The HTC One M8 is the first big phone of the year. The Samsung Galaxy S5 may have been revealed a full month earlier, but it won’t hit the shops until April 11th.
HTC’s new flagship, however, went on sale last week on the very day it was announced.
Of course being first doesn’t mean much if the phone can’t compete in the specs or looks departments.
So is the One (M8) worth your hard-earned? Let’s find out.
First impressions and design
At first glance, the HTC One (M8) looks quite similar to last year’s HTC One (M7). But there are some differences.
Gone are the severe angles and plastic sides of last year’s model. In their place are more rounded curves, and more metal.
HTC has opted for an aluminium unibody design that is 90% metal, compared to 70% on its predecessor.
The result is that the One (M8) has an altogether more luxurious feel.
The rounded back is also very comfortable to hold. It’s not as slippery as some metal-backed handsets, either.
All this metal does add to its weight, though. At 160g, the One (M8) is heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S5, Google Nexus 5, and iPhone 5S. But that’s not a deal-breaker.
The One (M8) is solid, very well put together, and is one of the most premium-feeling handsets we’ve laid our hands on. It rivals even the iPhone 5S for design kudos.
It almost seems a shame to put it in a case, then. But HTC has come up trumps with the pixellated shell it calls Dot View.
It’s a rubbery flip case whose closest relative is the iPad Smart Case.
Like the iPad’s case, it uses magnets to close over the screen, and wakes the device up when you peel it back. But unlike the iPad’s case, it’s covered in tiny holes you can see through.
Press the power button, or double tap the cover, and the weather and time show through the case’s holes, so you don’t need to open it up.
It also shows alerts like text messages and missed calls.
It’s great when you’re inside or somewhere dark, though we found it harder to read in cloudy daylight and bright sun.
There’s a slight downside to the magnetised cover as well. It makes using the phone one-handed slightly tricky, as the cover keeps trying to close over the screen. You can fold it back on itself, but it still tries to spring back, so it isn’t ideal.
But it’s still one of the best cases we’ve used. It’s all the more impressive seeing as it’s made by HTC rather than a specialist third-party.
And at £35, it’s not crazily expensive.
Android 4.4.2 KitKat comes as standard, and it’s overlaid with version 6 of HTC’s Sense UI.
To go with KitKat’s cleaner, less cluttered look, HTC has redesigned Sense, making it less intrusive and a lot nicer to look at.
HTC staple BlinkFeed – a news aggregator – has been redesigned, with a cleaner, more magazine-style look.
And if you don’t use BlinkFeed, you can always turn it off.
HTC has added some time-saving ways to unlock the handset.
You can double-tap the screen to wake it – just like on Nokia’s Lumia range, and LG’s smartphones – or swipe right to launch BlinkFeed, or left to jump to your widget panel.
These functions are great additions, and the 'double-tap for waking the handset' command even works even with the Dot View case on.
HTC has also added some colour themes to Sense. The phone dialler and messaging functions have a blue header, for example.
It’s a relatively small tweak, but it’s a neat visual clue that helps identify where you are.
Once again, the camera is HTC’s main selling point for its flagship blower.
It uses the same ‘ultrapixel’ tech as the One (M7). This means the pixels are bigger and let in more light.
You can jump straight to the camera by flipping the handset to the landscape orientation and holding either the volume up or volume down button. The idea is you won’t miss a shot.
Motorola’s Moto X has a similar function, though that handset makes you flick your wrist twice to open the camera.
HTC’s option is very good, and gets you from sleep mode to the camera viewfinder in under a second.
You have to go through the action of turning the phone to landscape every time though.
The feature won’t work in portrait, or even if you’re already holding the phone in the landscape position, which is a bit trying.
The One (M8)’s second lens allows for a new feature called Ufocus.
This lets you change the focus of a photo after you’ve taken it. Just tap the photo, then Edit, and you’ll find Ufocus under Effects.
It’s very simple to use. All you have to do is tap the picture where you want the focus to be, whether it’s in the foreground, background, or somewhere in between.
You can see in the images below how we experimented with shifting the focus around.
We’ve seen the same function in Nokia’s Refocus app before, but HTC’s version is a worthy addition.
Ufocus is one of the settings in the phone’s gallery feature, so you don’t need to download an app to use it either.
The camera fares pretty well overall. Colours come out true, though the images lack some detail, especially compared to pics from the 41-megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020.
It’s certainly a quick shooter though. It snaps away pretty much as fast as you can hit the shutter button.
The ultrapixel tech also makes for very clear low-light pictures.
HTC Zoe is also on board. It groups your photos and videos by date and turns them into a highlight reel complete with cheesy music.
But seeing as this was also found on last year’s HTC One (M7), we won’t go into it.
Finally, HTC’s BoomSound speakers make a welcome return.
They’re no longer branded as Beats Audio, but they haven’t lost any punch.
In fact, they’re 25% louder than those on the One (M7).
They’re the most impressive speakers we’ve heard on a mobile, and will easily fill a room.
The bombastic trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sounded exactly as we imagine Michael Bay intended.
If you’re sitting around with friends and want to listen to music, the BoomSound speakers are a decent replacement for a Bluetooth speaker.
The One (M8)’s 5-inch screen may be a little big for some, but it suited us down to the ground.
Its 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution is very sharp, and colour reproduction is very good indeed.
The phone is a dream to use thanks to the quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor.
It absolutely flies when you’re zipping through menus, and it handled with ease the most graphics-intensive racing and shooting games we could find.
The Snapdragon 801 is fresh from the factory, and the One (M8) is the first handset to use it.
It’s a very impressive component, and makes the One (M8) even faster than the LG G2, which is high praise indeed.
We got a full day out of the battery, and if you’re judicious with your usage, it should last a fair part of the next morning too. This is on a par with most modern smartphones.
HTC has added a microSD card slot to the One (M8), so you can beef up the storage and fit on more movies, photos and videos.
Apps must be stored on the phone’s 16GB or 32GB of internal memory though. The latter option isn't coming to the UK, though.
The HTC One (M8) is an absolute powerhouse.
Its design is a step up from its already impressive predecessor, it’s the fastest mobile we’ve ever tested, and it has some excellent new camera tricks up its sleeve.
HTC has also given its software a polish, and – crucially – made it less intrusive.
For our money, the One (M8) also shames the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the looks department.
On the downside, the Dot View case could use a mechanism to keep the cover out of the way.
You’ll get more detailed photos from the Sony Xperia Z1 or Nokia Lumia 1020, but the One (M8)’s snapper is one of the best low-light mobile shooters money can buy.
If you want a beast of a mobile, and you don’t want to wait for the Galaxy S5, the One (M8) is one the best buys around right now.