HTC One (M8)
10th Jul 2014 | 15:05
Stunning design, loads of power and some big upgrades: HTC's done it again
Introduction and design
I'd hate to be a phone designer these days, trying to achieve unique and exciting features in a jaw dropping package for what is essentially a screen with some extra bits and pieces surrounding it.
So it's all the more impressive that HTC, fresh from making the best-looking phone of 2013, has managed to make the HTC One (M8), a phone crammed full of power and great features while improving the design that won it so many accolades.
The poor naming aside, the One (M8) is a phone that takes the superb DNA of last year's device, improves it in nearly every area and then packs it full of all the latest technology...and still finds space to pack in a microSD card slot.
On top of that the chassis has been retooled to now be made of 90% metal, up from around 70% last year, and the result is a brushed aluminium design that seems compelling the second you lay eyes on it.
Which makes it all the more confusing when you consider HTC has brought out the One E8; same size and internals, but with a plastic chassis and no duo camera. Here's the other confusing bit: it's going to be £200 cheaper too.
Check out the key differences with our quick comparison:
Let's go back in time a little bit here: when it launched the HTC One X - let's not get into the fact that this company needs to employ a whole new team dedicated to naming products - HTC was in a nosedive.
From the heights of the HTC Desire, the world's first true iPhone competitor, it had fallen dramatically, and sales were in the toilet.
So HTC had a tough choice: make a sequel that was mere evolution, an HTC One S (wait... that's been done) if you will, which would make the world realise it truly believed in its design trajectory, or reinvent the wheel again, try and different kind of impressive phone and run the risk of offering up a flop?
Somehow the company has managed to navigate these choppy waters and create something that stands astride both categories.
The HTC One (M8) is an even better-designed device that takes the principles of the original One, expands them in the right places and adds in some more HTC sauce here and there.
The result offers up something that can compete with Samsung on the technological front yet still stand toe-to-toe with Apple, arguably the producer of some of the best-looking devices of all time.
Of course, the One (M8) isn't a phone that's going to be to everyone's tastes. It's expensive, coming in at least £500 SIM free (AU$899, around US$820), but that's to be expected from a flagship phone like this.
The metallic chassis is really the premium reason, but it will be interesting to see if buyers still are as wedded to it when the One E8 offers such similar specs with a much lower price.
You'll need to be ready to pay top dollar for the HTC One (M8), but once you hold it you'll accept that it deserves to command such a premium.
There are other things that will put off some too: the fact that the screen is now 5 inches mean this is a larger device, one that can take two hands to operate at times, and it's even bigger than the 2013 version as a result.
HTC needs to sort out its efforts in the mid-to-low smartphone arena, but that's a topic for a different day. The HTC One (M8) is a phone that's supposed to offer the best of the smartphone market, one that will survive the onslaught of the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5, while preserving HTC's heritage and bringing the bottom line closer to something more healthy.
Through a clever combination of technology and design, it appears the company has managed to just do that - and in today's impossibly congested smartphone market (especially at the high end) that's something to be applauded.
As you can guess from the introduction, the HTC One (M8) is a phone that is as much about premium design as it is about packing in the latest version of Android and a decent processor.
The brand took great pains to point out that the One (M8) is a phone that builds on the heritage of last year's One, but improves in just about every arena. The metal chassis is still there, and the aluminium casing now makes up 90% of the frame, up from about 70% previously.
This is probably the most significant change, along with the fact the back and sides are now more curved, as it brings a really impressive feel in the hand. If the original One was characterised by first-time users saying 'Wow, that feels lovely' the next iteration takes that message further.
There will be very few brand-agnostic people that wander into their local phone emporium, pick up the HTC One (M8) and a couple of competitors, and find that the Taiwanese brand's new device is streets ahead in the design stakes - and I'd bet that most would be unable to resist a purchase after that.
The difference here between the One (M8) and the iPhone 5S - the two phones that lead the way in the design stakes - is weight and screen size. Having something that feels premium is incredibly important when you're spending so much on a phone per month, and while the iPhone is beautiful in its metal casing, it's too light to feel like you're getting something really premium.
There's a subconscious reaction when you pick up something for the first time, a natural expectation of how it might feel in the hand, and the HTC One (M8), with its 9.35mm thickness and 160g weight, marries those two very well.
It's no coincidence that smartphones are packing on the grams a little bit these days. Where around 120g was the fashion a couple of years ago, now we're seeing heavier phones as designers try to meet a new paradigm (plus all that new technology needs to go somewhere, after all).
Let's look at the actual design of the HTC One (M8) - and it's definitely equal parts evolution and revolution.
The flagship version will be this metallic grey, although a silver version that evokes the previous model and a champagne / rose gold option will be both available too. However, this brushed metal effect is stunning, and helps distance the One (M8) from its predecessor.
Holding it in the hand is a really pleasant experience, one that makes you feel like you're holding something you should spend a lot of money on.
Quite rightly some will baulk at the larger chassis, mostly down to the decision to include the Boomsound speakers above and below the screen, but once you've heard them in action you'll struggle not to agree that they're not a worthy trade-off.
The iPhone 5S and even the Galaxy S5 have a more compact design language than the One (M8), which is larger thanks to the speaker addition, but overall I don't think this detracts from the overall effect.
The headphone jack has been moved to the bottom of the phone, which will anger some users. I still think this is an unintuitive place to add the port, as I've become used to having it at the top. Arguments that it makes it easier to slip in and out of the pocket don't hold water, and it makes the phone hard to hold in portrait when listening to music.
But I've got some really good news for you phone-lovers out there: the HTC One (M8) comes with a microSD slot! I thought this would never happen after the brand did away with the expansion last year, citing design reasons and a general lack of need thanks to the ubiquity of cloud storage (which is clearly still not true).
To hammer home that last point, HTC told me that it re-introduced the expandable memory as it was a) able to do so without compromising the design and b) it had heard from so many consumers that this was a real sticking point for not buying the original One.
It's always good to see a brand climb down when consumers ask for something, and now this means that there are no issues about filling your phone up with photos and home videos as well as music and movies.
The slot isn't that easy to access on the fly, as like the nanoSIM port it needs a small tool to pop open the drawer. That might be annoying for the more hardcore photographer, but most people will rarely, if ever, hot swap cards, so it just offers a cheap and easy way to increase the 16GB / 32GB onboard storage by up to 128GB.
The top of the phone is all plastic still, and this is to with antenna technology as well as allowing the infrared signal to control home theatre devices.
This, combined with the thin plastic strips on the rear of the phone, allow for phone and Wi-Fi signal to permeate through the chassis... when you hear engineers talk about how hard it is to make a metal phone that can still connect to other devices, the design language of the One is even more impressive.
The phone isn't perfect on the One (M8) though - although the following points are more little irritations than anything that undoes the work of the overall design ethos.
One area I'm really happy about is the button travel, as the original One has very flat keys that were hard to find and press. The One (M8) improves on that massively, making everything easier to find in the pocket or bag and tap.
However, the keys still feel a little plastic and have a little bit of wiggle when rocked back and forth. This is the same criticism I had with the first One, and it got sorted after a couple of months, but I'd expect a phone of this calibre to have every part of the device locked into place - a rattle ruins things a little bit.
The power button is still on the top of the phone, which I can live with, but it's been moved from the left to the right side. I've argued with a few people about this, as it seems that some people prefer this orientation where others find it incredibly hard to hit.
I'm in the latter camp, as my finger naturally sits on the left of the phone and I found it very easy to unlock the first One. Now not only do I have to shuffle along to find the power button, but whenever I do so I accidentally engage the volume key, meaning I always keep turning the ringtone up and down.
This was probably the most infuriating part of the HTC One (M8) - which isn't a bad thing to have at all, but is a poor thing to happen over and over again.
I'm also a bit perplexed about the fast HTC decided to drop the capacitive buttons (understandable given Android 4.4 KitKat's love of on-screen keys) yet keep the same big black bar that contains the HTC logo. This feels like a lot of wasted real estate on the front of the phone, and could have allowed the brand to keep the same footprint as the previous model if it had found another place to chuck its name.
The reason for this is probably due to the need to pack in the necessary internal components while maintaining the Boomsound speakers, but given the level of intelligence on show here when it comes to packaging the device, it seems like a missed trick.
But before you get too downhearted, here's the upshot: the HTC One (M8) is one of the most beautiful phones ever made, and that's a statement that's even more impressive given we were saying the same thing about the device this time last year.
The improved use of metal in the chassis really works, and the shape is updated without losing any of the heritage of last year's popular model. The addition of a microSD slot is inspired, and while I can't say I'll ever get on board with the headphone jack being on the bottom, it's something that you can live with.
In short, if you want a phone that looks the absolute business in the smartphone world, AND builds in some top-end components, I'd wager you won't do much better in 2014 unless Sir Jony Ive has something absolutely spectacular up his sleeve.
When it comes to Blinkfeed, HTC thinks that it's got a decent upgrade in what it's brought to Sense 6 on the HTC One (M8).
True, it's definitely improved over the previous iteration, and visually it's been updated too - now that you can pack themes onto the device, the colour coordination (by default a pseudo-mint green) at least gives the app some kind of identity.
HTC was ahead of the curve with the creation of Blinkfeed too, as it knew that we were starting to 'snack' on content ever more readily in the increasingly smartphone obsessed times we live in.
However, it's still an app that needs work to be truly something that really scratches that itch. I say that having used the service on and off for over a year, and it sometimes delights and then equally disappoints.
Let's start with the good notes: there's a wealth of content out there, HTC has added more 'rich' feeds (those that play well with Blinkfeed, looking great and are regularly updated) to the mix that you can choose at launch, meaning there's something for everyone when using it for the first time.
The interface is much improved from the version that landed this time last year as well, with the side bar giving excellent access to your services and topics so you can choose something specific at any point.
I'm also so glad that HTC reneged on its decision to only allow the feeds it deigns into the mix, as now you can search for a keyword and have your own custom topics in the mix as well. Yes, they sometimes have oddly-sized pictures, but content is king and I can put up with the odd duff illustration here and there.
I'm also a big fan of being able to swipe through the news stories once you've opened one up, browsing for content I might be interested in. This is much better than scrolling down the list, which can truncate headlines and make the experience feel a bit choppy, even if it does look nice.
However, there are still too many gremlins in the system to properly call Blinkfeed a real strength. Choosing topics and services at first boot can be time consuming, and you'll find that you choose things with wild abandon that you think you might be into.
This leads to a lot of things you might not be interested in populating your feed, when to be truly successful it needs to grow over time to really be something tailored to the user. Yes, you can go in and uncheck some ideas, but most people won't bother as they don't know the root of the issue.
The keyword idea is also a weird one: you can add in a website using this method, but you'll have to put up with tweets and YouTube videos from the same brand. You can't just choose to have a feed of the news (unless HTC has pre-approved it) so you'll have to make do.
And weirder than that: the keyword Blinkfeed is a separate entity, not added into your main feed. So if you want to see info on a certain topic, you'll have to swipe from the left and select it. No idea why.
Here's the even weirder part: you CAN have the news feed, but you'll need to trawl the web, click the RSS icon on the site you want and then hope it will load up into Blinkfeed (which, it doesn't do as often as it should).
Why can't HTC allow this from within the app? Why can't there be some kind of rating system for stories within Blinkfeed that allows you to sculpt your interests over time, and would sporadically offer up new suggestions of sites and topics you might like?
It's a hard question to pose to HTC - I've reviewed countless apps trying to do the same trick of being smarter than the user in terms of finding them the content they would want, and it's a near-impossible task right now, it seems.
But this is the second go at Blinkfeed, and it's not quite good enough still... it's good enough to idly play with a few times a week, but it's not a real USP still.
One of the main criticisms of the HTC One was the fact that it really managed to suck down battery when you actually used the phone heavily (I know, who does that, eh?).
It meant that if you left the phone in the pocket, quietly sipping data and no doing much else, you could get a decent day's use out of the device. Watch a movie or play a game for too long though and you'll be looking for a charger around 4PM.
That problem was rectified to a degree with software updates from HTC, but it was still one of the dicier devices on battery usage.
Well, good news: the HTC One (M8) is a much, much better device at stretching your power out over the day (or even two) and that's because of the a) upgraded battery, now up to 2600mAh from 2300mAh but more importantly b) the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset at the heart.
You might not care much for the internal specs of a phone, but trust me here. Over the last 12 months Qualcomm's two chips, the 800 and 801, have shown that phone efficiency can leap forward.
The likes of the LG G2 and Sony Xperia Z1 were both much improved on their battery when using the 800, and the top phones of 2014 (the HTC One (M8), the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Sony Xperia Z2) are all using the 801 chip and look to run even longer on a single charge.
There are myriad improvements throughout the One (M8) as well thanks to this new engine: the image processing of the snaps is much enhanced, data is collected and used more efficiently and pumping content out from the phone is a much more impressive experience.
You might not notice it, but the Snapdragon 801 (combined with 2GB of RAM) is one of the main jumps forward for the One (M8) and I'm really relieved HTC managed to get the latest tech on board its latest flagship.
Duo camera and smart flash
Like the battery talk above, I'm not going to spoil the larger section later one where I discuss the camera power, but the new snapper on the back deserves highlighting here as it genuinely is the stand out feature (along with the design of the phone) that will mark out the HTC One (M8) from the competition.
Yes, it's still the same Ultrapixel technology from last year, and it's not been bumped up much in the megapixel space. Actually, not at all. But the output is much enhanced, and not just in low light, leading to a more robust system.
However, it's the depth sensor that HTC has plugged above the main camera that really makes the difference here, as it allows you to refocus images after you've taken them, which is a really cool feature.
It's one that all the main manufacturers are placing within their flagship devices, but HTC is the only one that does it with hardware instead of software, leading to really impressive speeds when taking pictures and still having this advanced functionality.
You can check out the tests with the new Ultrapixel Duo Camera later in the review - and I'd really recommend that you do if you're the sort of person that likes a really strong day to day snapper.
HTC has gone to great lengths to talk up its improved speakers on the front of the device, and it needs to, given its added so much size to the One (M8) to accommodate them.
The good news is they're SO much better than last year, and the original One's sound wasn't bad at all. However with the new speakers everything is so much clearer, meaning better clarity between the bass and the vocals when listening to music, or just a cleaner sound when pumping up the volume to the max.
HTC told me that this was because it had separated out the channels within the sound, allowing it to clip the likes of the bass when things got too much for the speakers without affecting the other elements. It's a system that certainly works and side by side the difference is marked.
However, I'm still not convinced by Boomsound. Yes, it's brilliant when used, but the question is: when would you use it? I found that over the last year I was surprised how much the speakers came to the fore, be it showing off YouTube clips or having music in the background when decorating, but that wasn't regular.
I never found myself watching a full movie using the speakers when alone, as I still prefer the headphone experience for that.
The Boomsound speakers feel akin to a really nice bodywork set on a premium saloon car. They'll add a lot when it comes to cornering speeds and general performance, but you know that mostly you're using that car for getting to work and taking the family or friends to the beach.
The same here: the speakers are great, but they add a lot of height to the phone and I wonder how much use you'll get out of these premium features given modern smartphone use is still a very private thing.
But don't get confused - the sound that comes out from the speakers is really great, with crisp notes and deep bass for a smartphone.
And just briefly, let's have a 'hands in the air' moment for the fact HTC has caved in and brought a microSD expansion slot to the One (M8). I thought such a thing was impossible for future HTC devices, assuming the company had bent to Google's apparent will to have more emphasis put to the cloud.
But HTC told me that it had listened to users, some of whom had said they wouldn't buy the One thanks to the lack of expandable storage, and so popped one into the One (M8).
It's not easy to hot swap, given you need a little SIM tool to open the drawer, but it's much better than nothing and helps negate the fact that 6GB of the internal storage is taken up by OS requirements.
That's not the worst out there, but if you opt for the 16GB version and get really friendly with the Zoe feature on the One (M8) as well as downloading some large apps, you would have run into trouble.
Now, all your media needs can be siphoned off and the internal space dedicated to apps instead, which is a big help, and it's good to see a brand backing down over a big issue.
HTC has tried to join the fitness game with the One (M8) by bundling the Fitbit app with the phone from the outset.
It's a strategy that you could consider two ways: on the one hand, given that smartphone fitness is still a burgeoning area, it doesn't seem worth spending millions to develop a real core fitness API that allows you to get fit with your smartphone in the way Samsung is doing with S Health.
At least there's no unnecessary heart rate monitor here.
On the other hand, having a phone acting as a pedometer is a poor substitute for an actual tracker as you'll spend large swathes of the day with the phone on a desk or a bedside table.
Add to that the fact that there's every chance that smartphone fitness will take off, especially as Apple and Samsung start ramming the message down users' throats, and HTC's half-hearted attempt to be in the fitness mix could come back to bite it when the next version of its flagship phone appears.
Interface and performance
The interface on the new HTC One (M8) is designed to seem very similar to that which has gone before. HTC redesigned Sense, its overlay atop Android, back in 2013 to be more geometric and easy to use, and since then has upgraded the process.
However, visually it's still very much the same as before, bringing with it the Windows Phone-esque tiles of Blinkfeed and relying on stark fonts and colours for the widgets that adorn the homescreens.
There are some changes too, although most are subtle. The fonts have been given a polish to appear less obtrusive and look a little more modern, but there's very little else that shows that things are massively changed.
This has the effect of, once again, making things speedier under the finger, but also brings in transparent menu bars and a greater prevalence of full screen windows for some apps.
While it can be a bit perplexing at times as the full screen option comes and goes depending on the app, being able to properly see photos or similar without any ugly notification bars is a real boon and it's good seeing it come to more Android phones.
The interface on the HTC One (M8) is one that does its job very well – being able to equally offer easy to follow directions as well as giving the Android skin an identity.
It's a real shame that the notifications bar isn't slightly improved as it is on other brands' handsets – you have to swipe down with two fingers instead of one to be able to toggle the likes of Wi-Fi on and off.
It should be simple, but for some reason I could never remember to do such a thing so was always forced into a few more taps where on the Galaxy S5, for instance, you can barely move for quick settings.
One area HTC has always been strong in is the lock screen, and that continues with the HTC One (M8). Where other phones don't really have integration with third party services, the M8 can seamlessly offer control of your Spotify on on-device music using its attractive widget.
The same can be said of messages: you can scroll through them easily from this area, although it's not possible to click on one and have the One (M8) launch straight into the message app.
Tap to wake
HTC has also nabbed a new feature that's making its way to more Android phones: double tapping the screen to wake and lock it.
It's an intuitive gesture, and one that Nokia first created with its Lumia devices on Windows Phone, and has since been run with more heavily on the LG G2.
The premise is simple: a very, very small current runs through the display when it's off to detect a double tap on the screen, which has the same effect as pressing the power button.
You can repeat the same trick on the lock screen once you've checked the time or skipped a track, meaning you don't have to wriggle the phone around in the hand.
It's a simple version of what LG's doing with Knock On – the South Korean brand is going bananas with the same thing though, allowing you to tap in codes to unlock, and double tap the notification bar at any time to lock the phone.
It's a really slick system and one that I keep trying on other devices, such is the intuition.
HTC's version is weird. It will sometimes work when placed on the desk, which is usually the time you want to check the time or work out why the notification light is flashing. But most of the time it doesn't function, but the second you pick up the phone it performs flawlessly.
It's nothing to do with orientation, but once you place the phone back down on the desk it will work again for a few seconds... there's something odd with sleep mode going on here. You have to move the One (M8) slightly to wake the gyroscope and then the knocking will work.
Given I want to use this feature on the desk mostly, it's something that needs to be fixed with a software update, if possible.
A corollary of that double tap feature is the motion gestures, which now allow you to perform four different actions when the phone is locked by swiping up from different sides of the screen.
The same issue as above applies with the One (M8) lying prone anywhere, with the gestures not working at all unless some motion is detected.
However, that's not as much of an issue here as the phone will generally be in your hand when doing the following: swipe right to open Blinkfeed, left to go to the homescreen, up from the HTC logo to go to the last app you were using and down to initiate a voice call.
The voice calling is markedly better than previous iterations, it has to be said, although it's still not flawless by any means, and usually asks for confirmation of the number no matter how clear you are.
The other three gestures are OK, but do take some getting used to and don't feel fully intuitive.
That said I did find myself using them more and more as time went on, mostly the right swipe to just open the phone. The frustrating thing there is the bezel is thinner, meaning you'll often have to make the action twice, but it does get more natural over time.
Given this seems to have little to no effect on battery life I think it's a good addition without being overbearing – it's definitely one of the better motion gestures I've seen, but the question still remains over whether we need them.
Here's an area that HTC is excelling in thanks to its improved optimisation of Sense as well as stuffing in a truly powerful chipset under the hood as well.
Even the iPhone 5S, a strong contender at the tail end of last year, was comfortably eclipsed by the One (M8) in our Geekbench test, showing that in real world performance the new One is an excellent choice for those looking for a bit of power.
It's hard to know if the Asian variant of the One (M8), with its higher 2.5GHz clockspeed (compared to the 2.3GHz on show for the rest of the world) but we doubt it would be by much, given that's largely to fill a spot in the spec battle.
It's recently come to light that HTC has admitted 'cheating' the benchmarks, which basically means optimising the performance of the phone when the presence of the app is found, which means the results below should be taken as seeing the One (M8) in an extreme power scenario.
This mode can actually be activated in the developer settings, so if you want your phone to run at the below speeds then you can enable it - although it will come at a relatively severe battery cost.
It's interesting to note that Samsung is also guilty of doping benchmarks with the Android 4.3 build of the Galaxy S4, so in that respect the performance of the One (M8) is relatively comparable.
If there was one glaring problem with the original HTC One, it was the battery life. This was hardly a surprise, given HTC's smartphone are notoriously hard on the power packs and often under-powered when it comes to the amount of juice on offer as well.
To that end, HTC is still ploughing the same furrow, but thanks mostly to Qualcomm's new efficient Snapdragon 801 chipset, the battery life is much, much better.
When I spoke to HTC, one of the first things I asked was why the company had decided to stick with a smaller power pack (2600mAh when most competitors are heading north of 3000mAh) when the need for more power was probably its greatest issue.
The response was that it's not always necessary to have loads of power if you can be efficient with what you've got, and that's what's happened here. The brand is claiming that it's managed to pull 40% longer battery life with the One (M8) compared with last year's model, and that claim seems to hold water.
The pixels on the screen are the same as last year, the processor is faster but backed up by a more powerful GPU, and Sense 6 is apparently a little kinder on the juice than previously.
In testing, I was really happy with the battery life of the HTC One (M8) for a number of reasons. Firstly, firing the screen didn't seem to drain the battery percentage as much as before - the review handset of the HTC One that I tried last year would drop nearly 35% on the commute into work if I watched a film, listened to music and browsed emails / apps before getting to the office.
The One (M8) can do the same thing but barely break the 10-15% barrier, which is better than the Samsung Galaxy S4 managed, and is more than decent in my eyes. It should be noted that HTC improved the battery life of the original One over the course of the year, but it's still nowhere near this model.
That said, the battery life isn't as amazing as I think it could be - the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 are better at longevity in the battery stakes thanks to more powerful optimisation and bigger capacity. The HTC One (M8) only managed a 77% in our looped video battery test, which is rather average - however, in real time use, it's much better at sipping power.
For instance, a one hour run with the screen fired at all times to keep track of the GPS fitness app showed only a 10% drop in battery life, which is better than I expected - turn the screen off and leave it in a pocket or on a desk and it will last for hours.
The other thing that harms the power on the One (M8) is still gaming - use this thing for an hour of something graphically intensive, like Real Racing 3, and you'll easily pull about 40% battery life and end up with a pretty toasty phone.
This is more to do with the integration of Android games into a variety of different hardware, but still irks given you'd hope to be completely wire free most days if you weren't near a charging port.
I'd wager you'd easily get two days' medium usage (checking emails, using apps but not playing games or watching movies) if you were thinking of getting this as a business phone - although that would negate a lot of the strong points that the One M8 has to offer.
The other thing HTC has offered up when it comes to battery life is Extreme Power Saving Mode, which sits somewhere between Samsung's Ultra Power Saving Mode (wait a minute...) and Sony's Stamina mode on its phones.
Essentially HTC's option limits your apps to just the phone, messages, mail (although not the Gmail app), calendar and bizarrely the calculator. You can set it any time you like, but it will automatically kick in at 5%, 10% or 20% depending on your preference.
Obviously the rest of the functions are cut right down too - the screen dims, the haptics are disengaged (so no buzzing under the finger) and background data is restricted to the important things only.
But here's the key question: does it really allow you to save power? HTC reckons you can get 15 hours off 5% battery life with this mode, which I consider really optimistic.
The problem seems to be momentum of power drain - if you're watching movies or playing games and hit the Extreme Power Saver Mode limit, the One (M8) doesn't seem to slow down much on battery discharge. I left the phone in the pocket at 5% and 20 minutes later saw it was down to 3% and still rather warm. Leaving the phone alone on the desk stretches this out massively, but it does this even in normal mode.
Putting the One (M8) into EPSM overnight saw just a 1% drop in power, which means it's probably better suited for those that plan ahead with their battery rather than in times of emergency.
My overall take on the HTC One (M8)'s batter power is a mixed bag – there's no doubt that over time, adding more apps and so on, the drain starting to creep up. It's still miles better than last year's model, but there were times when it would happily drain 5% per hour without doing a huge amount – but then most others, that drop was down to 1-2%.
That said, use it from the word go and you could probably get nearly a week of battery out of the HTC One M8... that's a festival phone for those that aren't worried about being robbed or losing an expensive handset right there.
The HTC One (M8) is a great smartphone, but that doesn't mean the brand has skimped on the essential features. I'm talking about call quality, the keyboard, the better-looking contacts... it's all excellent on the new HTC One, and I'm glad that in an effort to overthrow the competition the core competencies haven't been overlooked.
The call quality and signal strength were two areas I was particularly impressed by - living in a house with very low signal gives me a great chance to test battery and call quality (as well as living a frustrating existence when I miss call after call).
I found that the HTC One (M8) allowed me to make calls in new places compared to phones from 2012 and 2013, and that makes a big difference to me being able call from bed rather than having to hang around a window before having a momentary panic as to whether I've remembered to get dressed.
95% success rate, if you're wondering.
The sound quality of calls has always been good from HTC, but the rounded edges of the phone were more pleasant to press into the ear than the sharp edges of last year's model. The Boomsound speakers are smaller, but the sound quality isn't diminished thankfully.
HTC also is still one of the great manufacturers when it comes to showing off contacts, as it will pull in high resolution pics when you make a call if you've linked Facebook. This makes the experience of receiving a call much nicer than the boring pixellated options from other devices.
The keyboard from HTC is one of the best around out of the box, and it's testament to the design that I didn't crack during the testing process and install Swiftkey instead.
It's not as accurate as that option by any means, with the word prediction bouncing around a bit more than on the ultra-reliable third party app, but I was still happy enough with the accuracy to stick with it.
I can't wait until brands sort out the internet browser situation though. Like every Android phone these days (bar Sony) you're given the choice of the standard internet browser and Google's Chrome.
HTC's option is as strong as ever, giving you the chance to zoom in and have the words rejig on the page, or enable Flash for the websites that won't recode for the future. It still has the clever gestures to navigate around, and is generally very fast.
However, Chrome is close to being equally as nippy (although without the same bells and whistles that I really like) but does have an ace up its sleeve: browser history and passwords. HTC's browser can store your bookmarks, but it can't check out the important information from my desktop.
The day these two areas fuse together, I'll be a really happy man.
The camera on the HTC One (M8) is arguably the most important part of this phone, and as such I'm going to dig into it with a little more detail.
Firstly, some kind of explanation as to why there are two cameras on the back (if you skipped the 'Key features' section of this review). The main camera is roughly the same as the sensor found on the back of the HTC One last year, meaning it's an 'Ultrapixel' sensor that can capture a lot more light than other devices on the market.
The likes of the iPhone 5S have come closer to aping this achievement, but in low light it offers some very good snaps indeed, making it look like there's more light than there really is.
However the Duo Camera set up, as it's erroneously named, adds in a new feature set to proceedings. You see, the reason that it's a misnomer is that only one of the sensors is a real camera, where the other scans the scene and provides depth, with that info then embedded into the photo.
You can then look at that photo and decide on the focus level yourself by tapping anywhere on the screen to give you a high level of control over the image. The same depth info allows you to change the background, copy and paste people out of the snap and into another (think rudimentary Photoshop) or add falling blossom for some odd reason.
In reality, you'll merely want to use the feature, called U-Focus, for one thing, and that's to bring background blur to your shots to give them a more professional sheen, and it works really, really well.
I can't think of a time where you'll want to focus on something else in the picture, unless you're looking to create a specific effect, and it can't sharpen up an out of focus shot.
However, there's one annoying feature: when trying to focus on something in the background, the 'Save' command stops you from being able to tap the top section of the screen.
Not a big deal, but it got in the way a few times.
HTC updated this software to include the ability to change the level of de-focus, which is a neat touch. At times you want some things still visible (like faces) and others you want to totally blur out whole objects, and the slider bar allows you to do this.
Sony's Xperia Z2 has the same trick, but HTC's One M8 is far, far faster at it.
The other big problem, and where I think HTC has missed a trick, is that you have to open the picture in the gallery, hit edit and then choose the U-Focus option, when really such a headline feature and one that warrants its own sensor on the phone, should be a mere button press away (perhaps the volume up key) rather than locked below reams of menus. It could even be enabled by default, as it would improve 19 out of 20 general snaps.
Talking of the volume key, the motion option is here once more. If you're holding the phone in portrait mode and it's locked, you can hold the volume down key and twist the phone through to landscape and activate the camera.
Well, in theory this works, but in practice you're rarely holding it in portrait mode exactly right, with the screen off, to activate the action with accuracy. It's much easier just to power on the screen and swipe up the camera icon from the lock screen, and this is an area that HTC seems to have put in a feature for the sake of it.
In terms of the snaps you actually take, it's a mixed bag I'm afraid. Don't take that to mean that the HTC One (M8), despite the low megapixel count, isn't a fine camera phone. It absolutely is, and has a blazingly fast shutter and auto-focus ability (both essential for a decent device) and as I said in low light it's almost beyond compare - but that's only one part of the puzzle.
It seems this effort to capture all those lovely photons has a consequence, as any scene with light coming in from another source - on a sunny day, for instance - will wash out the photo and cause parts of it to horribly over-expose.
Similarly, looking at these images on a larger screen or zooming in at all shows a high degree of noise in the images, with blocky scenes easily found. This isn't something many are going to do regularly though, and the pictures on the phone screen or on Facebook will look great for the most part.
HTC's work into educated the consumer about the benefits of the Ultrapixel and Duo Camera seems rather weak when you consider that neither of these features are used in the HTC One Mini 2 (in reality, the One M8 Mini when it comes to design) and the HTC One E8. It's not a good enough feature to command a massive premium, and given the apathy to 4MP shots, could be a problem.
The other area of improvement is through the Zoe feature, which makes a return to the HTC One (M8) after mixed reviews on the first phone. It's a clever feature, allowing you to take a small amount of footage to capture a scene rather than just taking loads of photos.
The video reels can be extended now though, as once you've selected the Zoe mode in the camera lenses section (a new simplified area where you've got all the snapping options) you can hold the shutter button down to take a Zoe for as long as you like.
Once you've done that, you can then get an instant highlight video as before, and it still looks nice and professional. However, while HTC thinks it's cleaned up the Gallery app to allow you to more easily see these clips, in truth it's become something of a confusing mess.
HTC has also got some weird plan to be able to share these Zoes as part of an event online - that way, others with cameraphones (not even HTC variants needed) can add in their own pics to the highlights reel, which is pretty cool. Well, it would be if the app was out, but months later we're still seeing no sign of it.
After taking the Zoe and the pictures from the event, you can then look for them all in one easy place in the gallery. Except you've got a Timeline, Albums or Locations to choose from, with the middle option finding any picture at all that's on the One (M8).
Then when you click in, the interface looks the same as the one before it, meaning it's hard to know if you're in the right place to see the video highlight reel, which actually is rather cool.
It's not a bad thing as such, but I said last year that HTC was trying to do too much here and it doesn't seem to have changed things that much - except to perhaps add a little more functionality in.
But let's get back to the camera performance - and there's a neat trick that many will love on offer here. There are a huge range of camera options on offer here and you can even add in your own settings and save them as 'lenses' in that camera option box I mentioned earlier.
This means you can set the aperture, focal length and ISO setting of a photo for a certain scene type you like, and then save it to use again later.
Or you can keep things a little simpler and use the excellent HDR mode (although one that shakes a little if you're not accurate when holding the phone in this mode) as well as tweaking things like white balance and exposure individually.
Here I saw one of the only times the One (M8) struggled: when turning the shutter speed right down and the ISO levels up, the camera app would crash. It was real stress testing, and useless as a mode, but it was strange to see the phone freeze up even under this very heavy load.
The last thing to mention is the two tone flash, which is very similar to the one used by Apple on the iPhone 5S. This uses a more amber light to give a natural illumination, especially for skin tone, and the HTC One (M8) will work out what's needed in terms of the colour balance before firing the shutter.
The upshot is good, and the flash is very powerful without being overbearing. This was excellent for flash fill shots where you didn't want to be left with reams of over-exposed brightness just so you could make the item you're photographing look clear,
The HTC One (M8) doesn't have a great camera in the conventional sense, and as such can't take superb, well-balanced shots that you'd be up for framing.
However, what it does do (and to me, this is more important in day to day snapping) is take quick, in focus pictures and allows you to do so in a wider range of light levels.
The depth sensor gives awesome results at times, and while the brightness bleed issue is a big one, it's the only real problem I found with the phone that's given me a lot of photos I really like already.
So is the camera on the HTC One (M8) enough of an upgrade? Watch us discuss in-depth:
It's getting hard to really assess the media capabilities of a smartphone these days, given we're talking about devices with reams of storage, a Full HD display in your pocket (it was only a few years ago I was queuing up to spend a huge amount of money on my first 1080p TV) and the ability to render games better than some games consoles.
However, there's still a disparity in the media capabilities of today's modern mobile devices, and HTC has created something of a mixed bag in this area.
Let's start with the positives: I'd happily say that the HTC One (M8) is one of the finest devices for listening to tunes on, more so now there's a microSD slot added into the mix.
The expansion isn't terribly important for music unless you're desperate to carry around your entire music collection with you – that said, now there's up to 128GB of extra space on offer, that's an option available to even the most avid MP3 collector.
But the power I'm talking about is hardware based, thanks to the 2.5V amplifier stuffed into the headphone jack, which boosts the sound output dramatically.
Combine this with a decent pair of cans (although the in-box earbuds are pretty strong already, despite the faux-Beats colouring) and you've got a sensational sound output even with streaming services that can really get to some high levels of volume.
The latter isn't something to use all the time, especially if you value your hearing, but when on noisy public transport it's a real boon. I'd have liked to see something like that on the Sony Xperia Z2, where the noise cancellation is built in, but given you have to use dedicated headphones still to activate that mode it's not really something HTC should worry about.
However, it would be great to see HTC add in active noise cancellation to future phones that can use the microphone of any headphones (and most have this now) to make sound even clearer.
The audio output of the HTC One (M8) is excellent even without taking into consideration the improved volume. The bass is rich and the rest of the range crisp and clear – HTC told me it had worked hard on sound processing as it seeks to step into a Beats-less world and make Boomsound a brand in its own right, and it shows.
The music player is one of the better out there too, making the process of finding and listening to your tunes very simple. It's irritating that Google's Play Music is in the same folder as the standard music player when you use the handset for the first time, as this will confuse some people, but whether it's the cool visualiser or the fact you can download lyrics to the phone, it's all easy to use.
I very rarely use the latter features, and I doubt many people will ever want to watch music playing and sing along, but when you're using the HTC One (M8) as a music player on the desk with the Boomsound speakers it's a nice addition.
But one of the best elements of the One (M8), when it comes to playing music, is the way it seamlessly interacts with whichever source you fancy, be it the onboard MP3s or Spotify (and other services).
This means that the lockscreen and notification area will let your skip and pause tracks in precisely the same way no matter which method you're employing – and that makes the audio experience so much better.
Now, while I'm really into the audio output HTC is kicking through the One (M8) (and that power extends to the sound from movies too) it still hasn't worked out how to make a coherent video experience.
I'm talking about the lack of a dedicated video player, a drum I've been banging for years with flagship HTC phones, yet nothing has been done to change this at all.
The reason seems to be simple: cloud content is presented as the main way of getting your video fix, with Google's Play TV and Movies the only nod to watching things on your new phone.
This app does have a section for your own pre-loaded content, as does the Gallery app from HTC, but neither makes it easy to watch any movies you've got as standalone files.
It's utterly perplexing, as you'll need to swipe and tap through both apps to get to your own content – and any apps that have downloaded video content (exercise videos for a fitness app, for example) are given the same priority level as files in the 'Movies' folder.
The huge problem of finding your own content aside, the HTC One (M8) is more adept as a movie device than its predecessor thanks to the larger, brighter and more efficient screen.
One of the main problems I had with the HTC One was the need to push the brightness right up to be able to watch a video effectively, as the auto-mode was just too dark to see the action.
But with the new version the screen is cleaner, clearer and more adept at showing white levels than before, which means you're not reaching to slide up the brightness like before, which is good news.
It's actually as impressive as the all-new LG G3, which comes with a QHD screen and a much sharper display than on show here. That's partly to do with the fact the QHD display isn't as much of a step forward as some people think, but also that the One M8's Super LCD screen is actually rather good.
HTC TV is the app that HTC has kept from last year, and it's meant to have been improved. That's unfair, because it sounds like it hasn't, when there are in fact some new features to keep you entertained.
But the problem for me is not that the app is there, it's just that it has the wrong raison d'etre. HTC wants to be able to help you decide on your programming choice, when in reality it should just have a really good app for the infra-red blaster on top of the phone and be done with it.
The problem is this: the app can't really work out well what kind of programs you might like unless you meticulously plug in every show you've ever loved that might still be on TV - and you have to search for a long time to find some of them, if they're there at all.
And then the app will propose or alert you when shows you like are on through Blinkfeed or the app itself when you fire it up, but in truth all it does is tell you when repeats of shows you've already seen are on, or recommends things you have no interest in.
I suppose as I belong to the DVR generation, such things are unnecessary. If you're someone who only watches live TV, seeing that something you like to view is coming on and you can press the thumbnail to have the phone change the channel for you (as long as you've set up the remote already) is pretty cool.
However, not being able to sync with on demand services or streaming from the likes of Netflix makes this still a quietly unused app for me, even if HTC has tried to lump in chatter from the social networks during sports games, where you're most likely to be watching it live.
I'd much rather this app was all about the fact you can easily turn your phone into a universal remote, whereby you can even teach it new buttons by holding the old remote to the top of the One (M8) and pressing the right key until a pleasant buzz is felt.
The TV app is cool, but I really don't think - until on demand and streaming services become part of it - that this is something that a lot of people would use regularly on the phone.
Dot view case
HTC had a fancy trick up its sleeve when it launched the One (M8) – a special case mode that converted the display into a cool and retro 8-bit mode to give you time, weather and notification information. This wasn't available when I first reviewed the handset, but now I've had the chance to spend a decent chunk of time with it.
It's the same as Samsung's S View case in that it's an official accessory that adds something to the functionality of the phone by its mere presence, but doesn't just offer a tiny window into the phone.
This is a much more impressive option, as despite being clad in rubber and silicone, the front cover is still able to register touch for a variety of actions.
The front cover of the case is packed with hundreds of tiny holes, but only those in front of the Boomsound speakers are uncovered to make sure sound can penetrate without distortion, but the rest have a clear covering to protect the screen as you'd expect a full case to do.
The main reason to being able to register touch is the double tap to wake the device, making it easy to check the time and see the weather, which alternates between an icon to let you know whether it's sunny or raining, and the temperature in a little animation.
If you get a message, the icon below changes to an 8-bit version of HTC's message notification, and the same happens if you swipe down from the top of the cover to automatically enable voice dialling.
If you've got a call coming in you can swipe up to take it or down to reject, with the latter motion still used when you're on a call – plus you can just hold the One (M8) to your ear to take the call if you've enabled that feature too.
Annoyingly when a call comes in you can't always see the full name of the person who wants to get hold of you, with the name truncating rather badly – but then again, you can just open the cover to find out more.
The rest of the case is well put together and feels like it really protects the new HTC One, which is what you'd hope for when you're shelling out £35/$50/AU$50, which is pretty pricey.
However, there's a bigger problem with the cover, in that it doesn't fold all the way around unless you really force it. This leads to a hefty space behind the device when typing and holding it in one hand, and leaves an ugly angle when placing the phone down with the case open.
And you can't even use this mode to watch a movie, with the stand not being able to prop up the phone on the hinge or anything, unlike the main case of the original One.
While I'm glad the flap closes properly thanks to the strong magnets on the front, this inability to fold should put off any prospective buyer, at least until HTC fixes the issue.
It's terribly frustrating as the 8-bit effect is awesome – you can get a sneaky peek at how it shows on the screen when you open the case for a microsecond.
Most people I've shown the case to have been in awe of the clever little mode, which is good considering it's just a little trick with a couple of magnets and a team of designers putting in a few hours.
However, until the problem with the back folding away is sorted (the same thing means it's nigh-on impossible to take a photo with the case on, thanks to the front flap getting in the way no matter which way you hold it) I can't recommend this case to anyone, no matter how enamoured with the retro effect I am.
There are a number of really decent handsets on the market - and there are more to come too. You've read this far, so you've got a sense of what's on offer with the HTC One (M8), but the question remains: is it the one for you?
We've compared it to the top handsets on the market at the moment - but remember that these are all about to be refreshed (ranging from imminently to the Galaxy S4 and a few months for the iPhone 5S and LG G2) so it might be worth waiting for the price to drop if you go for any of the following.
We'll be updating this review when the new models become available, but until then, check out our comparison:
Samsung Galaxy S5
The Galaxy S5 is a big phone for Samsung, but in reality it's far too iterative compared to the S4 (below). It just shares too much of the same design language and while TouchWiz is updated, the interface changes don't do enough to make people feel it's an all-new handset.
That said, it's got some very good bits: the fast autofocus camera rivals the HTC One M8's, but does so with a 16MP sensor. The depth perception is pretty awful compared to HTC's version, but the camera is more robust overall.
On top of that there's the fact it's waterproof, and is more hardy as a result. No metal here: the plastic chassis is much more able to withstand life's knocks, but it doesn't feel anywhere near as premium.
Tests showed the S5 was strong on the benchmarks but less so in real performance: Samsung still needs some optimisation here.
The innards are slightly improved, the screen is better thanks to more advanced Super AMOLED HD technology (but the HTC One M8's Super LCD is still impressive) and it has that removable battery to boot.
However, the S5 is one of the more underwhelming phones from the brand, so make sure you think long and hard before spending the higher cost these flagship phones are commanding.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The all-conquering Galaxy S4 was the phone to beat in 2013, and in terms of sales nothing managed to do that thanks to the impossibly strong marketing machine that the South Korean brand has created.
However, critically the HTC One was a better phone than Samsung's effort, and as such the HTC One (M8) is a much better device than last year's S4 flagship.
The design, much improved from last year on the One (M8), now outstrips the uninspiring plastic build of the S4, which is probably the main reason to avoid the model.
The camera on the Galaxy S4 is arguably more powerful still, with the 13MP snapper still giving better all-round pictures than the One (M8), especially in the brighter scenes. It's also got a lot more power in terms of modes to play with, but the One (M8) is more succinct and combined with the duo camera allows for a lot more intuitive and impressive snaps.
The CPU, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 in the One (M8), is also a cut above the Snapdragon 600 which is pushed into the S4, and as such leads to better battery life and speed throughout the phone.
The only real plus point over the One (M8) that Samsung can really boast about is the lower price (unless you're really into a removable battery) - so if cost is all important, this is still a decent enough buy.
Apple is the only brand around that can match HTC when it comes to the design ethos of a flagship phone, and the two together would give a buyer a tricky decision to make.
However, Apple's Achilles heel (in the eyes of the buyer, if not its bottom line) is the fact it commands a much higher price than even the new HTC One (M8), which is months younger.
In terms of spec though, the two phones are fairly evenly matched. Apple's new A7 64-bit chip is very strong indeed, and sets a level that's going to improve in the next few years as well.
HTC's One (M8) does out-do the Cupertino brand in overall grunt though, and while its camera is underpowered compared to the 5S, it does pack more settings and the Duo Camera for post-shot refocus.
Apple's iPhone also has to deal with the fact it's only got a 4-inch screen as well - side by side with the One (M8)'s Super LCD version, with Full HD resolution, the difference is marked.
The app ecosystem of Apple's iPhone is more stable and better-stocked, which will be a plus for some - but the only real plus point for many will be the fact it's got a smaller screen, which to a lot of users is still very important.
One of the top phones of 2013 (despite being launched later than the rest) is still worth a look, and is probably the closest Android phone in terms of power to the HTC One (M8).
The Snapdragon 800 chipset is an excellent engine (albeit improved upon dramatically by the Snapdragon 801 in the One (M8)) and the larger screen pushes right to the edge of the phone with minimal bezel. The G2 also has a very impressive screen indeed, meaning you'll get a real win from watching video on the device.
However, the all-plastic casing doesn't do it any favours in the design stakes, with the all-metal HTC One (M8) really taking the trophy from all opponents.
The 13MP camera of the G2 is still one of our favourites for its combination of power and simplicity, although it's shorn of post-shot refocus.
The price of the G2 came in at a highly palatable level, and the One (M8) will cost a little more dinero if you're thinking of getting a device with all this fancy tech.
HTC One (2013)
TechRadar's top handset of last year is still a viable purchase, and has been dropped in price compared to its new One stablemate.
The key differences are myriad: the new One has 90% metal compared to the 70% of the original, a larger 5 inch screen over the 4.7-inch of last year's model, has a much better battery and an improved camera and Boomsound speakers.
It's not a case that the new phone will be better than the old in every potential buyer's eyes though - the design is still very subjective and some will like the wider, more stable feel of the original.
However, make no mistake that the HTC One (2013) is the inferior phone in nearly every way compared to the new edition. You've got to really want to save money if you want to go with last year's option, and be prepared to take a hit on the battery life.
So, what to make of the HTC One (M8) – the phone that has to sell well if HTC is to make its way back towards the top of the sales charts?
Well, on the one hand it's an easy sell: the design says it all, and the fact it's backed up with some top end specs bodes very well indeed.
But it's not completely without flaw, as there are some areas where HTC has tried to do a little bit too much or been a bit overcomplicated, which might annoy some users.
It's been a hard few years reviewing phones – when the smartphone revolution came, they were all pretty poor and finding the best out of them was tricky.
Now it's the other way as, battery life aside, most of those unleashed are flawless in so many ways, and HTC is right at the head of that list.
The design is the huge win here – not one person I showed the phone too didn't hold it for a while and comment on the weight and feel, before being impressed by the screen quality. This is the sort of reaction I've only ever seen for iPhones before, and like them or loathe them, Apple's devices are a good barometer of quality.
I'm happy with the battery improvements, I like my re-focused shots and they'll look great on social media. The Boomsound speakers are better, HTC has thrown in some clever new apps and overall, the entire device is much better than the phone I really liked from last year.
Adding in a microSD slot is great, as while it doesn't really make a difference to many there are some die-hards that won't buy a phone without one. Also being able to take as many pictures, Zoes and videos without worrying about filling up the space was really nice.
Even the alarm clock is improved – taking another problem off the table from last year.
While I'm happy about the battery, it wasn't as stellar as I think some phones later this year will be. I know it's an odd thing to say, and it's really a negligible point given the battery life is great on the One (M8), but in comparison it might not stand up later in the year.
The camera is still disappointing in some areas, meaning those that love to get really good pics they can be proud of from a camera phone might not want to go for such a low megapixel offering, despite the excellent low light capabilities.
And while it's not something I'm worried about now, I think HTC might have been smart to dive a little more into fitness and make the phone a little more resistant to dust and water.
I think design is key here, and if it's a choice between that and being able to dunk it or monitor my heart rate I think HTC made the right choice, but only if it's working out a way to put these things into the next iteration of the One.
The HTC One (M8) is a brilliant smartphone with very few flaws. Its main strength is design, but I don't think that's a negative thing as many brands still seem keen to race on specs rather than attracting users when they wander into a shop to a buy something for two years (at a rather high price).
It doesn't really skimp on specs though – even the weaker camera has some rationale behind it, rather than something to apologise for – and the audio capabilities, be it the Boomsound speakers or the music reproduction, are excellent.
You could say that, Duo Camera aside, there's no real headline feature of the HTC One (M8), but that would do it a disservice as the brand has made a phone that really impresses at nearly every turn.
I'm not sure the sharable Zoes will take off initially (especially as the app STILL isn't here), nor are the Video Highlight and Blinkfeed services up to the level where you can call them factors in purchase. But at least HTC has decoupled these apps from the main OS, so when it upgrades them you won't be left waiting for a massive software update to change things.
If the HTC One (M8) isn't the smartphone of 2014, I'm very, very excited to see what the competition will come up with as this handset strikes the perfect blend of design, performance and innovation without really compromising in any area.