HTC One M8 Review – Verizon Branded Edition
I wanted to start out this review by saying that I went into it expecting HTC to repeat kind of what they did with the HTC One M7. In many aspects, they certainly did and in others they fell into the very same trap that most of their competitors have. Obviously, everyone’s expectations shape how they initially perceive and ultimately judge a device. We saw that with countless smartphones before (Galaxy S5) and will likely see the same again (iPhone 6). Our own expectations sometimes get the best of us and the rumormill certainly feeds those expectations all the way up until the device becomes official.
Now, the HTC One M8 first and foremost has decidedly one of the worst names for a smartphone ever. However, HTC managed to bury themselves so deeply inside of a marketing hole before the HTC One M8 ever landed that they effectively forced themselves to call it the HTC One M8. Why? Because they launched the HTC One X before they launched the HTC One S and both of those came before the HTC One. I don’t particularly like Apple’s naming scheme, but damnit it makes good sense and the simplicity of it keeps consumers focused and understanding what they’re being sold. That way, when they go into a store to ask for a certain device they (and even more importantly, the sales people) are not confused. Obviously, the HTC One X should have been called the HTC One, followed by the HTC One S which should have been called the One A (it had an aluminum body). Once they had established the One brand of phones (as a sub brand of HTC) they could call the HTC One the HTC One S and then the HTC One M8 the HTC One X. Those naming schemes albeit more complicated than Apples, make sense.
Now that I’ve gotten over the poor name of the phone, let’s move on to the device itself and the hardware it sports. The HTC One M8 like its predecessor, the M7 has a full aluminum body with a curved back which allows for a more natural feel on the hand of the user. It also has two front-facing speakers (no longer branded Beats) which are now branded as ‘Boom Sound’ and subjectively speaking they sound even better than the HTC One M7’s. HTC has also backed that up by saying they’re louder but the truth is that they’re just better than what was already quite awesome.
HTC also made a perfect decision once again with the HTC One M8 by deciding to go with a very high quality front-facing 5MP camera with a very wide viewing angle. This allows for really good ‘selfies’ and the camera software in the HTC One M8 actually has a ‘selfie’ mode. Sure, this may make some people cringe, but the truth is that the selfie is a cultural phenomenon and they recognize this. Now, the real question is whether this selfie generation will realize that this is hands down the best phone for a selfie currently in existence.
HTC also opted to once again go for a 1080P screen, but this time they opted for a 5” screen instead of the 4.7” screen on the HTC One M7. This obviously results in a ‘lower’ pixel density than the M7, but to almost anyone the qualitative difference is unrecognizable. It is also important to recognize that the resolution of the display is still lower than anything either of the cameras are capable of creating meaning that images will still look just as great on it. Below, we’ve got images of the HTC One M8 and M7 side by side, its clearly a bit longer.
Now that I’ve talked a ton about everything on the smartphone except for the most interesting part, the primary camera and depth sensor, let’s get to it. HTC decided that they wanted to innovate in their photography (as they have been doing for ever) with the addition of a depth sensor. The reason why this is theoretically a fantastic idea is because it allows you to capture the depth data of an image at the same time as you capture the image. This allows you to ‘focus’ anywhere you want on the image after you’ve taken the image or to make the entire image be in focus. Considering how many blurry photos people still take, this is a pretty good idea, except for the fact that HTC decided to do away with their OIS in the same breath that they added the depth sensor. This means that in low light you are much more likely to get a blurry image or if you hands are a bit shaky you could also introduce blurriness through ‘camera shake’. LG and Nokia have resolved this by building some really impressive OIS systems to allow for longer exposures and way smoother video. Because HTC did away with OIS in the M8 (the M7 had it) any sort of movement in a video results in a much shakier video when compared to a Lumia 1020 or LG G2.
The depth camera can also be used for a multitude of things, like depth mapping a room (see project Tango) and plenty of things that we haven’t even thought of yet. That’s why HTC said that they were opening up the depth sensor to developers to use in their applications, but the truth is that there aren’t any apps out yet that utilize this feature (sure, it’s only been a little less than 2 months). Having a depth sensor should theoretically significantly improve Augmented Reality functionality and could make the HTC One M8 one of the most interesting cameras ever made. When the camera first came out, there was talk of a Lytro-like capability (U-Focus) but the truth is that U-Focus still needs a lot of work in order to be anywhere as good as Lytro. Nevertheless, it is still a cool feature and the 3D-effect is still an incredibly amusing one to show friends and usually gets people pretty excited about the phone.
The HTC One M8 side by side with the Nexus 5
Now, in terms of taking photos, HTC has decided to stick with the Ultrapixel sensor which many people have criticized them for considering how many people disliked the previous one. I have extensively used both the HTC One M7 and the HTC One M8 and I can tell you that even though they are very similar on paper they are very different in practice. First and foremost, the new sensor (and accompanying software) has significantly less low-light noise, almost to the degree where it isn’t visible. On the HTC One M7 HTC actually had to issue a firmware update to fix the noise on the camera because it would get stuck in an ISO boosting loop that would result in grainy images. In fact, it would even do this occasionally during the day in very well lit conditions resulting in some unnecessarily noisy photos.
The HTC One M7 was especially bad at grays and low-light in terms of noise, even after the fix. The HTC One M8, for the most part has ironed these problems out with the occasional noisy photo here or there. In addition to that, the HTC One M8’s camera feels even faster than the M7’s, which was already the speed demon of smartphone cameras. The HTC One M8 also seems focus a bit more quickly and accurately than the M7 did, which is likely due to the fact that it has a depth sensor to assist in accurately finding the right focal distance. All of this results in some fantastic light speed photography that can only be matched if a competitor’s camera is used in burst mode. The HTC One M8 simply catches moments that pass other cameras by, even in today’s super-high-end camera smartphone world. Sure, the Lumia 1020’s camera is probably the best that the world has ever seen, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is slow. If you care about getting ‘that photo’ the HTC One M8 is ‘that phone’.
In terms of video, like we had mentioned earlier, it definitely seemed to have some issues with stabilization when walking and recording a video, but if the video taker has steady hands the videos themselves look great. We’ve included a few video samples so you can see how the HTC One M8 handles various types of movement and action.
In the below video, you can see how it handles being at a baseball game, the microphones are incredibly good at capturing audio and high speed video, however there is a bit of shakiness from being hand held.
Additionally, you can watch what it is like to get video from the HTC One M8 when walking up stairs, lets just say its better not to take videos while walking up stairs, unlike with the Lumia 1020.
Now, in terms of camera software, HTC has done some interesting things by creating simple modes to switch between different camera features. Those features are normally something that you would have to poke around inside of a menu in most smartphones, but HTC decided to make them 6 different camera modes. Those modes are:Camera, Selfie, Video, Zoe, Pan 360, Dual Capture . To me, the most redundant mode is the ‘Selfie’ one because you can actually get into that mode from the default camera mode by simply swiping sideways and activating the front-facing camera, which I believe is a great feature.
Now that we’ve covered most of the components and some of the software, I wanted to cover the software improvements outside of the camera that HTC has made. For those that know, HTC uses their own software overlay on top of Android to ‘customize’ the experience. This is known as Sense or Sense UI, and HTC is currently in their 6th iteration of Sense with the HTC One M8 and has already started to release it to the HTC One M7 as they had promised they would. And because they brilliantly decided to ‘unbundle’ it from the OS itself, they allow for Sense to be regularly updated through the Play Store, which means they don’t have to wait on the carriers to deploy updates like they did in the past.
In terms of Sense 6 itself, it doesn’t feel wildly different from Sense 5.5 (make sure that’s what the M7 ran). However, the problems that the M7 had with the Blinkfeed part of Sense appear to have been fixed now that it supports vastly more social feeds and custom user feeds. I didn’t really find myself using Blinkfeed or making it my default page in Sense, but I did find myself using it much more than I had on the M7. Blinkfeed feels a lot like what Microsoft has done with their Metro UI but without the same level of customization or functionality.
There is one last thing about the HTC M8 that we wanted to talk about was the performance. The HTC One M8 was one of the first phones that came out with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, which was officially announced at MWC 2014 in Barcelona, which we covered. Now, in terms of architecture and performance, the Snapdragon 801 is like a faster Snapdragon 800 with an improved imaging pipeline, hence the 801 name. There is also a Snapdragon 805 which we recently benchmarked in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 MDP (Mobile Development Platform) which is essentially their reference platform for developers and OEMs.
In our benchmarking we found that HTC was blatantly cheating in the benchmarks by boosting the phone’s clock speeds even further whenever a benchmarking application was detected. We talked about this when it was originally discovered shortly after the phone’s launch, but we now have actual numbers to share with you and how the Snapdragon 801 performs against the Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 805. And frankly, our results are quite disgusting and when I originally saw the results I thought that it was basically pointless to even benchmark this phone. If you look at the below benchmarks, you will see that the HTC One M8 with the Snapdragon 801 is magically as fast or faster than a Snapdragon 805 which is not only clocked higher but also has a significantly more powerful GPU, which would make such 3DMark, Vellamo and Geekbench scores seem as ridiculous as they are.
So, HTC, you should be ashamed for what you’ve done and I believe that you guys should remove this performance ‘feature’ and own up to the real performance of the phone. Yes, Samsung did it, but they owned up to it and now they are playing nice again, and so should you.
Once again, the HTC One M8 is the best phone that HTC has ever made, and sure it has some faults but the phone for the most part is nearly flawless out of the box. That’s something that the HTC One M7 simply couldn’t say, and hopefully that reflects in the HTC One M8’s sales. Unfortunately for HTC, however, Samsung is a marketing mega monster and will just throw money at the problem and LG just announced the LG G3 which has an insane 2560 x 1440 display and what could arguably be a better camera.
But, in the end, the HTC One M8 is still a much better looking phone than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the LG G3, and it feels like a quality device in your hands. If there’s a phone that can get people to convert from iPhones over to Android phones it’s going to be the HTC One M8. The real question is whether or not HTC knows that and how they’re going to utilize all of the One M8’s strengths to make up for their naming blunder. We’ve already seen that HTC is marketing the M8 better than they did the M7, but since the launch it doesn’t seem like they’ve done much. All of their major competitors have shown their hands and now it’s time for HTC to capitalize on that, otherwise their future is going to seriously be in question (how many times can we say that?).
Also, I would have happily given HTC an award for the HTC One M8 considering how great quality it is, and how it manages to yet again to elevate the bar for an Android phone. However, because they decided to cheat on their benchmarks, they’ve disqualified themselves from winning any awards with this phone, sadly.