HTC One (M8) - One More Time
The all new HTC One (M8) replaces last year's M7 counterpart, the original HTC One, with numerous hardware and software updates under the hood. We've done a comprehensive hands-on article with the One (M8) during the launch event in New York City where we've touched upon the phone's design, handling and software features. In this review, we will focus upon new insights obtained from the past few days of using the retail ready edition of the phone and of course our verdict of the HTC One (M8).
Design & Handling
When it comes to design and build quality, we dare say that there is hardly any equal to the One (M8) in the Android space. The only competitor that comes close to matching it is the ASUS PadFone Infinity, which sports a chassis made up of aerospace-grade aluminium with a brushed metal finish and diamond cut edge. Even then, the One (M8) offers better handling than most phones we've reviewed recently thanks to the curved back and rounded metal edges.
The all-metal (90%) chassis gets our thumbs-up, although there are a handful of people who feel that it's overdone a little too much. With metal wrapping around the edges to the display, some people find it too smooth to hold the One (M8). On the other hand, the original HTC One from last year has polycarbonate accents at the sides which provide some grip. Existing HTC One (2013) users might want to take note of this aspect of handing if they are planning to upgrade. On the other hand, the new One (M8) feels less 'blocky' and more natural to hold due to the finish and smooth edges.
Another point to note for consumers who are considering the One (M8) is that the phone uses the nano-SIM standard. Majority of Android phones do not use this standard, hence consumers switching over have to change their normal or micro-SIM cards.
Strangely, the power button is shifted to the top right side of the One (M8). The new location of the power button may seem unintuitive for a 5-inch phone, but rest assured that there is no need for concern as HTC addressed this by software means. We will explain more on this in the following section after the break.
HTC Sense 6
One of the major new features of the Sense 6 user interface is Motion Launch Gestures, which is a series of swipe gestures you can execute on the lock screen to access particular functions on the One (M8). As a quick recap, 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
Double tapping on the lock screen allows you to turn on the display to have a quick glance at the time and notifications without the need to reach out for the power button. This is particularly useful in the case of the One (M8) since the power button is not located at the side, which is easier to access than the top right corner. It is important to note that this gesture does not work on the home screen unlike the LG G2, G Flex and G Pro 2. Perhaps HTC is wary of infringing on the KnockON patent filed by LG in 2008.
For a more detailed rundown of the phone's design, build and features, tune in to our detailed hands-on article.
The One (M8) is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB RAM which puts it on-par with the Samsung Galaxy S5. The Sony Xperia Z2 runs on a similar chipset with a lower clock speed (2.3GHz), but has 3GB RAM.
There are two variants of the One (M8); the model sold in Asia (including Singapore) and China will have a 2.5GHz chipset while consumers in the U.S and European markets will get one with a lower clock speed at 2.3GHz.
You must be wondering what's the difference between the well established Snapdragon 800 and the newer Snapdragon 801 processors. Well, the Snapdragon 801 processor is built on an improved 28nm HPm process which not only offers some CPU performance boost, it also provides better power efficiency. If you want to know more about the technicalities, do check out AnandTech's write-up on the differences between the two processors.
We will be comparing the One (M8) against the Sony Xperia Z2, and other Snapdragon 800-touting smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 with LTE+ and LG G2. The HTC One (2013) is also included in the comparison to see the performance disparity between the two generations of smartphones.
Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performances.
Based on the Quadrant benchmark scores, the One (M8) and Xperia Z2 are easily the most powerful Android smartphones as they are equipped with the latest Snapdragon 801 processors. If you are wondering about the disparity between the One (M8) and Xperia Z2, there is a plausible explanation for that.
Despite the embarrassing revelations of Samsung "cheating" in the benchmarks with its Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 devices, HTC optimized the processor in the One (M8) to perform optimally when certain benchmarks are detected. Instead of denying the trick, HTC in fact admitted to it and named it as a feature! Here's the statement provided by HTC to CNET on this matter:
"Thanks for your email about the HTC One (M8). Benchmarking tests look to determine maximum performance of the CPU and GPU and, similar to the engine in a high-performance sports car, our engineers optimize in certain scenarios to produce the best possible performance. If someone would like to get around this benchmarking optimization there are ways to do so, but we think most often this will not be the case."
For those with a need for speed, we've provided a simple way to unleash this power by introducing a new High Performance Mode in the developer settings that can be enabled and disabled manually. The HTC One (M8) is optimized to provide the best balance of performance and battery life, but we believe in offering customer choice, as there may be times when the desire for performance outweighs the need for battery longevity."
The High Performance Mode is reportedly available in the Asian model, but we were unable to find this feature in our review unit. AnandTech claims that one can access this particular feature via Settings > About > Sofware Information > More > Build Number (Tap five times).
Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms including Android OS. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.
For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, 3DMark consists of three test sections:
3DMark Ice Storm is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 720p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of your device. Ice Storm includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.
3DMark Ice Storm Extreme raises the off-screen rendering resolution to 1080p and uses higher quality textures and post-processing effects to create a more demanding load for the latest smartphones and tablets.
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited is used to make chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets, CPUs and GPUs, without vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors affecting the result.
Almost all the recent flagship smartphones maxed out the scores for the Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme, hence we will only be looking at the scores for Ice Storm Unlimited.
Without other factors affecting the outcome, the One (M8) once again led the pack in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. The difference in scores between the One (M8) and Xperia Z2 could be due to the artificial boosting or discrepancies in benchmark testing.
Real World Usage Experience
Number crunching aside, the One (M8) felt very smooth during our past few days of usage. This is no doubt due to the lighter, cleaner Sense 6 interface and the performance boost delivered by the Snapdragon 801 processor. Overall, we are very pleased with the user experience on the One (M8).
The UltraPixel rear camera has been the talking point of the One (2013) for the past year. While other phone makers continue to engage in the megapixel race, HTC bucked the trend by focusing on the pixel size. If you are sitting on the fence or have no idea what UltraPixel is all about, do check out our guide to HTC's UltraPixel technology.
The One (M8) has an almost similar suite of imaging specs as its predecessor, which include a sensor size of 1/3-inch, pixel size of 2µm, focal length of 28mm and an aperture of f/2.0. It does comes with upgrades such as a refined UltraPixel sensor and a new HTC ImageChip 2.
If you are hoping that optical image stabilization (OIS) is on-board the One (M8), then you will be disappointed to know that HTC has substituted it with Smart Stabilization. HTC claims OIS is not compatible with the stereoscopic rangefinder technology of the Duo Camera, and that Smart Stabilization on the One (M8) is able to deliver comparable image quality as last year's model with OIS. We will check this out later in this section.
We've covered the Duo Camera technology and its star feature, UFocus in our hands-on article, hence we will now explore the other imaging features, and also compare the image quality between the One (M8) and the One (2013).
This imaging feature is designed to emphasize a subject in a photo by de-saturating the image, separating colors and adding other effects such as motion blur. This gives the subject more presence and expression.
You can add seasonal themes (sakura, dandelion, maple leaf and snow) to any photo. In addition, the color temperature of the photo is adjusted to match the season you choose.
There are some points to note when using the Duo Camera functionality and its imaging effects:
- Do not block the two rear cameras when taking a photo.
- The camera mode must be set to Auto.
- Flash must be turned off before taking a photo.
- Ensure that there is sufficient ambient light before taking the photo.
Based on the images we have taken so far, we have to say that we are disappointed with the One (M8). While there are several fun, useful imaging features or effects that consumers would appreciate, HTC has not nailed the most important aspect which is image quality.
Generally speaking, the image quality of the One (M8) is on-par with its predecessor, but it takes a dip in some usage scenarios such as low light conditions due to the absence of OIS. Color accuracy also appears to be a major sticking point at the moment.
To be fair, we've seen amazing photos taken by the One (M8) and it might be a little too soon to discredit the One (M8). We will be conducting a more detailed analysis of its imaging performance in a future article alongside the other Android flagship smartphones.
Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:
• Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
• Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
The One (M8) managed to last more than 8 hours in our battery test, which is almost twice the mileage of its predecessor. Despite having a 2,600mAh battery, the One (M8) lasted longer than the Sony Xperia Z2 and LG G2. It is noteworthy to mention that the Sony Xperia Z2 and LG G2 come with a slightly bigger display at 5.2-inch, which could be the reason why they could not last as long as the One (M8).
HTC finally got it right with the One (M8) as the phone's power consumption is the second lowest among the phones compared. We honestly think that HTC has done a very good job with the power management as the One (M8) showed a huge leap in power efficiency compared to its predecessor (1.20Wh vs 2.04Wh).
We measure the portability of a device by calculating its battery life to (weight x volume) ratio. As the One (M8) is the thickest and the second heaviest of the phones compared, its ranking in the Portability Index falls behind the Galaxy S4 with LTE+ and the G2. Nonetheless, it beats the Xperia Z2 and fares much better than its predecessor.
Real World Battery Performance
But benchmarking gives only one view to the above assessment. To give you a more realistic understanding on how the One (M8) fared under real world usage conditions, we included screenshots of the usage and history graphs based on our usage.
As seen from the graphs above, the One (M8) could last close to 24 hours (a day) before the battery levels dropped below 15% and activated the Power Saver mode . Some notes:
- The device logged onto the 3G network because the SIM card used does not support 4G LTE.
- The device logged onto Wi-Fi connections from time to time.
- Our typical usage scenarios include making some voice calls, texting via WhatsApp, capturing some photos and sharing them on social networking sites, the occasional web browsing via Pulse News Reader and emailing.
Do note that battery mileage varies depending on your usage patterns. Compared to the One (2013), the One (M8) delivered vast improvements in battery performance under lab tests and real world usage conditions. Unless you are consistently texting, browsing or WhatsApping, the One (M8) is more than likely to hold up till you reach home and plug it to a power outlet.
In case you are wondering about the Extreme Power Saving Mode on the One (M8), it is currently not available on the review and retail set. HTC Singapore has confirmed to HardwareZone that an upcoming software update will enable the feature on the One (M8). This over-the-air update is expected to be delivered soon.
HTC has once again proven to be at the top of the game for designing a solid flagship smartphone. Year after year, we've seen HTC outdo itself with each flagship smartphone and the One (M8) is the epitome of everything the company stands for. However, even with all its advancements, One (M8) isn't yet the perfect all-rounder.
The One (M8) looks and feels great with its all-metal chassis, and puts to shame other Android vendors who continue to feature plastic flagship smartphones with premium price tags. HTC also deserves praises for listening to consumers' feedback; it has added the much-needed microSD memory card slot, increased the screen size to a manageable 5-inch and kept the Sense interface clutter-free. More importantly, the battery performance has improved by leaps and bounds.
However, HTC's continued use of its UltraPixel technology is shaping up to be the biggest liability for the One (M8). Not engaging in the megapixel war is one thing, but not improving the image quality is another. For whatever reason(s) HTC has, we feel that the One (M8) deserves a better camera module. There are some really neat imaging tricks brought about by the Duo Camera feature, but as long as the image quality is not improved, it's tough for the One (M8) to raise its head above its peers. It's only saving grace is that as far as users are strictly dealing with sharing images on social media, the output from the One (M8) is sufficient for that purpose.
Overall, the One (M8) is a solid recommendation for anyone who is shopping for a well-built Android flagship smartphone. While its imaging performance leaves much to be desired, we are sure the rest of what the One (M8) has to offer is sufficient to keep most consumers content.
The One (M8) is available for purchase at all three telcos from April 5 in two colors: gunmetal gray and glacier silver. The retail price without line contract is $998.