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.

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