The HTC One M8 stormed its way to an "outstanding" verdict in our review thanks to its gorgeous metal body, truck loads of power, brilliant screen, cutting-edge Android software and powerful speakers. If 5 inches is just too much of a stretch for your hands, however, you might want to cast your eyes over the new One Mini 2.
The Mini 2 takes the same classy aluminium design and Android KitKat software of the flagship, but shrinks it down to a more manageable 4.5 inches. Is it the perfect smartphone? Well, not quite. In typical fashion, HTC has also shrunk down the specs -- you'll find a 1.2GHz rather than 2.3GHz processor inside the phone, a 13-megapixel (not the M8's "Ultrapixel") camera and the display is 720p, down from 1080p. Camera aside, those specs almost exactly match the extremely affordable Motorola Moto G , which is now available with 4G LTE . The only difference is the Moto G's lesser 5-megapixel camera.
Whether the Mini 2 is worth considering, then, comes down to the price. Phones 4U in the UK has the phone, SIM-free for £360 ($610 or AU$599). Although less than the asking price for the One M8, it's still a huge chunk more than the £149 ($219, AU$230) Moto G with 4G. If you crave a slick design above everything else, the One Mini 2 may be worth shelling out for, but even so, a price closer to the £300 mark would be a little easier to swallow.
If you are after a fully fledged flagship just in a smaller size, Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact packs in the same blistering processor and excellent 20.7-megapixel camera as its big brother, but comes in a much more comfortable 4.5-inch size. It'll set you back around £300, depending on where you shop (although it's not yet available in the US or Australia), which is a good price for the technology it's carrying and worth checking out if you don't want to compromise on performance just because you want a smaller phone.
It might not have the M8 moniker, but there's absolutely no ignoring the family resemblance between the Mini 2 and the One M8. In fact, there's almost no visual difference -- aside from its smaller size of course.
Like its big brother, its body is made from aluminium with an attractive brushed metal finish with the same black lines crossing the top and bottom on the back. It looks every bit as slick as it does on the full-size model and feels great to hold -- the curved back fits snugly into your palm. It's a gorgeous bit of product design, and one that goes a long way to justifying its cost -- it's in a completely different league to the plastic-bodied Moto G.
There are a few physical differences to note. For one, there's no second depth sensor lens on the back, which I'll come to later in the camera section. The headphone jack has been moved from the slightly awkward place on the bottom to a position on the top edge and the power button has switched sides.
Sony's own shrunken flagship, the Xperia Z1 Compact, has a similarly luxurious design -- albeit a very different one. It eschews the industrial metal aesthetics, opting instead for a more elegant all-glass design. There are few similarities between the two phones, but they're both extremely attractive. Whether you prefer metal or glass is purely a matter of choice. The Xperia Z1 Compact is completely waterproof though, so may be a better option if you're clumsy with your drinks or fancy taking photos underwater.
Like the M8, the metal curves around the edges, meeting a thin sliver of black plastic next to the screen. It's a far more premium-looking design than the thick plastic band HTC wrapped around last year's One Mini . It'll come in dark grey, silver and gold colours, although whether we'll see blue and red versions down the line remains to be seen.
Fresh from the box, the metal body looks luscious, but you will want to keep a close hand on it as it's easily scuffed. My One M8 review model is already showing a few signs of wear and tear around the edges and, annoyingly, on the glass covering the camera lens, which is steadily making some images look like they're taken with a dirty lens. It's worth splashing out on a case if you're in the habit of dropping your phone.
The front of the phone is home to the dual "BoomSound" speakers. The One phones' speakers have always been a major feature as their larger size produces an impressive amount of noise. Their position on the front, too, means the sound is fired directly towards you when you're holding it -- which, when you think about it, makes a whole load of sense. It also means the sound isn't muffled when you lie it flat on its back, which you typically would for a speakerphone call, or if you're listening to a podcast while cooking.
The sound from the M8's speakers was particularly impressive. The Mini 2's speakers are physically smaller so aren't able to quite match the M8 on volume. They still pack a punch though and give an overall better sound than smartphones like the Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z1 Compact -- thanks to both their physical size and forward-facing position.
The phone comes with 16GB of built-in storage, but you can expand that using the microSD card slot, which is tucked into the side of the phone. On the other side is the SIM card slot. It takes the tiny nano-SIM cards, so you'll need to get yourself a smaller card if you currently have a micro-SIM in your phone.
The One Mini 2's 4.5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. While that's a step down from the 1080p resolution of the M8, the smaller screen size means it doesn't need as many pixels to be sharp. Indeed, its 326 pixel-per-inch density is identical to the iPhone 5S 's and you'd have to be in a pretty foul mood to say that isn't sharp.
The screen is crisp enough for any tasks you're likely to throw at it. Sure, if you look up close against the full HD One M8, you can see a difference, but it's not a difference you're ever likely to notice in your own use unless you also spend your time comparing it to other phones for some reason. Icon edges are sharp, high resolution images and videos look good and small text is comfortable to read.
Resolution aside, the Mini 2's display isn't as impressive as the One M8's. It's not as bright for one thing, which makes it a little more difficult to use in sunlight or under bright office lights, as well as making images and videos look just a touch less vibrant. That's not helped either by its colder, less vivid colours and a less impressive black level. My Tuscany test images definitely looked warmer and more impressive on the One M8.
It's not a bad screen by any means and will be more than adequate for social networking, emailing and watching your favourite shows on Netflix. If you're hoping for the same quality of the flagship in a slightly smaller size though, you will be a little disappointed.
Powering the phone is a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor. That's not only a big step down from the 2.3GHz chip of the M8, it's the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor found in the Motorola Moto G. Given the considerably higher price of the One Mini 2, you'd be right to expect a little more power inside.
It didn't come as a surprise then when the Mini 2 achieved similar benchmark tests results to the Moto G. On the Geekbench benchmark test, the mini delivered a score of 1,335 -- almost the same score the Moto G achieved and far below the whopping 4,252 the M8 managed to rack up. With such a vast power difference but not a vast price difference, it's easy to feel short-changed.
The fact remains however that for the majority of tasks you're likely to ask of your phone, you simply don't need such large swathes of power. I found the Mini was perfectly capable of handling everything I threw at it throughout my testing. Navigating around the interface was free of any lag, photo editing in snapseed was swift, video streaming in Netflix was problem free and 3D games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP 2 were handled perfectly well.
It might not cope quite so well if you're main smartphone use involves stitching together long, full HD videos, but for snapping pics of your food, then editing and sharing it on Twitter and Facebook, the processor is more than adequate.
It's running on the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat software, with HTC's Sense 6 interface slapped over the top. Sense 6 is my favourite of the manufacturers' customised versions of Android, as its minimalist interface not only looks sleek, it's simple to use. Instead of the Galaxy S5's technique of making the settings menu and interface a confusing rabbit-warren of options, Sense 6 keeps things more basic.
If you're moving to Android for the first time, Sense 6 on the Mini or M8 is a good place to start. Similarly, the Moto G comes with a near stock version of Android KitKat, which is extremely easy to use too.
HTC has loaded the phone up with its own email client, Web browser and various other bits and bobs you probably won't use, as Google's services are generally better. Still, the photo gallery is pretty cool as it automatically creates little video collages of all your photos, together with various effects, which is a fun way of looking back over particular events.
The BlinkFeed news aggregator sits to the left of the homescreens. You can subscribe to various news outlets and link it to your social networks to see all updates in an attractive scrolling feed. It's basically the same as Flipboard, so you don't just need an HTC if you want this feature. When it first launched on the One, Blinkfeed sat on your homescreen and there was nothing you could do to get rid of it. Mercifully, an option to remove it altogether is in place on the Mini if you're not keen.
The back of the phone is home to a 13-megapixel camera, rather than the "Ultrapixel" camera in the M8. HTC says its ultrapixels are physically larger than standard pixels and are therefore able to take in more light, resulting in better quality photos. I wasn't particularly blown away by the M8's camera skills, but the One Mini 2's camera seems a touch better.
On my first shot of St Paul's Cathedral, both phones struggled to expose for the scene, resulting in blown out clouds and rather dark buildings.
With HDR mode enabled it was another story. While the One M8 still suffered from too bright clouds, the Mini kept everything under control, resulting in a great photo.
The same was true on my next test, where in normal shooting mode, the building was dark on the Mini and the sky had a blown-out corner on the M8.
HDR mode helped brighten up the Mini's picture -- although it looks a little surreal -- and it didn't do a lot to rescue the M8's shot.
Heading up the river, I found this old, knotted rope. Both phones captured it with good exposure, but I prefer the slightly warmer tones of the Mini. The Mini's 13 megapixels also provide considerably more detail, which is particularly noticeable at full screen.
Further along, this old metal thing was marginally darker on the Mini, but again, I found its warmer colour tones more pleasing.
This veg stall in Borough Market was captured well by both phones, with good exposure and rich colours. There's very little to choose between the two.
A different veg stall here, and both phones did a decent job, with just a little overexposing on the garlic and leek stalks. The One Mini's shot is slightly warmer, but in this scene it looks a bit over the top. The M8's photo looks the most natural.
Moving indoors to snap photos of my excellent colleague Luke Westaway, the M8 was the clear winner. Its photo was brighter and much sharper. By comparison, the Mini's attempt lacks a lot of detail and doesn't seem to have focused well in the low light.
With flash on, it's a little tough to call. On one hand, the M8's duo-flash has been rather overpowering, darkening the background and causing a lot of red-eye. Luke is sharper here than on the Mini's photo, however, which again, didn't do a great job with focus.
Speaking of focus, the Mini doesn't have the second depth sensor lens on the back of the phone. That means that photo tricks -- like refocusing after you've taken a photo or being able to selectively edit the background, but not your friend in the foreground -- aren't possible. Although I found those tricks quite fun on the One M8, they're hardly killer features and I doubt you'd feel like you're missing out. What I will miss, however, is the ability to take full 360-degree "photo-sphere" panoramas, although there are apps available on the Google Play store that will let you do this.
The camera interface itself is much the same as the M8's. Like the rest of Sense 6, it's stripped down and easy to navigate and you can save custom camera settings to quickly load up in a hurry.
The Mini comes with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera too, which will come in handy for video calling or, more likely, taking a mass of selfies. Front-facing photos are sharp and well exposed and I reckon among the best you'll find from a phone. It also has an HDR mode and you can apply real-time effects. On the downside, it's not a very wide angle lens, so you really have to stretch your arm out to get yourself in the shot. This could quickly become annoying if you like squashing all your friends in a scene.
The phone has a 2,100mAh battery stuffed inside it, that managed to keep going for 9 hours, 31 minutes in my video-looping drain test, which isn't too bad. By comparison, the One M8 achieved a little under 10 hours on the same test, while the Google Play edition of the Moto G achieved just over nine.
It's not a bad effort at all and you won't struggle to make it through a full day of use. Of course, that still depends on how demanding you are of your phone. If you spend your entire morning playing Asphalt 8, you can expect to give it a boost in the afternoon if you want any power left for photos on your night out. If you keep the screen brightness down and avoid anything too strenuous, you shouldn't need to worry too much. Keeping Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi switched off will help eke out those last drops of power.
There's also the same extreme power-saving mode found on the M8. It restricts processing power, background data and anything else power-hungry in order to keep that list bit of juice for as long as possible. It won't last on 10 percent charge over a weekend, but if you're at a bar on a Friday evening and need enough battery to call a cab at the end of the night, it may come in handy. The sealed metal body of the phone means it's not removable, so you'll need to carry an external battery pack, rather than a backup internal battery, if you're going away from a plug for a while.
As with its previous mini flagship, HTC has taken the design of its top model but watered down the internal specs. It's a disappointing move, particularly if you've fallen in love with the slick design and brutal power of the M8 but just can't wrap your hands around its 5.1-inch screen. The Mini 2's metal body is extremely luxurious though and is unquestionably among the most attractive compact phones around, which goes some way to justifying the price.
If style and good looks are of the utmost importance, the Mini 2 may be worth shelling out for. Bear in mind though that the Motorola Moto G has similar internal specs and can be picked up for less than half the price. If you're after a top-end flagship but in a smaller body, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact sports everything you'd expect from a premium phone, crams it into a 4.5-inch frame and costs roughly the same as the Mini 2.