We were able to test the new HTC One (M8) out already and we were positively surprised: the metal body isn’t only more elegant than the competition, it is packed full of clever software functions. I’m going to go out on a limb here and dub the HTC One the smartphone of the year.
The predecessor arrived on the scene with a whole lot of aluminum, but the One 2014 has managed to top it: this time it has been placed in a metal unibody with the back and frame moulded from one piece of aluminum. The new HTC One should be understood as a metal tray full of hardware components with a display placed on top.
Manufacturers nowadays can hardly stand out with the technical makings of a device, explained the HTC Product Manager Fabien Nappenbach during the presentation of the flagship. At the end of the day, these components are available to all, and anyone can assemble a Snapdragon and display these days. But the building of a completely metal unibody with such precision can really only be achieved by a select few.
Check out the hands-on video:
The results are impressive. The resemblance to the predecessor is of course quite obvious, but HTC was able to perfect it, filing down all the uneven edges. All in all, one could say that the device is now more rounded, with both the backside and the frame significantly curved (which allows the device to sit much more comfortably in the hand). Even the four corners can no longer be called edgy, they too have been rounded out.
The device should arrive on the market in three colors:
- silver (like the predecessor)
- dark grey
- gold (not available at market start)
Personally, I like the dark grey the best by far, because the color and surface remind me of stainless steel, you can’t really get any more elegant than this. On the other hand, I noticed two points to critique that I need to mention:
- the new unibody finish make the bezels somewhat wider than the predecessor.
- In combination with the wide stereo speakers on the front side, the device is quite clunky and is heavy to hold.
The display with its 5-inches and Full HD resolution correspond to the upper-class standard. Brightness, colors and contrast leave a very good first impression, and I noticed a big improvement in quality in comparison to the predecessor.
The sophisticated control of the touch screen when on standby is one of the killer features to be found on the new HTC One. Not only is it possible to knock on the smartphone to wake it up (like LG), you can also move directly to certain areas of the smartphone with a pre-defined swipe gesture. A swipe from left to right brings the user directly to BlinkFeed, while one from top to bottom will bring you straight to the home screen. So that these controls aren’t accidentally triggered, like when sticking the phone in your pocket, the movement patterns have been coupled with a position sensor: the pattern will only work if you place the One upright and hold it vertically.
The expansion of gesture controls from an inactive display is such an obvious idea (after the fact), that I initially wondered why other manufacturers didn’t think of this sooner. The answer, however, is simple: so that this works, the capacitive touchscreen must constantly be ‘‘listening,’’ ready to spring into action if someone swipes the surface of its screen. This requires a special Sensor Hub in order for these functions to be gentle on the smartphone’s resources. What’s more, this hardware requirement means that the feature will unfortunately not be coming to older HTC models via any future updates.
Leave it to HTC to come up with this, it just fits way too well: the Sense user interface, in its 6th version, is also going under the term ‘6th Sense,’ because it should apparently be able to recognize on its own what the user wants. Well, for now, we will just leave it at that.
In fact, the changes are limited. HTC was able to do some fine-tuning of the UI, like with BlinkFeed, their home screen RSS feed, and offer more customization possibilities to top it off. The new colors they’ve implemented catch the eye, and can be found under the Themes section of the handset’s settings or home screen shortcut. There you will find four new colors that can be assigned to various areas of the user interface, like orange for the calendar and green for the system settings.
There is something more exciting on the other hand that we’ve been excited to see on the HTC UI: BlinkFeed has now been detached from the system and transformed into an app downloadable in the Google Play Store for owners of other HTC devices. This doesn’t mean that other non-HTC owners will be able to install the app, but that BlinkFeed updates will be able to roll out a lot quicker, without needing to wait for a system-wide update.
HTC’s photography software, Zoe, will also make its way to the Play Store and should be available in the very near future, as all of HTC’s other apps have already made it to the Play Store. This time around though, Zoe will be available for all smartphones. With the new version, multiple users will be able to edit one clip.
All things considered, not that much was done here, especially when compared to the competition, HTC was able to fine tune its now sophisticated and modern interface, no more, no less.
The performance doesn’t leave us wanting more by any means: during our first test, the interface ran smoothly and responded rapidly to input. Like Samsung and Sony, HTC used the newest Qualcomm chip, the Snapdragon 801, a modified version of the 800 series with a higher clock rate and a faster flash memory bridge (eMMC 5.0). The fact is, there’s nothing better out there right now, but there soon will be with the Snapdragon 805 arriving soon.
A few years ago, HTC surprised the world with UltraPixel technology and now has yet another great idea in tow: a second camera that is positioned closely to the main camera, which is intended to enrich the photo with depth information that, among other things, allows the user to adjust the focus of the image by touching that spot on the screen.
The resolution of the smaller camera is irrelevant, its sole purpose is to measure the distance to the object in the viewfinder image of the main camera. This information allows the main camera to focus on each object in the photo. One JPEG taken with such a camera becomes one third bigger than a ‘normal’ JPEG.
If the user was to tap on ‘edit’ in the gallery app of the new HTC One, they could adjust the focus on any picture after the fact and decide which object or area of the picture is blended out or kept in focus. There is even a cool 3D effect.
During my first test, the pictures looked really good, even without the various effects. They were sharp and, considering it is a smartphone, well lit, with very little noise. The final firmware wasn’t on the HTC One at that point in time though and HTC has asked us not to publish any pictures yet. At a first glance, I would say that the quality of the pictures is comparable to those of the iPhone 5 and that is saying something. And while we are speaking about the iPhone, the new HTC one comes with a dual LED flash, like the Apple phone, red and blue for a balanced mix of warm and cool colors.
Even the front camera on the HTC is good. It isn’t a smaller and cheaper lens as with most selfie cams, but is instead a 5 MP wide-angle camera with 2.0 aperture and a Backlight Illuminated Sensor (BIS).
In comparison with its predecessor, the battery has grown by 300 mAh to 2,600 mAh. When compared to the competition, HTC has the least to offer: Samsung’s top model, the Galaxy S5, comes with a 2,800 mAh battery, while Sony’s Z2 packs even more juice with 3,200 mAh. Of course, the capacity isn’t the only important point when it comes to battery, as other technical components play a big part, like processor and display, as well as software. But since all top flagships offer around the same technical level and all big manufacturers have the best team of software engineers on hand, I can hardly imagine that HTC’s engineers can compensate for the lack of 600 mAh in comparison to the Z2. That being said, we can really only make a true judgment call after a more lengthy test.
A great new addition is the Extreme Power Saving Mode which allows the device to last up to 15 hours more on just 5% of battery, according to HTC. To achieve this, pretty much all of the smartphone’s functions are deactivated. If one were to turn this mode on, a new menu will appear with five entries: phone, SMS, calendar, email (only pull) and calculator. Other actions are no longer available.
The HTC flagship finds itself alongside other high-end smartphones. The HTC One’s basic equipment (processor, display, memory) are comparable to those of Sony’s and Samsung’s top devices.
|HTC One||HTC One 2014|
|System||Android 4.4.2 (via update)||Android 4.4.2|
|Display||4.7-inch, LCD, 1x920 x 1x080 pixel, 468 ppi||5-inch, LCD, 1,920 x 1,080 pixel, 441 ppi|
|Processor||Snapdragon 600, 4 core, 1.7 Gigahertz||Snapdragon 801, 4 core, 2,3 Gigahertz|
|RAM||2 Gigabyte||2 Gigabyte|
|Internal storage||16 / 32 Gigabyte||16 / 32 Gigabyte + microSD|
|Battery||2,300 mAh||2,600 mAh|
|Camera||UltraPixel-Technology, 1/3" sensor, F2.0-aperture, 28 mm wide-angle||UltraPixel-Technologie with second camera for depth, 1/3" sensor, F2.0 aperture, 28 mm wide-angle|
|Connectivity||LTE Cat 3, HSPA+, Bluetoth 4.0, IrDA, NFC, USB 2.0||LTE Cat 3, HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.0, IrDA, NFC, USB 2.0|
|Dimensions||137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm||146.4 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm|
|Weight||143 grams||160 grams|
|Special traits||nanoSIM; Front camera mit wide-angle lens, BIS und 5 MP; special battery saving mode, Touchscreen gesture recognition in standby|
My first impression is that the new HTC One is an excellent Android device. It seems that HTC is focusing on the right priorities this year in comparison with Samsung. Design, camera and controls are in focus, while the Korean company offers new functions such as a fingerprint scanner and heart-rate monitor, two new additions that many users see as questionable.
The new HTC One has what it takes to be a frontrunner for the smartphone of the year, while only a few obstacles stand in its way, things that we unfortunately weren’t able to test in our short time with the smartphone: battery life and phone functions, such as voice quality and reception. Although the metal unibody looks terrific, this could have an effect on the antenna. I’m looking forward to performing a more detailed review.