HTC One M8 Review: Android Lollipop Update Confirmed
After being the most leaked handset in history, the HTC One M8 is finally here! So was it worth the wait?
Details of HTC One M8 Successor Appear Online
With the dawn of a New Year fast approaching, Android’s biggest handset makers are quickly putting the final touches to their new 2015 flagship devices. We’ve already heard plenty about the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G Flex 2, but what about the successor to 2014’s HTC One M8?
The first details about what we can expect from the handset have now appeared online, detailing improvements to the handset’s display, CPU, memory and imaging capabilities. All in all the HTC One M9 sounds very promising, indeed. Even more so if the news about its imaging capabilities are to be believed.
I was a bit apprehensive about testing the HTC One M8, the Taiwanese manufacturer's big play for 2014; designed to compete with Apple, Samsung, and Sony flagships head-to-head.
I’ll confess, I was not a massive fan of the original HTC One. I appreciated the aluminium build and the overall aesthetic, but there was something clunky and uncomfortable about the handset during operation, the battery life was poor and then there’s the camera.
Although HTC’s Ultrapixel technology managed to get impressive results considering the lowly 4-megapixel rating and sensor size, it still wasn’t up there with what you could typically (and reasonably) expect from a premium flagship, and its contemporaries left it in their wake.
Prior to its launch, leaks of the One M8 said the camera had a very similar spec to its predecessor, and when it launched it emerged that not only was this largely true (on paper at least), it had also lost a few features (more on that later).
The body had been re-designed, which was of course a positive thing, but the battery had only been boosted from the HTC One’s 2,300mAh to 2,600mAh – a good deal short of the 3,000mAh and above we’ve been seeing on many rival flagships, which consistently seems to deliver decent use-time.
So, there's a lot riding on the idea of the One M8 being good. Does it live up to the hype?
Design and Build
During a briefing with HTC it was made very apparent that the key selling point for the HTC One M8 is its build and design. HTC is hedging its bets on the idea that consumers want a beautiful, luxurious and finely crafted smartphone, and unless you’re some kind of puritanical pragmatist it’s very difficult to argue against this line of thought. The success of the iPhone supports this theory more than anything else.
As a result, much of HTC’s development of the HTC One M8 has focused on the exterior, build and aesthetics – and to be sure the result is a beaut. If you’ve seen an HTC One in the flesh (metal) before you might look at the HTC One M8 and think: “It looks the same.”
You’d be dead wrong, however. Although the overall design ethos is similar – curved aluminium back, end-caps with punched front-facing speakers – the feel in the hand is a world away from the older model. Visually there are enough differences too, though you might only start to see them when you get the two side-by-side. This being the case, we’ve taken a bunch of snaps showing you both old and new models paired up together and have peppered them throughout this review – we’re nice like that.
I thought the original HTC One was quite cumbersome in the hand. It was, in truth, a fairly blocky phone; the corners were slightly curved, as was the back panel, but the edges were thin and flat, giving a slightly brick-like feel despite its slinky profile.
With the HTC One M8, curves are the name of the game. The back panel has been re-jigged with its curvature (from left to right) becoming much more pronounced and as a result it now fits flush to your palm, unlike its predecessor. The corners have a more rounded design too and, importantly, rather than having the back panel sitting on a flat, plastic surround to form the edges, the HTC One M8’s backing tapers round in one continuous piece to form the smooth, curved sides. These are still nice and thin, but much more comfortable to hold.
The original HTC One had no problems with feeling flimsy, it was incredibly solid with a well-built feel in the hand and that’s something HTC has managed, unsurprisingly, to maintain with the HTC One M8.
It’s not perfect, however. Still being made of aluminium has its advantages and disadvantages. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication that HTC has made the build any more durable than the original model. I managed in the space of a few short weeks to scratch the screen and cause a few light scratches to the metal rear panel.
Another minor gripe with the design is that when gripping the phone you may find your fingertips come into contact with the touchscreen’s edges and can cause the display to be switched on via the motion gestures, or you can inadvertently activate apps or menu items near the edges of the screen.
Again though, minor gripes; on the whole the phone looks really slick. The punched speaker grilles still give it a cool edge which you don’t really see elsewhere, while the black banding on the rear panel also looks sharp. The One M8 is a little heavier than its predecessor but it’s not unwieldy by any means. The power button has shifted across to the top-right, making it much easier to operate, and the headphone port is now in the base of the device.
The buttons have been improved too – they still have the same solid feel and operation as the HTC One’s setup, but no-longer fit flush to the phone’s surface. While that was a nice touch visually it wasn’t very easy to use; now you can find and operate them simply by feel. The keys are also slightly rounded for a softer appearance and, as per the pre-launch rumours, the capacitive navigation controls on the front are gone in favour of on-screen Android ones.
HTC One M8 "Dot View" Case
It's not unusual for manufacturers to launch their own case for a new flagship these days, and certainly in HTC's case with a somewhat delicate metal phone it makes a good deal of sense.
For the One M8, HTC has produced the Dot View case, available in blue, red, orange and black. We've also got a grey one, but it's not listed on HTC's official product page - go figure.
So what’s the Dot Case all about? Well it’s a soft-touch plastic flip-cover which fits nice and snug to the handset’s back panel. The front cover is attached via a rubber leaf along one edge and the front panel itself is perforated with hundreds of little dots. The purpose of these dots is to allow you to see parts of the display underneath – when the case is closed the phone knows about it through some kind of sorcery (or perhaps sensors - who can say?) and displays the time and weather through the dots when you activate the handset.
Many of the Motion Launch gestures still work through the case’s front panel even when closed – you can answer calls without opening it and simply raise the phone to your ear, or you can double-tap to wake the phone and see the date/time/weather. Other functions are still available as well.
While this stuff is quite nice, I do have a few gripes with the Dot View cover. Firstly, the rubber leaf holding the front cover doesn’t allow you to fold it back flush to the rear of the device, which makes grip awkward. Perhaps more importantly, the cover design seems at odds with the design of the HTC One M8 – you immediately lose all of that lovely shaped metal. I can’t help but think case manufacturers will probably come up with a more elegant case which will properly compliment and emphasise the handset’s exterior while still providing protection. And they probably won’t have that annoying issue with the flip cover not folding back properly either.
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. Colour 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 colour 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.
Hardware, Storage and Connectivity
The HTC One M8 is following the same path as several other recent Android flagships by opting for 16GB of onboard storage and backing this up with microSD support for cards up to 128GB.
There’s two things worth noting here. Firstly, the HTC One lacked microSD, so it’s great to see it added aboard the successor. Second, there is a 32GB onboard storage variant of the HTC One M8 in existence, however, at present it is only available in certain markets – namely Asia and with certain US carriers. At time of writing HTC has not revealed any plans to launch the 32GB model anywhere else. Could it come to the UK eventually? Possibly, but in the meantime we’re going to have to assume it won’t.
Connectivity is pretty standard stuff for a high-end Android model: you’re looking at full 4G and 3G mobile data support and the handset takes a Nano SIM. Wi-Fi support includes Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi Hotspot, as well as DLNA, and you also have Bluetooth, NFC, microUSB, MHL TV-Out, GPS, and an enlarged infrared blaster along the top of the device.
This handset has a few extra hardware tricks up its sleeve too. The phone is fitted with a motion co-processor in a similar vein to Apple’s M7 chip aboard the iPhone5S. HTC has built a number of features around this based on motion control. You can wake or sleep the handset by double-tapping the display, or answer a call by simply holding the phone up to your face.
Other gestures are designed for waking the phone while also readying a certain function. With the phone in portrait orientation, swiping in from the left of the screen wakes it with BlinkFeed ready, while swiping down from the top activates voice dialling, prompting you to speak a contact’s name. Meanwhile, in landscape mode, pressing the volume up key wakes the device with the camera ready to go. The gestures are called “Motion Launch” and can be toggled on or off en masse in the settings menu, but you can’t individually toggle them.
Personally I found the call answering and camera activation useful and easy to remember. The double-tap had its moments, but the rest seemed a bit superfluous. Additionally, all too often I found the handset was getting activated in my pocket or simply when picking it up, and I ended up turning the gestures off as a result. Hopefully HTC can iron out a few of these kinks with a software update in the future.
Another key hardware area is the audio equipment. HTC has revived its BoomSound speaker technology with a tailor-made amplifier, which it says has improved the audio quality as well as provide a maximum volume as much as 25% louder than its predecessor. With previous BoomSound-equipped HTC handsets I’ve found they’re plenty loud and clear enough as it is – you’d only let your alarm go off on anything above half volume once, because let’s face it, no-one likes dealing with angry neighbours.
It’s a similar story with the HTC One M8: audio quality is excellent. The front-facing speakers really do make a difference (why isn’t every manufacturer doing this?) and you can happily leave the phone playing music on your kitchen counter to good effect; it will fill the room well and without a trace of tinniness. Range from bass and treble is also very nice. The speakers enhance other multimedia options too, as well as complimenting the gorgeous screen; watching films or playing games is a great experience for both your eyes and ears.
Put quite simply, while there are plenty of phones on the market with good speakers HTC has managed to maintain its lead with the HTC One M8 – there is no better built-in mobile audio experience out there right now.
I was not expecting great things from the HTC One M8’s battery. A phone with a faster processor and a larger, brighter display, yet only a 300mAh increase over its predecessor (which offered poor battery performance anyway) did not look like a promising recipe on paper.
HTC has clearly done some extensive fettling to improve the situation, however, because the HTC One M8 actually doesn’t fare too badly alongside its contemporaries.
Our usual Django test – running all of Django Unchained for 2 hours 45 minutes on full brightness and with Wi-Fi and mobile data toggled on, from 100% charge – chalked up 50% battery remaining when the credits rolled up.
That’s not too far off the usual 60% or so we’ve typically seen from 3,000mAh cells inside rival devices. You can probably expect to get at least 5 hours 30 minutes of video playback from one charge, while more casual use (a spot of social networking, browsing, and the odd call) should net you about a day and a half without needing to plug in.
As usual, gaming is one of the most intensive things for the battery and I found that a 15 minute stint of Real Racing 3 saw a consumption rate of roughly 1% per minute of gameplay. At the very least this means you can easily calculate how long you can spend gaming before things go kaput.
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.
In short, this is a powerhouse of a handset.
Regular readers may be aware that I’m a bit of a stock Android aficionado, so generally I approach custom UI overlays with a few reservations. However, Sense 6 is one of the few interfaces which I’ve actually grown very fond of having played around with it for a little while.
What’s won me over? Well, probably the elegant simplicity and slick stylishness of it all, which I feel fits very well with what Android’s all about. It doesn’t really feel too far removed from Google’s Android; more like a genuine alternative version of it. HTC has a couple of font choices on offer, both of which are riffs on the stock Android style font and are nice, simple, and clean. White text, icons and other UI elements are everywhere and keep in with the minimalist theme.
Android 5.0 Lollipop Confirmed For One M8 By HTC
HTC has officially commented on its update plans following Google's launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop aboard its own range of Nexus devices.
According to the company's official statement it will update the One M8 within 90 days of receibing the source code - Google release said code on October 17.
HTC has now confirmed it will begin rolling out Lollipop to the HTC One M8 from January 3, according to a report from TechTastic which claims to have heard from HTC reps at a London event.
For all the details of what you can expect inside the Android 5.0 update, check out our review here and our comparison with the previous build, KitKat, here.
Speaking of themes, you can also select from a range of pre-made ones which set the wallpaper and menu colours for the handset (including the BlinkFeed interface). These all look great and the whole design is truly cohesive. HTC’s custom icons are simple and tidy and it really is the little things which make a big difference here, such as the way certain menu elements fade in or fade out fluidly; the way menu selection presses are registered – it’s all airy and light with a slightly sci-fi edge. The look of the Sense 6 UI is one thing, as you can see from these screenshots, but seeing it in motion really is something else.
It’s not perfect though. The multitasking section, for one, does look great but it’s not as practical as stock Android on account of the screen previews being WAY too small to be useful. The handset also lacks a native file browser, meaning you’ll have to grab a third party app to go rooting around for things.
Android 4.4.4 KitKat Brings "Eye Experience" Features
HTC has recently announced the Desire Eye smartphone and its accompanying "Eye Experience" software build. Hot on the heels of that reveal, HTC has released an HTC One M8 update to introduce Eye Experience to its metallic flagship device.
The firmware version 3.28.401.6 is being issued over-the-air and comes in at 252.01MB - at the moment it's landing on unlocked M8 handsets in Europe with other markets set to follow.
The update brings the Android software build to 4.4.4 KitKat with the usual selection of bugfixes, optimisations and security tweaks.
The main features added by Eye Experience enhance the front-facing camera on the One M8 - it allows up to four faces to be tracked in video capture and video calls. You can also now use Split Capture to use both front and rear cameras at the same time.
Voice activation for selfies is also a new addtion, allowing you to activate the camera by saying "cheese" or "action". Photo booth will also enable you to merge four snaps into one image.
The iPhone 5s has its M7 coprocessor and Samsung has its S-Health suite of apps and accompanying range of smartphones. Fitness and well-being is a big deal in 2014’s smartphone space, which is probably why HTC partnered up with FitBit to bring some basic health and fitness tracking to the HTC One M8.
FitBit makes sports bands and fitness trackers. You wear them on your wrist, they monitor your activity, and then they relay the information to your smartphone, tablet and/or computer. The only difference here is you don’t need a band around your wrist – the HTC One M8’s sensors can do all that.
It’s not quite as accurate as wearing a band, but for basic step counting it is more than adequate. Setting up FitBit on the One M8 is simple: locate the app, register, select the appropriate option (use FitBit Band or use One M8’s sensors), add in your details and, boom, you’re done. The HTC One M8 is now tracking you.
You can also keep a food diary within the application, monitor calories and receive analytics on how much food you’ve consumed over a pre-selected period of time. The app isn’t quite as detailed as Samsung's S Health, but for basic stuff – daily step counts and calorie logging – it’s definitely decent. Setup is simple, it requires no additional tech, other than your phone, and the feedback it gives is easy to digest and helpful if you’re trying to be more active and eat less.
Like the battery, this is another area where the HTC One M8 delivered above my expectations. In our review of the original HTC One, then Reviews Editor Basil Kronfli praised the handset’s low-light capabilities and video capture, and added that, for a 4-megpixel sensor, it was punching well above its weight. However, he also observed that it lacked detail compared to competing flagships and speculated the same tech with an 8-megapixel sensor (and indeed, I’d add, perhaps a larger sensor size) could well net some fantastic results.
So, here we are with the next-generation. What’s new? Well the bad news is the optical image stabilisation (OIS) from the previous model is gone. The sensor size has also not changed and it has the same 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” back-illuminated sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. The good news is that, through some kind of voodoo magic, the all-round imaging quality has actually improved tremendously regardless. Detail is better, while contrast and colour are also punchier. Having an HTC One to hand we even captured some shots on both devices to show the difference.
Despite this noticeable improvement, there are of course other cameraphones on the market which can outperform the HTC One M8. Sony’s Xperia Z1, Z1 Compact and Xperia Z2, and Nokia’s Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520, and the new Lumia 930, to name but a handful. That said, the quality is, I think, going to prove satisfying enough for the majority of users. Sure, if you’re the type to print your snaps out as a poster you may find it still lacks what you’re after – but for sharing holiday snaps on Facebook it’s pretty good.
Low-light performance remains as robust as before in spite of the removal of OIS. One thing which really helps is the new dual-LED flash with both amber and white LEDs, this is similar to the iPhone 5S’s setup and the phone uses the flash intelligently to provide the best lighting conditions for a shot in the dark. The images below were captured in our podcast dungeon with the lights switched off and it was near pitch black.
HTC's also implemented some extra trickery here. That dual camera lens you may have spotted in leaks (or indeed, on these very pages) is not actually a second lens but a depth sensor and its job is to take in a sweep of spatial data every time you snap a picture. This data is stored in the image file and doesn’t expand the file size too much either.
What’s this good for? Well a number of things, actually, but the most prominent in HTC's marketing push is the Lytro-style “U Focus” which allows you to select a new focal point on the photo after capture. Each time you pick a new focal point and save the image it will save it as a copy – which cannot subsequently be edited – but the original can be re-focused and duplicated in this way as many times as you like.
This should be useful in enabling the HTC One M8 to be very much a “fire and forget” cameraphone, and we’re sure that would appeal to a lot of people who don’t want to have to faff to get the perfect snap. However, it's not quite as good as it could have been. You can see U Focus in action in the images below where I shot a picture of Cut The Rope’s OmNom mascot and selected a couple of different focal points.
And a picture snapped in Westminster, where I just managed to grab the nose of a passing Lotus 7 (shame I didn’t get the whole thing), which shows how you can bring the image’s focal point from the background – where it accidentally focused at time of capture - and pick the car instead, which is what I actually wanted to get in the first place.
But the problem is it doesn't really work. Look closely at both pictures and you'll notice that most of the image hasn't changed, the Lotus 7 has the same clarity in each version - all that selecting it as a focal point has done is blur out the background.
Likewise with OmNom, I selected the keyboard as the focal point and yet it's the same clarity in both images, all that's happened in the edited snap is that OmNom himself and other surrounding areas have become more blurry. Again, hopefully HTC can improve this with a software patch, but ultimately this doesn't impact on the basic image quality, which is decent.
Other features include a 3D mode which uses a parallax effect to simulate a 3D hologram, meaning you can rotate the camera slightly around a subject. This doesn’t work very well for landscapes or groups of people, as it ends up looking like a flat image being tilted. However, for individual objects such as a cuddly toy or a pint of beer it works very well indeed. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to demonstrate this here using picture samples as they will lose their 3D-ness if not viewed on the phone’s display.
There are a number of other editing modes and features which are less focused on the depth sensor’s data, as well as the usual set of filters, frames, and effects which can be applied directly to the photo.
The camera interface is very simple and streamlined, making it remarkably easy-to-use with its minimalist white, black and red menu elements and large icons. In capture mode the majority of the interface is given over to the viewfinder, but you can easily bring up a menu to tweak the mode setting (macro/night/auto etc.), ISO, white balance, filters, and exposure value with icons along the bottom. The flash control is ever present in the top left.
Another button in the bottom right opens up another set of options, including the regular camera, video capture, HTC’s Zoe camera (for capturing images and video simultaneously), a dedicated selfie mode, a dual-capture mode for using both front and back cameras simultaneously, and a “Pan 360” mode for panoramic capture.
There's also a 5-megapixel front-facing secondary camera which performs well in the dedicated selfie and dual-capture modes.
All told, the HTC One M8’s camera is a very comprehensive setup, but more than that it’s clearly been designed for the needs of your average phone user who wants a decent camera but doesn’t require something a pro might drool over. That means all the tweaks and tools onboard have been designed with quick and easy capture and editing in mind, and it’s a refreshingly effortless device to use as a result. Imaging quality is not the best on the market but it’s still better than its predecessor and is pretty damn good overall.
Well done HTC.
The HTC One M8's camera might be better than its predecessor's (and better than the HTC One Mini 2's setup), but how does it compare to key rivals such as Samsung's Galaxy S5, Sony's Xperia Z2, and Nokia's fearsome Lumia 1020 with a 41MP PureView sensor? Well, not too great, it would seem. You can check out our feature-length comparison piece where we tested all the major flagships to see how their camera tech stacks up:
- Which Smartphone Has The Best Camera?: LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, HTC One Mini 2, Nokia Lumia 1520, Nokia Lumia 1020 AND... The Sony Xperia Z2 Compared
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. But, is that enough to counter all the other positive stuff?
I’d argue no. You see, 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 bodyshell. It’s a big improvement on its predecessor and can stand toe-to-toe with most of its contemporaries. Taking all these features into account I find it difficult to imagine myself being deterred purely on the basis of fragility.
For one thing, I’m used to treating phones like some kind of ancient heirloom because I know they have to go back to the manufacturer in one piece and actively being as careful as possible can indeed work (don’t put your phone in the same pocket as your keys, for example). But aside from that, there are other far more expensive things which you could, potentially, damage very easily – and yet people still buy these things. We’ve all heard of people driving a new car out of the showroom straight into a truck, but would that stop you from buying a new car? Ultimately you’ll have to decide yourself on whether it’s worth the risk (you could always grab some insurance), or whether you’re happy simply covering up all that lovely curved metal with a rubber or plastic casing.
But either way, the rest of the phone is top-notch and well worth a look, it's simply a really enjoyable device to use on a daily basis.
HTC One M8: What To Read Next
- HTC One M8 vs. Samsung Galaxy S5: Who Will Be King In 2014?
- HTC One M8 vs. iPhone 6: The Best Is Yet To Come
- HTC One M8 vs. Sony Xperia Z2: Two Of The Best Go Head-to-Head
- HTC One M8 vs. HTC One: What’s The Difference
|Screen Colours||16 million|
|UK Launch||March 2014|
|Camera Resolution||4-megapixels with "Ultrapixels"|
|Speaker||Stereo Front-Facing BoomSound|