HTC One (M8) full review
HTC's flagship smartphone for 2014 is the HTC One (M8). We loved the HTC One M7, and we love the M8 even more. Here's our in-depth, full review of the new HTC One M8. See also: best smartphones: The best phones you can buy in the UK.
HTC's aim with the M8 was to take the original HTC One, codenamed 'M7', and make everything better. As such the HTC One M8 is an all-round upgrade job. One thing's for sure: there are no major leaps with the M8, but we're seeing a similar trend with all new flagship smartphones this year. The Galaxy S5, for example, adds a couple of new features while the Sony Xperia Z2 is barely different to the Z1. But that doesn't make the HTC One M8 a bad phone. Far from it. Let's take a look at the Android-toting HTC One M8 in more depth.
HTC One M8: Now the old model
We've added this section to the review to quickly explain that the M8 is now the old model of HTC's flagship range. The aptly named HTC One M9 is now the new top-end smartphone for 2015. This doesn't mean the M8 shouldn't be considered though. As you'll find out in our M9 review, much is still the same and the M8 being older means you should be able to pick it up for an even cheap price.
HTC One M8 review: Price
At launch, the HTC One M8 cost £550 on a SIM-free basis – that matches key rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s. Since the device has been around for a few months now, you can find it for less. Much less.
Amazon has the smartphone for £519 in the glacial silver colour but you can get it for just £459 from Simply Electronics. If this is still too much for your budget and you don't want a contract, take a look at the Nexus 5 and LG G2 which are both flagship devices at budget prices. The HTC One M8 is decent value on the UK market. For reasons we will now outline. See also: Best mobile phone deals: HTC One M8 best deals UK.
HTC One M8 review: Design and build quality
As you can see from the images and our video review, the HTC One M8 looks a lot like the original. However, there are some key differences in the HTC One M8's look and feel. (For more on this, see: HTC One M8 vs HTC One M7 2014 comparison.)
Once again, the HTC has used a uni-body aluminium design but the metal wraps around to the front rather than having a plastic strip around the edge. The corners of the phone are also more rounded. It has a brushed look and has been treated to gain its glossy finish. The HTC One M8 now uses around 90 percent metal compared to the M7's 70 percent.
A larger screen (see hardware, below) means that the HTC One M8 phone is both taller and wider than its predecessor - predominantly taller - but it doesn't feel too large in the hand. It's also a few grams heavier at 160g compared to 143g, making it one of the weightier flagship smartphones. Again, it doesn't feel overly weighty. Instead it has a reassuringly heavy feel.
HTC puts design first and you can certainly tell that with the M8 in your hand. It feels like a premium smartphone which is something Samsung has failed to achieve, in our opinion, with the Galaxy S5. The new HTC One M8 is ergonomic, but also sturdy.
This is important because, as well as feeling like a device which has been carefully designed and put together, the HTC One M8 doesn't feel overly delicate which is a down side to the iPhone 6 and previous metal versions.
However, if you do want to protect you precious M8, then HTC has come up with a rather cool flip-style case. It's called the DotView case - for obvious reasons as you can see below. A nice feature is that the time and notifications appear when you double tap on the case when it's shut. You can also use other gestures to perform other tasks such as answering a call.
Viewing the screen through the holes creates a cool LED dot-matrix effect. The DotView case cost £35 and is available in seven different colours.
From launch, the M8 itself is available in three different colours. The most popular is 'Metal Grey' but there's also 'Artic Silver' and 'Amber Gold' – a line-up reminiscent of the iPhone 5S colour options.
The eagle-eyed will already have noticed that HTC has ditched the dedicated navigation buttons in favour of on-screen alternatives. We'll talk about this in more detail in the software section below. One thing to note compared to rivals (namely the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z1) is that the HTC One M8 doesn't come with any dust- or waterproof credentials. This may or may not be an important feature to you. Read: What's the best HTC smartphone: HTC One mini 2 vs HTC One M8.
HTC One M8 review: Hardware, speed and performance
In terms of hardware, a few things have changed but nothing major. As we said at the start, this is in keeping with other new flagships in 2014 and the HTC One M8 is an Android smartphone to be reckoned with this year.
HTC One M8: Processor and co-processor
As with other high-end Android handsets, the M8 has been given the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor. The HTC One M7 has the Snapdragon 600 this this is a healthy performance bump. The 801 quad-core chip has a clock speed of 2.3GHz. Memory stays the same at 2GB but that's not a bad thing.
We've spent quite a while with the HTC One M8 and performance was excellent. Adding a user interface onto Android can cause problems, but we couldn't spot any with Sense 6.0. See below for more detail on performance.
As well as the Snapdragon 801, HTC adds its own co-processor in much the same way Apple has with the iPhone 5S. This low-power chip keeps sensors switched on for HTC's Motion Launch Gestures, which can be used to switch the phone on (see software, on the next page, for more detail). It also can track activity using the pre-loaded Fitbit app so there's less need for a dedicated fitness tracker such as Fitbit's own One.
We take benchmarking figures with a pinch of salt since it emerged that some manufacturers use benchmark-boosting software. However, in Geekbench 3 the HTC One M8 scored 962 points in the single-core test, and 2761 points in the multi-core test. In Sunspider we measured 583fps, and in GFXBench's T-Rex test the HTC One M8 managed 30fps.
HTC One M8: Storage
There's great news on the storage front: the M8 has a microSD card slot. This was a bugbear with the original HTC One, which had no card slot - HTC said this wasn't possible with the M7's design. The M8 will accept up to 128GB cards, a lot of extra storage.
The bad news is that, in Europe, the HTC One M8 will be available only as a 16GB model. Of that 16GB a fair amount is already taken up with software so you'll get about 10GB of internal storage to play with. As a sweetener, users will be offered 65GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. That's a total of 209GB, (assuming you buy a 128GB microSD card).
HTC One M8: Display
HTC has decided to increase the screen size for the One M8 from 4.7- to 5in, so there's a little more real estate for whatever you're doing but the difference isn't too noticeable. The screen's resolution, as with rival flagships, remains at Full HD (1920x1080) – perhaps it's just too early to jump to higher pixel counts (if we even need them).
The larger screen size means a dip in pixel density to 441ppi but you're not going to notice. The phone itself is a bit bigger but HTC has done a good job of making it feel like it's the same size.
As with the M7, the HTC One's display is crisp, vibrant and looks stunning. The new panel has an improved contrast ratio and viewing angles.
One thing we particularly like about the M8's screen is its silky gloss finish which, more than other phones, means your finger glides brilliantly across its surface. It's just another detail which makes this phone feel so premium.
HTC One M8: Wireless
As you would expect from a flagship device, the HTC One M8 comes with the latest in wireless tech – apart from wireless charging, that is. It's got NFC, 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX and the infrared transmitter found on its predecessor.
There's support for 4G LTE networks and instead of a micro-SIM card, the M8 will take a nano-SIM, like the iPhone 5S.
It's a shame to see no wireless charging here. The same is true of other high-end smartphones but when you consider the affordable Nexus 5 has it built-in, it feels like it should be more of a standard feature but we're not there yet.
HTC One M8 review: Performance
We were blown away by the performance of the original HTC One which blasted through our benchmark tests and displayed almost flawless performance from a user perspective, too. The HTC One M8 still has 2GB of RAM but has moved from a Snapdragon 600 to the latest Snapdragon 801 processor.
If the performance of the HTC One was amazing, then we can barely think of a word suitable to describe the HTC One M8. In the older Geekbench 2 test, the M8 set a new record of 4171 points outpacing the LG G2 which scored 4085.
It also set a great score in the latest Geekbench 3 benchmark at 2781, narrowly missing out on beating the Nexus 5's 2800 haul. A time of just 583ms in SunSpider is incredibly good but it seems no phone can beat the iPhone 5s in this area with its blisteringly fast time of 417ms.
Moving onto graphics and the HTC One M8 performs very well with 30fps in GFXBench 3.0's T-Rex test. The iPhone 5s still wins here with 37fps. In the extremely demanding Manhattan test, the HTC One M8 managed 12fps which is good considering previous phones we've tested have all failed to reach double digits here. Once again, the iPhone 5s sets the bar with 21fps.
When compared with its predecessor, the HTC One M8 has improved performance in all areas. Synthetic scores have gone up by about 30 percent, frame rates have gone up and web browsing times have more than halved.
Numbers aside - since they only give an indication of performance - the HTC One M8 is one nippy smartphone. We often see Android smartphones with customer user interfaces lagging from the sheer weight of the additional software but this simply isn't the case here. No matter what you ask of the device, it simply takes it and chomps through it like a one-bite canapé.
We're seriously impressed and another thing to note is that the smartphone boots up much faster than others we've seen. It's a minor detail but a good one nevertheless. Fast boot is enabled by default in the power settings but if you should feel the desire to turn it off, you can.
HTC One M8 review: Duo Camera
With Sense 6.0 the camera app has had a redesign and we like the stylish and minimalist approach. It's easy to use but there are plenty of settings to play with if you're feeling adventurous. They're easy to find if you're looking for them. HTC splits the camera app into different modes with the front camera even labelled as 'selfie'.
The back of the HTC One M8 is home to two camera lenses. HTC calls this the Duo Camera and it's one of the main new features of the smartphone. You might think they are for taking 3D photos, like the old LG Optimus 3D but that's not the case.
The first camera, the one closer to the middle of the phone, is the Ultrapixel camera found on the M7 – with some improvements. According to HTC, the ImageChip 2 means the camera can shoot faster and capture sharper images. And this seems to be true from our preliminary tests (click the images to enlarge).
At 4Mp, there isn't as much detail in photos compared to the M8's rivals but becuase its pixels are bigger the phone is better suited to low-light situations.
Here's our typical test shot of St.Pancras which has come out well in automatic mode.
Here's a 100 percent crop of the above image:
And here's a close up shot of a lightbulb using the Macro mode:
The second camera is an interesting addition and is there to capture depth information. This 'metadata' is attached to the photo taken with the main camera and can be used later on. Similar to the Lytro camera, the HTC One M8 Duo Camera allows users to refocus a photo after it's been taken.
Unlike the Galaxy S5, which offers three preset focal points, the M8's second sensor means users can refocus anywhere they like. We've had a play with this and it works pretty well, although it's quite difficult not to cover the second les with you finger. Luckily a message pops up on the screen to say you're blocking it. We've been playing around with the Duo Camera and here's what it looks like.
Here's the initial photograph we took using default settings.
Tapping the refocus button means the background goes out of focus making your subject stand out more. It gives an DSLR-style shallow depth of field effect.
Here we've focused on the man standing in the background. The software has effectively sectioned off the main subject (look particularly at the hair to see how the agorithm has selected the 'object'). Rather than genuinely altering the focus of the image, it uses the depth information to know which objects should be in or out of focus. Unfortunately, it means edge detection has to be used to blur objects and close scrutiny reveals it can't deal well with hair like this.
Similarly, in the photo below, it's easy to see that the software doesn't feather the blur, leaving a nasty hard line across the decking (click to see a bigger version).
However, with the right image, Ufocus can do a fine job as shown below (the edited image is the bottom one, of course):
Refocusing is only available for still photos, not videos. The M8 can record video in Full HD, not 4K. HTC's Zoe (now an separate app for automatically editing video) has had an update with more of a social aspect and will be made available for non-HTC phones later this year.
Video quality is unimpressive. There's no stabilisation and footage wasn't as sharp or detailed as we'd have liked (and certainly not a patch on the Samsung Galaxy S5's video quality).
The Foregrounder app allows you add effects in tandem with the refocusing. A strange 3D effect makes photos come to life in a sort of house of mirrors way – i.e. a gimmick - and you can also cut and paste parts of photos, such as a person, with minimal hassle although again, this is more for creativity than something genuinely handy you'll use regularly.
Like the iPhone 5S, the HTC One M8 has a dual-LED flash. It works reasonably well, but images are still obviously taken using a flash and - in most cases - you won't need it as the Ultrapixel camera does a grand job when there isn't much light around. The image below was lit by only a cooker hood fluorescent bulb. It isn't the greatest photo in the world, but it does show decent white balance and - importantly - a lack of noise.
A cool feature which we've not seen elsewhere is the ability to not only manually adjust settings, such as ISO, but then save them as presets to use later. This means you can come up with your own modes for different situations.
The front camera is a 5Mp f/2.2 shooter with a wide-angle lens so it should be easier to fit several people into your selfie.
HTC One M8 review: Software
As you would expect from a new flagship in 2014, the HTC One M8 comes pre-loaded with Android 4.4.2 KitKat – the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. It also comes with a new version of HTC's Sense user interface. Sense 6.0 brings some new features.
As we mentioned earlier, the HTC One M8 doesn't have touch sensitive buttons below the screen like its predecessor. Instead, its navigation buttons are on-screen like many other Android smartphones. HTC says this is to be in keeping with Android rather than to keep the size of the phone down.
The move means that there are three buttons instead of two as previously. There's now a dedicated button for accessing the recent apps screens which makes things quicker and easier.
As with the Google Nexus 5, the M8 gets KitKat's fullscreen 'immersive mode'. Certain apps, including the web browser, are able to use the full 5in display, although we had to delve into the browser's setting to switch the feature on. Running in immersive mode means the on-screen buttons disappear until you tap or swipe to bring them back.
Motion Launch Gestures
HTC seems to have taken some inspiration from LG's KockON feature because the M8's display can be switched on and off with a double tap. However, the firm has taken things a step further with Motion Launch Gestures: extra tasks you can do despite the screen being off.
Swiping left opens the widget panel and a swipe right will take you straight to BlinkFeed (below). You can also unlock the phone with a swipe upwards. Plus, you can launch the camera app by holding the phone in landscape orientation and pressing a volume button.
We like these gestures and they're just the kind of handy additional features which make life easier.
BlinkFeed is a love-it-or-hate-it feature but, either way, HTC has made some updates to the news feed feature. You can now search with keywords and the experience is better thanks to more publications and a better 'flow' as the firm puts it. Bundles are a new feature which will provide, well, bundles of news on the same subject.
It seems that HTC realises that not everyone wants BlinkFeed so it can be effectively switched off – long press on the homescreen to 'manage home screen panels' and remove the BlinkFeed panel.
There are other minor tweaks, but customisation has been improved with the ability to select different theme. In a similar way to other phones which use themes, a wallpaper is tied in with a particular colour which is then used throughout the software such as the settings menu. We haven't tried this out yet but you can also choose a different system font to create a very different look and feel.
HTC One M8 review: Battery life
Specs-wise, the battery has been increased in capacity from 2300mAh to 2600mAh which is a good start. Although it doesn't sound like much of a boost, HTC says the M8 will last up to 40 percent longer than the M7. The battery isn't removable, which isn't too surprising
GFXBench 3.0 suggests that the phone's battery life is no different than its predecessor – 163 minutes when looping the T Rex animation, the same one mentioned in the performance section. For comparison, the Moto G hits 300 minutes and the LG G2 reaches 211. It's a better result than the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5, though, which managed 117 and 152 minutes respectively.
In terms of real-world battery life, the One M8 lasted for roughly 24 hours. That's with average use: some phone calls, text messages, web browsing, gaming and watching YouTube videos. It's also with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth left turned on, and regular synching with a Bluetooth activity tracker. Essentially, expect to charge the One M8 each night unless you're very frugal.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One M8 has an 'Extreme Power Saving mode' which the firm says will ensure the handset lasts up to 30 hours from 10 percent charge – that's six hours more than the Galaxy S5 in its comparable mode. You're limited to phone calls, texts, emails and the calendar and calculator apps. We tried enabling it with 9 percent battery remaining and there was still charge a full 24 hours later, albeit with very minimal use. As an emergency mode, it's great.
HTC One (M8): Specs
- 5 inch, Full HD 1080p, 441 PPI
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, quad-core, 2.3GHz
- Android 4.4 KitKat with HTC Sense 6.0, HTC BlinkFeed
- 16GB, available capacity around 10GB
- microSD (up to 128GB)
- 2 GB DDR2 RAM
- Internal GPS antenna + GLONASS, Digital compass
- Gyro sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, barometer
- 3.5mm stereo audio jack
- Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
- dual-band Wi-Fi up to 11ac
- micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL)
- HTC BoomSound - Dual front stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers
- HTC UltraPixel Duo Camera
- 5Mp front camera with wide angle lens
- 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4mm