Hands-on with new HTC One (M8)

Apple is cool and Samsung is high-tech, but what’s HTC?

The Taiwanese phone-maker’s latest flagship phone, the One (M8), doesn’t do quite enough to define just what sets it apart from the crowd.

HTC’s old slogan used to be ‘Quietly brilliant’. Having once owned its Desire HD handset, I can see why it was dropped, but these days the tagline is ‘Here’s To Change’ – and certainly a lot has changed since the Desire’s days.

We went hands-on with the HTC One (M8) to see what’s new.

Build quality

The ‘M8’ in this phone’s unusual moniker indicates that it’s eighth generation of HTC’s metal handsets. As such, its casing is made of a single piece of moulded aluminium. It feels premium and solid, but could get scratched up pretty quickly, so it’s just as well the box includes a protective rubbery case.

Like the Samsung Galaxy S5 (read my review here), the One (M8) is a big phone. Its full-HD screen is marginally (0.1”) smaller, but that metal body makes it heavier at 160g. It is slim enough to sit comfortably in your pocket, though.

Take a closer look at the handset in our gallery.

Screen

Having just been spoiled by the Galaxy S5’s class-leading screen, the One (M8) doesn’t really get a fair test. It’s easily as good as the iPhone 5S display, but not quite as vibrant or bright as the Galaxy.

It’s also a little more reflective than the S5, perhaps as a result of being less bright – but this only really becomes apparent when looking at the phone from any angle other than face-on.

Battery and storage

Given its moulded aluminium chassis, the One (M8)’s 2600mAh battery is not removable. This is an upgrade on its predecessor’s 2300mAh power source, but isn’t quite as tireless as the Galaxy S5’s.

The handset comes in a 16GB and 32GB version, but there’s a micro SD card slot to expand the memory by up to 128GB.

What's it like to use?

Running a less-cluttered version of Android Kit Kat than the S5, the One (M8) is a purer version of the Google operating system – though not as unadulterated as the LG Nexus 5.

This means there’s still some manufacturer’s bloatware on top of Kit Kat, in the form of HTC’s Sense interface, now in its well-refined sixth iteration. It does add some cool little tricks like double-tapping the screen when the phone is off to wake it up.

Multi-tasking is effortless with the phone’s 2.3GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, while making calls and sending texts is ‘sans-frills’ and simple.

The One (M8)’s sound is particularly noteworthy, sounding crisper and clearer than the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S5 in both calls and media playback. This is thanks to its dual front-facing speakers.

Gadgets and features

While most other smartphones scrimp on the front-facing camera, the One (M8) has a 5Megapixel lens and a dedicated ‘Selfie’ mode. There’s also a dual camera mode to capture both what you’re looking at and your reaction to it.



In fact there are probably more camera settings on this handset than any of its peers, which is great if you know what you’re doing because you can adjust focus, exposure values and white balance, or leave it on automatic if you don’t care.

It’s got the same focus-altering tech as the S5, which lets you shoot first and focus later, as well as a 3D-ifying feature which uses the phone's motion sensors to give a sense of depth. It’s one of many cool, but ultimately novelty features.

HTC’s Sense 6 software has all sorts of other clever ideas, like automatically answering a call by lifting the phone to your ear, and low-power gesture controls which can be used when the phone is in sleep mode.

Elsewhere there’s an infrared sensor for controlling your TV, Blinkfeed – a dynamically updating news service collating your favourite websites, social networks and so forth, and Kid Mode to restrict what younger users can see and do with the phone.

What does it cost?

SIM-free, the HTC One (M8) will set you back around £530.

On a pay-monthly contract with Three, you can get the handset for £49 upfront and £35 a month thereafter for the next two years. With that you’ll get either 1GB of data and unlimited calls and texts or 2GB of data, 600 minutes and unlimited texts. In total, this costs £889.

With Vodafone, you can get the One (M8) for £19 upfront and £38 a month. For that you’ll get unlimited calls and texts, along with 3GB of data. Over two years this totals £931.

With EE, you’ll get unlimited calls and texts and 4GB of data for £29.99 upfront and £37.99 a month, over two years – giving you a grand total of £941.75.

Of course these are just three pay-monthly deals, and there are far more to compare over on our mobiles channel.

Verdict

The physical handset feels better than the Galaxy S5, and user experience is more streamlined too – but somehow the S5 comes off better overall.

If the One (M8) was significantly cheaper than its Samsung rival, perhaps it would be a fiercer fight – but HTC’s One probably won’t get the attention it deserves in what is essentially a two-horse race between Apple and Samsung, when it comes to the masses.

Modern smartphones are all pretty much the same, but the One (M8)’s stand-out features are its camera's depth and versatility, and its sound – both of which HTC has clearly put a lot of well-spent time into.

So, what is HTC? If the One (M8) is anything to go by, it’s user-friendly. But that’s not particularly exciting.

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

tbc

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