The original HTC One was one of the best smartphones of 2013, but it still played second fiddle to Samsung's Galaxy S4. But rather than changing its approach, HTC took everything we loved about the first One and made it better. Sporting an even sexier metal design, a larger 5-inch display, louder BoomSound speakers and an innovative dual rear camera, the HTC One M8 ($199 on contract) blows away its predecessor. Add in nearly 10 hours of battery life, and the new One has what it takes to blow away the competition, too.
The HTC One M7 was one of the best-looking Android phones ever made, and the One M8 looks even sleeker. Like its predecessor, the One M8 has an aluminum back, though this time around, the chassis is 90 percent metal instead of 70 percent. The rear panel now wraps completely around the handset, from glass-to-glass. The change makes the new One feel more rounded and comfortable to hold, but a bit more slippery.
Our unit has a Gunmetal Gray paint job with a brushed aluminum finish that contrasted nicely with the matte black HTC logo on the phone's rear panel. If that isn't your color, you can also opt for Amber Gold or Glacial Silver. Up front, the handset's BoomSound speakers have a matte Gunmetal Gray finish that makes the handset's polished chamfered edging pop. And since the One uses on-screen Android buttons rather than the soft touch buttons found on the M7, the handset's face looks significantly cleaner.
The volume rocker, located on the One M8's right edge, is more pronounced than the previous generation's, making it easier to press. HTC has also moved the headphone jack to the bottom edge next to the micro USB port, so the top now houses just the power button and IR blaster. We like that the power button is now positioned farther to the right, but having it by our right thumb (as on the Galaxy S5) would be easier. Around back is the handset's dual-lens Duo Camera (more on that later).
To accommodate its 5-inch display (which is 0.3 inches larger than last year's model), the One's chassis grew taller and a hair wider than its predecessor, 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 inches to the original's 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches. The additional volume means the One M8 is also heavier than last year's version, 5.6 ounces versus 5 ounces. Samsung's upcoming 5.1-inch Galaxy S5, which comes wrapped in plastic, is 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.32 inches and weighs just 5.1 ounces.
The HTC One's 5-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel Super LCD 3 display produced stunning visuals in our tests. Elements we usually take for granted, such as the home screen wallpaper and app icons, were pleasing to look at. The vibrant blues and reds of Spider-Man's suit in the trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" seemed to leap off the screen.
In general, we found colors to be more vibrant on the One M8's display than its predecessor's. Whites also looked truer on the One M8 than on the One M7 or the Galaxy S4, which had a slightly blue tint. The color quality on the iPhone 5s was a bit more neutral than the One M8, which skewed toward oversaturating reds and blues.
The One M8 displayed 115 percent of the sRGB gamut one our color test, meaning it overcompensates for certain hues. By comparison, the iPhone 5s displayed a nearly perfect 98.4 of the sRGB gamut. Color reproduction on the One M8 was fairly accurate with a Delta-E score of 4.1 (lower numbers are better). Still, Samsung Galaxy S5 was slightly more accurate at 0.9, while the iPhone 5s measured 0.05. A score of 0 is perfect.
At 368 nits, the HTC One M8's display is brighter than the average smartphone, which reached just 328 nits. The original HTC One was a slightly brighter 375 lux. Samsung's Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5s, however, proved brighter than the One M8, hitting 373 nits and 430 nits, respectively.
There's no contest here. The new HTC One's front-facing BoomSound speakers are the best sounding smartphone speakers in the world. Kendrick Lamar's bass-heavy "Compton" pounded loudly with each hit, and guitar riffs in Killswitch Engage's "Rose of Sharon" shredded the din of our quiet conference room.
HTC says the new One's speakers' are 20 percent louder than last year's model, which translates into more dynamic-sounding audio. This improvement comes despite the fact that the One M8 doesn't use the same Beats Audio engine as its predecessor. And when placed side by side, bass hits on Kendrick Lamar's "Compton" were far deeper on the new One, while treble was louder without sounding too tinny.
At 83 decibels, the One's speakers are measurably louder than the original One's, which reached just 81 dB, the same as the Samsung Galaxy S4's tinny speakers. The LG G2 pumped out just 80 dB of sound.
The One M8 comes loaded with HTC's Sense 6.0 UI, which rides on top of Google's Android 4.4 KitKat. While we like the interface's clean lines and crisp fonts, it's mostly more of the same. The biggest difference between Sense 6.0 and Sense 5.0 is HTC's new color coding motif, which gives certain proprietary apps specific colors based on their function. Entertainment apps such as Sense TV and Gallery get an orange banner, while productivity apps such as Email and Tasks are Blue.
You can also customize the HTC One's theme by selecting one of four available home screen wallpaper themes. The themes also change BlinkFeed's main color scheme, as well as the color for the One's quick settings menu and text.
Speaking of BlinkFeed, HTC has switched the app out of the default home screen slot in favor of a standard Android screen. The app is now accessed by swiping from left to right from the main home screen. If you prefer having BlinkFeed as your home screen, however, you can assign it as such.
The One's default home screen features a weather and time widget up top, below which is a Google Now search bar, Verizon and Google apps folders, and shortcuts for Mail and Play Store.
At the bottom are omnipresent shortcuts to the Phone, Messages, Apps Drawer, Chrome and Camera apps. The same apps sit on the One's lock screen. Unfortunately, you can't customize these lock screen apps. You can, however, add various widgets to your lock screen, including Google Now updates, weather and a clock.
The One M8's notification menu is significantly improved over the M7's. You now get access to 21 quick settings rather than the eight offered with the M7. What's more, you can edit which of these appear on the notifications screen, including Data Roaming, Mobile Hotspot, Brightness, NFC, Media Output and others. Samsung's Galaxy S4 offers a similar setup, though screen brightness is easier to adjust on the S4, thanks to its slide selector.
More than a Flipboard newsreader knockoff, the new version of BlinkFeed brings additional functionality. For instance, thanks to integration with Foursquare, BlinkFeed can now provide restaurant suggestions in your area based on the time of day. Integration with Fitbit will let the HTC One pull in your workout data. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait for this feature, as HTC told us it won't be ready at launch.
BlinkFeed still provides updates from your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And as before, you can add specific topics or websites to the feed that update as new stories hit the Web. It's easier to customize your feed now, which we appreciate.
One of the biggest additions to the One M8 is Motion Launch. Similar to Motorola's Moto X, Motion Launch detects when you pick up the phone and, like LG's KnockOn, lets you double-tap the screen to unlock.
However, the new One M8 goes further than other smartphones. You can swipe in from the right to go right to the home screen and swipe in from the left to unlock to BlinkFeed. Swiping up from the bottom takes you directly to the most recently used app. You can also swipe down from the top to unlock to voice calling, or turn the phone to portrait mode and press the volume up button to unlock to the Camera app.
Note that if you have security enabled you'll have to unlock the One before performing one of the above actions.
Like the original One, the One M8 comes equipped with an IR blaster on its top edge that works in conjunction with the Sense TV app to let you control your TV, cable box and home theater system. From here you can change the channel, adjust the volume, select video output settings and pretty much anything else you can do with your standard remote.
HTC's Sense TV uses the Peel service to tap into your cable or satellite provider's feed to provide you with a channel guide complete with what's on and what's coming on next. You can also watch favorite shows and channels and share them via social media so everyone can admonish you for watching "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
HTC packed the One M8 with Qualcomm's powerful quad-core 2.3-GHz Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. And unlike the original One, the new One also includes a 64GB microSD card slot, so you'll have plenty of storage space for all your favorite movies, music and photos.
During our time with the One, we were impressed by its powerful performance. Resource- intensive games such as "N.O.V.A. 3" were buttery smooth and looked better than we've seen on most other smartphones. Apps opened and closed in the blink of an eye, and the camera fired off photos instantaneously.
On our real-world VidTrim test, the One M8 took a blistering 4 minutes and 47 seconds to transcode a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p. That's more than three minutes faster than the average smartphone (8:10), while the original HTC One took 7:33. The Galaxy S4 and LG G2 were also slower than the One M8, wrapping up the test in 7:05 and 7:04, respectively. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 finished the test in a respectable 5:15.
Not surprisingly, the HTC One offered some of the best scores we've seen on synthetic benchmark tests. On the Geekbench 3 test, for example, the handset scored 2,480. That's far better than the smartphone category average of 1,694. The Snapdragon 800-powered LG G2 scored just 1,595, while the Snapdragon 600-powered HTC One M7 scored 1,972.
Samsung's Galaxy S4, which also sports a Snapdragon 600 chip, did slightly better with a score of 2,207. Apple's iPhone 5s with its 64-bit A7 processor, however, nudged past the One M8, scoring 2,556, as did Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 and its Snapdragon 800 CPU and 3GB of RAM.
On the Quadrant benchmark, which tests a phone's overall performance, the HTC One scored 24,645, smashing the category average of 9,432. The Galaxy S4 and original HTC One scored 11,962 and 12,150, respectively, while the LG G2 scored 16,960. The Galaxy Note 3 scored 22,279.
The HTC One M8 was an equally strong performer on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, muscling its way to a score of 20,965. The average smartphone scores 10,588, while the original HTC One hit 10,325. The Samsung Galaxy S4 scored 10,905 and the LG G2 registered 15,574. Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 scored an 18,321.
Camera & Camcorder
It's not the first HTC phone to pack two rear-facing cameras (remember the EVO 3D?)--but HTC has taken the technology a step further on the One M8. Not only can the Duo Camera capture 3D-like images, but now you can alter the focus of your photo after you've taken it.
The larger of the two cameras, which uses the same 4-MP Ultrapixel sensor as the One M7, serves as the primary shooter. During our tests, the One M8's camera captured quality low-light photos both with and without the flash, falling just behind the iPhone 5s. The Galaxy S4's low-light images were blurry and lacked detail, while the One M7's shots had a blue tint surrounding our subject.
In daylight, the HTC One captured beautiful images. A shot of a red flower looked more natural when taken with the HTC One and iPhone than it did when taken with the S4, which made colors look too hot. That said, a shot of a blue sky looked more even when taken with the iPhone than it did with the One M8. Because of its relatively low resolution relative to its competitors, we couldn't zoom in on photos taken with the One as far as we could with the iPhone 5s or Galaxy S4.
A 1080p video shot with the One looked gorgeous, capturing the action in a local dog park. Colors looked clear and details were crisp. However, we would have liked HTC to add in optical image stabilization, as videos were relatively jumpy.
For all of you selfie fans out there, HTC has equipped the One M8 with a 5-megapixel front shooter. That's far better than the 2.1-MP camera on the One M7, and the difference in quality shows. Images shot with One M8 looked sharp and colorful, compared with the slightly grainy photos taken with the M7. Even the iPhone 5s' front camera couldn't hold a candle to the One M8's.
HTC has also brought back its Zoe feature, which lets you take a photo and a short video in one shot. Now, however, you can shoot videos longer than 3 seconds by holding down the record button for 3 seconds and releasing it. You can also upload Zoes to social media sites, as well as let your friends collaborate with you on your creations. The Zoe feature also gets more functionality, including Gif Creator, Sequence Shot and Object Removal. We still think the Zoe name is confusing, but we're glad to see that HTC has beefed up the feature.
The new One's Duo Camera works in tandem with the phone's Ultrapixel shooter to capture depth in your photos. By doing so, the camera adds a host of fun editing options, including Dimension Plus, UFocus and Foregrounder.
Dimension Plus lets you add a touch of 3D to your images. To activate it, take a photo, select the Effects tool and choose Dimension Plus. The new result is an image that reacts to how you move the phone, similar to the iPhone's Parallax feature. While Dimension Plus worked well on close-ups, we found its effects were most noticeable when taking photos of landscapes. Unfortunately, you can't share Dimension Plus photos, as the effect only works on the One M8.
UFocus lets users change the focus of photos to the background or foreground. When you focus on a subject in the foreground, UFocus will automatically blur the background. Focus on the background and the foreground will blur. The feature is fun to use, but we saw uneven results. In one image, for example, we tapped our subject's face, only to have the top of his head blur with the background.
Instagram's tool works better, because it lets you manually choose an area to focus on and how much of the photo it blurs. The One M8 lets you select the portion to focus on, but not how much of the photo to blur.
The Foregrounder app lets you add a filter to the background of photos, while leaving the foreground untouched. Filters include Sketch, Zoom Bur, Cartoon and Colorize. If you're going to use one of these filters, the foreground's focus has to be fairly exact.
In the future, HTC says it will release a Copy and Paste camera mode that will let you copy a subject from one photo and paste it into another shot.
HTC doesn't clobber you over the head with pre-loaded apps like some other smartphone makers. Beyond BlinkFeed and Sense TV, the only other apps to speak of are the Zoodles Kids Mode, Parental Dashboard and ISIS Mobile Wallet.
Zoodles, which was available on the previous HTC One, offers games and activities that are great for young children. What's more, the app has a parental lock that ensures kids can't exit Zoodles without their parent's permission. The Zoodles' Parental Dashboard app provides parents with a means to control what their kids can and can't do while using Zoodles, including the types of apps your child can use, the websites they can visit and games they can play.
ISIS Mobile Wallet lets you use the One to pay for items at ISIS-enabled point-of-sale terminals. You can find available ISIS terminals near you by visiting ISIS' website and plugging in your zip code. Before you start making mobile payments, though, you'll have to ensure you have a secure SIM card. If you don't, you can talk to your carrier about getting one. Unfortunately, the service is supported only by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
While HTC doesn't hit you with many apps, Verizon seems to have no problem doing so. The carrier throws in My Verizon Mobile for checking your account information, Mobile Hotspot, Verizon Tones, VZ Protect, Accessories, NFL Mobile, Cloud, Caller Name ID, Slacker Radio and VZ Navigator. It's best to stay away from VZ Navigator, as the app performs the same function as Google Navigation with an added fee.
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Our HTC One M8 delivered incredibly fast Web speeds over Verizon's 4G LTE AWS network. In Central Jersey, we recorded download speeds as high as 83 Mbps using the Speedtest.net app. Uploads were just as impressive, topping out at 33 Mbps. Near our office in New York's Flatiron district, download speeds hit 29 Mbps, while uploads reached 17 Mbps.
The HTC One M8 houses a 2,600 mAh battery, which is larger than the 2,300 mAh pack in the older One. As a result, the new One lasted a marathon 9 hours and 52 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Verizon's 4G LTE network with the display brightness set to 150 nits. That's more than two hours longer than the category average of 7:00.
On our earlier version of the Battery Test (with the brightness at 40 percent), the older One lasted only 5:44. The iPhone 5s died out in 5:46 and the Galaxy S4 gave up the ghost after 5:25. However, the LG G2 lasted a fairly impressive 9:14.
In the future, HTC says it will release a downloadable enhanced power-saver mode that will let the phone last up to 10 days on standby. The feature does this by only allowing manual access to wireless data.
The HTC One M8 is every bit as awesome as its predecessor and more. The metal design and larger screen are absolutely gorgeous, and the BoomSound speakers trounce the competition. The new Duo Camera adds some fun to the photo-taking experience, even if the image quality still trails the iPhone 5s. What's more, the new One's longer battery life is a big step forward, as is the phone's overall performance. We also appreciate the enhanced BlinkFeed feature.
That said, we're somewhat bothered by the number of features that HTC says we'll have to wait to download later. These IOUs include Fitbit BlinkFeed integration, Copy and Paste in the camera app and the enhanced battery saver.
Those issues aside, the new HTC One M8 is easily the best Android phone on the market, and it gives the iPhone 5s a run for best smartphone period. The new One certainly has its work cut out for it with Samsung getting set to release the fitness-focused Samsung Galaxy S5, complete with a built-in heart rate monitor. For now, however, the HTC One M8 is the smartphone to beat.