Hands-on: HTC One (M8)
One-Upping the Competition
HTC must have had a hard time keeping its new flagship smartphone, the One (M8), under wraps in the weeks leading up to today's launch as photos of the device, images of its official flip cases, hands-on video and its sales guide were leaked on the Internet.
Fortunately, these leaks did not steal HTC's thunder as the company shared more details on the phone, its new software and features at the launch event in New York. Before we begin, here's a quick look at how the HTC One (M8) stacks up against last year's One:
Whether the other new fangled features of the new HTC One (M8) wow you or not, it will most definitely grab your attention as one of the best if not the best looking premium smartphone to-date. It not only looks great, but it feels great as well. Compared to its predecessor, the One (M8) is about 9mm longer, 2mm wider, marginally thicker and 17g heavier. This is because HTC has switched to an all-metal (90%) body construction made of aluminum alloy and the One (M8) has a slightly larger 5-inch display. Previously, the One boasted a "zero-gap construction" where white polycarbonate is injected between the front cover and the metal back.
Often, new phone updates lack the design leap to grab your attention as in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2. That's not to say the Z2 isn't a looker as it's still a sexy product. What we're focusing here is the delta of change and we're confident that many will agree of our comments once you've viewed and felt the HTC One (M8) for yourself when it hits the stores early April.
The One (M8) retains the signature curved back with soft curves around the edges for excellent handling. The weight gain is fortunately not noticeable as it's spread out over a slightly larger area, but nevertheless maintains the sold feel in your hands just as its predecessor did. While the Glacier Silver model has the same texture as the original One, the Gunmetal Grey model sports a brushed aluminium finish on its rear, which in our opinion, looks better. However, fingerprints and smudges are still noticeable on the brushed aluminium finish. There is also a possibility that scratches will be more apparent too. The Glacier Silver model however has an advantage on both these aspects over the new Gunmetal Grey. Whichever you choose, you will likely be contented:-
At launch, the One (M8) will be available in the above discussed two colors: Gunmetal Grey and Glacier Silver. There will also be an Amber Gold model, but we were told that it would not be available in Singapore at launch.
We won't be surprised if HTC offers the One (M8) in more colors since it is a growing trend among mobile phone makers. Its predecessor expanded its color range to red and gold after a few months, and the Galaxy S5 will have four colors (Charcoal Black, Shimmery White, Electric Blue and Copper Gold) at launch.
Display & Hardware
Oppo and Vivo remain the only two phone brands which have unveiled smartphones with 2K or QHD displays. Like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2, the One (M8) sports a Full-HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) display that's sufficient for phones of this size. The Super LCD 3 display is also reinforced with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which offers better assurance against screen cracks should you have butter fingers and often drop your phone.
With the slight increase of screen size from 4.7-inch to 5 inches, the pixel density drops from 469ppi to 441ppi. Even so, this difference is hardly noticeable by the naked human eye and does not affect the viewing experience whatsoever. The display remains sharp with punchy colors and offers great viewing angles.
At the top and bottom of the display are two front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers. According to HTC, the speakers on the One (M8) are 25% louder and clearer compared to the One. This is due to the addition of a re-engineered speaker system and amplifiers to analyze audio and provide real time optimizations.
In terms of processing power, the One (M8) is no slouch as it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz processor and 2GB RAM. It will come in two storage options: 16GB and 32GB. We were told that the 16GB model will be sold in Singapore.
Internal storage capacity shouldn't be a concern as HTC has finally included a highly sought after feature - a microSD memory card slot. The One (M8) supports memory cards up to a whopping 128GB in capacity! Unlike the Galaxy S5 where the OS and preinstalled apps take up close to half the storage space, a HTC spokesperson told us that users will have more than 10GB available storage space on the One (M8).
Keeping the phone powered is a non-removable 2,600mAh battery, which is the smallest in capacity among all the Android flagship smartphones. Sony leads the pack with a 3,200mAh battery for its Xperia Z2 while the Galaxy S5 has a 2,800mAh removable battery.
HTC claims that the One (M8) can last 40% longer than its predecessor in normal usage conditions (which we'll find out when we get to review the phone in detail). The new phone also comes with Extreme Power Save mode, which gives you up to two weeks of standby time with manual access to calls, emails, text and other basic functions. HTC states that the One (M8) can have 30 hours of standby time with the feature enabled at 10% battery level. The One (M8) also supports quick charging where the battery can reach 80% charge in just an hour.
The Galaxy S5 has a somewhat similar feature called Ultra Power Saving mode where the interface changes to a black and white theme to minimize power consumption. All unnecessary features such as auto-sync will be disabled to maximize battery mileage.
The rear of the One (M8) comes with not one, but two rear camera lenses to detect and calculate the relative distance of subjects within the camera's view. This enables it to capture depth of field (DOF) information and offers a new set of editing options and picture enhancements.
The primary rear camera is an improved 4-megapixel UltraPixel sensor which takes care of your daily photography needs. It also has an enhanced auto focus system that is capable of focusing on a subject in 0.3 seconds, a feat that the Galaxy S5 is able to achieve as well.
The secondary camera detects separate subjects in the foreground and background to create a shallow DOF effect on the One (M8) via UFocus (photo enchancement), and is also capable of creating 3D-like images via Dimension Plus (another photo enhancement).
Recently, many Android flagship smartphones are boasting features that seemingly enable you to alter your focus point on your image after the photo is taken. LG calls it Magic Focus on the G Pro 2 while Samsung brands it as Selective Focus on the Galaxy S5. Sony names the feature as Background Defocus on the Xperia Z2. For all three brands, you need to manually select the feature through Mode or Settings and hold the phone steady for the camera to take multiple shots; this basically shoots a string of photos at different focus points and then offers you a photo that best matches your preferred point of focus. There are several disadvantages to this flow - 1) the need to pre-select the mode of shooting, 2) the increased photo taking time as it shoots a burst of photos and 3) you have to stay still and not be able to shoot a moving subject (because the camera is busy taking a series of photos).
On the other hand, thanks to Duo Camera of the HTC One (M8) and its secondary lens capturing depth information of subjects, all the above disadvantages are eliminated. As long as you're shooting in Auto mode, the extra depth information is captured and immediately offers you a slew of photo functions that can be applied in a jiffy. All you need to do is to capture any shot, go to Edit and select UFocus effect, change the photo's point of focus instantly by pointing your preference. HTC believes that it is much easier and faster for users to activate the camera and take the shot, than to waste time going through the menu settings to activate the feature.
The One (M8) will save the original photo (without any effects applied but with DOF info attached) and the edited photo, thus giving you the opportunity create variations of the original photo anytime in the future. LG, Samsung and Sony only save the edited photos, which otherwise will occupy a lot space. According to HTC, the One (M8)'s original photo with depth information captured is hardly much larger than a single original photo alone. As such, this is a far more elegant approach.
UFocus also supports multiple points (8 to 9) of focus in a photo although this will vary according to what you are shooting and the subjects in the photo. This is similar to LG's MagicFocus in terms of focus point capability. Samsung only provides you three choices - near focus, far focus and pan focus (which is essentially "focus all") - while Sony has options to adjust the degree and type of defocus you want (which isn't exactly the same type of focusing aspects offered by HTC and LG. HTC also told us that UFocus works best between 0.5 meters to 4~5 meters.
Android 4.2's PhotoSphere brings you 360-degree panorama shots of your surroundings, but HTC's Dimension Plus allows you to see photos from different angles by simply tilting the phone.This makes Dimension Plus perfect for users who like to take photos of foods and artifacts where they get to see things from a better perspective. Hit the video link at at the start of this article to see this in action!
To improve the quality of flash photos, the One (M8) comes with Duo Flash which consists of twin LED Smart Flash to eliminate overblown glare and unnatural colors typical of normal flash systems.
Duo Flash works by making an instant light reading and firing the cool and warm LEDs in one of over 500 unique color temperature combinations to match the scene. As a result, photos taken will have more vivid, authentic colors and more accurate skin tones even in difficult lighting conditions.
The Apple iPhone 5S is the first smartphone to sport a dual warm/cold LED flash module where software algorithms are used to assess the color temperature of the scene, and adjusts the percentage and intensity of white light versus amber light to achieve correct color balance. In Apple's case, the True Tone flash has a wider range (over 1,000) unique combinations for more accurate image colors.
HTC Sense 6
With the launch of every flagship model, HTC usually brings in a new version of its Sense interface. This time, the One (M8) ships with Sense 6 which sports a simplified, flattened design. The new philosophy behind Sense 6 is to make things easier and simpler for users so that they can accomplish their tasks swiftly. Therefore, Sense 6 comes with a host of new features such as:
- Color coding for different tasks (orange for entertainment, blue for emails, green for weather)
- The ability to install your own fonts to cater to individual preferences (in addition to the already improved default font)
- Simpler icons to keep the design clean
- New keyboard with better auto-correct functionality and support for more languages
One of the new features of Sense 6 is Motion Launch Gestures, which is powered by Sensor Hub technology. In a nutshell, Motion Launch Gestures allows you to execute a series of swipe gestures on the display to access certain functions. Here's the list of swipe gestures and what they do:
- Double tap to turn on or off the display
- Swipe left to widget screen
- Swipe right to BlinkFeed
- Swipe up to last app
- Swipe down to Voice Command
- Pick up phone to answer
- Hold landscape and press volume key to launch Camera app
BlinkFeed, a core feature introduced in Sense 5, is enhanced in the latest Sense 6. It sports a brand new modern design that offers an easier way to view information:
- Bundle-curated news on a single topic with social networks and related news
- Large text that is easy to read
- Support for inline pictures, smooth scroll and enhanced sidebar for easier navigation
And for the first time ever, HTC adopted on-screen (software) buttons for the One (M8). Its One family of smartphones in 2013 came with two physical capacitive buttons, which annoyed and forced many to adapt to its awkward layout.
There are other new features such as the ability to quit or close all recent apps in the multitasking panel, Image Match to search photos faster and Easy Mode for a simpler and basic home screen experience for both younger and older users.
HTC Dot View Flip Case
HTC also introduced a very unique accessory flip case for the One (M8). Simply known as Dot View, it has tiny perforations on the flip cover to let you have a peek at the time, weather, incoming call, message, calendar and alarm notifications. You can answer or reject a call with the flip case on.
Besides the Dot View cases, there are also the HTC Flip Case (sleep/wake function when front flip cover is raised or closed) and Double Dip Case with top and bottom covers in different colors to personalize your One (M8). HTC said that there will be a huge range of third party accessories from brands such as Speck, Case Mate, Incipio and OtterBox for the One (M8) at launch.
Comparison Shots with the HTC One Family
Pricing and Availability
The One (M8) will be available in Singapore in the first week of April. Pricing is not known at the time of publication, and we will update this section when we have more information.