HTC One (M8) Preview: hands on


WhistleOut
28 March 2014

The One (M8) is set to hit shelves on April 1 through Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. It’s HTC’s new flagship device, taking over from the original One, AKA the One M7. The M8 brings a bunch of new features to the fold, as well as a beautifully touched-up design and some powerful new specs.

Simple. Beautiful. Brilliant.

HTC has updated its old motto of “Simply Brilliant” to the above, and it’s an apt change. The One M8 might look almost identical to the original in press photos, but in person there’s something about it that leaves you satisfied that this is a new device with its own design and feel.

For one, it’s more comfortable to hold. The more-rounded edges and curved back fit the hand with a perceptible amenity that you don’t often feel. This time around there’s even more of that beautiful metal casing which now curves all the way up around the sides, eliminating the plastic rim of its forebear.

For all its virtues, the One M8 isn’t perfect. The lock button at the top is awkward to reach thanks to the elongated design and larger screen compared to the M7. HTC would have been better served adopting the same approach it did with the upsized One Max of 2013, where the button was moved to the side for exactly this reason.

The capacitive buttons have also been moved on-screen, which would normally mean the bar where they previously sat could be eliminated, allowing for more display space. Unfortunately, HTC has kept the black bar for seemingly no reason other than to display its logo. We’re left scratching our heads as to why the keys needed to make the move on to the screen if this was to be the case. It seems like a waste of screen space having them there, when that black bar is sitting just below them accomplishing nothing but a little HTC advertising.

Camera quirks

The camera on the M8 follows the Ultrapixel approach of last year, which sacrifices megapixels to deliver better lighting. We’re yet to really take it out for a spin, but general pictures seem similar to last year’s M7. They’re good, but it would be nice to see a more significant improvement than we’ve so far experienced.

Definitely worthy of mention is the depth-sensor situated near the camera. This is a secondary lens that allows the M8 to determine where an object lies in relation to the rest of the photo. The idea is that this opens up a world of editing possibilities for the M8.

You can manually switch focus after a photo is done, place filters over the background without affecting the fore, and in the future an update will even allow you to copy individual objects or people from one photo and paste them in-between objects in another. This all worked wonderfully when HTC demonstrated it during the launch. In our hands it’s been less impressive, but we’ll wait until the full review to drop our verdict.

General use

As an actual phone the HTC One (M8) is very slick. It’s fast, beautiful and addictively smooth. The Sense 6 UI has been toned down somewhat over the last generation to offer a more intuitive use with more of what you need and less of what you don’t.

You can now activate the disabled stand-by screen with a number of gestures. Double-tapping wakes the screen up, swiping down (still while off) will launch the voice interface for calls and texts, right to left will go straight to the home screen and left to right launches BlinkFeed.

This time around HTC is releasing the BlinkFeed APK so that websites who are not partnered with HTC can still get their content on there. Apparently around 2 billion articles have already been read on BlinkFeed, so it seems it’s been more popular than we’d thought.

The BoomSound speakers have made their triumphant return. This time they’re 25% louder and, reportedly, have superior sound balance.

Dot Case

Probably our most and least favourite addition to the HTC ecosystem is the Dot case. It’s an awesome concept that allows you to use basic functionality of your phone while the case is closed, but with an 8-bit dot-matrix interface.

The actual screen stuff and gestures work fantastically. The problems kick in when you use the voice interface, which is admittedly fairly accurate but is not without its problems. Our main issue has been that, when trying to call a contact, if you have multiple numbers saved it defaults to the Home and Work numbers, instead of mobile. We ended up having to delete some of these extra numbers in order to place calls using voice.

Our second gripe is with the voice itself. It’s exactly what you’d expect to hear from an old GPS system from back in 2010. It’s harsh, pronounces words strangely and is a far cry from the friendly voices of Google Now and Siri.

Lastly, HTC has messed up the easiest part of the Dot Case; the hinge. The case is spring-loaded, so it’s always trying to close. This means you have to hold it open if you ever want to use your phone. Wrapping it around the back won’t work, either. The hinge isn’t flexible enough to lie flat against the rear of the M8, so it just sort of bounces there in your hand. You can hold it down, but this makes using the M8 one-handed almost impossible.

It’s a shame. The Dot Case is so close to being the coolest accessory we’ve ever used. It still gets full points for its execution while closed, but it needs to be more manageable when you’re actually using your phone.

Impressions

So far our initial impressions of the One M8 are good. It’s beautiful, smooth and fast. It’s comfortable to hold and continues the M7’s tradition of providing a phone that looks and feels streets ahead of the competition.

The camera quirks have left us hesitant to give praise just yet. Further rigorous testing is needed before we can start handing old gold stars but we’ll remain hopeful.

The Dot Case is a fantastic concept that only needs some minor tweaks to make it the single best phone accessory we’ve ever used. Hopefully it’ll get there in the near future.


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