HTC KICKED OFF 2013 by releasing what in our minds is one of its best handsets to date, the HTC One. Featuring a top-end and robust looking metal design and powered by an - at the time - powerful Snapdragon processor, the HTC One was one of 2013's standout handsets.
One year on, HTC has returned with a new, radically upgraded HTC One M8 flagship smartphone that features a similar metallic design and upgraded Snapdragon 801 processor and clearly is designed to refine rather than redefine the company's handset range.
Design and build
Visually the HTC One M8 looks like an evolved, slightly sharper looking version of its predecessor, the HTC One M7. The HTC One M8 has a single piece, slightly curved metal chassis that wraps around the sides of the device to cradle its Gorilla Glass display.
The grey review unit we tested had a slightly textured finish, that an HTC spokesman on hand told us is the result of a specific finishing process that sees engineers coat the metal with over 170 different oils. The metallic and slightly grooved finish made the HTC One M8 one of the most comfortable 5in smartphones to hold that we've ever encountered.
The HTC One M8 is also fairly generously stocked with ports, with a microSD port and nanoSIM and microSD card slots.
We also found that, while not IP certified like the Sony Xperia Z2 or Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One M8 does feel very solidly built. Holding the handset we found that its metal chassis offered no give when stressed and left us suitably assured it could survive the odd accidental bump or scrape. The chassis also seems more scratch resistant than that of the original HTC One M7.
HTC has loaded the HTC One M8 with a sizable 5in full HD 441ppi display. Testing the screen under the showroom floor's bright lights, we were fairly impressed how well it performed. Text and icons on the HTC One M8 looked suitably crisp and colour and brightness levels were great.
The only issue we noticed with the HTC One M8 display occurred when we moved to use it near a window. Here we found, as is the case on 99 percent of all the smartphones we review, that the HTC One M8 screen would easily pick up stray light and become slightly difficult to use.
Operating system and software
The One M8 runs Google's latest Android 4.4.2 Kitkat mobile operating system overlaid with HTC's custom Sense 6.0 skin.
Sense 6.0 changes Android's core user interface in a variety of ways. The most obvious is its use of the latest version of HTC's Blinkfeed news aggregation service as the main home screen. Blinkfeed is a custom push update service that debuted on the original HTC One M7. It works to push content from relevant news outlets and social media accounts to the user via a tiled interface.
The new version of Blinkfeed expands the service to include more news outlets and also adds a new "bundle" feature. The bundle feature lets the user instruct Blinkfeed to only push updates about certain keywords, hashtags or topics to the user. This means that you can set up the feed to alert you only to news from specific trade shows, or events - a feature that could prove very useful to any tech head trying to keep on top of news coming out of big shows like CES or Mobile World Congress.
The HTC One M8 also features a number of new gesture control options. The gesture controls let you do things like wake the handset from sleep by double tapping the screen or shoot to the phone's home screen by swiping left from its right hand side.
Testing the features, we were impressed by how well the gesture controls worked and can definitely see them proving useful to users that want to access certain services quickly.
The HTC One M8's use of Qualcomm's brand new quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip is one of its biggest selling points. The Snapdragon 801 was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. Qualcomm claims that the Snapdragon 801 offers superior performance compared to earlier mobile chips, and having had a hands-on go with the HTC One M8, our initial impressions are very positive.
Testing the demo One M8 unit, we found it was one of the most responsive handsets we've ever used and was able to open applications slightly faster than the HTC One M7, which is still a very fast handset. Sadly we didn't get a chance to see how the HTC One M8 dealt with more demanding tasks like 3D gaming, or properly benchmark it during our hands-on, but we'll be sure to do this come our full review.
The HTC One M8 comes with an upgraded version of the 4.1MP Ultrapixel rear camera that debuted on the HTC One M7 and features a 5MP wide angle front camera. The upgraded rear camera features a new imaging coprocessor and Duo Camera technology. For those who don't know, Ultrapixel is a custom technology developed by HTC that works to improve the camera's performance by instructing the sensor to capture larger pixels than regular smartphones. This reportedly lets the HTC One M8's rear camera capture 300 percent more light than the cameras on competing handsets.
Duo Camera is a new technology introduced on the HTC One M8 designed to let the phone's rear camera capture spatial information. The spacial information collected by the Duo Camera technology lets users do things like retroactively adjust the point of focus on images shot with the HTC One M8 in its custom gallery app.
Testing the HTC One M8 on the showroom floor, we found images captured were of a similar quality to those on the original HTC One M7. This meant that they were reasonably crisp, featured decent colour and contrast levels and were more than good enough for use on most blogs or social media websites. We also found the Duo Camera technology worked reasonably well and let us quickly and easily tweak the test shots captured on our demo unit to focus on different points.
Battery and storage
HTC has loaded HTC One M8 with a sizable 2,600mAh battery that it claims will offer users 30 hours of standby time from one charge. We didn't get a chance to test the One M8's battery during our hands-on, but will be sure to do so in our full review.
Interestingly, HTC has chosen to load the HTC One M8 with a slightly mediocre 16GB of internal storage. Luckily the HTC One M8's storage can be upgraded using its microSD card slot, meaning users that need the extra space can get it.
Overall our initial impressions of the HTC One M8 are positive. The device features a top-end and robust looking metal design that's packed with a variety of premium internal components, the best of which is its new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor.
However, with the Samsung Galaxy S5 release the HTC One M8 is going to face tough competition.
Check back with The INQUIRER later for a full review of the HTC One M8. µ