M8. I would happily jump from the Apple cart into this beautiful Android bot.

    HTC One M8

    Body / Build

    10

    Screen

    8

    Performance / Features

    9

    Battery

    8

    Software

    8

    Overall

    9

    Follow Jaco on Twitter: @Jaco_vdWalt

    More HTC One M8 photo examples:

    IMAG0256

    Front facing camera

    IMAG0247IMAG0192

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