HTC followed up its very well received One (M7) flagship with the M8, a smartphone with a design that was further refined, which rightfully continued to win awards and fans. As other OEMs were only beginning to find their footing in the design and build quality department, some more so than others, HTC’s latest offering certainly brought with it the hope that this would be the One people chose over the competition. Shortcomings aside, its eye-catching profile and fantastic user experience did lead to a number of users snatching up the One (M8).
But that was then, and this is the HTC One (M8)… now.
Unlike this year, when HTC launched its latest flagship in Barcelona just before the official start of MWC 2015, HTC chose to stay away from any trade shows last year, launching the One (M8) during simultaneous events held in New York and London. HTC has to be appreciated for the fact that they keep their device announcement events pretty simple, a similar philosophy to what we see in the company’s approach to its smartphones.
The One (M8) brought with it the appearance of a second “eye” on the back of the phone, above the 4 MP “Ultrapixel” camera that HTC was still touting as the best low-light camera experience. Though the Ultrapixel camera proved itself in the One (M7) as a decent performer, its detractors focused mainly on the lack of high detail when zooming in, as the pictures were much smaller compared to other flagships.
This time around, a second camera module was going to bring depth data to photos, resulting in better depth of field, similar to what you’d get with DSLR shooters. This certainly caught a lot of people by surprise, given the rumors that suggested that the Duo Camera addition would be for 3D picture shooting, instead of something that allowed you to add effects to just about any picture after the fact.
Aside from the phone, one nice aspect of this new flagship was the addition of many in-house accessories for the One (M8), something that wasn’t always the case with Android devices. And given the out-of-the-box thinking with the Dot View Case in particular, the HTC One (M8) felt like an “experience,” rather than just a device bursting with raw power to appease the the spec hungry masses.
Once we actually got our hands on the phone, much of what we liked from the announcement and the first hands-on continued to impress. In particular, the One M8 stood out from the smartphone crowd due its metal unibody design, which made for a much better looking phone when compared to the plastic or glass builds from other manufacturers, like Samsung with its Galaxy S5. A smooth software experience that didn’t require you to fight with the user interface to get things done, and one of the best audio experiences available to users in the front-facing BoomSound speakers were definitely contributing factors as well. The One (M8) felt like a phone that just worked, which is exactly what many users are looking for in a phone.
The One (M8) is not without its flaws though. The brushed metal is still one of the most slippery surfaces to use, and complaints about the phone slipping about have been observed. Though the rounded sides add to the look, we still don’t think they provide the best grip, even if the narrow profile certainly helps with this. The black bar at bottom of the display housing the HTC logo remains a point of contention for many users, even if HTC insists that the bar is necessary in order to accommodate crucial internal components.
The improved HTC Sense is a pretty different take on the stock Android experience, but it is also one of the easiest to navigate. A vertical app drawer felt odd for a little while, but BlinkFeed was still a nice way of getting the general headlines from the news or social media feeds, and is still considered a better second homescreen addition than what we get from competitors. Though adding contextual colors to sections of the interface sounded like a good idea, I preferred to have everything be monotone or black. Personally, I felt this matched the general dark look of the Sense UI better.
The one area that fell under heaviest criticism was the camera, an iteration from HTC that still included the Ultrapixel construction. While low light performance is always an issue with Android flagships, HTC hoped to alleviate their smaller megapixel pictures by trying to remedy this very problem. While in some cases it proved to be true, my biggest gripe with the One (M8) was its jumpy exposures. Often, I would get pictures that were simply not of accurate color reproduction or of proper exposure, opting for either blown out or darker images, depending on where your focus and exposure were tapped in the viewfinder. While getting good photos was definitely possible, it just didn’t happen as often as we would have liked. For a phone that tries to be easier to use across the board, having to fiddle around for a nice picture didn’t seem to align with that philosophy.
This brings us to the capabilities of the Duo Camera. In short, getting depth information for every single photo was a very nice idea, but the execution didn’t do it justice. When shooting a proper subject in a photo, the Duo Camera effects would definitely find the spot and try to stitch it out for a nice bokeh effect, but unfortunately, this effect would often bleed into the wrong parts of the picture. With this fundamental first step already causing some issues, trying to put extra effects on top of the bokeh seemed pointless, not to mention the fact that many of the effects were just impractical. One aspect we did like about the camera experience was the highlight reel made possible by Zoe in the Gallery. Though you might sometimes forget that you can use the Zoe camera to get short clips or even burst shots of your scene, doing so could result in a really nice recap of an event or day in your life. And when done well, it was a nice little surprise to come back to.
In revisiting the HTC One (M8), it still looks like the phone everyone wants because of its nearly flawless design. It certainly is different from all other phones in the space, and if you’re the kind of person that wants to get a bit of attention for your phone choices, the One (M8) was certainly the best bet. It was just a disappointment that HTC couldn’t get the camera right, and even today, it is overshadowed by other cameras that forego tricks and gimmicky additions in order to provide an easy to use and effective photo taking experience.
While the day to day user experience of the One (M8) was one of the best upon its release, ultimately the phone was let down by a poor camera experience that would turn off many users who would have otherwise considered the device. All of that hopefully changes in the HTC One M9, which has a further refined design, a sign that HTC knows where their flagship line has its strengths, along with a much more powerful 20 MP camera. The Ultrapixel camera again makes a return, but this time as a front facing shooter. Furthermore, the Sense UI continues to evolve, without trying too hard to change what makes it so accessible.
As good as the One (M8) was, we are certainly very excited to put its successor to the test.