This year’s HTC One – called the M8 – is by far one of the most hyped smartphones of the year and with good reason too. 2013’s HTC One was by far the prettiest Android handset we’d ever seen. Hewn from a single block of aluminium and carved into a beautiful smartphone with all of the trimmings needed to compete against the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Last year, however, the HTC One failed to make an impact on the South African market. Poor local representation, resulting in slow distribution, combined with the superb additional extras offered by Samsung’s Galaxy S4 meant that the HTC One was destined to fail at capturing large chunks of the market.
This time around HTC claim to have made all the management changes necessary to be a dominant force in the South African market and the HTC One (M8) is the phone to do it. We can’t test the first claim, but we’re sure going to give the second a good once over, perhaps even two.
The HTC One is as close to the perfectly designed smartphone as has ever been achieved with a large display. The aluminium body the holds the all of the phone’s components is a true work of industrial design magic. The back curves gently to allow for your hand to cradle the phone comfortably and the corners have been rounded to make it one of the most comfortable phones in pocket that we’ve ever used.
Besides for the large embossed HTC One logo, the rear is marked only by the intriguing dual-camera setup and two black bands which allow for the various radios to receive signal.
The front is largely dominated by the display but the BoomSound dual speaker setup returns form the first generation HTC One, however this time it is without the Beats Audio moniker with the company having divested from the headphones and streaming audio business long before Apple showed its interest.
This year the flagship Android smartphones from all of the major manufacturers have almost identical hardware configurations and the HTC One is no different. The excellent quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 is clocked at 2.3GHz and paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage which can be bolstered by up to, a ridiculous, 128GB using a microSD card.
HTC has once again opted for a Super LCD display technology as the display of choice for its flagship smartphone with the one being used a Super LCD 3 variant with a resolution of 1080p. The camera is a return to the 4 megapixel ‘Ultrapixel’ camera which HTC introduced in the first HTC One last year.
Connectivity wise not much has changed from what has been available on high end smartphones since 2013. LTE, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac dual-band WiFi is all on offer along with an FM Radio, something not often seen on more expensive handsets.
The HTC One (M8) runs on the latest full release of Google’s Android operating system, version 4.4 which goes by the chocolatey ‘KitKat’ moniker. It has HTC’s Sense customisation which is now in its sixth and, in our opinion, best iteration.
The most in your face feature of Sense is still BlinkFeed, the Flipboard-esque feed of stories that collates posts your social networks, calendar appointments, your reading list from Pocket and your zoetropes – or as HTC likes to call them Zoes – from your gallery along with articles from your choice of news sources.
It sits one pane to the left of your initial homescreen but can, just like any other homescreen, be removed by pinching your fingers together on the home screen, long-pressing the BlinkFeed screen and moving it to the ‘remove’ icon.
I must confess that I’ve never been a fan of BlinkFeed in the past, however with Sense 6 it seems to have evolved into a great way to discover quick tidbits from a range of sources and I’ve grown to appreciate its digital curation.
The keyboard is another area in which HTC has made great strides forward. While the HTC One’s keyboard is not as good as the likes of SwiftKey we found it to be much more accurate that the keyboards of other manufacturers due in part to the large size of each individual key. That being said, since SwiftKey is now free there is no need to rely on Android manufacturers’ keyboards unless you have a specific preference for them.
It’s beautiful. That’s all you really need to know about the HTC One’s display but since two words cannot describe why the display is so fantastic we’ll elaborate on the statement.
The 5 inch display of the HTC One M8 uses the same Super LCD 3 display technology as well as having the same full HD 1080p display resolution as its predecessor. With the increase in display size from 4.7 inches in the original HTC One the pixel density has dropped from 469 pixels per inch (ppi) down to ‘just’ 441ppi but it still requires sharp eyes to differentiate individual pixels from one another.
Colours are bright without being over-saturated and the brightness levels indoors make sure that everything from text to pictures is beautifully crisp and easy on the eyes. If you’re using the standard power saving mode while the phone is outdoors then you may find that the display doesn’t quite get bright enough to cut through direct sunlight, but once it is disabled the brightness easily ramps up visibility.
Instead of opting for an increased resolution camera like Nokia and Sony have, HTC has one again utilised its 4 megapixel camera unit with ‘Ultrapixel’ technology. This means that each individual pixel is 2µm in width which is 33% larger than those found in the iPhone 5s and 79% larger than the ones found in the Galaxy S5. Larger pixels means more light being captured by the sensor at once which should mean better photos in low light conditions.
Suffice to say that it does work especially well in low light conditions like bars or at dusk and it helps keep the colours nice and balanced in bright light. However because of the low pixel count of the camera itself, you’re going to need to be close to your subject if you want to get a good photo unlike the Sony Xperia Z2 and the Nokia Lumia 1020 which have pixels to spare and can use them to sharpen pictures or zoom in after the fact.
The addition of a secondary camera does not immediately add anything to photos taken by the HTC One but if you edit the photos from the gallery you’ll be able to pull off some nifty 3D effects and depth of field trickery which, although gimmicky, is rather cool to try out.
The camera interface has been simplified as well with very few options to overwhelm the user unless you’re prepared to dig into the menus where you will find the rest of the settings to tinker with.
With just 2 600mAh to work with compared to the 2 800mAh of Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and the 3 200mAh of the Sony Xperia Z2, the HTC One manages to last for a full working day while streaming music, navigating to and from events and connecting to Bluetooth 4.0 enables peripherals like the Jawbone UP24.
We achieved this battery life using the standard ‘Power saver’ mode which limits CPU performance, reduces display brightness and turns of haptic feedback – the small vibrations for the menu buttons although we opted to not save battery by turning off data connections when the display was off. At no time did any of these restrictions feel like they had hampered the phone’s abilities except for the aforementioned difficulty viewing it in direct sunlight.
Much like Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Huawei’s Ascend P7 the HTC One has an ‘Extreme power saving mode’ which can be manually activated or, should the battery fall below a predetermined level – either 5%, 10% or 20% – it can be automatically turned on.
EPSM turns the HTC One into a feature phone by drastically turning down CPU performance, reducing display brightness, turning off haptic feedback, severing data connections when the display is turned off and allowing only the essential phone, messages, email, calendar and calculator apps to run but dramatically increasing the run time of the phone.
The HTC One M8 is by far and away the best looking Android smartphone we’ve ever used. The use of aluminium to craft the body of the smartphone leads to a look and feel that is nearly impossible to replicate out of plastic.
Were it not for the often less-than-average photographs that can result from the low resolution of the Ultrapixel camera we would have absolutely no problem in calling it the greatest Android phone ever made.
The HTC One however is more than worthy of your money, and yes even more so than other Android manufacturers who may even have better warranties on their smartphones. It’s a case of more than enough function to back up the most beautiful form that the Android OS has ever been wrapped in.
Price: R10 500
Display: 5 inch, 1080×1920 resolution, Super LCD 3 display (441ppi)
Operating System: Android 4.4.2 with Sense 6
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz quad core processor
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB expandable by up to 128GB with a microSD card
Battery: 2 600mAh non-removable
Camera: 4 megapixel camera with 2µm ‘Ultrapixels’
Networking: Dual band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and LTE
Other: Duo camera, FM Radio