When we did our initial HTC One M8 review last year, we were in awe of the phone's stunning design. It was more than just a pretty chassis too, complemented by powerful hardware and genuinely useful, unintrusive software. But a new generation of flagships has since arrived in the form of the HTC One M9, LG G4. Is HTC's flagship of yesteryear still capable of mixing it up with the best of them? Read our updated HTC One M8 review to see how it holds up.
- Stunning metallic design
- Flawless for multitasking and gaming
- Sense UI is slick and lightweight
- BoomSound stereo speakers
- UltraPixel camera was never fit for a flagship camera
HTC One (M8) release date and price
The HTC One M8 release date was way back in March 2014, so it can easily be picked up on networks or off-contract just about anywhere in the US and UK. As you'd expect, the HTC One M8 price has dropped a fair old bit since its release, and it can now be picked up for around $500 in the US, or £350 in the UK.
HTC One (M8) design and build quality
As we well know, the M8 is a looker, and asserted HTC as the undisputed champion of smartphone design in 2014. It retains the satisfyingly weighty aluminum chassis of its predecessor, but adds a slight curve to the back, making it more comfortable to hold. The Gun Metal version has a brushed metal finish on the rear, while the Glacial Silver and Amber Gold have a metallic speckle. Of the three, the Gun Metal version is my favorite, and makes the One M8 virtually indistinguishable from its successor, the One M9.
At the top and bottom of the M8’s rear are two horizontal plastic strips which help the phone’s antennae get better signal. The fact that Apple has since used several of these design traits in their iPhone 6 is a testament to what a well-built device the M8 is. On the front, the M8 has two strips of pinprick holes above and below the screen housing a pair of BoomSound stereo speakers. This – along with the curved back – makes the One M8 a bit longer and thicker than the Samsung Galaxy S6, which also has a marginally larger screen by 0.1”.
The charger port and headphone jack are tucked away at the bottom-right of the M8. While most people are indifferent about the charger port’s positioning, there are some who feel that the headphone jack rightly belongs at the top of a phone. After some time with the M8 however, I found that keeping a phone upside-down in the pocket - as required if you have headphones plugged into a jack at the bottom - makes it easier to slip into the hand in an upright position when you pull it out.
On the M8's right side we have the nanoSIM tray and volume buttons. The buttons are perfectly positioned to control with your thumb, but for me they were too flush with the chassis. This made them hard to press when I wanted to use the volume rocker through my trousers with the phone in my pocket (I'm not the only person who does this, right?). While making the buttons more pronounced could've tainted the finely-crafted look of the phone, they could at least have been designed to be more sensitive.
Answering criticisms aimed at its predecessor, the M8 features a microSD slot on its left side, expanding the phone’s memory by up to 128GB.
Finally, at the top of the One M8 is a black plastic strip, housing the power button at the top right, and an infrared sensor, which you can use to control home theatre systems, TVs and set-top boxes. The strip also works with the plastic lines on the back of the phone to help the wireless technologies inside communicate with the outside world.
HTC One (M8) display
At 5 inches, the One M8 display is larger than its predecessor's. With a 1080p resolution, it’s actually got a lower pixel density than the One (M7), which can be attributed to the fact that the latter has a 4.7-inch screen. With that said, the display on the M8 is certainly brighter, and replicates colors more naturally.
The One M8 screen doesn't quite compete with that of the Galaxy Note 4, or the Quad HD displays on the Galaxy S6 and LG G3, but let's remember that the M8 is a year older than those phones – which is a long time in the smartphone universe. The One M8 display may not be top of the pile any more, but it's a testament to its quality that HTC chose to stick with the exact same display for the One M9. It still looks great.
HTC One (M8) software
The One M8 comes out of the box with Android 4.4.2 KitKat overlaid by HTC Sense 6, but has since received the Android 5.0 Lollipop update, as well as some UI tweaks in preparation for Sense 7.
The OS is well integrated with Google, and features the usual line-up of Google apps as well as some welcome Lollipop elements - such as the Recent Apps cards and smart locking. Crucially, Sense is a minimal and unintrusive UI, comprised of sharp, skinny fonts and an array of customization options.
HTC Themes was released for the One M8 in April 2015, offering a level of customization previously unseen with major manufacturer UIs. Themes lets you take photos, then uses the photo data to match it with appropriate icons and fonts. If what it selects doesn't suit you, you can always edit these things yourself. Not all the customization options are available yet on the One M8 (you'll have to wait until the Sense 7 UI update, probably in May), but it's a fantastic feature for those who want to personalize their phones without committing to custom ROMs.
Swipe to the left of the homescreen and you arrive at BlinkFeed, the well-presented tile interface with echoes of Windows’ Metro theme. Despite my scepticism towards receiving a mishmash of news, social media feeds and calendar events all on one screen, BlinkFeed proved surprisingly good at knowing what I was interested in. It shows popular news stories and Facebook posts from people you actually interact with, rather than just random snippets from all your news sources. BlinkFeed lets you add your own feeds, and read posts using an in-built reader, saving you from having to open the corresponding app.
One of the unsung One M8 features is the ability to to turn it into an infrared remote control for TVs, set-top boxes and sound systems. In April, HTC dropped support for its 'TV' remote control app - which worked perfectly well - and replaced it with Peel Smart Remote. While the new app offers some handy features like TV guides, setting favorite shows and so on, it's proven prone to crashing when we've been using it, and we'll stick with using the original TV app as long as we can.
HTC One (M8) performance
The quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset, clocked to 2.3GHz, means that the One M8 specs don't quite top the table any more, having since been trumped by the Sony Xperia Z3, LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4, not to mention recent flagships like the Galaxy S6 and HTC's own One M9.
Nevertheless, it is an efficient and powerful processor that will let you heedlessly leave a large number of apps running in the background and have 20 websites open at once without any adverse effects. Some of the credit here has to go to the svelte Sense UI for being so sparing in its use of CPU resources. In our AnTuTu test, the One M8 performed better than the OnePlus One and Galaxy S5, and remains a powerful phone that will handle demanding Android tasks for a couple of years yet.
Fuelling the graphics power in the M8 is the Adreno 330 GPU. Once again, a few phones have since surpassed it, but it still plays many of the most graphically demanding games without a hitch. Deus Ex: Fall and Riptide GP, for example, both run brilliantly. It did, however, stutter ever so slightly on the strenuous Real Racing 3.
HTC One (M8) audio
The One M8 houses a pair of BoomSound speakers which deliver crystal-clear sound that tops most flagships even a year on (in fact, the only smartphone speakers to have clearly outdone those on the One M8 are those on the One M9). Mid-high notes are very clear, while it's a little lacking in the bass and volume departments.
The One M8 utilizes its BoomSound speaker for phone calls, using the piezo driver in the the speaker to deliver deep, clear call quality. We had no problems with signal quality either, suggesting that the plastic signal strips on the back of the phone are doing their jobs properly.
HTC One (M8) camera
The One M8 camera uses UltraPixel technology, which HTC believes more than makes up for the fact that it's only 4MP. According to HTC, because the pixels on its camera are bigger, the M8 can process more light, resulting in clearer, more balanced photos.
With the help of a f/2.0 wide-angle lens, photos taken with the M8 look well-balanced, if a little over-exposed in bright conditions. Conversely, it’s good for low-lighting shots, and does a good job of picking out details, while suffering from less noise in the dark than rival phones.
The Duo Camera is a sensor above the rear camera that measures depth information, allowing for some interesting bokeh-style effects. These look good, with the cartoonised, sketched, or otherwise jazzed-up backgrounds always being clearly demarcated from objects in the foreground. A bit more gimmicky – but entertaining nonetheless - are the options to have animated confetti or snow falling over the photos you've taken, or 'Dimension Plus', whereby you can tilt your camera to create the illusion of looking at a photo from different angles.
Since the release of the selfie-oriented Desire Eye, HTC has boosted several of the M8’s camera features with the ‘Eye Experience’ update. Dual Capture has been replaced with Split Capture, which takes snaps or videos with the front and rear cameras simultaneously. These photos take up half the screen each, and you can retake photos in either of the pictures if they’re not quite right. Face Fusion is a freaky feature that lets you transplant faces from one body to another, and you can now take voice-activated selfies.
The 4MP camera held up surprisingly well to the high-end phones of last year, but even then didn't quite match up to phones like the Galaxy S5 or iPhone 6. Colours aren't as natural, macro shots don't capture as much detail, and photos feel like they're taken for uploading to Facebook rather than printing and treasuring.
The rear camera on the One M8 is one area in which the phone now feels somewhat dated, and it's no surprise that it was demoted to being a front camera on the One M9 (a job which it's very good at).
HTC One (M8) battery
The One M8 battery is 2600mAh, and irons out many of the issues faced by its predecessor. While most high-end phones now have a 3000mAH or bigger battery, some clever engineering and the Sense UI mean that the One M8 can last for a surprisingly long time.
Light users who browse the web, make phone calls and use some apps can expect to squeeze two days’ use out of their M8. Should you leave the screen on constantly, then it clocks around seven hours, which isn't far off the endurance expected from a bulky-batteried phablet. HTC also claims that its Extreme Power Saver Mode can get 15 hours life out of just 5 per cent battery.
HTC One (M8) technical specifications
The HTC One M8 is a perfectly balanced smartphone, offering high-end, intelligently-designed features across its hardware and software that work together to form a true technological gestalt. In a world where smartphone tend to be defined by the size and luridity of their screens, the One M8 is an embodiment of elegance.
The only major complaint I have about the One M8 is its camera. I respect HTC’s audacity in claiming that megapixels don’t matter, but the M8's glitzy features, UltraPixels and Duo Camera just don't match up to the top-end phone cameras out there.
Even a year after its release, the One M8 is a near-perfect phone, and it's little surprise that HTC kept its design for the One M9. With the One M8 price dropping in response to rivals’ recent releases, now is a good a time as any to consider this stand-out smartphone.
Does our HTC One M8 review tempt you to go back and get this great phone now that it's cheaper, or is it a bit 'last year' for you? Let us know in the comments.