It might be in some choppy waters, but one area in which HTC seems to be well ahead of other Android phone manufacturers is design. The HTC One was one of the most highly acclaimed phones of 2013, and while its smaller and larger versions (the Mini and Max) did not quite get the same level of praise, the company did set a very stiff design benchmark with that device. The successor of the One, the peculiarly named HTC One (M8) therefore clearly had a lot to live up to.
It’s got the look… and some design quirks
There’s no two ways about it. On first glance, the HTC One (M8) looks brilliant. And very different from the other devices in the market. Once again, HTC has gone for a combination of glass and metal. And once again, the result is a sight for sore tech eyes. That said, to me at least, it did not seem quite as amazing as the HTC One had been. The sharp edges and slightly sharper angles that marked that device have given way to a more curved appearance – not only are the edges curved but even the back curves outward gently. The brushed aluminum back on our grey model also tends to shine a bit too much, giving it a slightly glossy look – some might like it, I did not. That said, you cannot deny that the phone looks very striking, with its mostly jet black front, with front facing BoomSound speakers above and below the 5.0-inch full-HD display.
Mind you, once your eyes have finished feasting on the device and your hands have a go at it, you notice some design quirks. For one, the phone seems rather long – the Galaxy S5 had a slightly bigger display (5.2-inch) but at 142 mm, it is a full 4mm shorter than the 146 mm long M8. And this cannot be attributed to the front facing speakers alone – HTC has opted to place its logo right below the three touch buttons below the display, rather than in the middle of two touch buttons in the One. The result is a lot of area beneath the display which does not respond to touch.
Given that this phone is longer than the One (almost 10mm longer), we were surprised to see HTC having placed the power/display button bang on top of the device. Yes, you can unlock the display with a double tap but we still found the choice an odd one, not least because the SIM tray is placed next to the volume rocker on the right and as it is slightly raised, we kept hitting out of force of habit. We were also surprised to realize that the M8 is thicker than the S5 too – 9.3 mm to the 8.1 mm of the S5 – that curved back makes the edges look deceptively thin. Finally, at 160 grammes, this is no lightweight. So yes, it is a looker, but definitely with its share of design quirks, not all of which seem logical – a classic case of style overshadowing substance.
Pretty well stacked up, in hardware terms
As in the case of the HTC One, the M8 comes with top of the line hardware. The display is a full HD one again, although the fact that it is a larger than the One drives down the pixel density from 469 ppi to 441 ppi. Not that it affects the quality of the display – it does not have the shock of bright colour that Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays do, but viewing angles were decent and color reproduction was excellent. In fact, we really think this is a prime example of how pixel density beyond a point is overrated – we found the display on the M8 to be markedly brighter and better at handling colours than the more pixel per inch endowed HTC One.
The M8 is powered by a 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdrgaon 801 processor, backed up by 2 GB RAM, and 16 GB storage, which unlike in the case of the One, is expandable using a micro SD card (the slot is on the side). Connectivity options include 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and even infrared – the black strip on top of the phone on which the power/display button is located is actually an infrared emitter.
As in the One, the camera is a particular point of interest. HTC has persisted with the Ultrapixel concept, claiming that the relatively modest sounding 4.0-megapixel sensor has larger than usual pixels for capturing more detail, but has also added a second camera above it, to collect depth of field information, and add extra depth to pictures. HTC calls this the Duo Camera concept. Speaking of cameras, the one in front now has a 5.0-megapixel count, making it a very good candidate for selfies. Ensuring that all this running for a while is a 2600 mAh Li-Polymer battery.
On the software side, the M8 comes with Android 4.4 (KitKat), but only the uber geeks will notice this, for running right above is HTC Sense 6.0, complete with BlinkFeed, which pulls out news and updates from your social networks and displays them on your landing screen.
A solid performer, camera excepted
One thing needs to be made clear at the very outset – the HTC One M8 is a very solid performer. In no ways was it in any way inferior to the likes of the Galaxy S5 and the Xperia Z2 in terms of sheer speed of performance. In fact, the Sense interface works much more smoothly than TouchWiz does, although if you are a very socially active person, you will find the constant stream of updates on BlinkFeed more of an irritant than an asset. Browsing and watching video are a treat on the large display and the phone was able to handle all the games we played with a degree of ease – playing FIFA 14’s updated version was an absolute treat for us. And of course, for multimedia fans there is the additional attraction of those front-facing stereo speakers which pretty much redefine loudspeaker quality in terms of clarity and detail in handsets.
Where the phone oddly enough comes off the performance pedestal is in its camera. While we had liked the shooter on the One, the camera on the M8 does a decent job but comes off second best to the likes of the Galaxy S5 and the Xperia Z2. The camera does a good job in capturing detail and its colour renditions are realistic enough (though definitely not as rich as we have seen from the likes of the S5, Z2 and the iPhone 5s), but nowhere near what we got from the competition. Yes, the camera works very fast and there are some very good editing tools such as the ability to move focus around on the picture, and cut a person out of one picture and place them on another, but honestly, we don’t see these as killer features. No, this shooter is pretty much for those who post on social networks of the Facebook rather than the Flickr variety. Video quality is very good, though, and well, we do think the front-facing camera merits a mention – it is one of the better ones we have seen.
Conclusion: Is it worth buying?
It might be a bit on the large size, but there is no doubting that the HTC One (M8) is perhaps the most head-turning Android phone around by a country mile. And is backed up by some very good hardware too. The big question, of course, is whether this is enough to make it worth investing in? Well, at its current price of Rs 49,990 (approx. USD 845), we must confess to having reservations. For let’s be honest, there are Android devices with comparable specs available at lower prices, not least the superb performing (if plain looking) Galaxy S5, which is retailing in the vicinity of Rs 39,000 (approx. USD 650) in some places. Also, the Sony Xperia Z2 is retailing for Rs.44,500 (approx. USD 745) and comes with a free SmartBand and a leather case.
The two departments where the HTC One (M8) really stands apart from the competition is its design and the quality of sound (those front facing speakers are putting HTC’s flagships pretty much in a zone of their own in the sound department). And let’s be honest, even the design is a bit of a two-edged sword, as the phone is uncomfortably large and slippery for most smaller hands (I have relatively big ones, and the phone slipped out of them twice). Round that off with a camera that does not quite live up to the hype built around it, and we must confess that the M8 is really a mixed bag. The S5 and Z2 offer similar or superior hardware and score over it heavily in the photography department at similar or lower prices (the Xperia Z2 in India is coming bundled with the SmartBand & leather case), although the M8 more than matches them in terms of performance and scores in terms of sound and design.
Our advice: If you have the depth of pocket and width of hand to accommodate it and like your phones to be good-looking, the HTC One (M8) is a very good proposition. If it is performance alone that you crave, there are better options out there. This is a very good phone, but is held back from being a great one by a few design quirks and that camera.