The HTC One M8 is arguably the best Android available right now and an excellent choice for both new and seasoned smartphone users. The HTC One M8’s excellent design, outstanding camera app and smart Android customizations earn this smartphone a Gotta Be Mobile Editors’ Choice Award. We confidently recommend the HTC One M8 to Android shoppers, but have some reservations about its camera. Read on for our full HTC One M8 review.
The HTC One M8 was announced on March 25 and went on sale immediately at Verizon Wireless stores for $199 with a two-year contract. It’s available from other carriers in the United States starting April 10. It looks similar to last year’s HTC One M7, but it is taller and has several noteworthy enhancements. What sets the HTC One M8 apart from other Android devices is its superb build quality and aluminum exterior.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, the HTC One M8 design is superior to the iPhone 5s in many ways. I still recommend the iPhone 5s to most people, but the HTC One is a strong contender. The HTC One M8’s camera app is awesome, but the camera produces muddy photos – a deal-breaker for a lot of people that use their phones as their only cameras.
I carry the iPhone 5s as my primary smartphone and the HTC One M8 is now my secondary device, serving as a mobile hotspot, Google Glass companion and entertainment device. I have a drawer full of Android devices and the HTC One M8 is by far my favorite. You can read my previous article about why the HTC One M8 is probably the only Android device I’m going to buy this year.
The HTC One doesn’t have as many software features as the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 and it doesn’t have anything close to the iPhone’s ecosystem, but it might be the right smartphone for you. Read the rest of our HTC One review to learn why.
HTC One M8 Design
HTC’s knocked it out of the park with the new HTC One’s design. It is almost completely made out of metal, which means it’s solid and feels like a premium gadget. It’s available in Glacial Silver, Gunmetal Gray and Amber Gold. I opted for the silver version because I like that it blends in with all of my Apple devices and natural aluminum finishes are usually the most durable. Speaking of Apple, it’d be very easy to confuse the HTC One M8 as an Apple device. If Apple suddenly got in the business of producing Android phones, they’d probably sell something like the HTC One M8.
The HTC One M8’s gorgeous 5-inch display make it a much better device for watching videos. The iPhone 5s has a 4-inch display, which doesn’t sound a whole lot smaller than that, but the HTC One M8’s display has 56% more surface area. The HTC One M8 features full 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) and simply looks fantastic, especially with brightness cranked up all the way. One of the downsides of the bigger screen and overall dimensions is that it is difficult to hold with one hand. The rounded edges and smooth metal finish makes the phone downright slippery and easy to drop.
The HTC One’s dual front-facing cameras are significantly louder than the single speaker on the bottom edge of the iPhone 5s. The stereo speakers actually produce enough separation that I could clearly hear the left and right stereo channels when watching movies. That’s a much better experiencing than when I have to cup my hand around the iPhone 5s’s speaker so I can barely hear a movie’s dialogue.
There’s an easily accessible microSD card slot that can boost the HTC One M8’s capacity from the built-in 32GB to up to 160GB with a 128GB microSD card. That means you don’t have to pay big bucks to get a decent amount of storage and you can swap in more (or bigger) microSD card if your needs ever change. With the iPhone 5s, you’re stuck with as little as 16GB of storage and there’s no way to expand.
HTC One M8 Battery Life
One of my chief complaints about Android devices over the past few years is lackluster battery life. I always ended up having to plug in my previous Android devices by the early afternoon or playing with settings to stretch battery life. I’m happy to report that the HTC One M8 can easily make it through a day of regular use without trying. Google’s recently improved how Android manages battery life and HTC’s helped the cause by stuffing the new HTC One M8 with a 2,600 mAh battery, which is about 15% more than last year’s model.
As I write this review, it’s 9pm and my HTC One M8 has 50% of its battery charge remaining. I unplugged it at 8am, just before I left to drive my son to school. I used the HTC One M8 to take about a dozen photos and a short video of him at school. About an hour later I paired the phone with my Google Glass and uploaded some videos to Facebook using the phone’s 4G connection. A little while later I used Chrome to read some news articles for about 15 minutes, before firing up Google Maps to navigate to a repair shop to get new tires for my car. I used the HTC One M8 to make several short phone calls in the early afternoon. During a late lunch I launched Google Play and watched about 30 minutes of a movie I bought on Google Play. I used the phone to try out different apps and functions repeatedly until 9PM, which is when I took the screenshot above. I’m certain the HTC One would have more like 60% remaining if I enabled automatic brightness rather than keeping it on maximum brightness all day.
The usage scenario I described above is pretty typical of the average user and the battery performance is more than adequate for that. On Sunday I used the device much more heavily to take photos and videos of my family at a festival in San Francisco almost non-stop for two hours. The battery was drained to 20% by 3PM. While the HTC One has good battery life, you’ll have to recharge if you have its screen on all day, just like you’ll need to with any smartphone with its standard battery.
Based on my experience so far, it’s reasonable to expect the HTC One M8’s battery to last two or three full days if you use the device sparingly and dim the screen as much as possible. That’s not a very good way to use a mobile device, but the point is that you can stretch battery life in case you’re stuck somewhere without a charger.
One thing to note about the HTC’s battery life claims of 20 hours of talk time and 496 hours of standby time is that the ratings are for 3G connections. In the United States, wireless carriers sell the HTC One M8 with 4G LTE turned on by default. While you could switch off 4G LTE to conserve battery life, 3G connections are too slow to stream video or quickly load web pages.
HTC DotView Case
HTC sells the Dot View case along with the HTC One M8. It’s interesting because the dots on the front cover are transparent, allowing the user to see basic info, such as the current time and caller ID for incoming calls without opening the cover. The cover is touch-enabled, which means users can tap and swipe the same gestures with the Dot View cover closed as they can directly on the display.
The downside of the Dot View case is that it takes too much effort to actually keep the case open. There’s too much resistance when the cover is open and folded against the back of the phone. The cover doesn’t contour to the phone’s shape, creating about a quarter-inch gap between the cover and the right edge of the phone. Another thing I don’t like about the Dot View case is that it almost completely hides the HTC One M8’s beautiful design with bland plastic. It’d be nice if HTC could make the cover more flexible and introduce a case with a transparent back to fix these issues.
HTC One Camera
The HTC One M8 is my new favorite way to shoot family outings thanks to its killer Zoe shooting mode and Highlights video builder. The device also has some fantastic photo and video features, but the phone’s camera isn’t all that great at taking plain old still photos.
The back of the HTC One M8 has not one, but two cameras set up in an array that HTC calls this the Duo Camera system. It allows for some interesting 3D effects and helps blur backgrounds.
Rather than trying to capture more megapixels like the iPhone 5s (8 MP) or Galaxy S5 (16MP), theUltraPixel Camera’s 4MP sensor has larger pixels. That might sound a little confusing, but it’s like using four big buckets to catch rainwater rather than eight or sixteen little buckets. This strategy doesn’t work well in the HTC One however and the competitive devices can capture cleaner photos pretty consistently. Photos shot with the HTC One M8 look good on the device’s own display, but look soft and mushy on larger displays, such as my Mac’s. The images aren’t terrible by any measure, but there are better options if photo quality is important to you.
The HTC One Camera app is outstanding thanks to a clean layout and options that are easy to use. Video and continuous photos can be shot with a single tap in Zoe Camera mode. This is a fantastic way to capture the perfect shot without forcing people to pose like statues. The standard Camera mode captures depth information using the smaller of the two cameras on the back of the phone. Dual Capture mode captures two photos at the same time, overlaying a selfie with whatever you’re looking at.
Above is an example of a picture shot with the HTC One M8 in standard picture mode. The tourists milling around the fountain are distracting and take away from the mermaids in the middle of the frame.
A quick tap on the UFocus editing tool blurs the background. The depth information captured by the second camera allows users to tap any part of the frame and refocus on it. This kind of look typically requires a bulky DSLR camera.
HTC’s Zoe Highlights is this phone’s killer feature. I shoot a ton of photos of my family and friends with cameras both large and small. There’s no easier way to share multiple photos and video clips in an attractive way than using Zoe Highlights. The beauty of Zoe Highlights, which mashes up photos and video clips, is that they’re made automatically before you even look at your photos. You can add your own music, pick your favorite images and choose from different themes to customize Zoe Highlights. I’ve shared several Zoe Highlights videos with friends and family members shot with the HTC One M8 and last year’s HTC One M7. People, especially moms, always ask me how I make the videos so quickly and nicely. This is the one feature that sells the HTC One to diehard iPhone users that have small children or pets.
While I really like the effects and editing tools on the HTC One M8, it really isn’t the device to choose if you’re trying to capture clean photos to print and frame. Photos simply don’t look very sharp compared to the competition, especially if you zoom in or crop them. Not being able to shoot clear, crisp photos with a phone in 2014 is inexcusable and will turn off a lot of buyers. This is the fatal flaw I alluded to in the headline. Part of the problem is that there’s no image stabilization technology in the HTC One’s camera, leading to a lot of blurry photos. Pictures that look good on the phone’s display sometimes look much worse on bigger displays. For example, the photo above is blurry on the left side, while the iPhone 5s captured the same scene flawlessly below.
HTC One Software, Support and A Couple Things I Don’t Like
One thing that I love about the HTC One M8 is that there’s not a lot of junk cluttering up the phone. It doesn’t have as many software features as the Samsung Galaxy S5, but that’s ok with me. Samsung seems to drown its devices in features that few users will actually use. The phone is fast enough to do everything I want without any hesitation, which is a lot more than I could say for my first several Android phones. Navigating around the phone’s various views is smooth and the phone instantly responds to taps and swipes.
There are a few gestures that I find useful, including double tapping on the display to wake it rather than having to poke the power button that sits on the edge above the display. I also like that I can launch the camera app by simply holding the phone in landscape mode and pressing the volume down button. When the phone rings you can simply raise it up to your ear and start talking without having to tap or slide any icons on the display.
I did run into several software bugs that are extremely irritating however. The Google Now microphone stops working when its connected to Google Glass. Another problem we discovered is that the LastPass app blocks the Camera app from working without adjusting some settings on the password management app. Neither Google Glass or the LastPass app come with the HTC One M8, but these are the kinds of frustrations that keep me from recommending Android devices over the iPhone 5s. While I have the time and knowledge to play around with problems like these and fix them, most people don’t and could end up with a phone that doesn’t take photos and can’t use the built-in Google app’s voice functionality.
I had the misfortune of dropping my HTC One M8 two days after I purchased it, cracking the display. The company offers free complementary screen replacement for six months. I reviewed the HTC Advantage program and was pleased that HTC overnighted a new phone to me with a $29 rush fee. HTC Support is based in North America and its agents were very helpful, both on the phone and through the company’s chat service. You can read more about my experience with the HTC Advantage program here.
One thing that bugs me is that HTC includes flimsy headphones in the HTC One M8’s box. They don’t match the quality or aesthetics of the HTC One.
The HTC One has a few flaws, but none that keep me from recommending it to most users. It is my favorite Android device and one that I plan on using for at least the next year.