19
Apr
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I loved the HTC One M7. Last year, it really did feel like a new breed of Android phone - bringing premium materials, a modernized interface, an innovative (if controversial) camera, and those trademark Boomsound speakers. The One M7 felt fresh in almost every way - it felt vital, it felt relevant.

The One M8 seeks to tame some of the raw newness - to build on it, soften up the edges, and modernize it. The chassis is sleek, smooth, and comfortable - gone is that sharp, angular look. Capacitive buttons have been eschewed for a set of correctly arranged (are you listening, LG?) software navigation keys. It has a bleeding-edge Snapdragon 801 processor, and a flattened-out aesthetic marks the jump from Sense 5.5 to Sense 6.

Some things, though, have remained. The screen is largely unchanged from last year's model, if a bit larger to accommodate the software navigation buttons. The same Boomsound speakers seem to have been retained, as has the same 4MP UltraPixel camera, albeit with a second sensor now working in tandem. Sense 6 sports few major changes in the terms of features or interface layout, which seems a bit misleading for something being called a full version jump.

To put it simply, the One M8 is both better and sometimes not better than the phone it replaces - a serious consideration if you're already on relatively recent hardware. But the areas of improvement may prove a strong enough appeal to some, in fact, they undoubtedly will - the M8 is a great phone, it just may not be the greatest phone for everybody.

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HTC One: Specifications
  • Price: Varies by carrier and region (US: $699 unlocked)
  • Processor: 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
  • GPU: Adreno 330
  • Network compatibility: Varies by carrier and region (all major US LTE networks supported)
  • Operating system: Android 4.4.2
  • Display: 5.0" S-LCD3 1920x1080 (441 DPI)
  • Memory: 2GB RAM / 32GB storage
  • Cameras: 4MP rear, 5MP front
  • Battery: 2600mAh, non-removable
  • NFC: Yes
  • Infrared: Yes
  • Ports / expandable storage: microUSB / microSD
  • Thickness: 9.4mm
  • Weight: 160g

The Good
  • Sweet, sweet speed: Compared to the Snapdragon 600-powered One of yesteryear, the M8's 801 chipset provides a much-needed performance boost all around. Maybe not quite as speedy as the trust Nexus 5, but really, really close.
  • It's gorgeous duh: Subjective, I know, but find me an Android phone as striking and elegant as the M8 - I really don't believe it exists. HTC has been designing beautiful phones for years, and the M8, to me, is distilled industrial beauty.
  • Battery life is actually good: I've easily made it through a day with the M8 repeatedly. In fact, I don't think I've ever even needed to charge it by the end of the night - the battery life is surprisingly good. If you're a heavy phone user, you know the asterisk to that: your mileage will vary.
  • A proven display: While it's not a new panel, the S-LCD3 HTC chose last year still remains a strong contender in the space. It's sharp, reasonably true to life, and nobody's going to be calling it obsolete any time soon.
  • Boomsound: HTC is still in a league of its own when it comes to phone loudspeakers, and while I'm not a fan of how they've tuned this year's One M8 in that regard, there's no denying the loudness and clarity advantage HTC wields over its rivals.

The Not So Good
  • Ultrapixelated: HTC is using the same 4MP camera sensor from last year's phone, and it shows. Those low-res shots remain all but unusable for cropping, and the sharpness has been way overdone to try and compensate for complaint's about the previous phone's camera.
  • Camera Duohno: Camera Duo potentially sounded maybe, possibly useful on paper. But don't worry, HTC's made it every bit the lame gimmick it could be. It seriously borders on worthless.
  • Sense 6? More Like Sense 5.6: Sense 6 gets a flattened-out, color-block aesthetic compared to the gradients and 3D of Sense 5, but beauty really is only skin deep here: the number of real, substantive changes is surprisingly few. This still feels very much like Sense did a year ago, and not in a good way.
  • Not the pinch hitter HTC needed: The One M8 is definitely an all around good phone. It is also definitely not trying to bring HTC skeptics into the fold - this feels every bit like the phone I'd expect HTC to make, perhaps even more conservative than that, and that's not exactly encouraging for a company already losing money.

Video Review

We're doing a video review! From now on, you can expect to see video reviews accompanying most of our major handset reviews. This is my first hardware video review in quite some time, so I'd appreciate your feedback, criticism, and suggestions. With that said, I hope you enjoy it.

Build quality and design

The first thing you'll notice (well, it was the first thing I noticed) about the new HTC One coming from last year's M7 is the sharp edges - they're gone. HTC apparently heeded the ample - if not particularly loud - criticism that the previous One was a bit jagged, and had a tendency to dig into your hand. While this probably factors in low on the list of concerns for the phone enthusiast, it's a major red flag for a product aimed at mainstream consumers - hand-feel is among the very first impressions a phone will make in a showroom situation, and getting it right is important.

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The M8 is much more palm-friendly, at least as far as shape is concerned, with a decidedly natural feel. If the M7 was the sharp, boldly-trimmed Toyota MR2 of the 1980s, the M8 is its softer, curvier 1990s incarnation - it's simply more subdued, more mature. And fatter, but more on that later. This does inevitably mean some of the space-age edginess is lost in the process. But, the result is still something that's a lot more interesting and original than what I would call the "Casual Friday" school of design of LG, Samsung, and most other Android smartphone makers tend to subscribe to. That is, playing it safe apart from one or two flourishes that are little more than glorified branding (think Samsung's faux-leather / b[r]and-aid textures, LG's rear buttons / exceptional blandness disguised as 'sleekness').

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There are those who didn't particularly love the look of the M7, however (I suspect such persons also think de-badging their car makes it look sick), and while the M8 is a little more streamlined, I don't know if it'll be enough to win over the naysayers. But in a world of vaguely rectangular black or white plastic slabs and iPhones, there's no denying that the HTC One's looks still help it stand out from the crowd appreciably. One such stand-out element is the black piece of plastic running along the top of the phone, where the power button is located - it sort of reminds me of a Tesla Model S's grille. It hides the IR blaster and, presumably, serves as an antenna window. Does it need to look this way? Absolutely not. It could be an ugly rectangular block, but HTC styled it, and some care obviously went into that process. That, to me, is still what is setting HTC's hardware apart from the likes of Samsung, LG, and many other Android OEMs at the moment. Whether or not that actually matters to you is, of course, an entirely different discussion.

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Once you're past the looks, the next thing you'll notice about the M8 is its size - it's taller, wider, heavier, and thicker than its predecessor. To put it into perspective, the M8 is just 8 grams (1/4 ounce) shy of the Galaxy Note 3 in mass, despite having both a much smaller display and battery. Most M7 owners are unlikely to notice the weight difference when making the jump, though, as it's distributed over a greater surface area, meaning the phone doesn't really feel any more dense.

The M8 is also quite tall, but in all fairness, it rises a mere 4mm (that's a hair over 1/8 of an inch in 'Murican) above the Galaxy S5 while also being 2mm narrower, so if you think this phone is too big, you're going to think the same of Samsung's latest. You know, unless that 4mm is a make-or-break measurement. (It isn't. Stop it. You're not allowed to have that opinion - it's dumb.) But yes, it is tall, phones are getting bigger but batteries kind of aren't, rabble rabble rabble.

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As far as sturdiness, the M8 actually does feel more solid than the M7, and I think that's because its aluminum frame now wraps completely around the sides of the phone, instead of being broken up by that plastic band (the band around the back is just paint). As far as the trim goes, the old One's extremely strange, wide, and flat volume rocker has been replaced with a more traditional pill-shaped part with much better press action thanks to a higher seating position, and it's a lot easier to use. The power button is similarly less recessed, though HTC has inexplicably moved it to the top-right of the phone instead of the top-left. Whatever.

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Display

OK, I want you to either look at or imagine the 2013 HTC One (M7) display. Great, now you know almost exactly how the M8's display looks. Except imagine it slightly less bright and with a warmer color tuning (eg, looks a bit more yellow). HTC appears to have changed as little as humanly possible about its S-LCD3 apart from the size. The fact that the brightness is actually a bit lower may have been the compromise made to achieve similar power consumption with a larger panel - I'm not sure.

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All I know is that compared to phones like the Galaxy Note 3 or S5, the One M8 simply won't stack up well in the brightness / color department. Compared to the Galaxy S4, I liked the HTC One M7 a bit better - but just a bit. It was a close call between the two, and I preferred the M7 mostly because the S4's auto-brightness was ridiculously broken and the colors still weren't quite right, at least to my eyes. But while HTC has done basically nothing to improve the display of the M8, Samsung has achieved the best color accuracy and brightness of any phone to date with the Galaxy S5.

To put some numbers to it, the old M7 maxed out around 500 nits of brightness (and the M8 seems a little dimmer than that), while the S5 reportedly peaks at 700 nits when automatic brightness is turned on in high ambient light. That's a difference of 40%. That is a lot. It has a huge effect when trying to see your phone's screen in bright sunlight.

If there's one spot where HTC dropped the ball with the M8 compared to its primary competitor this spring, it's the screen. The M8's display is still very, very good, but while Samsung keeps moving forward with its Super AMOLED technology, HTC is getting left behind in LCD-land. This may not matter to you, of course, but I think it's relevant, and I personally find the display a critical factor when choosing a smartphone. It's not the be-all, end-all, but it is very important - especially when you know there's a better option out there.

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Battery

I don't know what HTC's done, but whatever it is, they should keep doing it - the One M8's battery life has been downright impressive in my time with it. That said, I'm not as demanding as many of you, our readers, in this respect. A 2600mAh battery will still get eaten up expeditiously if you have the display on at full brightness for long periods, so don't expect a revolution in longevity if you're the sort of person who does a lot of gaming or video watching on your phone.

However, if you're more like me, using your phone for texting, web browsing, and email sporadically throughout the day, I think you'll be very happy with the M8. Its ability to keep idle drain at a minimum is truly impressive. HTC's overnight "sleep mode" (basically, syncing is turned off from 11PM to 7AM unless you actually turn the phone on) makes forgetting to charge the phone before you hit the sack a much less annoying experience when morning comes, too - drain hovers in the 3-5% range over 8 hours. You can also turn off sleep mode, a feature that wasn't available when the One M7 originally shipped (it has since obtained it in an update).

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Personally, I was able to get nearly 40 hours out of a single charge on a pretty regular basis.

If you're a real hardcore phone junkie, though, there probably isn't much to see here - sometimes there really is no replacement for displacement, and the M8's battery just isn't very capacious. Still, it trails the Galaxy S5 by a mere 200mAh, so it's not like there's a massive difference.

HTC's power-saving mode is also still present, which should allow you to eek out some extra hours if you're desperate.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

HTC has thankfully continued to forego a 16GB rendition of its flagship device, meaning you're working with a very comfortable 32GB right out of the box. A little under 23GB of that is usable, but unless you're storing a lot of media locally, that's more than enough.

If you do need some extra space to jam your music or movies into, HTC has added a microSD slot to the M8, accessible via the SIM removal tool, just above the volume rocker.

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My experience with data connectivity has been excellent on the M8, with no issues to report. Wi-Fi connectivity has also been strong, and I've had nary a problem with keeping my Fitbit Flex connected via Bluetooth.

Call quality has also been strong, though I can't say I'm particularly in love with where HTC's positioned the earpiece speaker on the M8 - it has seemed a bit difficult to get it centered on my ear quite right. It's a minor nuisance, but it's been a consistent one since I received the phone. Volume is good, however.

Audio and speakers

I continue to be impressed with Qualcomm's audio hardware on its Snapdragon chipsets - a direct listening comparison between my desktop (which uses a discrete DAC and amplifier setup) and the One M8 with a good set of on-ear headphones was surprisingly competitive.

I would say that the headphone audio from the One M8 is basically as good as anyone outside the hardcore audiophile community will have use for. The areas where I could discern a noticeable difference in quality tended to be the same I find in most mobile devices - response at the low end (bass) seems a bit muddy (insufficient 'depth' - resonance doesn't come through enough), and overall dynamic range just didn't feel quite as good, offering less headroom for the lifelike percussion and keyboards a good audio setup can reveal. Soundstage also felt a little more crowded, but the channel separation generally seemed very good.

Compared to the HTC One M7, which uses an older version of Qualcomm's Hexagon DSP chip (responsible for audio), the improvement is actually much more substantial than I would have guessed. So, if you're coming from a Snapdragon 600 device, the move to 800/801 should improve your listening experience noticeably, assuming you're using a half-decent pair of headphones.

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The Boomsound speakers are largely similar to those on last year's device, though HTC has very obviously adjusted the tuning - the M7's speakers sound richer, warmer, and more mid-heavy, if a little quieter. The M8's are tuned with a lot more treble, giving them a much "tinnier" signature than those of the M7, with the advantage being greater overall loudness. For spoken-word content, the M8 will probably prove more listenable in noisy environments, though music sounds considerably worse as a result of this decision.

Since the Beats branding has been dropped, by the way, there is no longer a Beats switch, but a Boomsound switch. That switch can also no longer be disabled when you're using the external speakers, which makes sense, because on the M7 they just sounded worse with it turned off. The switch does still function for headphones, and I recommend that you keep it disabled - HTC's interpretation of the Beats EQ is very mid-heavy and really just tends to ruin most music. With such great audio out of the box, the Boomsound switch is simply unnecessary on this phone.

Camera

Well, you can't get everything right, I guess. I'm just not pleased with the M8's camera, and that's largely because it's not really any different from the one on the M7. In fact, so far as I can tell, this is the same image sensor and lens setup we saw on last year's phone aside from the addition of the second camera. The result is pictures that basically look like the ones I took with last year's phone, albeit with some noteworthy differences.

One of the chief complaints about the M7's camera was the image resolution and overly soft processing at full scale - it made cropping your photos an exercise in futility, because they came out looking blurry and, well, kind of crappy. Apparently in response, HTC has adjusted the processing to address this by upping the sharpness and contrast rather dramatically on the M8, making images "pop" more, and making cropping said images a slightly more viable enterprise.

Unfortunately, this is not without side effects, as the example below rather clearly demonstrates. HTC is undertaking such heavy processing on the M8 that certain scenarios can produce very dramatic artifacts that almost resemble chromatic aberration - notice the purple pixels on the M8 sample which are not present on the M7. This is almost definitely a result of over-processing the image. To be fair, this effect typically only occurred when shooting landscapes - macro shots seemed relatively unaffected by it.

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So, how about the Duo Camera? Frankly, I'm not impressed. Given that both Samsung and Google now offer selective refocus without the use of an additional sensor, the duo camera just seems really, really silly. Worse yet, it's just not any better at it (I'd argue it's worse, actually) - compare these examples of selective refocusing and tell me which one had the benefit of a second camera sensor. I challenge you.*

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The one advantage the Duo Camera has over Samsung and Google's tools is that it's passive and requires no extra work on your part - it's totally automatic. Unless you're shooting with a filter, in HDR mode, in night mode, or anything but automatic mode on the camera. Then Duo effects are just disabled entirely (to be fair, the same is true of Samsung and Google's solutions). But honestly, are you even going to want these effects often enough that this is really a huge benefit to the camera experience? I'm definitely leaning "no," personally.

I have yet to see HTC make a compelling case for the existence of this extra sensor, and I honestly suspect we won't see it on next year's flagship phone. It just reeks so badly of 'marketing gimmick' that I feel as though I'm wasting words even discussing it. HTC, you screwed up. The sooner you can pretend the Duo Camera never happened, the better. Get working on that 8MP (or hey, maybe even 10MP!) UltraPixel sensor so we can forget this mess.

All that said, the M8's camera takes reasonably good photos that many consumers would probably be happy with. As long as they were happy with the images the M7 took last year, because the M8's isn't going to produce dramatically different results.

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As for the other Duo Camera effects, 'foregrounder' is just a play on selective focus using filters, and 'dimension plus' produces nauseatingly poor 3D tilt effects that you have probably already seen mocked on numerous other reviews. In short, they really aren't worth your time unless you're very into mediocre image manipulation.

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An example of what the One's aggressive sharpening can do in low light - NOISE EVERYWHERE

Here are a few more samples.

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Software

Performance and stability

The One M8 is very, very fast. It feels roughly as fast the Galaxy S5, which feels just slightly slower than a Nexus 5. Given how comparatively slow the Galaxy S4 and One M7 have become over the last year, the change in performance is very noticeable. Granted, by next year the One M8 will also probably feel slow to me, because something even faster will have arrived (next Nexus phone, anyone?).

The Snapdragon 801 is basically the old 800 we came to know and love with a little bit of extra "oomph" - support for a newer standard of eMMC, quicker RAM, higher GPU and CPU clocks, and for those countries where it is common, dual SIM support.

The non-Asian variants of the M8 are saddled with the slightly slower MSM8974AB Snapdragon 801, which is clocked down a couple hundred megahertz compared to the quicker AC variant (2.3GHz vs 2.5GHz) found in the Galaxy S5. So, yes, in a war of benchmarks, the Galaxy S5 will likely come in a tad quicker than the non-Asian variants of the One M8, though I imagine not by much.

I've had no issues with the One M8 in terms of stability or reliability, which is certainly praise to HTC.

General / UI

Sense 6.0 is the latest iteration of HTC's trademark software layer, and as with every full version jump, visual changes are in tow. Sense 6.0 definitely seems to be a "cleanup" release, with simplification and, wait for it, flat design chief among the aesthetic alterations.

The quick launch bar is now transparent, with just a small, white line separating it from the virtual navigation buttons we have so longed for on HTC phones. HTC's app icons have remained largely unchanged, which suggests to me that they were probably designed in anticipation of this release, as they are quite "flat" themselves.

Head to the app drawer and get ready to breathe a sigh of relief: HTC has all but abandoned its odd and cumbersome implementation of adding shortcuts to the quick launch bar or homescreen. Just grab an icon and it'll behave just as you'd expect an Android device to (eg, it goes right back to the homescreen). The vertical arrangement of apps is still a thing, but HTC has simplified other parts of this interface - gone are the redundant clock and weather widget at the top of the drawer, and the menu for sorting, search, and other options is permanently fixed at the top of the screen. The quick launch bar also no longer appears in the app drawer, saving yet more screen real estate for the thing you go to the app drawer to find: apps. All in all, everything in the app drawer just makes more sense, and HTC seems to have realized that being different for difference's sake in the Sense 5 version wasn't a great idea.

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The notification bar is all but unaltered on the One M8, though both the top and bottom bars are no longer gradients, but solid gray, because flat. In fact, go pretty much anywhere in Sense 6.0, and where you once saw shadows, gradients, and embossing you will now find only monotone flatness. Welcome to flatland. Also, you can probably expect to find a lot of the things that were black in Sense 5 to now be white or gray in Sense 6. I don't know. It's like Peter Chou came down from on high and delivered commandments of design, "All things shall be flat, of one color, and slightly less dark."

In fact, HTC seems to have been so laser-focused on flattening and single-color-ifying Sense that I really can't find many substantive differences between Sense 6 and Sense 5.5. I mean, there are definitely changes, but this seems much more iterative than the jump from Sense 4 to Sense 5, which introduced a great many new features and major interface changes.

HTC has also changed its homescreen management user flow, and I really don't think it's for the better. Previously, long pressing simply brought up the add app / widget / modify homescreen UI. Now, long-pressing gives you a pop-up menu with three options - wallpaper, apps and widgets, and manage home screens. Even though the app and widget UI still allows you to modify your homescreens, there's also now a dedicated homescreen management UI, too. Maybe this is easier for inexperienced users? I don't really get it. Anyway, the actual management aspect is largely similar, though the Blinkfeed toggle is now gone - you simply remove the Blinkfeed homescreen if you want to get rid of it. That actually seems less intuitive to me, but whatever.

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HTC has also brought back an older feature not seen in Sense for some time - themes. The phone ships with 4 Sense themes out of the box, which alters the highlight colors of all HTC areas of the phone, as well as the wallpaper (optional). That's kind of neat.

Features and apps

Blinkfeed

Blinkfeed has undergone a substantial UI cleanup, but functionality remains largely similar to that found in the Sense 5.5 update. Some menus have been made more visible (Services & Apps is now a dedicated submenu from the settings drop-down), and a brand-new interface for adding new content to your feed has been implemented. The tiled layout is a bit more friendly, I think, than the tabbed pages of the old app, and the sample content for particular sources is now displayed Blinkfeed style, rather than in a dense, noisy list. Editions are also now interspersed with standard content sources, though I'm not sure that's really an improvement.

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Otherwise, this feels like the same Blinkfeed. Oh, apart from the fact that it now free-scrolls rather than paginates as you work your way down the feed. Personally, I preferred the Flipboard style navigation, but I guess HTC decided it was time for a change.

Camera

The camera app has been redone from the ground up, so it's not so much what's changed as what hasn't - almost everything here is new. The utterly waste-of-space filter button on Sense 5.5 has been replaced with a master mode button, allowing you to switch between main camera, video, Zoe, selfie, dual-capture, and Pan 360 mode. This is a very welcome departure from the draconian 3-dot menu of endless scrolling horror that was used previously.

Tapping that 3-dot menu (it's still there), though, now reveals a horizontal bar of quick settings, allowing you to adjust the scene mode, ISO, EV, white balance, filter, and through a secondary settings menu, a whole ton of other stuff. Including something called "make-up level." What in the hell is make-up level? I would love for someone to explain this.

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The standard contrast, saturation, and sharpness dials live here, as well. Crop, grid toggle, geo-tagging, review duration, timer, storage switch, continuous shooting mode, auto-smile capture, touch to capture, shutter sound, volume button action mapping, and custom camera setting saving also continue to prove that there are way too many freaking options in here for a single list.

I'm going to go ahead and assume you're not very interested in what's new with Zoe or HTC's photo sphere wannabe, so let's go to the Duo Camera editing features.

There are actually only 3 - unfocus (selective focus), foregrounder (read: selective focus but with filters / patterns), and Dimension Plus. You know the first two - they're two plays on the same idea, selecting a focal point and blurring, patterning, or filtering the rest of the image.

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Dimension plus, I think, really is what takes things to a whole new level of stupid. I cannot possibly imagine why someone would ever, ever want to use this. It literally just destroys your photos and turns them into vaguely-3D horrorshows. Like the Duo Camera itself, this feature feels like something somebody thought up and then proceeded to implement with zero regard for its actual utility. Ugh. And, as a reminder, you can't use any of these wonderfully ruinous effects unless the camera is in auto shooting mode.

Extreme power saving mode

Extreme power saving mode, unfortunately, isn't available on the AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile versions of the M8 at launch here in the US. It will come to all three in the [very] near future via a software update that the Sprint version of the phone has already received. That said, explaining it isn't exactly rocket science, I just can't show it to you.

The gist is that this is a lot like the ultra power saving mode on Samsung's Galaxy S5 - data sync is disabled when the screen is off, the screen is super dim, everything is throttled, and you only have access to a very few select apps via a special power-saving interface mode (fewer than Samsung's mode, actually - no Gmail). You can't even use the browser. HTC says you can eek 30 hours out of 10% battery remaining in this mode, which is impressive. Phone calls and SMS messages are still received, though vibration is disabled, so you'll have to check for them if you keep your phone muted.

Gallery

The gallery app has seen a complete overhaul, though I'm still not a fan. No matter what view you're in, HTC makes the album hero image a video highlight reel, so if you tap it, you start a video instead of opening a photo. I have to imagine this is going to especially infuriate less experienced users. It doesn't even matter if it's the screenshots folder, and there is but a single screenshot in it - there'll still be a video highlight of it at the top that you will probably inadvertently tap and then become frustrated at. Why.

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There's also a rather confusing search-ish-looking button at the top of the app now, and honestly, even after tinkering with it, I am completely unsure of what it actually does. It seems to let you group photos into albums but I don't think that's the full story. Either way, it's not explained adequately.

Other changes

The TV app has apparently been updated with a new interface and some expanded social integration, but frankly, I don't use it, so I can't really speak to the extent of the changes or the goodness of the app in any meaningful way. I can't imagine most of you, our readers, are exactly super excited about those changes, either, as it's not exactly an enthusiast application. It still can control your TV via IR blaster, so that's really what you need to know about it.

Here are a few other less-than-noteworthy changes that I nonetheless noted:

  • HTC Watch, the company's video storefront, has been abolished, to the care and surprise of exactly no one.
  • For whatever reason, some US carriers continue not to include the flashlight app that HTC bundles on the unlocked version of its devices.
  • There's now a shortcut to the data management UI you can find in the settings menu.
  • HTC's on-device "HTC Apps" updater is gone, as most of the apps it updated have now been moved to the Play Store (Gallery, Zoe, Dot View, Blinkfeed, TV - other changes are bundled into the "Service Pack" app).
  • HTC appears to be (understandably) letting its browser languish - it is literally a re-skinned version of the Sense 5 app, not a single thing has changed that I can see.
  • Kid Mode is gone (as is the Parent Dashboard).
  • The bult-in Notes app is gone, having been replaced by something similar called "Scribble."
  • Car mode is gone. (it appears that it is quasi-disabled on my AT&T variant, the app is installed but not accessible.)
  • The People app has been renamed Contacts.
  • Pulling up from the very bottom of the lockscreen activates the Google Now gesture (yay).

Note that all of the changes I'm talking about here are based on the US AT&T-branded version of the device. Removed or changed features may not be consistent across all SKUs.

Sense 6, generally

Sense 6 is not a full version-bump-warranting release. This is more like Sense 5.6 - there aren't many new features, and the aesthetic differences, while occasionally striking, are generally pretty mild in the grand scheme of things. I tend to suspect we'll see more features integrated into Sense 6 later this year, though who really knows.

It does ease some of the pain points I had with Sense 5 (particularly the app drawer), and looks reasonably more modern, too. Still, I can't help but feel that is really is just a reskin - the user interface hasn't actually changed all that much substantively, HTC just sort of put a new coat of paint on everything.

If you can live with Sense - and realistically, anyone can, though preferring it is another question entirely - you will find Sense 6 no less livable than its predecessor, and perhaps even a little more so at times. But like the One M8 itself, the newest version of HTC's UI layer hasn't really evolved, it's just been refined. HTC has chosen to sidestep major functional changes in favor of keeping the aesthetics fresh, a compromise I can't help but feel could be avoided if they simply made Sense a bit less heavy-handed in the OS.

Oh well, not everyone can go the Motorola way, I suppose.

Conclusion

The One M8 is, in a word, iterative. Rather than redefine, HTC chose to refine. Sometimes that's OK, and I think that for buyers coming up on the 2-year replacement mark, the M8 is a perfectly respectable choice. It has a great display, beautiful looks, solid battery life, and those wonderful Boomsound speakers. Not to mention it's pretty quick - for all the other iterative aspects, the M8 runs through Android like a modern phone should.

For M7 owners, I'd personally recommend skipping this One, to be honest. What you're getting over the previous phone really doesn't boil down to much - a better chassis, slightly larger display, improved battery life, more speed, the small upgrade that is Sense 6, and the non-upgrade that is the Duo Camera. The One M8 seems like HTC in a holding phase - the "tick" to the One M7's "TOCK."

With I/O on the horizon, Qualcomm's substantially more powerful Snapdragon 805 chipset getting ready to ship, and Motorola and LG bound to show their cards in the next few months, I'd say now is the time for a bit more patience if you're in the market to buy. That said, the One M8 is a good phone - I doubt anyone but photo junkies would be seriously unhappy with it.

And that is the one group I'd steer away from the M8 with confidence - if you're looking for a smartphone with a "next-level" camera, HTC has unabashedly failed to deliver with their Duo setup. Maybe we'll get that 8MP UltraPixel sensor next year, right guys? Until then, though, it seems HTC's flagship is going to remain saddled with 4 megapixels of mediocrity.

That one real shortfall aside, the One M8 is a great phone, if not a game-changing one (I'd argue that neither is Samsung's Galaxy S5). The real question is what you want out of a phone. If you're looking for "the best <thing here>," the M8 may not make the cut. It's a solid all-rounder, but aside from its speakers and unibody chassis, the One may have a difficult time laying claiming to many superlatives this year. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

wm_DSC03477

*In order: Galaxy S5 (on-board effect), HTC One M8, Galaxy S5 (Google Camera app effect).

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • marsovec

    damn, that's one thorough review.

  • TSON1

    I really disagree with saying that the M8 is "beautiful". The M7 was, but the M8 looks like it had a lovechild with the RAZR M and dropped it.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      It's a totally subjective thing, but RAZR M? That's about the last phone I would come up with, I'm not sure I see literally anything alike between them.

      • TSON1

        It's mostly a hand-feel thing, along with the huge bottom/top bezels and small side bezels. The thing has so much packed into a small yet long body, and it feels very heavy for its size. The M even had the same big logo band underneath the onscreen buttons.

    • http://www.standupforkids.org blackroseMD1

      I'm guessing you're in the minority with that opinion, as almost everyone I've shown it to says that it's gorgeous.

    • Captain Scruffy

      I find it hideous for one reason alone.

      While last year's M7 had the buttons along the HTC bar, this year's has nothing there. Couple that with the fatter BoomSound areas on the M8, and you find a lot of unused bezel space on this thing.

      • Eashan

        So, it just means that space is wasted to display the logo whereas it could have been used to increase screen size ? :v

  • chris125

    4.4.2 not 4.4.3

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Yep, my bad. Fixed. I just can't wait for it come out. :P

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    So TL;DR the M8 really is pretty much an HTC One v1.5, hence why the previous is M7 and this one is M8 - the name kinda points out that it's not an entirely new device but a logical successor to the previous model...

    Maybe HTC Two will bring something absolutely new and unseen before

    Also the M8 looks really thin on those pics, but it's not thinner than a Nexus 5, right?

  • efan

    intro was a little awkward, but once you got going it was a great review. you have a great sounding and fluid speaking voice. easy to understand and listen to. looking forward to more video reviews!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Yeah, things were a little bumpy because I didn't script well enough. I hope the transitions and layout seem more natural next time, because this video was cut down from 58 minutes of footage to under 15. I'm hoping to start with, you know, half that next time.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Yeah, things were a little bumpy because I didn't script well enough. I hope the transitions and layout seem more natural next time, because this video was cut down from 58 minutes of footage to under 15. I'm hoping to start with, you know, half that next time.

      • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

        Why not go for actually longer reviews? Indepth walkthroughs are always interesting to watch

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          Because Artem would probably have an aneurysm.

  • brkshr

    It's refreshing to see phones launching with the latest version of Android now!

    • SVem26

      Almost 6 months since 4.4 came out, so pretty much a given. I was shocked when the note 3 was launched about a month after 4.3 was announced and came with it.
      Baby steps to instant updates for all, maybe..

      • brkshr

        6 months since 4.4 was released. 4.4.2 was released 4 months ago. Still a decent amount of time for manufacturers to be on the latest release, but there are still manufactures that are releasing phones that aren't on 4.4.2.

    • A Skylit [S]unjΔy

      They always did...

  • Js__

    Really like the video review!

  • lynx

    The thing that killed this phone for me was the lack of any way to wirelessly charge it. It seems like such a gimmick at first, but after tossing your phone down, or picking it up on the run out the door, stopping to fiddle with plugs is a horrible step back. This is the biggest reason I had to go with the Galaxy s5 instead of this phone.

    • Jeans

      Better to play few seconds with faster normal charger than look at ugly Samsung for 12 moths or keep it in hand.

      Touchwiz is like Xmass tree. So even software is not polished.

      Sound, realistic colours screen in luxury chasis.

  • http://kennected.blogspot.com/ KENNECTED

    I went to sprint to play with the device and make sure it does everything my EVO 4G LTE does. I'm not happy with the camera but felt like I could live with that . Now I find out that the weather wallpaper and lock screen are NOT apart of Sense. This may seem small to others, but the sense weather wallpaper was a plus in my opinion. Sure I can download the BW app, but it's not as good (the sound part) as Sense weather.

    Three negatives for me. No kick stand - I love this feature on my EVOs. No Weather wallpaper/lockscreen. Unimpressive camera.

    • Asovse1

      Didn't the Sense 3/4 weather lockscreen only show the weather for the current location? (meaning no forecast)

      So with that said, isn't the weather integrated next to the clock, now?

      See this image:
      http://cdn9.staztic.com/app/a/4102/4102297/htc-one-m8-wallpapers-1-3-s-307x512.jpg

      Assuming it only shows the current temperature for the current city, isn't this a more pleasing replacement?

      • http://kennected.blogspot.com/ KENNECTED

        This is not what I'm talking about. The sense weather gave you the option to make the weather forecast in your current location as and animated wallpaper and lock screen.

        It gave you an actual forecast with live animations. If it was raining, you saw clouds and rain drops. If it was hot it showed a dry desert, If it was a thunderstorm, it showed a cool thunder and lightening affect. Each of the ten weather conditions had accompanying sound

        This is an old video, with poor quality, of what Im discussing:
        http://youtu.be/tpTxdLcy7fY

        • smeddy

          Check out the amazing and lightweight Weather Screen LWP. I don't think I could ever switch, especially as it uses your own wallpapers for a background. Subtle useful, beautiful.

  • AudioAw

    From what I read in other reviews, great praise was given to the new BoomSound speakers stating it sounds richer and fuller than the the old ones. Yet, this review says so otherwise. I'm confused.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I tested both phones - people are mistaking loudness for quality. The M8 sounds much tinnier than the M7.

      • Joefish1111

        To some extent but unless your inside they are difficult to hear the M7, I Damb near feel air on the M8,

      • shojus

        You most definitely have a defective unit then if you can't hear the improvement and think it's actually worse? While it may not be a huge leap over the M7's speakers, it is def evident and much more life like and crisp. I'm not talking "louder" either, which it is, but talking about actual sound quality.

        • drzfr3shboialex

          Agreed. It's definitely louder and better sounding.

      • AudioAw

        Well, thats a bit disappointing. The M7's treble was already quite aggressive to my ears. If the M8 sounds even tinnier, that seems like a significant downgrade. Maybe a software update could improve upon this.

        • shojus

          The M8 does NOT sound tinnier! I have had it since launch and also had the M7 since it was launched. The sound is second to NONE on a cell phone. Period

          • Non Christian

            LG had extremely loud stereo speakers on cell phones 8 years ago...

      • Jephri

        Louder yes, but as David States thinner. Bass is muddier and distorts at high volume. Try listening to Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling on both and you will hear the difference (video available on YouTube, great for mobile audio comparison)

      • rainer

        And some people can not hear the improvements because they're tone deaf.

  • epsiblivion

    selling points for me (already got it), the 6month screen replacement, 2 years of updates, unlockable bootloader (*cough samsung *cough). I don't take many pictures so I'm not bothered by the camera. Sense is much more usable and bearable than Touchwiz and I am preferring it even to AOSP.

    for reference, car mode and kid mode/parental control is enabled on T-Mobile US sku.

  • mlj11
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  • blairh

    Great review. You should have written about Motion Launcher, which isn't perfect. HTC needs to place the wake button on the right edge next year.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Gah, I forgot to write about it, but it's in the video review! It is definitely far from perfect, I had some significant gripes about it.

      • Joefish1111

        Cause double tapping is grippable

  • JJ

    David, your reviews are some of the most detailed ones out there, and I always wait for them to come out.

    Having said that, while I often agree with many of your points, I realized reading this article today that your reviews have a consistent negativity to them that make them hard to enjoy. You're an insightful guy, but you deliver your insights with an always prevalent tone of sarcasm and irritation; it seems to be the connecting factor in almost everything you post. You strike me as someone that is always annoyed or upset about one thing or another in life, and, to be frank, the constant bitter, jaded attitude makes me take your reviews less seriously than I would otherwise. That's unfortunate, as I think you often do raise a lot of good points.

    I guess I wonder, have you ever been actually fully happy with any phone? I can't ever remember reading such a review. I can't say that of any other technology reviewer, and that's telling.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      First off, thanks for the compliment.

      I'm not sure which technology reviewers you read, but trust me, I'm definitely not the most brutal, not by a long shot. Ever read Ron's Amadeo's stuff? He doesn't hold punches. Gizmodo? BGR? Hell, even The Verge can get a little hard to please sometimes, depending on who's doing the review.

      My stance is this: I'm not here to cheerlead for the product. I'm here to advise people on what to consider when they're thinking about buying it, and the opinions I've formed over my time with it. Oftentimes, I freely admit, my major gripe points are not going to line up with those of others - people find very strange, small reasons to decide a phone isn't for them, and I'm not going to hit on all of them, it'd be impossible.

      I feel much the same away about the positive points - some people really go out of their way to avoid talking about pitfalls, or pepper them periodically throughout the review with *a lot* of tempering of their language. Much as many consumers are willing to freely ignore those pitfalls because they otherwise like the product, or feel some loyalty to the brand, or in HTC's case, in rooting for the underdog.

      The statement I'd point you to is this one: "That one real shortfall aside, the One M8 is a great phone..." Granted, I do balance that out with more caveats as that paragraph wraps up the review, but I don't feel anyone is going to walk away from this review thinking "Oh wow this is a crappy phone." I think we all know, at this point, that most of the major high-end Android phones are roughly 10 orders of magnitude better than the ones of 4 years ago.

      What I don't believe, though, is in making that excuse for not keeping your standards up with the times. An auto journalist doesn't get heckled for a review he wrote of 2003's 911 Turbo in which he called it brilliant, and then when 2005 model comes around and the car hasn't really changed - but the competition has - for calling it "behind the times."

      I fully expect to take my share of crap for complaining about things people deem nitpicky, unimportant, or unfair. If you're going to make a job of being a critic, it comes with the territory. But I don't review on an absolute scale, I review based on the state of the market. Right now, the M8 feels like an incremental hardware update, of HTC going through the motions, improving in ways that are largely predictable. The Galaxy S5 takes more chances - it is more interesting as a product. At least that's my perspective.

      The M8 simply doesn't feel as new, and my gut instinct is that Motorola, LG, Google, and Apple are tracking for bigger things. I don't know that, of course, but I do know that after having done this for four years, the manufacturer that releases a "solid update" to an existing product typically ends up getting forgotten quickly in the technology enthusiast space, because more interesting, more daring products overshadow it.

      What I see for the M8 is, 4 months from now, a *lot* less appeal. I might be wrong, but even now, I feel the S5 is already pushing past HTC in meaningful ways. Other OEMs have more time than Samsung to exceed that standard, and I strongly suspect they will in some respects.

      Sorry for the mile-long meandering epic, but I wanted to get that out there in full.

      • Joefish1111

        Your relentless in views on gimmicks on the HTC but find the Samsung to be better for having more gimmicks Lordy I degress, moving on

      • JTVW

        I'm sorry, David, but I have to agree with JJ. It's not what you're saying most the time, but how you say it. Lots of reviewers point out problems with phones, and that's fine. They should. We want to know what problems exist. But it's your tone that's often the issue. Sarcasm, swearing, just this generally pissy and condescending attitude. It gets old, even if you are pretty great at what you do overall. Just some things to consider. We all certainly appreciate your reviews in the meantime.

        I do have one question too. Last year you said that the HTC One had probably the best smartphone camera in the world. How is it that you now think the pictures are only "reasonably good?" This when most reviewers seem to agree that the camera on the M8 is at least somewhat better than last year's offering. Do you honestly think that camera tech has changed that much in a single year? Or are you just frustrated that HTC didn't make some big leap forward? I found the original One to be at least competitive with my Galaxy Note 3's picture quality when I compared the two in November, and I've a hard time believing that so much has changed in five months. Bear in mind that I am not talking about the Duo Camera (doesn't interest me terribly either) here, but just image quality.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          Ok, I'm actually glad you brought the camera thing up. After my review of the M7, I kept using one for a while as my primary phone. With reviews at the time, typically I only took photos I knew we're going to look good. This was almost unconscious, and frankly, I know a good deal more about photography now than I did a year ago.

          The M7 and M8, like the cameras on any high end phone, produce great photos in great conditions. It's when conditions aren't so great - eg, not daylight, lots of contrast, very little contrast, too much detail in a large scene - that most of them fall flat on their faces. Look at the shot of the drink I took with the M8 - the lighting was far from bad, but it wasn't ideal, either, and the scene contrast was low. Result? A really noisy, drab photo. Look at the larger landscape scenes - detail of the foliage in the scene is basically obliterated by the sensor's low resolution.

          The purple artifact i demonstrated is evidence that HTC is pushing this camera past what it's really suitable for at this point, too. It's great for macro, it's very good in forgiving light, and I actually think it does better no-flash night shots than the GS5 based on my preliminary comparisons.

        • Eashan

          So, does this mean you're a complete HTC fan and only liked his reviews when he praised HTC for no reason at all? :P Are you butt-hurt that he stopped praising HTC ?

          • JTVW

            I've never been an HTC fan. In fact, I've never bought a device that wasn't made by Samsung until I purchased the HTC One M8. I did so because, after a probably unnecessary amount of research, I determined that the One was the best Android smartphone on the market. I think all of us should put brand loyalty second to picking up the best phone we can for our money.

            As for your response, it's petty. It seems you're either unwilling or incapable of responding to my post with a reasoned argument, so instead you fall back to blind accusations about how I must be a "complete HTC fan." It's a lazy way to deal with things, and it's something I see far too often these days. If you have a legitimate point to make, do so.....but don't clog up the site with more childish bashing and grasping at straws. Aren't we all sick enough of that? There's too much of it.

      • JTVW

        I also want to throw out there that I just watched your video review, and, wow, it is such a different thing to see and hear a person than just read their words. Voice inflection, body language, all that, help you understand better where a person is coming from. The result here is that your video review seems a lot more like a nice guy calmly pointing out flaws he sees than your written review does. Your words sometimes can have quite a bite, and I for one hope you can project things through your writing more positively like you do when you're on video. You did a nice job with that.

        And thank you for being open to people's feedback and criticism. Not everyone is. And again, much like with reviewing a phone, don't take a few minor complaints as anyone thinking things aren't great overall. Your reviews are still some of the best on the Internet.

      • DirkBelig

        >"Hell, even The Verge can get a little hard to please sometimes, depending on who's doing the review."

        Oh, they're super easy to please: Just put an Apple logo on the back and they'll love it. (Same goes for most of the tech media.)

  • Joefish1111

    Must say it was Devils advocate kinda review
    More opinion then review your love of pure Android leaked thru, which is by all regards terrific, it's the BMW without the cool wheels but as you know many wheels to buy.
    I'm owner of a M8,and a Nexus 7, I appreciate both OS, and of course this opinion is way too long, I thought it was respectful opinion, but I the one thing I thought was lazy was PhotoSphere wannabe was little bit well lazy I find it amazingly easier to use Then Googles version. And you should of covered it because it is brand new for HTC.also. The whole 4mp vs 8 MP ultra Pixel is not possible with lens in small form , so I am curious where they are going with talk optical zoom within two years. Search the story posted last couple days.
    Peace

  • Stanley Chan

    Pretty nice video review David. Hope u make reviews with the other devices xperia z2 and s5.

  • David Dudovitz

    Is this a recommended upgrade for DNA owners?

    • shojus

      100%! I had the DNA as well as the One M7 and coming from both, I would say the M8 would make you very happy! Added sd card slot, battery life that is literally amazing and a faster gpu to push those pixels.

  • Smartphone World
  • Smartphone World
  • ithehappy

    Good review. Point well put. But I think after using the horrible S4 for six months and getting pathetically adjusted with it's unbelievably weak vibration, the reviewers should include about that part in the reviews.

    If anyone has gone from an S4 to M8, could tell me how do these phones vibrate? I am talking about the vibration in case of an incoming call, is it strong or like S4 or super strong like old Nokia phones? I need that buzzzzzz in my pant's pocket, not some infant-ish pampering...!

    • TheRealCBONE

      This. The S4's vibration is staggeringly wimpy. Be nice if it were addressed along with the sound.

      • momentai

        If it was anything like the M7, it vibrates medium/hard. More than my wife's Note3.

  • Samvith V Rao

    What took this review so long ?

  • memyself&i

    So which picture was the duo camera? It never said...

  • Ricardo Kummel

    I'm still waiting for the new butterfly.. I love HTC but the "new" One isn't the choice I'll be making.

  • Jason Smith

    This is more than a minor upgrade from the m7, awful review

    • Dario

      I have to agree as I have both phones to compare pros and cons. I think he is trying too hard not to cheerleader that the review then becomes one sided on purpose.

      Right now I see this review as any other geek review so here are my two cents since it doesn't differ much from what I just read.

      Screen, much better color balance and improved brightness from my current M7.

      Battery life is amazing, I mean reminiscent of Note 2 battery experience. Not identical but so much better from the M7. Like I said, reminiscent of going from crap to stellar,

      Camera, still not great but this is common and old news now.

      Performance,battery life, screen, all justifies the upgrade for me. But like other more detailed reviewers state both the M8 and S5 are incremental, nothing new there. It all boils down to what you deem important enough to upgrade. S5 gave me no reason to switch minus the screen. M8 was just too much to avoid.

      And the retro case was the icing on the cake. This is the most innovative case I have ever dealt with outside of the iPad covers. Every M8 owner should get this.

  • spg210

    I couldn't care less about your tone. I continue to read your articles by free will. I have no problem with your tone. I'm more concerned with your content. In fact, before reading some of these posts decrying your 'style' it hadn't even come to mind. People are free to choose what to focus their energies on. And it's always telling.
    I vote with my thumbs. When your content becomes unacceptable, I'll stop clicking on your articles.
    One poster brought it all home when he made a negative Samsung Galaxy comment. Grown folk get too emotionally invested in their mobile devices. Hence any assumed negative comments about their beloved device will bring on the bared teeth. It's unfortunate but it's pervasive. Had you made similar comments about a Samsung device, we'd hear crickets. Except from the Samsung fanatics.
    I look forward to your reviews. They're always insightful, interesting, well written, thoughtful and informative. Even when I don't agree with your assessments.
    I actually read the review again. I have no problem with it. Once again, people have agendas. What are you gonna do, right? The sun will rise tomorrow.
    Keep up the great work!

  • tintin.92

    "For M7 owners, I'd personally recommend skipping this One, to be honest."

    This goes without saying. When has it EVER been alright to recommend the very next version of a phone, to owners of the previous version? Even if it was HTC One X to HTC One, when has a one year change been THAT compelling?

  • http://www.augustasoftsol.com/ matthew

    ya i too feel like same things .. like battery screen and camera .. battery not at all problem its working nice on both .. camera version is same that one of most problem and screen nice.. so i feel that problems are there in htc .. users are have that same feel and problems ..

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  • Andy

    As gorgeous on the inside as it is on the out, the One (M8) doesn’t put a
    foot wrong, which makes it a very desirable handset indeed.
    And if you have decided to become a proud owner of this device, perhaps you’re in the market for a solid and beautiful protection case as well.

    http://9cases.com/2014/04/cool-stylish-htc-one-plus-m8-cases-2014/

  • Here’s to change?

    With the M8 feeling like not such a step up from M7, and them using the same name, is it safe to say that the M8 is more like an "HTC One.5"?
    If that is the case, I'm really looking forward to their next generation phone, whenever that comes out, instead of an iteration.

  • Vinícius Philot

    I would give away my Nexus4 this year and grab a new HTC one, but this screen size got me really down. I don't want a giant phone and I think that N4's size is the limit for me. Why can't people make medium phones with good specs anymore? Will I have to look for an iPhone? I don't wanna do this but Android flagships are really annoyingly big nowadays.

  • Eashan

    HTC's camera is shit and everyone knows it. End of Story. It just can't compare to cameras with 20 MP or 16MP

  • Ann Frolova
  • Zakhmi Dil
  • http://www.theappsadvisor.com/ Arbaz Khan

    A friend of mine bought this smartphone a couple of days back and I really liked the way it worked. Probably better than my Moto X, I would say!

    http://www.theappsadvisor.com/

  • valentín

    very cute phone

  • nick

    Old fashioned silver curvature looks.

    ( http://goo.gl/ZDTX1N )

  • Tommy

    It may not outsell Samsung and the relentless marketing sure to follow the feature-rich Galaxy S5, but HTC executives say they don’t care. They say they just want to build a phone for people who like nice things. And if you have decided to become a proud owner of this device, perhaps you’re in the market for a solid and beautiful protection case as well.

    http://besthtccases.com/2014/06/best-beautiful-htc-one-m8-cases-2014/