Editor’s note: This review is part of our series on the top 10 smartphones released this year. The series was designed to explore how business users can be productive with these devices, and how they can take advantage of the devices’ features during the workday. 

 

A few years ago HTC was the leading Android smartphone vendor. It released the first Android phone, the HTC Dream in 2008, and in 2010, it also made the first Google Nexus device, the Nexus One.

In recent years, though, Samsung, with its deep marketing pockets and its Galaxy S series, has taken over the Android phone market, accounting for more than 65 per cent of all Android devices sold today. Never one to give up the fight, last year HTC released its ‘comeback’ device (after a series of lacklustre product launches), the flagship HTC One M7. It was a high-quality metal smartphone that many people thought was the best Android device of 2013. This year’s model is still called the HTC One, but has a new model designation – the HTC One M8.

It has a lot in common with the One M7 – the same premium metal construction, great sounding front-facing stereo speakers, an excellent screen, and HTC’s custom version of Android KitKat, Sense 6. The One M8 also has the same UltraPixel camera as the M7, which performs exceptionally well in low-light conditions. This year, HTC also added a new secondary ‘Duo Camera.’ This is used to read depth information needed by some of the extra-dimensional effects the M8 can apply to images.

The HTC One M8 is a great choice for business users looking for a large-screen Android smartphone with a premium look and feel that is on par with the iPhone, widely considered the benchmark for mobile device design and hardware quality.

HTC_One_M8_3_way

HTC One M8 SPECIFICATIONS
Screen 5” Super LCD @ 1920 x 1080 (441 ppi)
SoC2.26 GHz Snapdragon 801 (MSM 8974AB)
RAM2 GB
Storage32 GB, with microSD expansion slot
Battery2,600 mAh (non-removable)
SpeakersStereo (front-facing)
Rear Camera4 MP HTC Ultrapixel sensor, f/2.0, 28 mm with depth capture Duo Camera, dual LED flash. 1080p HDR Video.
Front Camera5.0 MP
LTE Bands700/1700/2600 MHz
(Cat. 4 LTE up to 150 Mbps on Rogers & Bell, 75 Mbps on Telus)
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, Infrared, microUSB 2.0
Build Materials & ColourMetal, available in Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver and Amber Gold (Rogers exclusive)
Element Protection Yes, splash-proof (IPx3 rating)
Dimensions & Weight146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm (5.76 x 2.78 x 0.37 in), 160 g (5.64 oz)
OSHTC Sense 6 (Android 4.4.3)

Hardware

For business users looking for a device to impress, the M8 cannot be beat. Last year’s model had a 70 per cent metal chassis – it used a plastic core sandwiched between a metal front and back. But this year, HTC has increased the amount of metal used in the phone’s construction up to 90 per cent, with the only plastic visible being the antenna bands at the top and bottom of the back.

The Gunmetal Grey model we tested has a brushed metal finish that is actually an artificial scratch-resistant coating over the metal. As can be seen in the three-paned image above, the One M8 has a unibody design, which does not allow for a removable back, so the Nano SIM card and microSD card slots are on the side of the phone (and, of course, the battery is not removable). The button layout follows the HTC standard, which is to have the power button on the top of the phone. This does make it a little hard to reach due to the phone’s height. The top also has an IR blaster for use with the TV remote features of the phone and the USB port and headphone jack are at the bottom. This year HTC has moved to on-screen Android navigation controls, eliminating physical buttons on the front of the phone.

HTC_One_M8_Back-1

The One M8 is pretty tall for a device with a 5-inch display. It is even slightly taller than LG G3, which has 5.5-inch screen. This makes it hard to reach the power button on the top when holding the phone in one hand. Both the front-facing stereo speakers and some wasted bezel space around the screen are the cause of this. However, it is also one of the narrowest flagships, which does make it very comfortable to hold, despite the height issue. The back of the phone has a gentle curve to it, and the sides are also rounded off, adding to the M8’s comfort when holding it. Because of its metal construction, it is one of the heaviest of the current flagship phones, but this is only an issue when you compare the number on paper, since in the hand it just feels solid rather than hefty.

Super LCD screens have been used by HTC for a number of years now and use a similar display technology to IPS. The 5-inch 1080p Super LCD screen in the One M8 has excellent viewing angles, great colour accuracy and is very bright. It has a maximum brightness of 410 nits, which allows it to be easily viewable outdoors, even under bright sunlight. We do, however, think, given the One M8’s dimensions, that perhaps the screen could have been a little bigger without compromising the phone’s overall size. The bezels around it are fairly large, and there is some wasted space below the display where the hardware navigation keys would usually go that could have been taken up by screen instead.

The internal specifications of the One M8 are similar to the other Android flagships currently available such as the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5. Like them, it uses a Snapdragon 801 SoC (system on a chip), albeit the slight slower 2.26 GHz AB version. It has 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage and a microSD slot for adding additional capacity. The battery is only 2,600 mAh, which is one of the smallest of the current crop of Android flagships. But even though it is small in comparison, it is still large enough to provide all-day use thanks to the power-efficiency of the Snapdragon 801 SoC.

One disappointment with the Canadian version of the One M8 is that it only supports three LTE frequencies. This clearly must be a software limitation, since the identical U.S. model from AT&T supports six LTE bands.

Performance

 

 Benchmark Results
 HTC One (M8)HTC One (M7)Galaxy S5Nexus 5iPhone 5S
Overall System: AnTuTu X28344256533491830076N/A
CPU: Geekbench 3 Pro Multi-Core25741869294228632570
GPU: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited1909610113181881640414965
BatteryXPRT 201415.9 hoursN/A18.1 hours13.5 hoursN/A

As you can see the One M8 handily outperforms its predecessor, though on the overall system side by not as wide of a margin as you would hope. However, on the GPU performance side it is the fastest of all the phones being compared since its metal chassis dissipates more heat, allowing the GPU to perform better.

Its battery life is not as good as the Galaxy S5’s, since it has 200 mAh less capacity, and almost 16 hours of use is nothing to scoff at. The BatteryXPRT test we use simulates real world use, and it gives a good estimate of what the average business user should expect from the phone, which is more than a full business day of use.

BoomSound Stereo Speakers

HTC_One_M8_Speaker-1Like the One M7, the HTC One M8 has amplified front-facing ‘BoomSound’ stereo speakers that produce very good quality sound for a phone. While the obvious use case for these is for entertainment, for business users they will come in pretty handy too. They are loud enough that you can make a presentation to a client using the M8, even if you are meeting in a noisy place like a coffee shop. They also provide a better speakerphone experience than the speakers found on most other smartphones, making the One M8 great for conference calls.

Camera

HTC_One_M8_Camera-1As you can see from the image above the big new feature of the HTC One M8 is its secondary camera module. This camera, what HTC is calling the ‘Duo Camera,’ is used strictly to measure the depth of a scene you are shooting to apply some interesting effects, which we’ll detail later in this review.

For the main camera, HTC has stuck with the same 4 MP UltraPixel camera as was found on last year’s One M7. The whole idea behind the UltraPixel camera is that because it has a substantially lower pixel count when compared to the 13 and 16 MP cameras on other phones, each pixel on the similar sized 1/3” sensor can be much bigger (at 2µm), therefore capturing more light. This allows the One M8 to perform much better in low-light that other smartphones. We’d even go as far as saying it has the best low-light performance of any phone as you can see from the sample images below. On other phones, the lower image especially would almost be pitch black.

The problem with the One M8’s camera is that despite its great low-light performance, it is still only 4 MP, which results in very low-resolution images when compared to other smartphones. While they look great when looking at them on the phone’s screen, or even on your PC when posted to social media, as soon as you zoom in the lack of detail is apparent. This means that you cannot crop a picture taken with the One M8 to recompose it without losing some detail. If the images taken with your phone are just posted to social media 95 per cent of the time, then the lack of detail will not be apparent, and the excellent low-light performance does somewhat make up for this failing.

HTC_One_M8_sample_image_Low_light 3

From an overall usability perspective, the One M8’s camera is excellent. It focuses and captures images quickly (though not quite as fast as the Galaxy S5 and LG G3), and there are a wide range of shooting options, including HDR. HTC’s camera UI is very well designed and gets out of the way when you want it to, but still offers a full range of manual controls when you need them. The One M8 also shoots good quality 1080p video, and, naturally, excels in low-light thanks to its sensor. Of course, due to the sensor resolution, it cannot shoot in 4K, but that is not much of a loss. 

HTC_One_M8_sample_image_Low_light 2

Duo camera

HTC_One_M8_UfocusThe HTC One M8’s Duo Camera reads the depth of a scene and allows for some interesting effects. One of them is called Ufocus, which allows you to refocus on different parts of the image after you have taken it. You can see the interface for this feature above – you tap anywhere on the picture to set the focal point, then adjust the level of blur with the slider on the left. You can see the results below, showing the difference between a near-focus and far-focus image.

HTC_One_M8_Ufocus_SampleWhile other smartphones also have this refocusing effect, what makes the One M8’s implementation of it different is that the Duo Camera allows you to set the focal point to anywhere on the image, instead of, say, just two or three fixed planes. The other modes that the Duo Camera enable include Foregrounder, where you can apply effects like zoom blur and selective colourizing to your images.

While the effects that the Duo Camera helps the One M8 achieve are more aimed toward personal use, business users looking to take pictures to post on their organization’s social media outlets can use the effects to make their images stand out from the competition.  

User interface & general software

HTC_One_M8_screenshot_1The One M8 runs HTC’s Sense UI over Android KitKat. Sense is up to version 6 now and has quite a different look when compared to stock Android. It has a very flat appearance (HTC was doing flat long before iOS 7) and is an attractive, fast UI with its own unique design elements. However, the current version does incorporate more design cues from Google than previous versions. Interestingly, the reverse is also true, since Google’s new Material Design, which will come with the next version of Android, L, looks a lot like Sense. The only aspect of Sense that we do not like is the vertically scrolling paginated application drawer.

Also sub-par is the HTC keyboard. While it is not particularly bad, we do recommend that you install the stock Google keyboard instead. In fact, if you do not like the HTC launcher with the vertical application drawer, you can simply download the Google Now Launcher for a more stock Android experience on the One M8.

Starting with the One M7 last year, Sense incorporated HTC’s BlinkFeed application (in fact it was the default homescreen page on the M7). It is shown in the middle screenshot above and is accessed by swiping right from the One M8’s middle homescreen page. BlinkFeed aggregates news from multiple sources, including social media updates, and calendar information all in one vertically scrolling tiled layout reminiscent of the Windows Phone start screen. Depending on how you use your phone, you may or may not find BlinkFeed useful, and if not, thankfully you now have the option to disable it completely.

The One M8 does not come with too many HTC apps, which is a good thing – it does not have anything superfluous like an HTC app store or music store. The only special application outside of the usual tools and productivity apps you would find on any Android phone is HTC Sense TV, a channel guide and universal remote app which works with the IR port on top of the phone.

The last screenshot above shows the One M8’s Extreme Power Saving Mode, which is similar to the Ultra Power Saving Mode on the Galaxy S5. On the One, HTC limits you to five apps – Phone, Messages (SMS), Mail, Calendar and Calculator. It also cuts off connectivity when the screen is off, conserves CPU usage, and decreases screen brightness. This mode can add up to another 24 hours of battery life if you use the phone sparingly.

While we were only able to test out the One M8 running Android KitKat 4.4.2, as of when this article was written, HTC just updated the M8 to Android 4.4.3, which also includes the OpenSSL security patch that was included by Google in 4.4.4. HTC’s 4.4.3 update includes a number of fixes, including improved network and Bluetooth connectivity and some Sense UI tweaks. This update is an example of HTC’s Advantage program, where it guarantees that its devices will receive updates to the latest version of Android for two years after launch, which means that the One M8 should be on track to get Android L later this year.

Security and business software features

HTC_One_M8_screenshot_2For business productivity, the HTC One comes with HTC’s well-designed calendar, email and task applications. HTC’s Email app works with Exchange ActiveSync to give you access to all your corporate email on the go. You can set your out of office status, send meeting requests, flag emails, and sync your Outlook email folders. You can also synchronize other email accounts with it too, including Outlook.com and Gmail, so you can receive all your email in one place.

The HTC Calendar app is also nicely designed, supports sync with multiples calendars and has the same look and feel as the Mail application. The Tasks application integrates with task lists from Exchange and Google, and again has the same look and feel as the Mail and Calendar apps. It also integrates with the Mail app so you can transform important emails into tasks.

The One M8 also comes with Polaris Office 5 to open and edit Office documents, but you can always install your own program of choice whether it be Google Docs and Sheets or Microsoft Office Mobile (which does require an Office 365 subscription for business users.)

From a security and management standpoint the HTC One M8 is not as fully-featured as competing phones such as the Galaxy S5, which come with Samsung Knox. But the device does come with the HTCpro certification. That represents a FIPS 140-2 certified encryption engine, which is suitable for government use. The encryption is enabled manually on the device, controlled with Exchange ActiveSync policy, or by a third-party mobile device management (MDM) tool.

The One M8 also supports the HTCpro MDM APIs, allowing businesses to use MDM solutions such as AirWatch, Mobile Iron and Soti to manage the phone, making the M8 suitable to be used as a BYOD (bring your own device), or COPE (corporate owned, personally enable) device.  You can learn more about HTCpro on HTC’s site here.

However, there are no pre-installed security applications for protection from malware. Business users would be highly advised to install something from one of the leading security vendors. 

Conclusion

HTC_One_M8_End-1Out of the current crop of Android flagship smartphones, the HTC One M8 is the arguably the most attractive and best made. Its premium metal construction elevates it above its mostly plastic competition, and its design makes using it a joy. It has a beautiful bright display, excellent performance, long battery life, the best speakers of any smartphone, and runs HTC’s elegant Sense UI over Android KitKat. The only weakness it has is its camera. The camera, while able to produce better results in low-light compared to other smartphones, isn’t as high-resolution, and the images it produces suffer because of this.

The HTC One M8 is available in Canada from Bell, Rogers, SaskTel, Telus, Tbaytel for $100 on a two-year term. On Wind, it is $200 with the Windtab payment plan, if you are on a $60 or higher plan. The One M8 is $700 outright from Bell, Rogers, Telus and Wind and $650 outright from SaskTel and Tbaytel. It is available in Gunmetal Gray from all five carriers and additionally in Glacial Silver from Rogers and Telus. The Amber Gold One M8 is exclusive to Rogers.

 

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