Monday, April 14, 2014

The All New HTC One M8: Full Review


I’m going to cut straight to the chase, the (All New) HTC One M8 is a very nice piece of hardware. After last year’s One, yes they gave it the same name, HTC had already struck gold, so how were they going to better themselves. How could you take the phone that won the Global Mobile Award for Best Smartphone of the Year and then…make it better?

This year’s HTC One is suffixed with the codename M8 to help differentiate it from last year’s HTC One. This year, they had several changes because HTC listened to their consumers. They listened to the crowds that hadn't even bought their product yet. They listened to the tech geeks who knew that HTC was close, but not quite there yet. They listened to them all to bring us a beautiful experience with our phone.

This year HTC has introduced a phone that is built to last, software that is swift and fluid, and an experience that is intuitive.


The Hardware

A quick run-down:
  • Qualcomm SnapDragon 801 Quad core processor
  • 2600 mAh battery
  • Android Kit Kat 4.4.2
  • 2GB of RAM
  • internal storage options=16GB or 32GB
  • A Micro SD card slot for up to 128 GB of extended storage
  • 5" 1080p Full HD display
  • Compatible with all major US carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon)


The exoskeleton of the HTC One (M8) is built with a single piece of aluminum. It is curved where it needs to be. It does not have any sharp edges and is very easy to hold. It is not the lightest phone on the market, but by no means is it heavy. It weighs in at 160 grams (0.35 lbs or 5.64 oz). For comparisons sake, the iPhone 5S is 112 grams. HTC has increased the screen size from 4.7 inches in last year’s model to 5 inches. It is a full HD 1080p LCD screen.

The screen is absolutely beautiful! All colors are gorgeous, rich, and true. My pictures do not do it justice unfortunately. To the naked eye, you cannot see one pixel. HTC has chosen the right size screen for the 1080P resolution, and has come very close to perfection in terms of clarity as far as any other mobile device on the market today.


The engine underneath the hood on this puppy is a Qualcomm SnapDragon 801 Quad core processor. As of the time of this writing, it is the fastest mobile processor in any smartphone today. It is very quick and will not hiccup on you. All touches are met with immediate response which makes switching between applications instantaneous.

Within the dimensions of the phone is where I find my first fault; the height. While the phone’s width and thickness make it easy to grip, hold, and even carry in your front pocket, it is a rather tall phone. Below you will see a picture of the HTC One M8 next to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. While no one will argue that the Note 3 isn’t a tall phone, it’s meant to be tall, its screen is seven tenths of an inch larger than the M8 and it’s in the phablet category. The HTC One is not built to compete in the same league as the Note 3. This makes it tougher to use one handed when you reach for the notification tray or for the power switch, which is in the top right corner.


The reason for this additional height is due to a thick black bezel along the bottom of the screen. In last year’s model, this is where you would have found the capacitive buttons. In this year’s model, HTC has gone with on screen buttons but they did not remove the space or the HTC logo. Although it’s been argued by HTC reps that the phone could not exist in all of its splendor without that bezel, I can’t help but believe that a little more engineering would have made it easy to remove this thick chin. It has to be a marketing technique to place the logo front and center. After all, there really is no other place to put it (on the front).


HTC has also brought back their TV app. The M8 has a long black piece of plastic running across the top of the phone which is hiding an infrared blaster so the phone can double as a remote control, but only if used in conjunction with the HTC TV app. You program in your TV and cable box manufacturer in the apps settings, then you can change the channel or turn up the volume with the "remote" that is usually always in your pocket, aka your smartphone.

BoomSound is also back! The front facing dual speakers on top and bottom of the phone sound amazing. Every decibel out of these speakers is clear and crisp. That includes calls on speaker phone, regular calls just in the top speaker, music, games, and any notification sounds. No complaints on this front. Absolutely brilliant!

The power button in the M8 has been moved to the right hand side of the top as opposed to the left hand side of the top from last year. This makes it easier for right handers for sure but still a bit of a stretch for the left hand. Although with your left hand you don’t have to worry about hitting the volume buttons in error like I do with my right.


The HTC One M8 comes with a 2600 mAh battery which is a spec bump from last year's 2300 mAh. My test on last year's model got me an average of 12.5 hours on a full charge. But this year's model got me an average of 15.5 hours, plus I had anywhere between 14% and 38% battery power remaining. I'm sure I could have gotten 17-18 hours no sweat, maybe even more.


The Camera

I believe HTC is trying to make a point with their choice of camera in both last year and this year’s models. I say this because while all other manufacturers are using 10, 13, or even 20 megapixel camera sensors, HTC has once again used a 4MP UltraPixel sensor in the rear camera. UltraPixel being a trademarked HTC term and means its pixels are larger which use more light for high color quality. Yes, I have to agree with what everyone else is saying about their use of a 4MP in such a high end phone, it won’t make for good enough pictures that you want to print larger than 5x7 and hang on the wall in your living room. But it will look just fine for quick snaps that you share on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media. It will also look fine when you print them at your local [store of choice] and make a memory book from your family vacation. The surprising contrary fact is that they have put a 5MP camera on the front of the phone. So in essence you have a larger, more accurate, sensor for selfies than you do for the memorable pics.

I personally believe that the pictures turn out just fine. But I don't use my smartphone camera as if it were meant to keep cherished wedding memories either. A few of the kids. Fun at the park. On vacation at the beach. Here are a few samples from different lighting environments. You be the judge.


In addition to the 4MP camera sensor, HTC has added an extra sensor on the back of the phone, together it’s being called Duo Camera, and I have had a lot of fun with this technology. The extra sensor captures unfocused parts of the same picture and allows you to edit it after the fact by resetting the focal point.

The next three pics are all from the same photo. The original is first, second I changed the point of focus to my son in the front, and last I changed the point of focus to my daughter in the back all using the camera software editing tools called "Ufocus" by HTC.


Resetting the focal point is not the only tweak that comes into play with this camera duo. There are several other built in options that can be done to the pictures after the fact. Keep in mind, you can only use these edit modes on pictures that are zoomed all the way out. Again, these edit modes take advantage of the extra sensor which captures the full image and allows you to edit the different focal points.

Original

Seasonal

Sketchpad
Zoom Blur
Coloring book
Black and White
The snap on this camera is super-fast. The animation that shows the phone saving the picture in the gallery makes it seem as though it happens before you touch the screen. But in truth, it does capture the picture just as soon as you touch the button.

The Software

HTC Zoe (pronounced Zo-ee) is a camera software feature that has been expanded with this iteration of the HTC One. Last year they gave you Zoe pictures that snapped small movie clips (limited to 3 seconds) along with the pictures to go along with it. This year, you get to have a default of a 4-5 second Zoe but can easily override that by simply holding the capture button. It then will basically capture a full video and then separate images to go along with each frame.

Along with enhance Zoe capture, HTC has also given us Zoe highlights. The Zoe highlights takes pictures and video from your gallery, adds some animation, transitions, and music, and then viola, you have a memorable video to share. These can be saved and shared to social media or burned to a disc from your computer. They are simply MP4 video files and your computer already knows how to handle those. This is great because it would be quite disappointing to only be able to share these memories from your phone. 

Zoe Highlight example video

HTC has made some wonderful changes in their newest iteration of the Android skin which they have named "Sense". It is now in version 6.0, up from last year's 5.5 iteration. These changes have brought back some of the essence that is the Android Operating System. I guess HTC realized you can't do it all too different from everyone else, or else everyone else will go somewhere else that they feel more familiar.

BlinkFeed is back. The social media launcher which allows you view Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, almost any other social media plus blogs or even Google search results you find yourself looking into on a daily basis. All these can be fed into one scrolling page on the left most screen of your home screen. BlinkFeed is more than a social media widget, it's the whole launcher experience on the HTC One M8. You can easily remove it if you see fit, but I think most of you will come to enjoy the readily available information.

HTC has made some nice new additions to the BlinkFeed launcher, for example Motion Launch. This allows you to unlock your phone through 6 different gesture movements while the screen is still turned off. To do this, you begin by holding your phone in portrait mode and do one of these 6 gestures: 
  1. Swipe up and you unlock the phone and jump into the last app you were in.
  2. Swipe right and you unlock your phone and jump into BlinkFeed.
  3. Swipe left and you unlock your phone and you jump to your main homescreen.
  4. Swipe down and you unlock your phone and activate voice commands.
  5. Double tap the screen and it turns the screen on, leaves it locked, but you can check your notifications. Double tap again without unlocking the phone and it will turn the screen back off.
  6. Turn your phone sideways in landscape position and push the volume up button and you unlock your phone and jump straight into the camera.
Aside from Motion Launch, HTC has improved the overall user experience with this version of Sense 6.0. Adding apps and widgets to the homescreens are more intuitive. The app drawer is easier to manage and use. Settings are found in the right location. Even something as simple as changing your wallpaper is no longer a 10 step process. HTC definitely listened to complaints from the users of the previous version of Sense and that was one of the smartest moves they could have made. Now users familiar with Android, don't have to relearn simple tasks. And new users to Android won't find it so hard to learn at all.


Pros
  • The hardware. It's durable. Feels good to hold on to. It's also feels like a solid device that won't crack or bend under the pressure of normal usage.
  • The screen. 1080p and at a 5 inch display is the perfect recipe. 
  • Multiple color options: initial release is in silver, gunmetal grey, and gold.
  • HTC set a record to have the first device announced and released on the same day. Let's hope this sets a new standard for other manufacturers. 
  • On-screen navigation buttons: They disappear when you don't need them making the screen seem bigger. 
  • BoomSound: Most excellent call quality and music come from these speakers.
  • Efficient battery: Normal usage getting anywhere between 15 or 16 hours of battery life a day is respectable for most users.
  • Motion Launch gestures: It's become a norm to be able to just pick up the phone and unlock it without having to stretch for the power button.
  • Ufocus options in the gallery: You will have so much fun playing with these settings on your favorite pics.
  • Zoe highlights: an awesome way to make home movies. And better yet, let the phone make them for you.

Cons
  • The camera's overall let down is that it only sports a 4MP camera when everyone else is putting in larger sensors. The pictures look decent enough, yeah, but come on HTC, everyone was expecting more this year and you let them down here. Not to mention, again, that the front camera has more megapixels than the rear camera.
  • The height: It's a pretty tall phone. Compared to competitors with larger screens it doesn't seem large, but HTC didn't make the best use of the space when they could have shrunk the overall size of the phone but kept the same size screen.
  • Button placement: I changed the volume level way too many times just reaching for the power button to lock the device before I put it in my pocket.
  • HTC makes the on-screen buttons disappear, YEAH! But they are sometimes hard to get them to come back when you need them. In the camera or gallery for example. I had to touch the proper area two or three times to get them to return to the screen before I could hit it a third or fourth time to go back.
  • Price point: if you buy it off contract, this phone is $649. You're going to have to take advantage of an upgrade to get this phone and keep any money in your pocket.

Final Thoughts
The overall user experience of the HTC One M8 is in one word, "fluid". Everything flows properly. The phone responds to your touch instantaneously. I never experienced lag or hiccups. It brings back some of the essence of Android which it lost in the original model last year. I love listening to music on this thing just to be amazed by the sound coming from a smartphone. The screen really is beautiful. The bezels around the screen could be a bit smaller, especially the one along the bottom to remove the HTC logo. But that doesn't change the fact that 1080p resolution on this device is exceptional. There is nothing wrong with this phone that would stop me from buying it off the shelf, despite the cons listed above. None of them are show stoppers in my opinion. I could easily recommend this phone to a friend.

Gallery

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