The HTC One M8 is a beautiful phone, especially when you compare to the Samsung Galaxy S5, or even the pretty LG G3. HTC has decided that the look and quality of materials matter, and has made them it’s top design priority.Like the original HTC One , the HTC One M8 is a metal phone. But there is a lot more sleek metal on show this time. To use HTC’s own explanation, last year’s model has a back that’s about 70 per cent metal, the HTC One M8’s rear is around 90 per cent metal. The two-tone plastic have been replaced by a one-piece metal back that curves around to meet the Gorilla Glass of the screen’s top layer. A new curvier design gives the HTC One M8 a smoother feel than its predecessor, while keeping the cool and hard feel your get with metal – aluminum in this case. It is a bit bigger than last year’s phone, though. The HTC One M8 is a fair amount taller which means it feels like a larger phone in-hand. However, it’s just a couple of millimeters wider and width is the only serious practical concern with a phone of this class. HTC has slimmed down the screen bezel to minimize the increase in width. If you’re not used to a 4.7-inch to 5-inch screen phone, try to check out the phone first-hand. But if you’re looking at this phone in contention with the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2, size is not an issue.
And neither is weight, despite the phone being a little heavier than its rival.In larger phones like this you often see the power button shifted to the side, from the usual spot up top. Here it sticks on the top edge, but the new Motion Launch feature lets you switch the phone on from standby with just two quick taps on the screen. This means that stretching for the power button is less of an issue.Alternatively, you can go straight to the main home screen or the BlinkFeed window by flicking from the left or right of the screen (when it’s off). This uses a special motion sensor chip in the phone, which lets it constantly monitor these sensors without eating up much battery.In exact measurements the HTC One M8 is 9.4mm thick, 160g, 71mm wide and 146mm tall. None of these are notable in a positive sense, but HTC’s non spec-centric design approach is healthy. It has tried to make a phone that looks and feels good, not one out to become the “thinnest” or “lightest”. It can easily be argued that it is the prettiest, though.One technical issue with making any ‘all-metal’ mobile device is that wireless antennas struggle to transmit through it. That’s why the backplate is ‘only’ 90 per cent metal. There are two little plastic strips that sit across the top and bottom, and this is where the antennas live. These strips were used in the HTC One too, and have become part of the series’s design language. Clever design like this makes functional choices look like pure style ones.Is this a better looking, better designed phone than the HTC One, though? Not really. You can’t beat the borderless front of the original, which helped to emphasize that mobile’s two-tone style. However, it’s not any worse – the HTC One M8 is a lot nicer to look at than the HTC One Max, for example, and the vast majority of phones made.It comes in three colors. The lead one, “gunmetal grey” is seen here. HTC also makes one that looks more like the first silvery HTC One, with a shade called “arctic silver”, and a light gold one dubbed “amber gold”. The latter is nowhere near as bright and vivid as the gold version of the Galaxy S5. They have slightly different metal treatments. The grey model uses a brushed ‘hairline technique’ look, while the others stick with anodised style of the former HTC One model.The One M8 also solves one of the key perceived issues with the first HTC One – it has a microSD memory card slot. It sits on the right edge of the phone, using a pop-out tray. This ensures that the 16GB version of the phone will be the main one sold in the UK, as buying a memory card will always be cheaper than upgrading to a pricier version. HTC is going to make a 32GB edition too, but it won’t be available everywhere here.The most obvious feature that you miss out on as a result of the phone’s focus on looks is water resistance. The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 are both certified for water and dust resistance, using a slightly annoying rubbery flap to cover the microUSB charge socket. HTC’s One M8 is not waterproof – its microUSB slot is exposed. Reports online suggest the phone is actually fairly water-resistant, but the lack of any rating means you won’t be covered for any water damage.
HTC was somewhat evasive about what display technology it had crammed into the HTC One M8. Previously the HTC One had used a Super LCD3 (SLCD3) at 4.7-inches with a full HD 1080p resolution at 469 pixels-per-inch (ppi), and at the time it launched this looked fantastic. Color was rich, brightness robust with very pure whites, and things were nice and sharp with text being particularly clear. HTC has only hinted that the new phone features updated and improved display technology from its predecessor, but wouldn’t name it as SLCD3, SLCD4 (does that exist?) or indeed any other specific title.Either way you’ve only got to look at the pair side-by-side to see the improvements are evidently there. The new screen is a larger 5-inch panel, again with a full HD 1080p resolution, which brings the pixel density down to a slightly lower, but still respectable, 440ppi. The screen is brighter and color is much richer.Viewing angles are better than its predecessor, although not the best I’ve seen. Additionally the phone is just about usable in bright sunlight while the HTC One’s screen is barely visible at all, but again, I’ve seen better phones for sunlight use than the HTC One M8 – viewing angles in these conditions also go downhill.In normal conditions it’s a fantastic screen for your typical smartphone tasks. Videos, games, and websites all look vibrant and clear and it’s a joy to watch full-length feature films, Youtube, or TV shows.
Android 4.4 and Sense 6
The HTC One M8 runs Android 4.4 and a new version of HTC’s custom Android interface, Sense 6. Although HTC says it has been redesigned from the ground up, it’s fairly similar to the version we saw on the original HTC One.Visually it has taken a few steps closer to vanilla Android, but most of the Sense trademarks remain. You get the BlinkFeed scrolling update ‘widget’, the ultra-simple HTC clock (a far cry from the ‘classic’ Sense clock) and a vertically-scrolling apps menu. Although HTC has applied its own look to the Android system, its core structure remains the same. One obvious functional difference between the M8 software and the old HTC One’s is that the physical soft keys have been switched for software ones. This helps to cut-down the amount of space needed for hardware, and is one more step towards the Android norm. The 2013 HTC One only had Back and Home buttons, but the One M8 also has the Android staple multi-tasking button that lets you see and close down any recently-run apps.A few other visual alterations see Sense 6 become a bit more plain, a bit more ‘standard’ in its visual structure. The clock at the top of the apps menu has gone, for instance, as has the clock at the top of BlinkFeed. BlinkFeed no longer scrolls in pages either – it’s a full-flowing scroll this time. It would be easy to say this makes it more like the Windows Phone interface, but this free-flowing style is really how everything works. Facebook, Twitter, and all the web pages that can feed into BlinkFeed all (more or less) scroll freely.Have no idea what BlinkFeed is? It’s HTC’s digital update screen, used in lots of its Android phones. It can pull messages and such from Twitter, Facebook and others, as well as pulling-in articles from your favorite websites. It arranges them into colorful blocks. I found it a great improvement – the jagged style of the original eventually turned me off, but I’ve been using BlinkFeed happily during testing this time. You can still remove BlinkFeed easily, though.Switching between the One M8 and the old HTC One, the new phone does feel a little snappier. Part of this is down to a quickening-up of the animations that take you from home screen to app screen and vice versa, but we did notice fewer glitchy pauses when moving between apps and so on, compared to the HTC One.
Processor and Performance
The HTC One M8 runs on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor (MSM8974AB), an upgrade from the Snapdragon 800 commonly seen in rival handsets from late 2013 and into 2014. It uses Qualcomm’s Krait 400 core architecture clocked at 2.3GHz with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 graphics processing unit (GPU). While the HTC One’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip was well-optimised and delivered smooth performance at time of launch, the difference with the Snapdragon 800 family is noticeably smoother. In terms of actual use scenarios gaming is ridiculously good; not only are the graphics console-like but the zero-latency delivery is very reminiscent of what you’ll find in one of the big-name game boxes, with absolutely no hiccupping whatsoever.HTC has also clearly optimised the Sense 6 UI and Android KitKat very nicely with the hardware; something we saw before with the HTC One, but this time round of course it has a lot more power to play with. Google’s “Butter” enhancements are quite evident here as screen transitions animations and menu elements glide around with ease – that’s not so unusual these days, but here they have this almost floaty, ethereal quality which is rather special. It really is a fluid UI.As with other Snapdragon 800-based devices you can happily stack a boat-load of apps on top of each other running in the background with not so much as a squeak from the handset. The multitasking is tackled virtually effortlessly.
The HTC One M8 main image camera is very similar to that of last year’s HTC One. They share the same UltraPixel sensor, but the M8 uses the image processor hardware of the Snapdragon 801 – and at present the two have different software (although the HTC One is to get an upgrade to Sense 6 later this year).The idea of the UltraPixel sensor is that while it’s lower-res than the competition, it uses larger sensor pixels for better low-light performance. Its sensor pixels are two microns across, where, for example, the Galaxy S5’s are 1.1 microns.Shooting performance is great. Focusing is extremely fast, and shot-to-shot speeds are excellent. You can shoot multiple ‘normal’ photos in a second, without even using a burst mode. Things get a lot slower when you use the Night mode in very low light conditions, but otherwise it’s about as fast as an iPhone 5S. HTC claims 0.3-second focusing speeds, which is the same claim Samsung makes of the Galaxy S5 – and that phone has a phase detection focus layer, missing from the HTC One M8.The only thing that really slows you down here is how awkward it can be to switch between shooting modes. Moving to image quality. Here’s how the HTC One M8 compares to last year’s top phone in our classic detail test.As you can see, the 4-megapixel sensor provides a similar level of detail to first HTC One. No surprise there. However, looking at the fine details, the new phone is clearly a bit better at rendering the finer bits.
The thin lines on the front building are more faithful, where they’re oddly expanded in parts on the old model. Part of this may be down to the significantly different lighting conditions, although the new image signal processor of the One M8 should – in theory – improve performance a bit.Still, we see the same limited detail capture, and some of the old image problems are back. There are two serious ones. The first is exposure metering – the HTC One M8 is all over the place. It will often hugely overexpose the sky – especially if it’s cloudy. The phone seems to take a far more direct approach to exposure judgement than most other phones. To explain – with an iPhone 5S, if you tap on an object the phone will focus on it and judge its metering based on the brightness of that particular area, relative to the rest of the scene. The HTC One M8 will focus on the object too easily enough, but appears to base its metering solely on that spot, rather than taking the rest of the image properly into account.
The HTC One M8 has a 2,600mAh battery, up 300mAh from the last model. It’s an improvement, but both the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 have larger-capacity units.Sony’s Z2 is the outlier here, with a 3,200mAh battery. The HTC One M8 gives you absolutely no access to the battery either, and replacing it is apparently extremely difficult. A teardown by iFixit shows that the battery lives under the motherboard. You really need to tear the phone apart to get to it. However, unless you kill the battery by getting water into the phone’s insides, charge stamina should remain strong for a couple of years at least. We tested the phone’s longevity with both relatively normal use and with a video test. Off a full charge it’ll last for just under 10 hours of SD-quality video playback, with Wi-Fi off and screen brightness set to around 50 per cent. That’s two hours more than we got out of the original HTC One. HTC Does offer a couple of power saving modes, both of which are very effective. One is designed for normal use, called Power Saver. This lets you throttle the CPU, reduce display intensity, turn off vibrate and constrain the data connection when the screen is off to increase the phone’s stamina. You can pick and choose which features the mode inhibits too. If you want the phone to last a full two days, you need to use this mode. And it’s not too limiting either – you can happily use the phone on this mode long-term. This mode makes the phone use virtually no battery when in standby.
The HTC One M8 is a difficult handset to judge. On the one hand, you have the paradox of a device where the emphasis is very much on the good-looking exterior, and yet it seems too fragile to survive for long without cladding it in a protective case – a move which effectively undermines all that visual flair in one go.it’s a pretty fantastic setup when you factor everything in: incredibly fast, smooth performance, a beautiful UI, an excellent display and speakers, a really very capable and easy-to-use camera, microSD support, good battery life…the list goes on. The HTC One M8 is every bit the high-end, premium flagship model even without the stylish body-shell. It’s a big improvement on its predecessor and can stand toe-to-toe with most of its contemporaries.