What is the HTC One M8?

The HTC One M8 is a key product for HTC this year. It is the _phone_ that can change the company’s flagging business and indeed it already has. Recent reports suggest the Taiwanese company made a profit for the first time in a while.

The HTC One M8 is the flagship model, and takes over from the HTC One, which proved to be HTC’s best-selling _phone_ ever and won numerous plaudits including TrustedReviews phone of the Year. The One M8 has some extremely big boots to fill.

It's no coincidence that the HTC One M8 has become such a quick success. It is sure to be remembered as one of the best phones of the year, and is clearly superior to its key rival, the Samsung Galaxy S5, in some respects. But not all.

Watch our hands-on HTC One M8 video:


MORE: Best HTC One M8 cases 2014

HTC One M8 – Design

The HTC One M8 is a beautiful phone, especially when you compare to the Samsung Galaxy S5, or even the pretty LG G3. HTC has decided that the look and quality of materials matter, and has made them it's top design priority.

Like the original HTC One (which is still available to buy), the HTC One M8 is a metal phone. But there is a lot more sleek metal on show this time. To use HTC's own explanation, last year's model has a back that's about 70 per cent metal,  the HTC One M8's rear is around 90 per cent metal.

The two-tone plastic have been replaced by a one-piece metal back that curves around to meet the Gorilla Glass of the screen's top layer. A new curvier design gives the HTC One M8 a smoother feel than its predecessor, while keeping the cool and hard feel your get with metal – aluminium in this case.


It is a bit bigger than last year's phone, though. The HTC One M8 is a fair amount taller which means it feels like a larger phone in-hand. However, it's just a couple of millimeters wider and width is the only serious practical concern with a phone of this class. HTC has slimmed down the screen bezel to minimise the increase in width.

If you're not used to a 4.7-inch to 5-inch screen phone, try to check out the phone first-hand. But if you're looking at this phone in contention with the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2, size is not an issue. And neither is weight, despite the phone being a little heavier than its rival.

In larger phones like this you often see the power button shifted to the side, from the usual spot up top. Here it sticks on the top edge, but the new Motion Launch feature lets you switch the phone on from standby with just two quick taps on the screen. This means that stretching for the power button is less of an issue.

Alternatively, you can go straight to the main home screen or the BlinkFeed window by flicking from the left or right of the screen (when it's off). This uses a special motion sensor chip in the phone, which lets it constantly monitor these sensors without eating up much battery.

 

In exact measurements the HTC One M8 is 9.4mm thick, 160g, 71mm wide and 146mm tall. None of these are notable in a positive sense, but HTC's non spec-centric design approach is healthy. It has tried to make a phone that looks and feels good, not one out to become the "thinnest" or "lightest". It can easily be argued that it is the prettiest, though.

One technical issue with making any 'all-metal' mobile device is that wireless antennas struggle to transmit through it. That's why the backplate is 'only' 90 per cent metal. There are two little plastic strips that sit across the top and bottom, and this is where the antennas live. These strips were used in the HTC One too, and have become part of the series's design language. Clever design like this makes functional choices look like pure style ones.


Is this a better looking, better designed phone than the HTC One, though? Not really. You can't beat the borderless front of the original, which helped to emphasise that mobile's two-tone style. However, it's not any worse – the HTC One M8 is a lot nicer to look at than the HTC One Max, for example, and the vast majority of phones made. Ever.

It comes in three colours. The lead one, "gunmetal grey" is seen here. HTC also makes one that looks more like the first silvery HTC One, with a shade called "arctic silver", and a light gold one dubbed "amber gold". The latter is nowhere near as bright and vivid as the gold version of the Galaxy S5.

They have slightly different metal treatments. The grey model uses a brushed 'hairline technique' look, while the others stick with anodised style of the former HTC One model.


The One M8 also solves one of the key perceived issues with the first HTC One – it has a microSD memory card slot. It sits on the right edge of the phone, using a pop-out tray. This ensures that the 16GB version of the phone will be the main one sold in the UK, as buying a memory card will always be cheaper than upgrading to a pricier version. HTC is going to make a 32GB edition too, but it won't be available everywhere here.

HTC's move from a micro SIM to a nano SIM is more controversial. Just a few phones use this tiny SIM – most notably the iPhone 5S/5 and Motorola Moto X – and as the tray clearly makes room for a dual-SIM model, a size constraint clearly wasn't the main issue. Still, most networks will happily send you out a nano SIM replacement for free. You can also clip down your current SIM manually. But we don't recommend it.

The most obvious feature that you miss out on as a result of the phone's focus on looks is water resistance. The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 are both certified for water and dust resistance, using a slightly annoying rubbery flap to cover the microUSB charge socket. HTC's One M8 is not waterproof – its microUSB slot is exposed. Reports online suggest the phone is actually fairly water-resistant, but the lack of any rating means you won't be covered for any water damage.

HTC One M8 SIM

HTC One M8 – BoomSound Speakers

The design isn't all about looks. The other hardware stand-outs include a dual-lens camera system and stereo BoomSound speakers on the front of the HTC One M8. These speakers are what make the phone so tall – but provide far better audio than the usual naff little mono speakers on the back of phones.

Your initial assumption might be that it's all about volume, but what the BoomSound speakers really provide that's worth having is greater authority, a much richer tone and more power. To say the HTC One M8 has real bass would be overstating it, but it does have the mid-range body that you don't get elsewhere. Extra power like this is as good as (if not better than) extra volume when the phone is competing with your oven's extractor fan as you listen to the radio while making a bolognese (insert your own situational anecdote here).

This is one area HTC has substantially improved-upon since the HTC One. The sound is fuller, and a bit louder. HTC told us it has redesigned the tiny little piezo drivers (they may be BoomSound but they're still small) and the speaker enclosures, but it's likely to be down as much to a reworking of the DSP managing the treble-mid-bass output.

Back when the HTC One came out, HTC was still working with Beats audio for its DSP, but now it's all HTC-branded. It's no great loss as HTC says it made most of the software anyway. It wouldn't be the first time Beats has been accused of being all about the brand...

The one weakness of the BoomSound speakers shows its hand when you're playing games. As your thumbs move directly over the drivers, your digits' movements do slightly alter the tonality of the sound. It's not something everyone will notice and doesn't affect movie watching in the same way. There is no rear case rattling caused by listening at top volume, though, which would have been much more irritating.

HTC One M8 – Screen

Until recently we believed that phones like the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 would have 2K resolution screens. It seemed a natural evolution, and the internet rumours were sounding off on the matter as they usually do.

However, all the new 2014 flagships use 1080p screens, just like last year's top models. The HTC One M8 has a 5-inch SLCD display, up from 4.7 inches in the last model.

As a result, the pixel density of the new phone is actually lower than last year's one – 441ppi, down from 469ppi. Would you notice? Absolutely not, and the RGB subpixel arrays of these phones makes them appear categorically sharper than the PenTile AMOLED screens of phones like the Galaxy S4.

HTC One M8 LCD


This is a great screen, whose approach to the display is fairly close to both the HTC One and top LG screens like the LG G2's. Where Sony and Samsung are trying to push vivid colour, the HTC One M8 is happy with fairly accurate, low-key colours. The Sony Xperia Z2's 'Triluminous' screen might pop a bit more, but the even saturation and general impression of the accuracy of the HTC One M8's display's colours are impressive. Right up our street.

Side-by-side with the original HTC One, HTC has clearly made improvements to the screen's white level. Its whites are very clear and pure, making last year's model look ever-so-slightly yellowy by comparison. It has been known for slight variations in panel quality to occur between batches, though.

The panel's response times are excellent, managing to maintain the readability of interface text even as you're scrolling through the phone's menus.



Top brightness is dazzling as well – you can imagine the backlight chomping through the battery with every minute that passes. 98 per cent of the time, we do not use top brightness on a high-quality mobile like this, but it will come in handy for those three days of bright sunshine we're due this year. Or for those Miami holidays.

Screen reflectivity is marginally better than the original HTC One, with light sources causing slightly less bright reflections, but the screen is naturally still highly reflective.

Black level and contrast are consistent with a top-quality current generation LCD screen, and no better than the last HTC One's. Blacks are fairly deep and convincing in most conditions, but in a dark room you will be able to see some blue-grey backlight luminance in black parts of the screen when the brightness is set to medium or above.

This is something we'd like to see improve in the next HTC flagship (more than resolution, in fact). It's roughly on-par with the already-excellent HTC One in this respect. It's no surprise as both phones use SLCD3 panels.

SLCD screen types don't get talked about all that much, but at this level they're virtually indistinguishable from top-quality IPS displays – seen in phones like the iPhone 5S and LG G2. Viewing angles are excellent, with just a bit of natural brightness loss and off-tone skewing of pure white areas. It's nothing that has a real practical knock-on effect, though. 


HTC One M8 – Video

The combination of great speakers and an excellent screen make the HTC One M8 an obvious choice as a personal video player. However, you'll really need to track down a third-party video player app if you want to watch videos you've downloaded from the internet. HTC doesn't provide its own video player app, just a music one. And the Google video app isn't much use for playing your own videos either.

Tooled-up with Mxplayer, one of the most popular free Android media players, the HTC One M8 can handle all sorts of files. MKV, Xvid and DivX files all played using hardware rendering without issue, and we encountered none of the performance issues that the original HTC One struggled with (it chugged through some HD-quality MKV files when using hardware decoding).

HTC One M8 – Android 4.4 and Sense 6

The HTC One M8 runs Android 4.4 and a new version of HTC's custom Android interface, Sense 6. Although HTC says it has been redesigned from the ground up, it's fairly similar to the version we saw on the original HTC One.

Visually it has taken a few steps closer to vanilla Android, but most of the Sense trademarks remain. You get the BlinkFeed scrolling update 'widget', the ultra-simple HTC clock (a far cry from the 'classic' Sense clock) and a vertically-scrolling apps menu. Although HTC has applied its own look to the Android system, its core structure remains the same.

One obvious functional difference between the M8 software and the old HTC One's is that the physical soft keys have been switched for software ones. This helps to cut-down the amount of space needed for hardware, and is one more step towards the Android norm. The 2013 HTC One only had Back and Home buttons, but the One M8 also has the Android staple multi-tasking button that lets you see and close down any recently-run apps.

You may also like:
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  • PRODUCT: Samsung Galaxy S5
HTC One M8 screen


A few other visual alterations see Sense 6 become a bit more plain, a bit more 'standard' in its visual structure. The clock at the top of the apps menu has gone, for instance, as has the clock at the top of BlinkFeed.

BlinkFeed no longer scrolls in pages either – it's a full-flowing scroll this time. It would be easy to say this makes it more like the Windows phone interface, but this free-flowing style is really how everything works. Facebook, Twitter, and all the web pages that can feed into BlinkFeed all (more or less) scroll freely.

Have no idea what BlinkFeed is? It's HTC's digital update screen, used in lots of its Android phones. It can pull messages and such from Twitter, Facebook and others, as well as pulling-in articles from your favourite websites. It arranges them into colourful blocks. I found it a great improvement – the jagged style of the original eventually turned me off, but I've been using BlinkFeed happily during testing this time. You can still remove BlinkFeed easily, though.



Switching between the One M8 and the old HTC One, the new phone does feel a little snappier. Part of this is down to a quickening-up of the animations that take you from home screen to app screen and vice versa, but we did notice fewer glitchy pauses when moving between apps and so on, compared to the HTC One.

This is no surprise when the M8 uses a much faster processor, the Snapdragon 801. It's a solid generation and a half beyond the HTC One's Snapdragon 600 chip. We'll delve into performance in more depth on the next page.


HTC One M8 – Other Apps

First, let's look at the other apps on offer in the One M8.
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Sense TV
Sense TV
This app was available in last year’s HTC phones, but it has been given a tweak for this year. It gives you a TV guide for the channels in your area, and lets you control your home entertainment gear with the phone. This uses the IR transmitter, which sits on the top of the HTC One M8.

We tried hooking up an Onkyo receiver and an old Pioneer Kuro TV, and we were up and running within a few minutes. What it does is to ask the manufacturer of your home entertainment kit, before trying out that maker’s known remote ‘types’ by trying the 'power on' command. Once configured, you have a virtual on-screen remote that merges the functions of the various bits of kit.
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Kid Mode

Kid Mode
Once again something we’ve seen before, Kid Mode is an app made by Zoodles (not HTC) that offers a safe environment for young ones to play with your phone without accidentally spending you cash or clicking on something they shouldn’t.

It’s a cute and lightweight app. And while it’s nothing wholly exclusive to HTC, you can access it from the ‘power off’ menu, making it all the more useful.
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Fitbit

Fitbit
Another non-HTC-made app inclusion is Fitbit. We’ve reviewed a number of dedicated Fitbit fitness trackers, but this app lets you use the HTC One M8 as a pedometer itself. It’s a neat inclusion – and something that draws people’s attention to the idea you can do this sort of thing with your mobile.

The Motion Launch processor means you’ll be able to track your steps without using too much battery as well. However, this isn’t really anything exclusive to the One M8. Other phones can do the same by downloading the Fitbit app.

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HTC Music app


The HTC One M8 has two music players. One is the normal Google app, the other an HTC-made app.

It’s bound to cause a bit of confusion, but the extra HTC one is a valid addition. The Google music player is has become all about getting you to stream cloud-based music while the HTC app is there to let you play locally-stored tracks: to let you use the HTC One M8 like an iPod, basically.

HTC One M8 – Performance and Gaming

The HTC One M8 uses the Snapdragon 801 processor, the same type seen in the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2. However, both of these have a slight advantage over the HTC, in terms of core specs.

Where the M8 uses the 2.3GHz version of the 801, the Galaxy S5 has the slightly faster 2.5GHz version. HTC is making a 2.5GHz edition for some other territories, but we won’t see it in the UK.

Sony trumps the HTC One M8 with its RAM. Out of the three key flagships seen to date, it is the only one to have 3GB of RAM. The HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 both have 2GB of RAM.

Do these differences really matter? Not really, and they have likely contributed to the One M8’s slightly lower price from some retailers.

READ MORE: HTC One M8 vs Sony Xperia Z2

HTC One M8 specs

HTC One M8: Benchmarks

We’re yet to fully benchmark the Sony and Samsung rivals, but the HTC One M8 performs largely as expected in benchmarks. In Geekbench 3 it scores 2,840 points, which is either on-par with or just slightly above, the scores of the Snapdragon 800 tablets and phones we’ve reviewed over the past few months. It’s no wonder – the top Snapdragon 800 devices run at 2.2GHz, which is just a shade slower than the One M8. There are other optimisations, but it's not a massive upgrade.

There’s a slightly more pronounced improvement in the 3DMark gaming benchmark. It scores 20,556, which is around 15 per cent better than some of the Snapdragon 800 devices we’ve tested.

There has been some recent controversy about manufacturers using score-boosting techniques to bolster their benchmark results, so direct comparisons should be viewed with caution. However, it is safe to say that the HTC One M8 is significantly – if not exactly dramatically – more powerful than a Snapdragon 800 phone like the LG G2. It is considerably more powerful than the first HTC One, though.

What is just as interesting is HTC’s bigging-up of the ‘Motion Launch’ processor, which is a low-power chip that monitors sensors like the accelerometer while the phone is in standby. This is what makes it possible to turn the phone on with a double-tap gesture.

However, it’s nothing radically new. LG phones have had this sort of sensor use for a while and Apple has already made a grand fuss about the iPhone 5S’s M7 motion chip. Such things are de rigeur, but HTC has made better use of it than most, using it to make turning the phone on more convenient.

HTC One M8

Back to actual performance: we tested the HTC One M8 with a bunch of high-end games.

Strangely enough, performance wasn’t quite as great as we were expecting. There are noticeable frame drops in Gameloft’s Asphalt 8 and in EA’s Real Racing 3 – although not to the extent that it really hampers play.

Another phone-testing favourite Riptide GP2 didn’t suffer from the same problems, though. It is smooth. We’re willing to largely attribute the performance niggles to developers not having fully optimised for the Snapdragon 801 chip yet, though, as otherwise there seems to be no other excuse. The benchmark results are as expected, and general performance is great. As we noted in the software part of this review, Sense 6 does not appear to be a real performance leech.

HTC One M8 Camera App

HTC claims to have simplified the camera app in the HTC One M8’s, but that’s not entirely true. The front-end part of the camera is simple enough, but there are more interface elements than ever to dig into – and potentially get lost in.

We’ll start with the easy bit, though. The camera app centres around the following two screens, the mode selector and the actual shooting screen:

The shooting screen
HTC One UI


Mode selector
HTC One M8 modes


If you take the camera app as this pair of screens, the HTC One M8 camera is very simple.  And you get access to the camera’s most basic features:
  • Normal shooting
  • Video
  • Zoe (this takes stills and video at the same time to let the phone make a highlights reel)
  • Selfie (ie the front-facing camera)
  • Dual capture
  • Pan 360 (a 360-degree panorama)
Our issue with this is that if you’re a remotely experienced mobile photographer, these aren’t necessarily your smartphone camera essentials. Where’s HDR? And aren’t most people keener on ‘normal’ panoramas than 360-degree ones? Unfortunately, it does seem that HTC has built the camera interface around the mostly trendy or eye-catching photo features, rather than the most useful ones.

However, if you’re willing to dig a bit deeper, just about everything you could want is here. The settings button in the bottom left gives you access to the scene setting, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, filter effects and the core camera Settings.

You might at this point – like we did – ask "where’s HDR?" It’s stuck within the scene setting options, making it a good few clicks away.

This is a pretty bad idea, interface-wise (when Apple puts an interface feature front and centre, you should consider doing the same), but there is an explanation. You can’t use the HTC One M8’s Duo camera feature when shooting in modes like HDR or Night, so it’s pretty natural for HTC to want to bury them a little.

In this neglected submenu where HDR lives are several of the HTC One M8’s most useful and interesting camera features. There’s the standard horizontal panorama mode and – a camera geek’s favourite – the full manual mode.

Manual mode

The manual mode is great

Functioning much like the manual mode of the camera-centric Lumia 1020, you have control over the colour temperature, exposure compensation, ISO and – most useful – focusing and shutter speed. These make macro photography much easier and make it possible to fix the camera system’s colour misjudgements when shooting in low-light conditions.

The manual mode also makes creative and night-time photography much easier – although there’s no neutral density filter to made super-long exposure photography viable (hardly any phones have this feature, though).

Here are the other modes you’ll find in this submenu:
  • Night
  • Anti-shake (there’s no optical OIS, this is a software solution)
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Backlight
  • Text
  • Macro
HTC One camera app

Things aren't so simply once you dig in

The others aren’t quite as interesting, and are so seriously neglected in terms of their place in the interface that we imagine the majority of you will end up using Auto for these ‘scene’ based conditions.

There are other sides to the camera app too. The Zoe app will let you share your Zoe highlights videos with other people – at least it will when HTC releases the app in the summer (d’oh) – and the Gallery app has been reworked to show you a chronological list of photos as standard. The Gallery works much more like the iOS one now.
    
HTC has really mis-sold the Sense 6 camera app as 'simpler' than the one it follows. We love the number of features on offer here, but unless you’re happy to work exclusively with the Auto mode when shooting normal photos, it’s actually one of the fiddlier camera interfaces.

Next, we deal with whether the HTC One M8 can take good photos.

HTC One M8 Duo camera hardware

The HTC One M8 has perhaps the most interesting phone camera we’ve seen in the last 12 months. Its rear setup uses two sensors and two lenses, the second giving the phone depth data about the scene you’re shooting.

The sensor that actually produces the image data is the same as the one used by last year’s HTC One, though. It’s a 4-megapixel sensor, using the UltraPixel branding. The second sensor is of lower resolution and quality, which is deemed fine as it doesn’t actually supply any of the image data, just secondary information. There's no optical image stabilisation this time around, though.



Our understanding of how it works is that it uses parallax to determine the positioning of objects in the scene. Because the depth camera is placed slightly higher on the phone’s body, its view of the world is ever-so-slightly different to that of the main sensor. And through an analysis of this difference is how the HTC One M8 perceives depth.

The depth data then becomes part of the image file, letting you apply depth-based filters post-shoot.

What can the Duo camera do?

Before looking at actual image quality, we’re going to see what the Duo camera setup can actually do. HTC is going to open up the API to third-party developers, to let other apps that use the Duo camera spring up. But for now, it’s based around two features – UFocus and Foregrounder.  

UFocus lets you defocus parts of an image. You tap on part of the screen to select that as that part of be in focus, and the HTC One M8 blurs-out the rest. This is a digital approximation of the shallow depth of field effects you can get with a good dedicated camera with a fast lens. Most phones can’t really get the same kind of results on their own – although the Lumia 1020 gets close.

For a more in-depth look at the Duo camera check out our HTC One M8 camera vs a proper camera (Fuji X-M1) feature.

Here’s a look at the modes in action, with help from geeky soft toy Ubooly.

Plain shot
Duo camera 4


UFocus

UFocus


Foregounder: Zoom Blur

Duo camera 1


Foregrounder: Sketch

Duo camera


Foregrounder: Cartoon

Duo camera 2


Foregrounder: Colour pop

Duo camera 3


These effects aren’t quite as effective or reliable as the ones you’d get with natural optical bokeh, but you can create some pretty great effects. It works especially well if you’re out to simply blur out the background of a portrait. Here are some more interesting examples of the UFocus mode in action:

Bin man


UFocus


Give the HTC One M8 something more complicated and its depth camera is likely to fall down. It often leaves in-focus background areas nearby the subject and other in-focus bits elsewhere. We found that it rarely holds up to closer scrutiny, and there’s no easy way to touch-up the results when you’ve finished. These blips also affect the other Foregrounder modes – you can seen them in the Ubooly samples above.

The photos you can apply the Duo camera magic to are extremely limited, too. Flip to low-light mode, HDR or any other kind of filter and you can’t 're-focus'.

You can’t apply the filter to photos using digital zoom or those with aspects other 16:9, either. This is the default aspect for HTC One M8 photos, and it’s the actual aspect of the sensor (most camera sensors are 4:3 even if they shoot natively at 16:9). So it’s no big deal – but if you want to crop, do it post-shooting.

Why is the Duo camera a bit rubbish?

In the right conditions the Duo camera can come up with some good results. However, it has a way to go and there are two main reasons for its somewhat lacking abilities.

The first is software. It’s the first time HTC has released a phone with this feature, so we should give it a bit more time to hone the algorithms used to judge the UFocus effect. Getting something like this right is not an easy task.

The second is more serious – hardware. The secondary depth camera has been revealed to be the Omnivision OV2722. It’s the same sensor used in the front-facing camera of the last HTC One. Perhaps they had a few million units left sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

The issue with the Omnivision is that it doesn’t match the UltraPixel sensor in any way. Its focal length is different, its resolution is different (2.1 megapixels to four), as is its sensor size (1/5.8-inch in the Omnivision to 1/3-inch in the UltraPixel one). So any collaboration between the two is going to be a bit of a bodge.

HTC could have assured much better results by using two 4-megapixel sensors, but this probably wouldn’t be possible – either fiscally or practically. The UltraPixel sensor is more expensive and bigger than the Omnivision one.

HTC One M8 Camera: Image Quality and Performance

The HTC One M8 main image camera is very similar to that of last year’s HTC One. They share the same UltraPixel sensor, but the M8 uses the image processor hardware of the Snapdragon 801 – and at present the two have different software (although the HTC One is to get an upgrade to Sense 6 later this year).

The idea of the UltraPixel sensor is that while it's lower-res than the competition, it uses larger sensor pixels for better low-light performance. Its sensor pixels are two microns across, where, for example, the Galaxy S5's are 1.1 microns.

Shooting performance is great. Focusing is extremely fast, and shot-to-shot speeds are excellent. You can shoot multiple ‘normal’ photos in a second, without even using a burst mode. Things get a lot slower when you use the Night mode in very low light conditions, but otherwise it’s about as fast as an iPhone 5S. HTC claims 0.3-second focusing speeds, which is the same claim Samsung makes of the Galaxy S5 – and that phone has a phase detection focus layer, missing from the HTC One M8.

The only thing that really slows you down here is how awkward it can be to switch between shooting modes.

Moving to image quality. Here’s how the HTC One M8 compares to last year’s top phone in our classic detail test.

HTC One M8 shots 6
HTC One M8 shots 7


As you can see, the 4-megapixel sensor provides a similar level of detail to first HTC One. No surprise there. However, looking at the fine details, the new phone is clearly a bit better at rendering the finer bits.

The thin lines on the front building are more faithful, where they’re oddly expanded in parts on the old model. Part of this may be down to the significantly different lighting conditions, although the new image signal processor of the One M8 should – in theory – improve performance a bit.

Still, we see the same limited detail capture, and some of the old image problems are back. There are two serious ones. The first is exposure metering – the HTC One M8 is all over the place.

It will often hugely overexpose the sky – especially if it’s cloudy. The phone seems to take a far more direct approach to exposure judgement than most other phones. To explain – with an iPhone 5S, if you tap on an object the phone will focus on it and judge its metering based on the brightness of that particular area, relative to the rest of the scene. The HTC One M8 will focus on the object too easily enough, but appears to base its metering solely on that spot, rather than taking the rest of the image properly into account.

High light contrast areas are also absolutely riddled with purple fringing/chroma noise. We saw this a fair bit in the HTC One, but it seems to have gotten worse if anything. If the limited resolution alone wasn’t enough to put you off blowing these images up, this chromatic aberration should push you over the edge. Here are a couple of images to demonstrate:

HTC One M8 shots 2


HTC One M8 shots 3


This purple fringing is the sort of thing we might expect to see towards the edge of a fairly poor ‘normal’ camera lens. But here it affects pictures throughout the shot.

Also note that the colours are rather de-saturated in these images, and that contrast is pretty poor. Reds in particularly suffer very badly. The result is pretty glum-looking images when there’s anything approaching a strong light source in, or just out of, shot.

HDR photography

One way to solve issues with light sources is to use HDR, which combines multiple shots with different exposure levels. As already noted in the camera app section, the HTC One M8 rather sidelines its HDR mode, and it doesn’t seem to be something HTC has put a lot of work into.

It’s decent, but not as effective as the super-smart HDR modes seen in the latest Samsung phones and the Nexus 5.

HDR


Low-light photography

It’s not often you see a camera that has more issues shooting in daylight than dusk/night, but that’s roughly what the HTC One M8 camera is. At night, colour saturation is better – relative to what we expect from a mobile phone. There’s some further loss of detail, but it’s much less than you’d experience from a higher-resolution, smaller pixel pitch phone.

This approach to the camera also helps indoors photography. The HTC One M8’s shots will be a little less noisy than some of the higher-resolution competition. However, phones like the Sony Xperia Z2 sidestep the sensor pixel size issue by offering a super-processed mode that wipes out virtually all noise from its super-low-light shots.

HTC One M8 shots 9


HTC One M8 shots 11


Are UltraPixels any good?

Here’s where we hit a tricky issue. The HTC One M8 camera can produce good shots. But it never really rides that high in the way HTC sells it as doing. In daylight, you’ll get more reliable, ready-to-go results with an iPhone. And in good lighting, we expect the Galaxy S5 to wipe the floor with the HTC One M8 in terms of detail capture.

Our issue is that while the premise of UltraPixels is sound – larger sensor pixels are better – the way HTC sells them is well off the mark.

Here’s how HTC sees things, comparing sensor pixel sizes:
HTC One M8 shots 4


This is closer to the truth:
HTC One M8 shots 5


We should clarify that the largest block here is of an ‘out of date’ camera that is often derided in photo circles for having a sensor too small to provide pictures that can compete in its class. If we included your average DSLR, the HTC One M8 sensor pixel graphic would look tiny.

This isn’t an ‘emperor has no clothes’ case. But those robes aren’t quite as resplendent as the brochure may suggest, folks.

Macro

Some of the most satisfying pictures we took with the HTC One M8 were macro ones. The good f/2.0 lens is capable of focusing at about 10cm distance, which is about standard for a good mobile phone.

Other than being able to render a good amount of close-up detail, it was the manual focusing mode that came to the fore here. Like so many mobiles, the HTC One M8’s autofocus system will often fail to lock onto small, close-up targets – even in macro mode. The manual focus mode guarantees a nice, close focus. And the phone’s screen is easily sharp and bright enough to let you identify focus by eye (focus peaking would be nice, but we’re yet to see that in a mobile).

Macro-style demo #1:
HTC One M8 shots 12


A 1:1 pixel crop from the above photo:
HTC One M8 shots 15


Macro-style demo #2
HTC One M8 shots 13


A 1:1 pixel crop from the above photo:
HTC One M8 shots 14


Filters and Post-Editing

We’ve already looked at the Foregrounder and Ufocus post-shooting effects, but there’a a lot more on offer too. The filters section offers a bunch of Insagram-style presets, and you can also make your own. It’s pretty comprehensive too, with the following customisable settings:
  • White balance
  • Levels
  • Contrast
  • Exposure
  • Brightness
  • Saturation
  • Sharpness
  • Grain
  • Vignette
When the issues with many of the phone’s daylight photos can be fixed with a few seconds’ fiddle with these knobs, it seems a shame that the phone’s own image processing engine isn’t able to do the job itself. You can save your own filter presets – which comes in handy when fixing the common, basic contrast and saturation issues – but it’s hardly ideal.

Here's a demo of what you can do when adding UFocus and filters to a basic portrait:

Step 1: raw image
step 1


Step 2: UFocus applied
Step 2


Step 3: Filters applied
Step 3


Front-facing camera

In an unusual twist, the front camera of the HTC One M8 is higher-resolution than its rear one. It has a 5-megapixel sensor. Of course, it’s of the ‘normal’ type, without the UltraPixel style of the main sensor.

Selfies and such are much higher-quality than the 1-2-megapixel shots you get from other front cameras. There’s more noise than the rear camera shots, but they’re still great. It’s selfie-tastic etc.

Here are a few more main camera shots for good measure. Scroll down for the link to the next page, where we deal with battery life.

HTC One M8 shots 1


HTC One M8 shots


HTC One M8 shots 8


HTC One M8: Battery Life

The HTC One M8 has a 2,600mAh battery, up 300mAh from the last model. It’s an improvement, but both the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 have larger-capacity units.

Battery video test
Sony’s Z2 is the outlier here, with a 3,200mAh battery. The HTC One M8 gives you absolutely no access to the battery either, and replacing it is apparently extremely difficult. A teardown by iFixit shows that the battery lives under the motherboard. You really need to tear the phone apart to get to it. However, unless you kill the battery by getting water into the phone’s insides, charge stamina should remain strong for a couple of years at least.

We tested the phone’s longevity with both relatively normal use and with a video test. Off a full charge it’ll last for just under 10 hours of SD-quality video playback, with Wi-Fi off and screen brightness set to around 50 per cent. That’s two hours more than we got out of the original HTC One.

This improvement is not just down to the battery size increase, but also the efficiency improvements of the Snapdragon 800/801 processors (the HTC One has an older Snapdragon 600 chip).

In day-to-day use, though, we found that it’s pretty easy to drain the battery in a day, if you take some photos, check your phone often, leave 3G on and do even the littlest bit of gaming on the way to work. Without using any of the power saving modes, we managed to drain the phone of most of its power by the end of the work day. This was after we’d done our main benchmarking of the phone, too.
Battery drain chart


HTC Does offer a couple of power saving modes, both of which are very effective. One is designed for normal use, called Power Saver. This lets you throttle the CPU, reduce display intensity, turn off vibrate and constrain the data connection when the screen is off to increase the phone’s stamina. You can pick and choose which features the mode inhibits too.

If you want the phone to last a full two days, you need to use this mode. And it’s not too limiting either – you can happily use the phone on this mode long-term. This mode makes the phone use virtually no battery when in standby.
Extreme power


Battery charge
The next mode is for those who need the phone to last a few extra hours when it is about to die. It severely restricts what the HTC One M8 can do, providing its own basic interface (above) that only gives you access to five things – the phone, your messages, Email (not the Gmail app), Calendar and calculator. It also shuts off background data. You can automatically set this mode to kick in when the battery gets very low too.

Battery charging is pretty quick. You can go from empty to full in around two hours using the supplied 1.5A charger, and the speed of charging only drops off when the battery gets really quite full.

HTC One M8 – Call Quality

We were a little worried that the HTC One M8’s call quality may be affected by the ‘more metal, less plastic’ design, but we experienced no signal issues.

The call sound quality is beefier and chunkier than the norm, because the piezo driver used for the BoomSound top speaker switches to being the call speaker. It’s arguably not the perfect match to the task, lacking some of the bite you get with a dedicated speaker. But it does the job fine.


HTC One M8 - Connectivity

Running off the roll-call of connections in a top–end phone like this can be a bit dull, so we’ve left it to the end. The most important features to note include that this is a 4G phone, it is Wi-Fi ac compliant, it has NFC and the USB port on the bottom features MHL.

This lets you output video to a TV or another HDMI-equipped screen when used with the right cable. You can find them pretty cheap online.   



Should I buy the HTC One M8?

The HTC One M8 deserves its position as the top Android phone in HTC’s line-up. After the questionable design choices made in the HTC One Max, the M8 corrects its course to become a phone that is a worthy successor to the HTC One, our phone of the year 2013.

Its metal body looks and feels a lot better than the Samsung Galaxy S5. And as the core specs and screens are roughly comparable, this will be enough to convince many that HTC is the way to go. It’s not a bad move either – the look and feel of a phone does matter and the HTC One M8 nails this. HTC is setting the standard for phone design right now.

For that reason we're very comfortable recommending it. It's a fantastic phone. The only issue you may want to consider is the camera. It's outstanding in low-light and very fast, but it has a strange approach to exposure metering and purple chroma noise issues that purists will notice. Does this make it bad camera? Categorically not, especially as the Duo camera (imperfect as it is) adds a unique and fun feature that's perfect for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and co. But it is something worth considering as you decide which phone to buy this year.

Verdict

HTC set a very high bar with the HTC One and the HTC One M8 continues that trend. There are one or two things about the camera that need work, but in every other department the HTC One M8 is a modern classic.

Next, read our round-up of HTC One M8 problems