HTC One M8 Australian Review: Your New Old Mate

HTC One M8 Australian Review: Your New Old Mate

The All-New HTC One, the HTC One M8, or the “my God, that thing is pretty”. No matter what you call it, the HTC One is back with a new model, and it’s another great leap forward.

When it comes to hardware, the new One M8 is no slouch.

The new One M8 has a 5-inch 1080p SuperLCD 3 screen with a new, hardened Gorilla Glass 3 coating.

It’s powered by a 2.5GHz version of the new quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, has 2GB of RAM, and packs in 16GB of storage for the Australian version.

There’s a 32GB version being sold internationally, but it’s a wait-and-see game whether Australia will get it.

To offset your disk woes, however, HTC has finally stuck a microSD expandable slot in the side of the device that can support 128GB worth of storage.

You also get 65GB of free Google Drive space. That means that Aussies can get 209GB of storage on their devices out of the box — nice.

It’s powered by a 2600mAh battery, which makes promises of “all-day” battery life. The One M8 does pack in a fast-charging ability, however, which juices the device up from sub-10 per cent to 80 per cent within one hour.

There’s also a decidedly Samsung-esque extreme power saving mode that promises 10 days of standby while still allowing basic apps and connectivity. We saw something similar on the new Galaxy S5 at Mobile World Congress.

Speaking of connectivity, the new One M8 supports it all: both TDD and FDD LTE/4G, making it compatible with all of Australia’s 4G networks, and giving it support for bands that aren’t even live in Australia yet, like Telstra’s nascent 2800MHz network.

The device also supports Category 4 4G, meaning that it’s able to pull down up to 150Mbps over supported networks.

The phone will come in grey and silver, with a gold model coming later on this year.

Right now, you can pick it up on contract from every major network, or a slightly wince-inducing $899 outright.

What’s Good?

Where do we even start? The HTC One M8 is a slam dunk from just about every angle.

From the second you pick it up, it makes you feel something. The first HTC One (which is now bafflingly called the One M7, for those playing at home) taught us that Android didn’t have to be discombobulated menus wrapped in cheap plastic dross. It showed us that Google’s flagship operating system could be draped in practical — and beautiful — HTC garnish, and borne aloft on a cloud of luxurious unibody aluminium device with alluring screen, camera and battery tech to match.

The new model is even better.

It’s designed to blend in perfectly with your luxury items: a fine piece of jewellery, an Omega watch or your Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead. It’s gorgeous, but at the same time, it isn’t ostentatious: it doesn’t know it’s better-looking than you. It just is.

There’s a beautiful iPhone 3GS-style curve to the back of the device, and it feels completely seamless right up to the screen. There’s almost no edge at all between the screen and the chassis when you roll it around in your hand. It’s infinite in its curve. It’s perfectly poised also in that it doesn’t rock back and forth on a flat surface when you put it down, either.

It’s all-round beautiful.

All that metal, combined with a larger screen, higher-capacity battery, new sensors, speakers and antennas would make any other phone a monstrosity in your hands when it comes to weight, but this is relatively light considering the gear it’s lugging around.

The brushed aluminium back is interrupted only by the inlaid black HTC logo, and an impressive dual camera array which takes some of the most interesting images we’ve yet seen from a smartphone.

Ultrapixel is back for another go around, and HTC claims that it can capture 400 per cent more light than the last version of the beefed-up sensor tech. That’s a meaningless statistic that we can’t exactly agree with, especially considering that the Ultrapixel’s version of “capture more light” on the One M8 seems to mean overexposing photos of portrait subjects (the composition, not the orientation). It’s slightly obnoxious, but in a way, it’s almost welcome. We took a few portrait shots side by side with an iPhone 5s, and despite the fact that the light looks better on an iPhone 5s, you’d be happier sharing the photo taken by the One M8 with other people.

Taking photos of people isn’t meant to be arty, at least not on a mobile phone — it’s meant to be functional. You’re meant to find a subject in the darkness, take a good shot of them standing in front of something cool, and share that with a friend. That friend shouldn’t have to read a caption about exactly what you’re standing in front of, or who she’s looking at. She should know both of those things thanks to the quality of the camera you shot it with, and that’s what she’ll get out of the exceptional One M8.

Even outside of its low-light performance, the M8 takes some stellar images with a bokeh effect that would make most high-end DSLR owners gasp.

That brilliant focus effect is thanks to some software trickery with the use of not one, but two cameras. The first (and main) camera in the whole affair is the Ultrapixel camera, which captures a photo just like it would on any other phone. Where the niftiness comes in is with the second ‘Duo’ camera, which captures depth information about the subject you’ve just shot. From there, you jump into the camera app and start editing.

There are a lot of tacky effects modes on the device, but the most interesting editing feature by far is that the phone can very intelligently detect and separate subjects in the foreground and background for better refocus masking.

Using features called UFocus and Duo Effects in the phone’s camera software, you can intelligently refocus an image into its mid-, fore-, and background with one click. Having used both abilities, they’re pretty impressive, and UFocus really is a treat. It refocuses quickly and intelligently on the centre plane, foreground and background of an image, and also allows you to mask out something or someone completely in the Zoe mode. It really is like having a powerful, no-nonsense Photoshop client on your phone that anyone could pick up and use.

Focus Tests

Click to enlarge

The only time that this doesn’t work is when you capture a shot in low-light. The depth camera can’t tell what it’s looking at, so you’re just back to the old fashioned, two-dimensional Ultrapixel job.

Here’s a 14-image showdown between the iPhone 5s and the HTC One M8.

Click to enlarge















There’s also a 5-megapixel, f2.0 front-facing camera for awesome photos of you and your mates. Unfortunately, it really is called the “Selfie” mode. Sigh — I hate that word.

Click to enlarge

The HTC One M8’s dual camera can also let you add real-time depth to an image, based on the positioning of the accelerometer — wiggle the phone around and the image moves appropriately.

In a way, with the One M8’s second camera attached to a brilliant photo editing app, HTC has made it a no-win scenario to root the device and install stock Android on it. You already have Android 4.4.2 with the least interfering skin in the world, as well as an amazing piece of camera software designed to take advantage of a one-of-a-kind feature. Bravo, HTC. Bravo indeed.

All this cleverness is powered by a swathe of fancy kit under the hood. The HTC packs in Qualcomm’s new quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, with a clock speed of 2.5GHz. There’s also 2GB of RAM under there to keep you belting along.

Editor’s note:
We would ordinarily marvel at the benchmark capabilities of the One M8, but HTC seems to be doing the same thing as Samsung in running a special high-power mode just for tests such as ours. It’s unfair because it skews the results into something you wouldn’t get in the real world, and that isn’t what our reviews are about.

The HTC One M8 we’ve been testing doesn’t appear to have the software version on it that would support a high-power mode, but seeing as how we got it directly from the event in New York (which, in the interest of disclosure, this journalist travelled to as a guest of HTC), it would be weird if it didn’t have it pre-installed.

If you’re dying to know how it performs, we nabbed a 2600 out of the One M8 on Geekbench 3, making it one of the fastest devices ever through our labs. If only it we could trust that result.

Back to the action.

You’d think that all this new kit would bring the HTC One M8’s battery down in a screaming, slumping, firey heap. But instead, HTC has installed a Trojan of a battery — and some smarts to go along with it — that sees the phone’s usable life extend to up to three days of heavy use, based on our tinkering. It’s able to stand up to stuff that would otherwise deplete your battery in mere hours.

An example: we had a staff meeting on Friday that Lifehacker’s Angus Kidman was unable to attend. That would have been a dealbreaker for the meeting, so we decided to prop the One M8 up for a three-hour-long Skype call, so he could participate in the discussion. The 4G radio was on non-stop, the screen was pumped to maximum brightness, the Boomsound speakers were working and the device only consumed 8 per cent of its own power. In three hours. An iPhone or a Galaxy S4 would have whimpered at the task, and depleted half of their respective batteries attempting to match HTC’s powerhouse. Unbelievable.

HTC has also paired a clever bit of accessory tech with its new phone, in the Dot View case. Dot View is a feature that activates when you double-tap the front of your device to wake it up with a specific Dot View case on. It then shines a light through the tiny perforations in the aforementioned flip cover accessory to show you info like the time, the weather and various notifications.

The One M8 also senses when a Dot View case is on the device when a call comes in, and displays the number or the contact who is calling and allows you to take the call without even opening the cover. It’s pretty neat, but can be a bit hard to fathom when you’re in a bright scenario like outdoors or in a well-lit room.

HTC should also be praised for packing in the microSD storage card option as standard on the One M8 this time around. Pair that with the generous Google Drive cloud cache offer, and you’ll have storage space coming out of your ears.

What’s Bad?

The wrap-around metal design of the One M8 is beautiful to feel and look at, but it can make the device tricky to hold in your hand at times. Slippery is the best word to describe the feeling of holding it in your hands at times.

The dual cameras are great for shooting, but often we found that the camera wouldn’t find a decent middle ground of exposure. Most shots were either slightly overexposed or slightly underexposed, which is a right pain if you’re trying to grab “the perfect shot” of some still life in your travels. You can fix it in post, but it’s still a pain.

The One M8 is also missing a few things here and there that are great, standout features on other devices right now, like a fingerprint sensor (which is on the iPhone 5s, Galaxy S5 and even the previous generation HTC One Max), a decent health gadget like the Galaxy S5’s heart rate monitor, and its own wearable companion (which HTC still promise is coming). Sure, the One M8 has health integration, but it feels like a badly copied afterthought, using the Snapdragon 801’s co-processor to track your steps and feed it straight into Fitbit (which in my view is one of the least impressive health apps out there right now).

The One M8 is also the only flagship now out of the big three (Sony, Samsung and HTC) that isn’t waterproof. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 as well as Sony’s Xperia Z2 are both water resistant, but the One M8 might as well melt on contact for all the good it will do you near liquid.

On top of all that, HTC still can’t seem to do an Android keyboard correctly out of the box.

This Is Weird

There’s a slight design flaw in the placement of the power button and the overly sensitive volume rocker: they’re way too close. Clicking one will almost certainly see you accidentally clicking the other at the same time. If you have small hands, it will annoy you to death.

The Worst Part

Two words: Motion. Control.

You see, HTC did this funny little thing where all of the gestures designed to do stuff on the One are turned on by default. Gestures like swipe one way from a dark, locked screen to get to Blinkfeed, the other way to get to your home screen, and another to unlock the device. You also get knock control, which means you can double-tap the device to get to your lock screen, and repeat the action to turn it off again.

None of it works the way it should.

The screen on the HTC One M8 is so damn sensitive that the thing goes off if you put it in your pocket with the screen facing your leg. The double tap function triggers the screen while you walk, followed by the movement of your leg unlocking the device in your pocket. Cue the phone being on for potentially hours at a time in your pants without you knowing.

I walked down the street constantly triggering and cancelling Google Voice before I figured out what was happening. Turn Motion Control off the second you get your new M8.

Should You Buy It?

HTC One M8

Price: $899

  • Beautiful design.
  • Interesting camera software.
  • Sense 6 is a useful Android skin.
Don’t Like
  • Kind of slippery in the hand.
  • Expensive.
  • Low resolution camera sensor.

I don’t care about any of the bad. The HTC One M8 is the right, honourable successor to the its older brother, the best phone of 2013, the original HTC One M7. The HTC One M8 is fine art in smartphone form. It’s a masterpiece of design, engineering and usability, and you’ll love it to death from the moment you grasp it in your hands.

It’s a little expensive for most tastes, but this is one of those times where the high price tag is most certainly worth the capital outlay.

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