First look: hands-on with the new HTC One M8

25 Mar 2014

HTC One M8 shot using a HTC One M8

HTC hopes to have made one of the best smartphones of 2013 even better with the HTC One M8. We go hands-on with the new device at the launch in London.

HTC chair Cher Wang announced at the event today, Tuesday, that the HTC One is the brand’s best-selling smartphone ever. No doubt, the Taiwanese manufacturer wants to replicate that success with the upgraded M8 edition.

Looks good…

Going by looks alone, the newly designed body of the HTC One M8 combined with its updated UI is enough to make any Android-lover go goggle-eyed. HTC’s latest Sense 6 interface is clean, fluid and bang-on-trend in terms of design. This could be the first UI that has outdone the pure, stock Android interface.

Not only is the UI and sharp 1080p display inviting, but the hardware itself looks great too. For a 5-inch beast, the HTC One M8 doesn’t feel one bit bulky – which seems to be thanks to its tapered edges.

As soon as you unlock the phone, BlinkFeed takes over. Image-led and quite Flipboard-like in presentation, this customisable rolling news feed is never-ending and a must-have feature for newshounds who use their smartphone as a go-to device to find out what’s happening from key news sources and social media.

… and sounds good

The updated BoomSound audio technology is more than just 25pc louder than its predecessor. Playing tracks on the two HTC One variants side-by-side, there was no competition.

While the original HTC One strives to reach beyond that thin smartphone sound, it doesn’t quite get there despite all its amplification technology. The M8’s sound, however, genuinely has depth – at least, when you’re listening in the ideal conditions of a soundproofed room on a display floor.

Fun with the Duo Camera

Playing with the Duo Camera function on the HTC One M8 is something all users will do straight out of the box. Refocusing images after they’ve been captured is easy with UFocus, though, as you can see in the example below, sharpness deteriorates even when a short distance separates you from the farthest subject. I suspect that the performance of UFocus will ultimately depend on the quality of the original image.

HTC One M8 UFocus with Duo Camera

Image showing how the HTC One M8 UFocus changes the focus from the foreground in the first image to the background and then the middleground

Foregrounder effects, which apply cartoonish filters to the background only, are juvenile, but with the Duo Camera API opened up to developers, there’s potential for this feature to do much more. That’s where the excitement lies.

HTC One M8 Foregrounder with Duo Camera

Image shot with the HTC One M8 with added Foregrounder zoom effect

It’s worth noting, too, that original shots produce near-2MB images but image size is reduced to 25pc of that on edited versions. This is great for sharing; not so great if you want to use those edited shots for print.

Additional in-camera photo-editing features try to take on Instagram with filter effects, but really all these do is colorise the image or add some dorky frames. There are many options, though, and writing on the image is a nice add-on for the Snapchat generation.

HTC One M8 photo with writing

Image shot and edited using the HTC One M8

An initial test of the Image Match function, which should find images of the same subject, performed poorly. A full scan, depending on the size of your image gallery, can take a long time. For example, I was waiting about two minutes for a scan of about 150 photos. The results that followed weren’t worth the wait, either.

Video recording performed much better on its first trial run. With a simple tap, I could pause recording and pick it up again, keeping the footage together in one clip – a feature I’m sure Vine users will love.

Finally, for all your cancer-fighting fundraising needs, the HTC One M8 is a selfie machine with a 5MP front-facing shooter that did not disappoint.

HTC One M8 selfie

Selfie shot with the HTC One M8

First impression

As an update to a consistently top-rated smartphone, the HTC One M8 comes with high expectations. Though its new look and features may seem like a basic refresh at first, the HTC Sense 6 UI alone could be enough to place it streaks ahead of its predecessor. Redesigned from the ground up, I’m looking forward to spending more time with this interface.

While some of the new features didn’t perform as they should have in initial tests, these are just the gimmicks and their flaws can be overlooked if the power and performance of the new HTC One lives up to its promise. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review, evaluating the M8’s battery power, Motion Launch and more.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.