Review: The HTC One M8 from Verizon Wireless

Verizon HTC One M8  019The HTC One M8 is the follow up to arguably the best smartphone of 2013, the similarly named HTC One M7. With its amazing speakers, fantastic aluminum unibody shell, gorgeous 1080p display and other benefits make the One M7 still a top of the line smartphone today. But the question is can they replicate what was such a major success or will it be a disappointing follow up? Well to start it comes with an even faster processor, bigger battery, bigger screen and a more up to date operating system so it does seem like it will. However, in a market where smartphones are starting to become a little stale, does the HTC One M8 stand out amongst the crowd? We’ll find out.

Design and Feel

The HTC One is probably the nicest looking mobile device we have ever seen and gotten our hands on. The casing is made of 90 percent aluminum and has a tightly machined gun-metal type of brushed silver coating. There are subtle black lines and accents that just makes the phone look and feel as premium as it is. Starting with the front of the device we have the HTC BoomSound stereo speakers found on the top and bottom part of the face.

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Next to the top firing stereo speaker we have the sensors and the wide angle lens 5 Megapixel front facing camera.

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  The vivid 5 inch diagonally measured full 1080p display takes up a majority of the surface area with there being relatively slim bezels around the display except for the bottom where the HTC logo is housed and centered. HTC opted for virtual buttons as opposed to the weird two-button capacitive layout that was found on last year’s model. At the bottom lip of the face is where the second stereo speaker is. On the top side of the device there is a full strip dedicated to the IR blaster for HTC tv and the Sleep/Wake/Power button that is on the right edge to make it easier to reach. The button itself gives a decent click, but is a bit subtle and might be hard to miss when you first start using the device.

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On the right edge of the device there is a single volume rocker that protrudes slightly and above that is a spot for a much welcomed micro SD card slot that is flush with the metal and can be accessed with some type of paper clip or pin tool.

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On the bottom there is a micro USB 2.0 port and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. The place for the headphone jack might be good or bad depending on your own personal preference.

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  On the back of the device at the top center we have the first of the two camera setup and below that is the main 4 Ultra-pixel camera with a dual LED flash right next to it. The center has the HTC logo in black with some Verizon Wireless and FCC branding at the bottom of the phone.

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The design, while one of the best does have some aspects that we find confusing. For one, since the phone has moved to virtual buttons, it seems like wasted space to have the HTC logo on a relatively large bezel on the bottom and then the lip that holds the second BoomSound speaker. That space could’ve probably been removed to make the overall footprint of the phone a bit more compact while keeping the large screen experience intact. Another note is that while the metal body of the One makes for absolutely outstanding build quality and looks, over time like any aluminum phone (we’re looking at you iPhone 5s) there can be some minor scratches and scuffs along the frame of the phone.

Call Quality and Network

The most important thing about a phone is the call quality and reception right? Well we’re pleased to say that it thrives in both fields with flying colors. Over a couple of weeks of testing the clarity of the calls were very precise and sometimes it didn’t seems if you were speaking through a phone thanks in part to the BoomSound speakers (we’ll have more on that later) and Verizon’s 4G LTE Network. We haven’t experienced any dropped calls over the testing period nor did we have any static or volume problems. The data speeds were consistently good and paired with the Snapdragon 800 processor streaming music and videos were smooth and stutter-free, web browsing was blazing fast and there were no problems to speak of throughout. The One M8 paired with Verizon’s 4G LTE and eventual 4G XLTE is going to be a killer combination. Needless to say here that the HTC One M8 is good as a phone along with the other things.

Display and Audio Quality

The HTC One M8 features a 5 inch 1920 x 1080p Super LCD3 Screen with a pixel density of 441 ppi. This is one of the best screens we have seen and the 1080p reolution definitely helps. The display has a nice balance between warm and cool tones with colors seeming vivid and accurate throughout. Saturation appears to be very stable and viewing angles are superb. The fine detail also means that the multimedia experience is going to be great. Watching YouTube videos in 1080p and streaming Netflix on the device was a joy and even shows with darker tones like Breaking Bad could be seen very clearly. The high res display is also great for things like web browsing and reading articles. Even when zoomed in text stays very sharp and clear to read. With the 5 inch screen it also allows for a good amount of screen real estate so there weren’t too many occasions where I felt the screen was cramped. BoomSound was one of the most universally praised and talked about features on the original HTC One and for good reason. The sound was incredible, the bass was very powerful for a handheld device and the volume was very loud. I’m pleased to say that the audio experience has actually improved from the first generation One. The speakers are about as clear as anything I’ve heard on a handheld device and even when pumped up to maximum volume the clarity stays consistently well. The speakers get very loud, but that’s honestly not what you should be praising here. It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into delivering a superb listening experience and they absolutely nailed it. What’s very impressive here is that they catered the listening experience to be good with most genres of music. Heavy bass for rap, guitar chords for rock, emphasis on vocals for Soul and Blues, etc. they all got the treatment you would expect as if you had fine-tuned them through an audio system. In fact when hooked up to play music through my car it felt like I had a mini stereo going. The most amazing thing about BoomSound is the software enhancements it brings aside from the front firing speakers. With headphones connected it gives you the option to turn BoomSound on or off and even though the sound quality is still good with BoomSound disabled, it doesn’t compare to when BoomSound is turned on. Also when you don’t have headphones BoomSound is automatically turned on and cannot be switched off. Overall the sound quality is probably the best of any device on the market right now and if you are a music lover then this phone should be at the top of your list for that alone.

Performance and Battery Life

HTC One Performance

The HTC One M8 comes with some of the most up to date hardware with a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.2 GHz with a quad core Adreno 330 GPU and 2 GB of ram. Specs like this mean that you might not even have to worry about what’s powering your phone in everyday operations. Not once have I experienced any type of lag or stuttering with loading web pages, navigating around the phone, launching apps, scrolling through lists and other things done on a daily basis. It’s a good feeling knowing that you have something dependable with the software and hardware well optimized to deliver consistently great performance. While it does feel good to simply have your phone handle every task you throw at it, it also feels good testing its limits to see if you can get the processor to slow down and that’s exactly what we tested. Safe to say that even if you are a hardcore user that pushes your phone to the limit, even with a heavy workload, the phone should be able to handle what you throw at it. Gaming performance, be it graphically intense titles like Modern Combat 4 or Sonic 4 Episode 2 or relatively decent games like Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run the gameplay is smooth with high frame rates throughout. The back of the device can get a bit warm during gaming and you’ll feel it because of the full metal body, but overall during our testing it hasn’t gotten too hot to the touch.

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Speaking of performance, this phone is a monster in most benchmark tests. Running the AnTuTu benchmark that tests things like the ram, CPU and GPU performance, multitasking and data transfer, it scored an insane 36,110. To put that in perspective that beats out similar beasts like the Galaxy S5, LG G2, and Galaxy Note 3. While running the SunSpider 1.0.2 JavaScript benchmark in Chrome the phone got a very respectable 776.2 ms (usually any score under 1000 ms is great) which puts it on par with phones like the Lumia Icon, IPhone 5s and Galaxy S5. For gaming performance we ran the GFX Benchmark and the phone was so powerful that it maxed out the score on the intermediate level test (IceStorm) and the high level test (IceStorm Extreme). The only test we were able to run was the Ice Storm Unlimited test which is the highest one and it scored an incredible 20,096. To put it in perspective it beat out nearly every other phone running any operating system and even some tablets running full Windows.

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The battery life was one of the cons with the original One as the 2300 mAh battery wasn’t enough to really provide adequate longevity for the powerful internals. The M8 now boasts a larger 2600 mAh battery and a more power efficient Snapdragon 801 processor. Overall the battery life on this proved to be pretty good. With some normal to mixed use of the device that consisted of some music streaming, video watching, web browsing, about 20 minutes of game playing, messaging and a few calls, it should easily last you from the morning until the evening with battery to spare. What’s important to note here is that like its predecessor, the battery is non removable or user accessible without cracking the unibody shell open to reveal the internals. For that, I do wish the battery was a bit bigger to compromise it being sealed in, but nevertheless, the battery life should be good for most needs. For those that are very heavy on the phone with HD video watching and gaming, then the M8 will also be a bit suitable for that. While streaming an HD YouTube video over LTE with everything running in the background and the screen brightness set to about 50% the phone went for an impressive 6.5 hours before needing to be plugged in. What that translates to is about three full length movies if you’re on a long plane or train ride. With constant web browsing it’s a bit closer to 8 hours and gaming will probably drain the battery 5% every ten to fifteen minutes depending on what you’re playing. With that being said if you’re going to turn this phone into your media hound or your portable gaming console, you might want to invest in some portable chargers.

Software

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The HTC One M8 has the latest version of Android at the time of this writing with Kit Kat 4.4.2 and has its custom skin dubbed Sense 6. Sense 6 is a very clean version of Android especially when you compare it to Samsung’s TouchWiz and LG’s Optimus UI. While it doesn’t have the most Stock-looking android UI, it does seem to be very well optimized and it compliments the phone nicely. The home screen allows for up to five pages and the ability to set any one to be the main one. It also features BlinkFeed, which is a FlipBoard-like magazine UI consisting of your social feeds, news feeds, updates, calendar appointments, YouTube feeds and more. It is built right into the operating system and can be accessed straight from the lock screen with a special gesture. BlinkFeed can be set as the default home screen or be disabled completely if you don’t care for it. Overall I found it a bit useful, but it does need some work. Adding custom feeds would be nice so that it could possibly integrate with Feedly and so you could also change exactly how much of a certain topic covered throughout the day.

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Speaking of gestures, HTC has incorporated a few ones that are a bit familiar depending on what device you use as a daily driver. When the phone is in standby and held in portrait a double tap can unlock the phone, a feature that is present on some more recent LG phones and Nokia Lumias. You could also swipe up to unlock, which is similar to the gesture found on BlackBerry 10, or swipe left or right to launch thinks like the camera or BlinkFeed. There are a few more included, but the ones listed are the main ones that HTC probably hopes you’ll use most of the time, especially for easier one-handed use since the power button is on the top. While some of these gesture enhancements are clever, they can be a bit annoying due to the screen sensitivity being relatively high. It isn’t a common occurrence, but there will be a few occasions where you will unlock the phone or launch something you didn’t want to. The best part though is that you can disable them and enable them whenever you please. The virtual buttons on the One are set as a back button, home button and a recent apps button. When hitting the recent apps button it gives a view of nine thumbnails of apps you have up and running and you can easily dismiss one at a time by swiping up on them or dismiss them all by hitting the ‘X’ found in the upper right hand corner. Also you get quick access to your running services so you can close background services and apps. The pull down notification shade is pretty clean and close to stock android with there also being access to switch to quick settings and customize them to your liking. The built in Email, Calendar, and Contacts perform and work very well. The designs of them are clean and it’s a simple, function-filled experience throughout with no gimmicks. It has a very nice and productive feel to it overall. The media apps, however, are where Sense 6 really starts to shine through. The music player is fantastic at grabbing album art and information and has a very nice layout that gives it a really fresh. One thing that I really like is that for some songs they display the lyrics on top of a visualizer that just gives it a polish and personality.

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This is probably one of the best built in music players on a phone today and I felt no need to download Power Amp to fulfill my music needs. The same can be said about the gallery app that displays it by time and makes a little Zoe if you take a few pictures at the same time. The best thing about the software is that it basically doesn’t overwhelm you with features nor does it slow the phone down. No fancy transitions, massive bloatware, myriad of gimmicks, just something that works and caters to the needs of the user. For that I believe HTC achieved its mission in providing a smooth and great software experience.

Camera

The One features a unique camera set up to say the least. The back camera is a duo camera which is really the 4 Ultrapixel camera from last year and the second one really serves as a sensor to help with depth perception. In reality the Ultrapixel camera is a 4 megapixel shooter, but the Ultrapixel terminology comes in when there’s dimly lit situations when you want to take a picture. To help with lighting conditions the phone also comes with a dual LED flash that is great for setting nice contrasts before you snap a photo. The software for the camera is both very simplistic and complex. The camera has six main modes; Normal, Selfie (front facing), Video, Dual Capture, Pan 360 and Zoe. The Video mode is able to record in 1080p and offers a good amount of stabilization, focus and lighting. Also while the video is active you can take snapshots which is always pretty handy.

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The front camera is 5 MP with a wide angle lens meaning that you can capture a lot more of the shot. The camera is especially good for self-portraits and it provides a very clear picture for video chats. Another useful feature of the front camera is the Dual Capture mode which is very similar to the mode found on Samsung Galaxy devices where you can use the front and rear camera simultaneously to snap a cool looking picture. The front camera works very well and is better than most of the main cameras found on certain budget smartphones. The Zoe camera that HTC debuted with the original One and Sense 5 is here and works well that allows you to capture gif-like images and choose between frames to get. It’s a fun and useful feature that just shows the amount of features and software that went into the camera.

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Time for the main event however, the main duo camera. Overall the pictures usually come out good in most of my testing conditions. The Ultrapixel camera along with the dual LED flash really does good at adding light and capturing good amounts of color and contrast in low lit shots. It’s no Nokia Lumia in low light conditions, but it should be on par or even beat out other competing flagships in that regard. The lit situations though are a bit of another story. It take good pictures, yes, but is a bit of a letdown when you consider most other flagships on the market. The camera can best be described as good, but not great so if you’re a person that likes to take a lot of pictures and likes to make sure that there are plenty of conditions accounted for then this might not be the phone for you. If the camera isn’t that big of a deal to you then you’ll find the shots with the modes and settings to play around with more than adequate for the occasional pictures.

Conclusion

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The HTC One is hands down one of the best smartphones on the market if not the best. There are barely any flaws with it that could really pose as a deal breaker to anyone that either looking to get a brand new smartphone or upgrade from whatever they have. It is probably one of the nicest designed smartphones of all time and its build quality is superb. Its got a nice size and fee in the hand with an incredible full HD 5 inch screen and amazing speakers that will cater to music lovers. There’s only a few things that hold this back and neither of these are really cons, rather suggestions or wishes. I wish it had a bigger battery so the battery life could be incredible, the battery life is pretty good, but there are definitely other phones that beat it in longevity and the camera should be as top of the line as everything else in this phone. The phone is for anyone that’s not a photographer. If you’re using another Android device, an IPhone, Windows Phone or BlackBerry, this phone is about as close as it gets to zero compromise. The best thing though is that it has a great lasting effect with the fantastic build quality, design and performance; if you have to be locked into a contract with a phone for two years then this is a pretty safe bet. So to answer the initial question: Does it stand out and is it a worthy successor to the original One? That answer would be yes and will probably stay like that for the rest of 2014. The HTC One M8 is available from Verizon Wireless for $99 with a new two-year agreement.