Hands-on: 2014 HTC One (M8)
March 25, 2014
Today we got our first glimpse of the new HTC One (M8). We already know it brings a dual camera, Lite-Brite-esque cover, and some serious gun metal. But what's it like to actually use? We were at the company's launch event, and got some hands-on time.
If you've used the original HTC One, then you already have a pretty good idea of what you're getting here. The 2013 One's aluminum build and overall design aesthetic are back in full force. And though the company spent a lot of time talking up the new features in the One M8, my first impression is that this is more of a refinement of last year's phone than something entirely new. Hell, it even has the same name (only with an "M8" tagged on). In other words, don't expect a radically new look or feel when you first pick it up.
The new model's 5-in screen is 13 percent bigger than the 4.7-incher on the 2013 One, but it also drops the older model's capacitive keys in favor of onscreen navigation buttons. So I'd say the usable screen size is roughly the same as it was in the original. KitKat's Immersive Mode does get rid of the onscreen keys in some apps (like the image gallery or any video app), letting you use the full 5-in canvas. But in apps where Immersive Mode isn't an option, that extra real estate isn't really "extra" at all.
Some of the One M8's most interesting additions come from its camera. There's a new Selfie mode, which takes advantage of its higher-resolution 5 MP front-facing camera (16-year-old girls rejoice). It did seem a little odd that, in its presentation, HTC dismissed the importance of megapixels when discussing the rear camera (megapixels are a myth, bigger pixels are where it's at), yet boasted about having a higher pixel count in the front-facing camera. But to HTC's credit, I snapped a goofy selfie, and, sure enough, it looked better than self-portraits on other phones.
The feature I was most interested in trying out was "UFocus" – made possible by the phone's depth sensor. After snapping a pic, tap on the UFocus option, then tap on your chosen point of focus in the image. The One M8 will blur the background, much like you'd see on a DSLR with a wide aperture lens. You can then tap somewhere else and change the point of focus. I even saved three versions of the same shot, all with different points of focus. It worked pretty well in my demo, and I'm eager to test this feature some more (and don't forget, the Galaxy S5 has a similar feature).
The OG One had some of the best smartphone speakers around, with its front-facing BoomSound speakers. But the One M8's speakers are much better. HTC's demo area was noisy, but I spent a few minutes in a sound booth, where I got to hear the two models play music one after the other. The difference was obvious. The M8's speakers are louder and fuller – by a pretty wide margin. I wouldn't recommend buying one smartphone over another just for its speakers, but this is one of the biggest improvements I saw on the new model.
The M8 also has a wacky new accessory called the Dot View case. It's a thin case made of a lightweight plastic with a cover that folds over the screen. The cover has tiny holes on it, so when you tap on the screen, you can see things like the time, weather, or notifications peering through. If you were a child of the 70s or 80s, then it might rekindle some fond memories of Lite-Brites.
From where I stand now, the HTC One M8 looks like another very solid effort from one of the most sophisticated and detail-oriented Android OEMs. But if you already own the excellent 2013 HTC One, I'm still not sure if there's quite enough newness here to justify the upgrade. That opinion could change, though, as I get some more extended hands-on time. We'll have more on the M8 in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.