Spring is never slow for smartphone launches. With the Galaxy S5 coming soon, the next biggest competitor from HTC hits the ground running.
After delayed launches for their last two major smartphones, HTC isn’t pulling any punches. CEO Peter Chou walked on stage at the launch event for the HTC One M8 and announced that HTC doesn’t “do gimmicks.” He said they want to give their customers a “pure, beautiful, straightforward, and an everyday great experience.”
The All New HTC One M8 is at the very least a valiant effort to be all that and more. Chou boasted that last year’s One “was named the best smartphone at MWC,” which he found funny, because the device was almost a year old at the time. That bodes well for a new HTC One that finds ways to improve (at least marginally) in all areas.
Peter Chou is clearly proud of the metal construction of the HTC One line, especially with the new HTC One M8. Last year, HTC accomplished something amazing when they constructed a phone that was comprised of 70% metal. This year’s phone pushes the design even further and its materials are comprised of 90% metal.
HTC’s Lead Designer, Jonah Becker, explained that HTC is “passionate about design” and that they “design for exceptional people who think for themselves.” That passion really shows with the One M8, which is almost entirely milled out of a solid block of aluminum, Chou said the One M8 is “Just like a premium watch or fine jewelry,” drawing a contrast against “competitor’s” phones, which are mainly produced from plastic materials. Those weren’t the only shots across Samsung’s bow, though. When Jason Mackenzie–president of HTC America–took the stage, he also emphasized the new and improved design and said it was “It’s so much better than throwing a few dimples on the back” in a jab at the new Samsung Galaxy S5 design.
There’s more to the HTC One M8 than the physical design, though. The rest of the hardware got a boost as well. The processor on the M8 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, which is basically an over-clocked and precisely optimized version of the Snapdragon 800. The 801 on the M8 is quad core and clocks in at 2.3 GHz. The phone also sports 2GB of RAM.
The screen is 5″, slightly larger than last year, but still provides 1080p resolution. The increase in screen size means the pixel density will be slightly less, but it will take a keen eye to be aware of any difference. The phone will be available in 16 and 32GB models, but also returns SD card support up to 128GB. Many power-users are dependent on SD cards, but Android has been moving away from providing SD cards as they are a flawed solution to most storage needs.
Last year’s HTC One made a big effort to abandon the megapixel arms race and opt for a larger image sensor over cramming more pixels into that sensor. Not everyone was a fan of the resulting ultra-pixel camera, but the consensus was generally positive. This year’s HTC One M8 doesn’t do much to improve the resolution complaints lodged by some people, but attempts to make up for it with vastly improved camera experience and some fancy new features, the most prominent of which comes from the addition of a second camera sensor.
The new 2nd camera sensor serves to capture depth of field, which allows focus adjustments to be made after the shot is take, but also powers their new “Foregrounder” tool, which allows special shading and color effects to be added exclusively to the background of a photo, while leaving the foreground intact.
The camera app has also been drastically simplified and now allows granular controls over many different camera settings such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and etc. Even better, you can save custom configurations to easily return to the settings later if you have a favorite setup.
One of the biggest standouts from the 2013 HTC One was Boomsound. Never before had a smartphone produced the volume or quality of sound that the dual front facing speakers of the HTC One could. That is still the case today, but HTC is still at it, despite the sale of their portion of Beats Audio. Due to improved engineering and deeper speaker chambers, the HTC One M8 Boomsound is 25% louder and also has improved bass and audio quality. That makes the phone loud enough that many may keep the volume at the halfway setting unless they are showing a youtube video to a room full of people.
Last year’s Sense 5.0 and the updated Sense 5.5 for the HTC One family went a long way to pare down some of the intrusions into Android and simplified and flattened the interface while adding some key features. Sense 6.0, or as HTC calls it “Sixth Sense,” is even smarter.
The custom content curator, Blinkfeed, now has over 1,000 content partners and 5.7 million active users. Updates to Blinkfeed will prioritize social posts with more activity, such as Facebook likes, and allow updates from apps like Foursquare or Fitbit to display updates right in with the rest of your feed.
Other software improvements include updates to the Sense TV app bring an even more interactive television experience. The original HTC one had an IR port and TV guide integration, but the One M8 goes even further, with social integration and other second screen additions for various TV shows or sporting events.
The quick access features in Sense have been made even quicker, as the screen can now be turned on and off through a double tap, similar to the LG G2, but you can also access specific apps directly from the screen off position using various gestures. The phone will even automatically answer calls by you raising it to your ear.
HTC has also broken off several components of Sense 6 into separate apps, so that updates can now be provided via Google Play, similar to the way Android is updated via Google Play Services, so now you can have many of the newest Sense updates without waiting for your carrier to push a firmware update.
Battery life has been increased by around 40% due to a larger battery and some software improvements. Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC promises a plethora of battery settings that can stretch the battery life even further, depending on circumstances.
The only accessory announced is the Dot View case. Reminiscine of the classic Lite-Brite toy, the Dot View case provides super low resolution access to some of the most basic data such as notifications, battery life, and time without having to power on the phone.
As rumored, HTC made a bold move by making the HTC One available almost immediately after the announcement and it can be ordered now from the websites of most major North American carriers and several european retailers. HTC is wasting no time in getting the One M8 into the hands of drooling customers with the largest product rollout in HTC History. By the end of April, HTC has committed to releasing phones for over 230 carriers in over 100 countries.
It remains to be seen how well the phone will catch on, but HTC has done just about everything possible to make the phone desirable and available, so we’ll have to wait and see if that translates into sales success.
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