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Leaving last year's HTC One for the new One M8

For the past year, I've used the HTC One as my main device. Here's what I think after making the switch a few days ago to the just-announced M8.

HTC One 2

I loved the original HTC One . In fact, it was my standout device last year even if I had to to send it in for repair.

The problem was a purplish glow whenever I took low-light shots with the UltraPixel camera. It wasn't debilitating, but it was annoying. After that fix, the One took great low-light shots, but the lack of a higher resolution meant that most pictures lacked detail that you could get from cameras on other phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, the LG G2 or the iPhone 5S .

Heck, for mind-blowing detail, the Nokia Lumia 1020 easily took the crown.

And now, a sequel

But I digress. Outside of that problem, there was so much to like about the smartphone. HTC Sense still is the best skin I've used in an Android smartphone. and the build quality of the HTC One, with its aluminum unibody, was second to none.

Now, just over a year after the original One made its debut, the HTC One M8 raises the bar even further. You can get CNET's complete assessment in our full HTC One M8 review , but here's what I found to be great.

On the outside

The HTC One's edges dug into my palm, and while I got used to that eventually, I noticed the One M8's smoother edges straight away. Also, instead of the HTC One's "sandwich" design, with the plastic middle pressed between the handset's metal top and bottom ends, the M8's completely metal body leaves no ugly gaps and is a lot more impressive to look at and hold.

htcm8.jpg
Aloysius Low/CNET

But if there's one thing that bugs the hell out of me on the M8, it's that after spending a year training myself to get used to the back and home soft keys on the One, the M8 replaces them with onscreen keys.

What's more, the designers kept the gigantic waste of space below the M8's screen where the former soft keys were. It took me forever (well, a day or two) to relearn muscle memory and stop hitting the empty spots. I also had to get used to the new location of the power button, which is now found on the right side.

But once I adapted, the M8 became the new phone for me. Never mind that I'm using the Apple iPhone 5S now for testing some apps, I just want to get back to using the M8 and its fairly awesome camera features.

Capturing the camera

Many times I found myself wishing I'd brought along a prime camera because my smartphone just doesn't do bokeh well without getting really close (and only for macro shots). And to take portrait pictures with smartphones, you generally end up with a very flat picture. The M8, on the other hand, is able to use its depth sensor to create a bokeh effect that's pretty good and makes your subject stand out.

Frankly, this is the handset's best feature and the main reason why I like it so much. You may be able to do this with other devices (such as the Galaxy S5 ), but HTC's depth sensor is easy to use and really accurate. My only gripes are that you can't do it with 4:3 shots, and that you need to access a menu before you're able to start tapping the area where you want the focus to be. HTC should just put the U-Focus button right in the picture, instead of having to hit "Edit" and then tap again for the U-Focus feature.

catbokeh.jpg
Posing for the One M8's camera. Aloysius Low/CNET

My colleague Andrew Hoyle has a deep dive on the M8's camera features which you should check out to find out more about the features as well as the performance of the UltraPixel camera. I did some quick testing between both the One and the M8, and found that the M8's pictures were brighter and had cooler colors. Also, the M8 focuses much faster in macro shots (probably due to the depth sensor) compared with the HTC One or even the iPhone 5S.

A sense for Sense

Lastly, here's my take on the new Sense 6 UI and BlinkFeed features. I barely used BlinkFeed, a news aggregator similar to Flipboard, on the HTC One. I'm still not tempted to give it a go, even though it has been getting enhancements all through the year. I just don't need it as much.

On the whole, though, I like the new HTC One M8 a lot -- the overall tweaks and new features make last year's best phone even better. Still, I don't know yet whether I'll be upgrading. The One is still a viable handset that should tide me through until next year, but I have to think about whether the improved camera and U-Focus is worth the premium I'll pay for an early re-contract here in Singapore.