Sadly for many many great phones that are designed, built and sold year in and year out there really are only three genuine contenders for the best of the best – that was the case in 2013 and it looks like being the case once again in 2014 and the first of the three has hit the market. If what I’ve been seeing in the last week is anything to go by we’ve got a repeat performance on our hands this year. The HTC ONE (M8) is a truly great phone.
The problem with smartphones these days is trying to differentiate one from another and really and when you are comparing the big three the processor power, the camera pixels and all that jazz really do fade into insignificance for the average buyer. That’s not to say it’s not important for many, however for my mind the average buyer is looking for quality, value and features.
Here’s some of the key things I’ve been noticing when testing the HTC ONE (M8) over the last week or so.
(Oh, and from here on in its just HTC ONE – the (M8) is just a differentiator from last year, everything I say here is about 2014 unless i say “last year” :))
This is the number 1 seller for the HTC ONE. When you hold it in your hand there is an immediate feeling of quality. The build materials and build quality mean you feel like you’re getting every dollars worth from your purchase – be that outright or on a plan. Last year’s ONE was a solid build with a similar metal backing, however the M8 version takes the full metal concept and smashes it out of the ballpark. The brushed metal back doesn’t end on all four sides like the previous model – It wraps around almost entirely to the screen. The slight curve gives a soft feel in the hand and the precision cut edge around the screen is reminiscent of that which Apple is so proud of in it’s 5, 5c and 5s iPhone models.
The buttons on the side for volume are subtle yet easy to use while the slots on each side for SIM and MicroSD are smoothly recessed ready for that paperclip insertion and pop-out.
Without question the quality of the HTC ONE is the benchmark for smartphones today.
Cameras are cameras on smartphones – the megapixels and cool “pre record” or post edit effects are much of a muchness between the various phones. The iPhone in my view has the best simple point and shoot camera – fast to load, fast to shoot.
However HTC have decided to find a way to truly differentiate in this space. They added another lens. No, this is not 3D – but a portion of it.
The second lens on the HTC ONE is there to measure depth. That allows the user to do so many things after shooting – minutes or even months later.
Using the depth information HTC can allow you to “focus” the picture in a specific area. This is an optical illusion really because it’s not a genuine refocus, it’s more a remove focus from other areas kind-of action. But the visual effect is impressive.
Perhaps cooler and more useful in this instagram obsessed world is the idea of taking the depth information and using it to isolate an object in the photo while applying effects to the rest of the picture. A pencil brush, cartoon or focus blurred effect. Perhaps my favourite is the one which allows you to isolate an object, and remove all but the very basic of colour information from the rest of the photo. Something that just a few years ago was the realm of only the best photoshop artists is now available in the palm of your hand.
It’s a fantastic feature for the camera and as a selling point will do very well if the retail staff are well-educated.
Dot View Cover
This is cool! When you snap the Dot-View cover on you immediately notice how slim they’ve managed to keep it. Around the back it’s just there to hold on and hold on tight – on the front is where the action is. After adding a battery to the front of the HTC ONE Max last year this year they’ve gone a completely different way. The Dot-View cover is a huge set of holes in the cover itself, which when closed allows a special “ye old school” style dot matrix view of different features.
So the time, a weather icon, even caller information shows through while the cover is closed and a call comes through.
But that’s fun – then it gets functional. While the cover is closed and a call comes through you can swipe up or down to take or dismiss the call. If you take the call you can put it straight up to your ear and speak without even opening the cover. Very very cool.
While it’s a great feature which certainly gets people interested, it’s not practical in day-to-day use. The cover when open and wrapped around the back makes the phone impossible to use for typing either one-handed or two. and when the phone is mounted in your car the cover either pushes open entirely or just by enough to make the screen turn on – and it’s annoying. A sad report on a cool feature – but perhaps a second version will improve it, or you may not be bothered by those issues.
Amazing. Despite a battery saving mode being available to use I just haven’t had to go to it.
Previously I was always sure to plug-in my phone in the car and then at my desk at work – with the HTC ONE the only cable I’ve had has been at home. This is easily an all-day phone with even the most regular of use. I’m sure you can run the battery down if you push it hard, but side by side some of the most common phones on the market this will win hand’s down.
Turning it on
Your HTC ONE is sitting on the desk beside you and you want to check the time, or check your messages. Reaching for that button at the top means holding it still or holding it in your hand. Nope, just double-tap the screen. It turns on. Double-tap again – it’s off. Brilliant. Slide your finger across the screen while it’s off and it comes on. Four different slide directions launch to four different areas – from Blinkfeed, Home screen, Google Voice control to the most recent app – it’s all there at a swipe.
Nano SIM is the weapon of choice for HTC ONE users. I can’t help but think this was not about space in the device. I reckon it’s a strategic move from HTC to look at Apple iPhone 5 users and give them an easy move – just buy this phone and you’re in action within minutes – no new SIM, no activation, nothing.
It’s a silly thing to be impressed by but it could just bring some iPhone users over to this strange new world.
With a MicroSD slot capable of taking a 128GB card you’ve got a fantastic option for your music and photo storage. In a world of complaints about Apple’s lack of “ports” it makes perfect sense to include a solid MicroSD option in a flagship phone like this.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. I love the phone. I love that when you buy a HTC ONE (M8) you are getting a beautiful design, quality materials and construction and a genuine sense of value for what is a very expensive purchase – Smartphones aren’t cheap let’s remember.
The power and performance are enough to impress even the most critical of users, and running Android’s latest KitKat operating system means you’re getting as close to the true experience Google expects from Android phones as you might wish for.
Screen resolution and colour is fantastic, while probably not best-in-class it will impress and satisfy the vast majority and with those trademark front facing speakers it really is a fantastic choice for personal entertainment.
It’s hard if not impossible to fault the efforts HTC have made with this second generation “ONE” – having been genuinely impressed by the original, the sequel has me watching right through the credits and hoping for directors cuts and behind the scenes footage.
Anyone buying a smartphone in 2014 is crazy not to get close to a HTC ONE and feel it in your hand then ask yourself “isn’t this the quality I want from this purchase”. You’ll be impressed. I was (can’t you tell)