HTC One (M8) hands-on and first impressions

March 25, 2014
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It wasn’t the best kept secret, but we’re still happy to finally see it official. Today in New York, HTC introduced The All New One, its best hope for a comeback in 2014, after a year of losing favor with customers and stock markets alike.

The new HTC One (M8) marches on the path opened by the original One (M7), a device that garnered glowing reviews and awards for its exquisite design and thoughtful features. That means you get many of the same design traits and features, but everything is smoother and tighter, like HTC’s design team took the first One and shaved off all the unnecessary bits to achieve a final design that can only be defined as premium.

Besides the design changes and the obligatory specs bump, there’s a larger screen, an upgraded Duo Camera, and a handful of software updates. Is the package worth an upgrade? Should competitors be scared? Here are our first hands-on impressions of the new HTC One (M8).

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Design and build quality

The HTC One (M8) is taller than its predecessor by almost 10 millimeters, and about two millimeters wider, to accommodate the jump in display size from 4.7-inch to 5-inch. Even so, the taller format and the tighter bezels gives the new One a slender and more compact look, and this impression extends to the feel in hand.

You get unadulterated premium design with the new One, and it all starts with the brushed metal  body that now wraps around the edges of the phone. The curvy look extends to the corners, giving the phone a friendlier allure, though we’re sure some will prefer the straightness of the original One.

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On the front, the biggest change coming to the new HTC One  are the onscreen buttons that replace the capacitive keys found on HTC’s earlier flagships. The black bar at the bottom of the screen remains, breaking the symmetry, but it’s really not something that you notice when you use it. The same can be said about the size difference between the upper and the lower speaker grill.

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The gray brushed metal model we got to try looks pretty darn good, but if you prefer a matte finish, the gold and the silver models are just as attractive.

One thing that affects the experience, especially for folks with smaller hands, is the handling, but that’s a problem across most 5-inch+ devices. You will find yourself stretching your thumb to reach the upper section of the One (M8)’s screen. It’s a compromise many of us are glad to make, but you’re not one of them, you might want to look at other devices.

Display, hardware, and performance

The HTC One (M8) features a 5-inch display of 1080p resolution, which puts it on the same level with its major rivals. Increasing size at the same resolution means smaller pixel density (441 ppi for the M8, compared to 469ppi on the M7), but you’ll probably won’t ever notice the difference.

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The Super LCD3 (IPS LCD) technology yields great results on the HTC One (M8) – you get a bright screen with good viewing angles and one of the most accurate color calibration on any mobile device.

In terms of performance, the processing package differs from market to market – in the West, the Snapdragon 801 SoC will be clocked at 2.3GHz, while Asian markets will get a slightly faster 2.5GHz bin. All models will feature an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM, and the performance in operation is as smooth as you expect it. Sense 6 is fast and snappy, even when you scroll through pages upon pages of content in BlinkFeed. We found little to no lag.

A nice addition to the One (M8)’s arsenal is the microSD card slot on its right hand side, a feature that HTC has skipped in previous flagship models. Battery life should be decent, thanks to the 2,600 mAh unit and the frugality of the Snapdragon 801 chip.

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BoomSound is back, and now it’s supposedly 25 percent louder, with audible improvements in mids and lows.

Camera

The biggest and most interesting update in the HTC One (M8) is probably its Duo Camera, composed of the same 4 Ultrapixels main camera and a secondary camera on the top of the device, which helps with focus and 3D effects.

HTC told us that the specs of the 4MP main camera remain unchanged, but the components have been improved nonetheless. That means we should expect better images, both in low light and when the light is very bright, a situation that caused washed out photos on the M7. Skin tones should be noticeably better, thanks to the variable light LED, which has five different settings that the phone selects depending on the scene.

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The secondary camera on the top of the phone is dubbed a depth sensor by HTC. What this gizmo does is add depth information to shots taken by the main camera. This is helpful for selective focus, which lets users select the area of the image they want highlighted, while everything else is blurred. Competing devices, such as the Xperia Z2 and the Galaxy S5, also do this imitation of a shallow field of depth lens, but those implementations are software-based and limited.

With Camera Duo, the HTC One (M8) should yield far better results and do it much faster than a software-only solution. From our limited time with it, we came away very impressed. Another trick of the M8 is Dimension Plus, which is a cute little 3D effect that gives images a little depth of field when you move the phone.

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Expect a close look at image quality and software capabilities of the new HTC One in the coming days.

Software

In terms of appearance, the changes in Sense 6 are relatively minor compared to Sense 5.5. BlinkFeed is now green by default, and you can choose from several themes, including a black one that’s very similar to the color scheme on the M7. Color made its way to other areas as well – for instance, media apps are displayed in orange. Especially when using a colored accessory, the ability to change the theme should be pretty handy. Another small change is the transparency of the dock. BlinkFeed now integrates with a bunch of new apps, including FitBit and Foursquare recommendations.

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Of course, the big change is the presence of a navigation bar, replacing the capacitive keys from the M7. The buttons are standard – back, home, and multitasking. We salute this adoption of the setup used on stock Android.

HTC’s own apps are front and center  – Sense TV or Gallery have been uploaded to the Play Store today, meaning HTC will be able to updated them a lot easier.

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Finally, the new sensors in the HTC One (M8) enable several nifty gestures, from pick up to answer, to double tap to wake up, and several slide to unlock options. Sliding from the right, for instance, wakes up the phone and takes you to BlinkFeed, while sliding upwards wakes up the phone and opens the camera app. They are nice little additions that could make your life easier, once you get used with them.

Final thoughts

With the new One, HTC did not try to fix what was not broken. You get a refined experience, better specs, a sleeker design, and a nicer screen. The Ultrapixel camera received some unique functionality, while HTC did not risk anything in the software department.

We will receive a review unit in the coming days, so stay tuned for more insight in the new HTC One (M8). Meanwhile, tell us your opinion on it. Buying or not?

Next: HTC One (M8) Accessories – a buyers guide

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