Mobile Technology

Early impressions: 2014 HTC One (M8)

Early impressions: 2014 HTC On...
Gizmag takes an early look at the new HTC One (M8)
Gizmag takes an early look at the new HTC One (M8)
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Gizmag takes an early look at the new HTC One (M8)
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Gizmag takes an early look at the new HTC One (M8)
The One's unibody aluminum build is back and better than ever
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The One's unibody aluminum build is back and better than ever
A new feature lets you tap twice on your sleeping phone's screen to wake it up
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A new feature lets you tap twice on your sleeping phone's screen to wake it up
The One M8 has a 5-in screen, but that includes its new onscreen buttons
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The One M8 has a 5-in screen, but that includes its new onscreen buttons
The One M8 feels great in hand – and looks pretty damn good too
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The One M8 feels great in hand – and looks pretty damn good too
The new gun metal color for the One M8
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The new gun metal color for the One M8
HTC has hit some hard times, but phones like this make us hope this company sticks around
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HTC has hit some hard times, but phones like this make us hope this company sticks around
The new Dual Camera lets you tweak photos with some fun depth effects
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The new Dual Camera lets you tweak photos with some fun depth effects
Outdoor shot taken with the One M8 (no depth processing added)
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Outdoor shot taken with the One M8 (no depth processing added)
The same shot with the One's UFocus depth effect added
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The same shot with the One's UFocus depth effect added
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HTC doesn't beat around the bush. On the same day that it announced its new One (M8), the phone went up for sale. Not pre-orders, mind you, I mean you could actually walk into a store and buy the damn thing right after the announcement. After jetting to NYC and back for HTC's launch event, we have our review unit in hand and are ready to share some initial impressions.

During my first (sleep-deprived) hands-on with the One M8 at the event, my first thoughts were that it's another very nice phone, but only a minor update over the 2013 One. After spending some more time with it, I mostly agree with that sentiment. But the biggest amendment I'd make so far is just how nice, polished, and well-thought-out this phone is.

The One M8 feels great in hand – and looks pretty damn good too
The One M8 feels great in hand – and looks pretty damn good too

I usually don't have too big of a problem with Samsung's plastic and faux leather finishes, but if you want a more authentic smartphone build, then look no further than the One M8. It has a smooth aluminum build, and I think the new gun metal color and finish looks terrific. It's more sloped and feels smoother in hand than last year's One. Have you ever wished you could take the premium construction of an Apple product, and put it on an Android phone? If so, then the One M8 is right up your alley. It might be the most photogenic product I've ever reviewed.

HTC has hit some hard times, but phones like this make us hope this company sticks around
HTC has hit some hard times, but phones like this make us hope this company sticks around

I really like the new "Motion Launch" lock screen controls in HTC Sense 6. Similar to LG's Knock-on, you can tap twice on the screen of your sleeping One to peek at the lock screen. Tap twice again to turn the display back off. You can also swipe up when the screen is off to go straight to your home screen or even answer a call by lifting the phone up to your ear. These are the kinds of thoughtful little details that can make using your phone a little quicker and easier.

The new Dual Camera lets you tweak photos with some fun depth effects
The new Dual Camera lets you tweak photos with some fun depth effects

I'm impressed with my early tests with the One M8's camera. Like its predecessor, the UltraPixel camera is still great in low-light conditions. This time around it's joined by a second rear camera devoted to sensing depth. Some of the depth-based effects are a little gimmicky, I suppose. But, hey, smartphones should be fun, right? And I think the new camera features achieve that end.

So far I've played the most with the UFocus feature, which simulates a narrow depth of field on a DSLR with a wide-aperture lens. You can pick and choose different points of focus after shooting, much like the Lytro camera that burned up headlines a couple years ago. Most of the shots I took with the One M8 look pretty good ... just know that they're still a far cry from "real" bokeh shots taken with a professional wide aperture shooter.

Here's one example, including the original:

Outdoor shot taken with the One M8 (no depth processing added)
Outdoor shot taken with the One M8 (no depth processing added)

... and the same shot after applying the UFocus depth effect (notice the jagged little pieces of the background fence that mistakenly stayed in focus):

The same shot with the One's UFocus depth effect added
The same shot with the One's UFocus depth effect added

... and yet another with part of the background as the main focus:

There's also a pseudo-3D effect, called Dimension Plus, that lets you tilt your phone to (sort of) see the image from slightly different angles. Not much to say about this so far, other than it too is a little bit gimmicky, but also a little bit fun.

Can't comment much on battery life yet, but it does seem to be draining pretty slowly. That might bode well for HTC's claim that the new One gets 40 percent better battery life than last year's model.

A new feature lets you tap twice on your sleeping phone's screen to wake it up
A new feature lets you tap twice on your sleeping phone's screen to wake it up

At this point, the One M8 looks like another top-notch flagship from one of my favorite OEMs. I really hope this company survives its rough times: you don't see many phones with this much polish and premium allure.

We're just scratching the surface here, so stay tuned. Much more to come on the HTC One M8 as we spend more quality time with it.

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