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HTC One M8 – Brilliant But Shackled

HTC One M8 is the 2014 version of the popular but commercially disappointing HTC One, coming with a bigger display, a faster processor, improved camera and a larger battery. There is also expandable storage by way of a micro-SD card slot, so there is a lot to be excited by. Based on these upgrades alone, we should have a device that comfortably knocks everything else out of the water.

But is that the case?

The original model gave us the first true premium Android device – one that used high-end materials with a decent build quality and HTC have carried this over into the new M8. Despite the fantastic build throughout the body, the buttons leave something to be desired. They’re squishy and rattly and anything but premium. I found the tiny amount of movement in the power button on the Nexus 5 an annoyance and so the level seen in the M8 leaves me feeling as though the finishing touches have been neglected – quality control is part of the overall premium feeling too. The power button is also situated on the top, rather than the side like with most larger devices. It is difficult to press with one hand but thanks to the Motion Launch features in Sense 6, we can double tap anywhere on the screen to wake – a feature I used each and every time I woke the phone.

Size comparison with the Nexus 5.

Size comparison with the Nexus 5.

The curvy back fits nicely in the hand.

The curvy back fits nicely in the hand.

The square, sharp lines are gone in favour of a hand-pleasing curve. Two large speakers adorn the front just as they did last year but are now known as BoomSound, losing their Beats Audio branding. They are the best you will find on any smartphone, by far. The depth, quality and general level of volume surpass anything else and returning to a ‘normal’ speaker always left me disappointed. Ringtones, notifications and songs all sound fantastic – something you can truly listen to, rather than simply hear. The price is that the device is much taller – the same additional height as last year – and with the larger display, the HTC One M8 becomes a device that’s substantial rather than just a bit taller.

Two cameras adorn the top of the M8.

Two cameras adorn the top of the M8.

Well fitting rubberised case provided.

Well fitting rubberised case provided.

Strangely, the One M8 feels no bigger in the hand than the Nexus 5 – corners of the display are just as easy to tap and thanks to the new curvy back, it’s far more comfortable too. Any moisture in your hands makes it a great deal less slippery, just like with the iPhone 5S, so you never feel like you need to grip tightly to avoid dropping it. Somehow, this large device manages to feel nicer in the hand than a few smaller models I’ve tried.

9.4mm thick.

9.4mm thick.

The display has increased from 4.7 to 5 inches but retained the same 1080p resolution. As a result, the pixel density (how many pixels you see per inch) has decreased by 27 to a still high 441ppi. The screen is very sharp, colours are vibrant and whites are very, very white. There are certainly no complaints in this department.

Battery life on the One M8 is fantastic, easily lasting for six hours of screen-on usage which is nearly double that of the Nexus 5 and it packs an extra 300 mAh this year, up to 2600 mAh. Screen-on time will determine how long the battery lasts – it will still only last a day with heavy usage but you should get two out of it with fewer Facebook and Twitter refreshes.

Now, that camera. Or rather, ’cameras’.

It’s such a disappointment. HTC have taken such care in designing the phone, they have used great materials and created a device of the utmost quality. They’ve incorporated a decent sized battery, brilliant speakers and a large display but they still insist on using their UltraPixel technology. UltraPixel is supposed to give us richer images due to each pixel allowing more light in (300% more), due to their size.

Instead, what we have are images that contain more detail in low light and ones that are terrible at any other time. In perfect lighting conditions, it’s mediocre at best and even when comparing to the not-brilliant camera in the Nexus 5, the HTC One M8 is awful. The colours are unrealistic and the clarity is poor.

Above the camera is a second lens that HTC call the Duo Camera. This is a dedicated depth sensor that allows you to refocus images you’ve already taken. Entering the refocus mode and tapping where you want the focus to be immediately blurs out the rest of the image, creating a depth-of-field effect. Again, in perfect conditions where the separation between foreground and background is absolutely clear, refocussing works quite well. But for the most part, it’s a gimmick that will blur bits you did not want blurring and focus things you wanted out of focus. I find it puzzling that HTC continue to implement technology that lets the rest of the device down. It would be like Apple releasing the new Mac Pro, incredibly designed and thought out with brilliant high-end specifications, only to put 2GB RAM in it. Sure, it’d run, but that’s all it would do.

UltraPixel and Duo camera.

UltraPixel and Duo camera.

As for general performance of the HTC One M8 I found nearly everything to be very snappy. Apps launched quickly, Blinkfeed loaded content smoothly with a solid internet connection and gaming posed no problems either. For me, Android skins remain an issue and while HTC Sense is the lesser of evils, it still has areas which are ghastly to look at or feel ‘heavier’ than what stock Android provides. Multi-Tasking was the only thing in Sense 6 that wasn’t very smooth – I found it jolting at times, as though launching a pane of a few apps is a difficult thing to handle, which of course it isn’t. There were a few bloatware items that I’d ideally have removed – ones that could easily be available as an optional install or through the Play Store.

The answer to this is to buy a GPe version – which is currently only available in the States. The issues with the camera would remain however, and that’s something I couldn’t live with. For a phone costing £530 sim-free or around £35 on contract, I’ would expect top-end everything, or at least close to it. Unfortunately the camera shackles what would otherwise be a brilliant phone.


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