Last year around this time, virtually every HTC One review published gave HTC’s flagship smartphone credit for being the best-looking Android phone ever released. The aluminum and glass beauty made rivals like the plastic Samsung (SSNLF) Galaxy S4 look cheap in comparison while Nokia (NOK) Lumia Windows smartphones seemed outright garish. Many people felt it bested even the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5s in looks.
The HTC One wasn’t all about appearance, though, it was powerful and took a unique approach to low-light photography by utilizing UltraPixels instead of a high megapixel count. As a result, last year’s edition of the HTC One often topped “best smartphone of 2013” lists.
Despite the accolades, the HTC One was crushed by both the Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone in 2013 sales. Even Sony (SNE) and its resurgent Xperia smartphones outsold HTC worldwide and the company publicly struggled.
There’s a lot riding on this year’s version of that flagship smartphone, the HTC One M8. I spent a week putting one through its paces. Here’s my HTC One review — 2014 edition.
HTC One Review: HTC One M8 Set to Take on Galaxy S5
Once again, HTC has proven its design chops are superior to Samsung’s. The HTC One M8 manages to look different from last year’s version, with rounder edges and fewer bits of plastic trim to end up with a chassis that’s 90% metal instead of the 70% the previous HTC One boasted.
HTC kept distinctive features like the dual, front-facing BoomSound speaker grills, added a gold case option (the iPhone 5s making its presence known) and generally smokes the Galaxy S5 when it comes to looks.
The Dot View Case accessory (pictured) is another example of HTC “thinking differently,” an approach I came to appreciate during my time with the HTC One review unit.
Staying too close to the previous generation can be risky in a smartphone industry marked by rapid change and HTC was careful to include the expected improvements in all features. It’s nothing radical, but the display is larger, the processor is faster, the battery lasts considerably longer and the camera has some cool new tricks (more on that on the next slide of the HTC One review).
I found the smartphone a joy to use (keep in mind, this coming from an iPhone guy); I haven’t had a Galaxy S5 review unit yet, but the HTC One M8 is easily the best-looking, best-performing and most enjoyable Android smartphone I’ve had my mitts on to date.
The 2014 HTC One review feedback has been excellent as well, with critical reviews averaging 8.8/10 and owner reviews scoring 9.7/10.
HTC One Review: The Camera
HTC and Apple have been noticeably absent from the smartphone spec wars, particularly the race to gain bragging rights for having the most megapixels in a smartphone camera.
While Nokia was releasing smartphone with a 41MP camera and it was tough to find any flagship smartphone under 12MP, the iPhone 5s had an 8MP camera and the HTC One’s primary camera was just 4MP.
However, both Apple and HTC used larger pixels (HTC calls them UltraPixels) on the image sensor to capture more light instead of packing a bunch of smaller pixels on it. This approach was designed to capture better low-light photos, a situation where smartphones are frequently used — think parties, nightclubs or weddings. Add in f/2.0 aperture and HTC says this results in capturing 300% more light than typical smartphone cameras.
The HTC One M8 continues in this tradition, but adds a second rear-facing camera dedicated to capturing depth data. The payoff is the unique ability to snap a photo, review it in the smartphone, then touch anywhere on the image and have the HTC One M8 instantly refocus the photo on the new spot. I spent an afternoon playing with this feature, and it works very well.
In terms of overall photo performance, the camera did reasonably well on low-light photos during the course of my HTC One review period (using HDR improved results considerably), but the lower resolution does mean that if you take a landscape shot and try to crop and zoom, it’s likely to be pixelated.
HTC One Review: HTC One M8 Specs
- 5-inch Super LCD display at 1920 x 1080 (full HD) resolution, 441 ppi
- Quad-core Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 801 CPU at 2.3 GHz and 2GB RAM
- 16/32 GB storage (expandable with microSD card)
- Dual 4MP rear-facing cameras with dual LED flash, 5MP font-facing camera
- Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB
- 2600 mAh Li-Po battery (non-removable) rated at up to 20 hours talk time
- Weight 5.64 oz
- Runs Android 4.4 (KitKat) and HTC Sense 6 UI
- Available in Amber Gold, Gunmetal Gray and Glacial Silver (HTC One review unit was gray)
- Currently selling at $199 on contract at most carriers
HTC One Review: Conclusion
HTC should have done better than it did in that sales battle against Samsung last year.
This year’s HTC One M8 again outshines the Galaxy S5 in the appearance department, and HTC has eliminated one Galaxy advantage by also offering a microSD card slot for cheap storage expansion.
However, Samsung hasn’t been sitting still. The Galaxy S5 may still be made of plastic, but it’s better looking plastic than last year, and Samsung has added features like fingerprint scanning and a heart rate monitor that appeal to a crowd showing increasing interest in fitness tracking. The HTC One M8 does use its existing sensors to integrate with a FitBit app, but it lacks the Galaxy S5’s specialized sensors.
That being said, I prefer HTC’s Sense to Samsung’s custom UI, and on the HTC One M8, Blinkfeed is particularly attractive.
My guess is we’re likely to see a repeat of last year where despite a wave of positive HTC One review results, Samsung’s momentum and marketing might keep the Galaxy S5 firmly on top of the Android heap.
But if you’re in the market for an Android flagship that offers great performance and the closest thing to an Apple design aesthetic you’ll find outside of Cupertino, the HTC One M8 is well worth considering.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.