A beautifully crafted, near-ideal smartphone," "the fastest, most beautiful phone I've ever used," and "a real contender among this year's high-end smart phones" are just some examples of the praise we gave to HTC's flagship One phone when it launched last year. It earned a healthy four star rating and earned our much coveted Editor's Choice award too.
As one-time global pop sensation Psy will tell you, it's no easy task to follow up such a massive hit.
With the One M8, HTC has evidently not wanted to mess too much with a good thing. Rather than pack it with gimmicky features like a heart rate monitor or fingerprint scanning, the One M8 largely maintains the overall design, and screen resolution of its predecessor, but comes with a larger display, a faster 2.3GHz quad-core processor, some camera and motion tricks, the latest version of Android and expandable storage.
Those who crave waterproof designs and an arsenal of new and unusual features to play with may not be excited by HTC's latest offering, but if you fell in love with the slick metal design of the predecessor, the new model's similar metal body and decent -- albeit modest -- upgrades will no doubt find a similar place in your heart.
While the M8 hasn't had a radical redesign from its predecessor, there are a handful of tweaks that make it stand apart from its older brother. It still has the metal construction, but the metal back panel now curves around the edge to the front, where it joins the display. The headphone jack has been moved to the bottom edge, there are now two camera lenses on the back (which I'll come to later) and with a 5-inch display, it's marginally bigger too.
Other than that, it's very easy to spot the family resemblance. The back panel has the same horizontal lines across the top and bottom, and it has the same gently arched back, which I found to be as snug to hold as its predecessor. The curved metal edges help make it a little more comfortable on your fingers, although its large size will likely make it a bit unwieldy for those of you for whom the iPhone 5S is a bit too big.
I wasn't able to to put the phone through my usual set of stress tests, but it felt like a sturdy piece of kit in my hands on time. I was given the back panel by itself, without any of the internal circuits or screen attached and I found it extremely difficult to even flex. It certainly seemed like a satisfyingly stiff shell to house the delicate components and the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the front should make it a burly mobile all-round.
The slate colour I was shown had an attractive brushed metal finish. I personally found it to be very attractive, providing a more 'industrial' aesthetic than the matte finish of the previous model. The finish does nothing to hide the fact that the phone is made from metal -- on the one hand, it's easy to show off about the pricey phone you're rocking -- on the downside, you may want to keep it well hidden when walking around dodgy areas at night.
Along with the dark grey version, the M8 will also come in lighter silver and rose gold versions too, although these colours won't have the same brushed finish.
On the front, you'll find the dual 'Boomsound' speakers above and below the screen. HTC reckons that they've had a complete redesign, from the chambers to the drivers, which it says makes the speakers 25 percent louder than its predecessor's. The previous One packed probably the best speakers I've heard on a phone, making it great for watching TV shows in your kitchen when you're noisily cooking, so I'm looking forward to hearing how the new ones compare.
Around the edges of the phone you'll find the power button, metal volume rocker, micro USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The M8 also packs a micro SD card slot -- something absent from its predecessor -- allowing you to expand the 16GB of built in storage up to 128GB. As well as storing your media files, you can apparently install compatible apps to the card as well, maximising the amount of space on your phone's storage.
At 5-inches, the M8's display is marginally larger than the 4.7-inches of its predecessor. It maintains the full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, although with the same number of pixels scattered over a larger area, the M8 has an ever so slightly lower pixel density than the One -- 469 pixels per inch on the One, over 441 on the M8. Realistically, that's a very small difference and not one I think you'll ever notice.
In my own hands on time, I certainly didn't think the phone was lacking at all in its resolution. Icons and text seemed satisfyingly crisp, but I'll be putting the two displays against one another in the full review. In my meeting, HTC stated that the new display is "better than the One's in terms of brightness, black levels and contrast." Again, the screen definitely looked impressive -- I noted good viewing angles too -- but I'll reserve my judgement for the full review.
On the back of the phone you'll see not one but two camera lenses. Only the main lens on the bottom takes the photos however -- the one on top is better thought of as a sensor, that gives the phone -- and therefore your images -- an impression of depth.
If you snap a portrait photo of your friend, for example, the second lens will be able to detect that they are closer to the camera than the background in order to separate the two. When editing the picture then, the phone is able to apply various filters to the background, without altering your friend, or even take your friend out of one photo and paste them onto another.
You're also able to refocus the picture after it's been taken by tapping on different points in the scene. While we've seen this before on phones like the Nokia Lumia 1520, HTC reckons its second lens means it doesn't require multiple photos to be taken to allow for refocussing, making it quicker to shoot and should have less 'ghosting' of images caused by moving the camera between each shot.
The depth information also allows you to view images with a faux-3D effect. In edit mode, you can physically tilt and move the phone around and see the image change as though you were changing the angle. It's not really changing the angle of course, rather it's artificially adding perspective to the background, but not the foreground, giving a sense that the angle of the image is changing. While these are all arguably more novelty features, than critical additions, they seem fun and worked well in my hands on time.
The camera itself maintains the same 4-megapixel resolution (or 'Ultrapixels', as HTC calls it) as its predecessor. While 4-megapixels doesn't sound like many -- particularly against the 20.7-megapixels of the Sony Xperia Z2 -- HTC says that the individual pixels on the sensor are larger, allowing them to take in more light and therefore provide better quality snaps. That's the theory, anyway, and it certainly seemed to ring true on the HTC One, which was able to capture some great looking shots. The One M8 has apparently had the software tweaked to give images improved clarity and contrast. I'll be putting that to the test in the full review.
Next to the camera is a larger LED flash which is able to change its intensity according to the scene, hopefully stopping your friends looking miserably washed out when you're snapping away in a dingy bar. On the front is a 5-megapixel camera which should provide plenty of detail for those shameful selfies.
Software, processor and other features
The M8 will arrive running the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.4.2 KitKat with HTC's Sense 6 interface slapped over the top. Sense 6 looks much the same as the previous Sense 5, with its simplified app tray and Blinkfeed news and social network aggregator off the left of the homescreens.
There's not a lot of changes to the interface to really note, but the most obvious difference lies in the navigational buttons. Rather than the touch-sensitive back and home buttons below first One's screen, the M8 has on-screen back, home and multitasking navigational buttons. Other tweaks include selectable themes which apparently allows you to have different coloured backgrounds for items like Blinkfeed and weather (I know, I'm excited too) and the removal of the time and weather widget in the app tray.
Inside, the M8 is running Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor, a quad-core beast running at a speedy 2.3GHz, backed up by 2GB of RAM. That's a similiar engine to Sony's Xperia Z1 which gave a superb performance, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the M8 is capable of.
The M8 is also stuffed with various sensors that don't switch off. Instead, they're constantly waiting for you to use various gestures to perform tasks when the phone is in standby mode. Double tapping the screen wakes it up, for example, holding it in landscape mode and pressing the volume key will fire up the camera and swiping up will automatically launch the last app you were using -- all assuming you don't have a PIN code.
With the marginally larger body, HTC has managed to squeeze in a more capacious 2,600mAh battery. Although it has a larger display and faster processor sucking away the juice -- not to mention those 'always on' motion sensors -- HTC reckons the Snapdragon 801 chip is more power efficient than the older silicon, which apparently allows for better battery life.
HTC didn't want to give any estimates as to how long it should last, but so long as it can get me through the day without needing to dash to a plug socket, screaming in terror, I'll be happy.
With the One M8, HTC certainly hasn't gone overboard with its updates to its flagship phone. The design hasn't been radically overhauled, its display is marginally larger (but not higher resolution) and its camera resolution remains the same.
The One was already one of our favourite phones of last year however, and with small tweaks like an improved processor, a more comfortable build, expandable storage, a hopefully boosted battery life, some potentially fun camera tricks, not to mention avoiding bumping the price with arguably pointless gimmicks like heart rate monitors, HTC may have tweaked an already superb phone just enough to keep it fresh for its second outing. How it stacks up against the Samsung Galaxy S5 remains to be seen.