HTC has been developing a reputation for building unique-looking, top-end Android smartphones. This trend peaked in 2013 when the Taiwanese firm released its HTC One flagship smartphone, also known as the M7. Featuring a distinctive metal design and offering top-end performance, the HTC One M7 was one of our favourite Android smartphones to come out last year.
For this reason it's not surprising that HTC has chosen not to rework the wheel for its latest One M8 flagship smartphone. Instead it has refined – rather than redefined – its device offering.
Design and build
The HTC One M8 looks like an evolved, slightly sharper-looking version of its predecessor. The One M8 features a single-piece, slightly curved metal chassis that wraps around the sides of the device to connect its Gorilla Glass front.
The grey review unit we tested had a slightly textured finish. An HTC spokesman on hand told us this was the result of a specific finishing process that sees engineers coat the metal with more than 170 different oils. The metallic and slightly grooved finish made the HTC One M8 one of the most comfortable 5in smartphones we've ever held.
Ports-wise, the HTC One M8 is also fairly generously stocked, featuring nano SIM, micro SD and micro USB ports.
While it's not IP certified like the Sony Xperia Z2 or Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One M8 does feel very solidly built. The handset's metal chassis offered no give under pressure and left us suitably assured that it could survive the odd accidental bump or scrape. The chassis also felt far more scratch resistant than that of the One M7.
HTC has loaded the One M8 with a 5in full HD, 441ppi display. Under the showroom's bright lights we were fairly impressed by how well it performed. Text and icons on the One M8 looked suitably crisp, and colour and brightness levels were great.
The only issue we noticed with the display occurred when we tried to use it near a window. As is the case on 99 percent of all the smartphones we review, the One M8's screen regularly picked up stray light and became slightly difficult to use.
Operating system and software
The HTC One M8 runs Google's latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat software overlaid with HTC's custom Sense 6.0 skin.
Sense 6.0 changes Android's core user interface in a variety of ways. The most obvious is its use of the latest version of HTC's BlinkFeed news aggregation service as the One M8's main home screen. BlinkFeed is a custom push update service debuted on the original HTC One M7. It works to push content from relevant news outlets and social media accounts to the user, via a tiled interface.
The new version of BlinkFeed expands the service to include a number of new news outlets and also adds a new "bundle" feature, which lets the user instruct BlinkFeed to only push updates about certain keywords, hashtags or topics to the user. This means you can set up the feed to only alert you to news from specific trade shows, or companies.
The One M8 also features a number of new gesture control options. The gesture controls let you wake the One M8 from sleep by double tapping the screen or return straight to the phone's home screen by swiping left from its right-hand side.
We were impressed by how well the gesture controls worked and can definitely see them proving useful to users who want to access certain services quickly.
The HTC One M8's use of Qualcomm's brand new quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip is one of its biggest selling points. The Snapdragon 801 was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, and Qualcomm claims it offers vastly superior performance compared with earlier mobile chips. Our opening impressions of the One M8 are very positive when it comes to performance.
Testing the demo One M8 unit we found it was one of the most responsive handsets we've ever used. It was able to open applications slightly faster than the One M7, which is still a very fast handset. Sadly we didn't get a chance to see how the One M8 dealt with more demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, or properly benchmark it during our hands on, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
The HTC One M8 comes with a 5MP wide-angle front camera and an upgraded version of the 4.1MP UltraPixel rear camera debuted on the One M7. UltraPixel is a custom technology developed by HTC that works to improve the camera's performance by instructing the sensor to capture larger pixels than regular smartphones. This reportedly lets the One M8's rear camera capture 300 percent more light than competing handsets.
The upgraded rear camera features a new imaging co-processor and Duo Camera technology. Duo Camera is a new technology debuted on the One M8, which is designed to let the phone's rear camera capture spatial information. The spacial information collected by the Duo tech lets users retroactively adjust the point of focus on images in a custom gallery app.
The images we captured using the One M8 on the showroom floor were of a similar quality to those taken on the original One M7. They were reasonably crisp, featured decent colour and contrast levels and were more than good enough for use on most blogs or social media sites. We also found the Duo Camera technology worked reasonably well and let us quickly and easily tweak the test shots captured on our demo unit to focus on specific points.
Battery and storage
HTC has loaded the One M8 with a sizeable 2,600mAh battery, which it claims will offer users 30 hours of standby time off one charge. We didn't get a chance to test the One M8's battery during our hands on, but will be sure to do so in our full review.
Interestingly, HTC has chosen to load the One M8 with a slightly mediocre 16GB of internal storage. Luckily the One M8's storage can be upgraded using its micro SD card slot, meaning users who need the extra space can get it.
Overall our opening impressions of the HTC One M8 are positive. The device features a top-end and robust metal design that's packed with a variety of top-end internal components, the best of which is its new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor.
However, with the Samsung Galaxy S5's release just around the corner, it's clear the HTC One M8 is going to face some pretty tough competition.
Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the HTC One M8.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
25 Mar 2014