Last week, I upgraded my Samsung Galaxy S4 to the new HTC One (M8), and I can confidently say that if Apple's iPhone was somehow wiped from the face of the earth tomorrow, the new HTC One would be the next best thing. It is, in short, what I imagine Apple would build if it built Android phones.
I can feel your confusion already; "What the hell is he talking about? Isn't this an Apple site?" you're wondering. And that's fair, so let me explain.
As an Apple devotee, I keep my primary phone line on whatever the latest, greatest iPhone model happens to be. But I have a second phone line -- a phone line I keep secret from my Apple brethren; it's a phone number nobody knows and on that line I use an Android phone. I don't upgrade it with the same regularity with which I update my iPhone, but every 18 months or so I use the discounted upgrade option and grab whichever Android handset is the new hotness.
I keep an Android phone around simply because I like to have a handle on the non-Apple mobile scene, and it's a great way to compare Apple's upgrades with the existing crop of competing devices. I've never been particularly impressed with the Android hardware I've picked up in the past. I find the vast majority of Android phones feel like toys, with plastic casing and a too-light hand feel, not to mention largely horrendous battery life. I'm an Apple fan and, to me, the iPhone has long been the untouchable pinnacle of smartphone design. So with that in mind, here's how the new HTC One stacks up.
Easily the biggest selling point for anyone who loves the iPhone 5/5s is the HTC One's design. Symmetrical, solid, and weighty, it's almost as though HTC was attempting to guess what the iPhone 6 would look like. The HTC One ignores many Android trends and follows Apple's lead with things like a non-swappable battery. The tradeoff is a much more hearty hand feel with no bendy back cover or creaky, twistable frame that you'll find on many of its Android counterparts.
For as much as Samsung tends to be "inspired" by Apple, HTC has managed to nail the iPhone's build quality far better than any Galaxy phone ever has. Much like Apple's always impressive iPhone build montages, HTC likes to brag about what it calls the "zero gap" design of the HTC One, and it's an accomplishment worthy of the seemingly manufactured hype.
The three-panel casing, which was carried over from the previous year's model, does feel a bit "lifted" from Apple's iPhone 5 design manual, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time the iPhone has set the tone for future smartphones.
The screen measures 5 inches, making it a full inch larger than the iPhone 5/5s. Switching between the two devices feels strange at times, and the screen on the One might be even a little too big for my mitts. If the rumors of a 4.7 inch iPhone are true, that might be a more ideal size, but the One's display is still gorgeous and useable with one hand.
Verdict: It's the first Android phone I've ever held that I could mistake for an Apple product. That's the biggest compliment I could ever give.
Much like Apple, HTC hasn't fallen victim to the "cram all the megapixels" movement with the One's camera. Instead, the phone uses what HTC calls "UltraPixels" which is just a fancy word for a camera that sacrifices a huge number of megapixels in favor of low light capabilities. The iPhone 5s regularly takes flak for not having mind-blowing camera specs, only to shame the competition in blind photo "taste tests," and that's the lead that HTC is following.
The rear camera actually features two lenses, allowing for Lytro-like depth data to be included in the photo. After a photo is taken you can adjust the focus and even view a faux 3D rendering of the picture. It's pretty impressive and it works fairly well. It's definitely a different approach and while the rest of the smartphone world is trying to turn their devices into DSLRs, HTC and Apple have seemingly declared that they'd rather try to add new functionality on top of already impressive photos.
Verdict: The HTC One's new camera features are offbeat and unique, and while I'd still take the iPhone 5s camera -- and its similarly unique slow-motion video capabilities -- if I were forced to choose, the One isn't far behind.
Apple loves music. HTC loves music. Apple most recently exhibited its love of music by reinventing the modern earbud. HTC most recently exhibited its love of music by turning the new HTC One into a portable boom box.
Like the previous year's model, the One includes two "BoomSound" stereo speakers on its face. This year's hardware is improved from the previous year with heartier construction, and it definitely shows. The One is loud -- and not just loud; it actually sounds really great when cranked all the way up. While you might need to toss your iPhone in a ceramic mug to amplify your tunes, you could carry the One along a busy city street and still hear your music without earbuds.
Verdict: This is one thing about the One that I don't think Apple would ever attempt with an iPhone, but it's a well executed feature that many have tried and failed at, making it feel like an accomplishment you'd see from Cupertino.
Android is still Android, and while you can make it look a bit more like iOS through various launchers and visual tweaks, Apple's mobile OS is still untouchable in my opinion.
However, HTC's own skin -- called HTC Sense -- is superior to similar efforts from Samsung and Sony. HTC Sense 6.0 comes preinstalled on the new HTC One, and along with the social news feed feature called BlinkFeed, it emphasizes new touch functions that would feel right at home on an iOS device.
For example, with the absence of a physical button on the front the phone, you can wake the device by simply tapping on the screen twice. You can launch specific apps by swiping in a specific direct on the lock screen and even activate the voice command system without having to unlock the phone, much like Siri.
Verdict: If you don't like Android, the version that comes with the new One isn't going to change your mind, but HTC's own functionality tweaks make things much more streamlined and intuitive, which iPhone users would feel right at home with.
I love my iPhone, and unless Apple seriously stumbled on a new version of its iconic smartphone, there's no way I'd change teams. With that being said, the new HTC One is as close to an iPhone in fit, finish, and functionality as I've ever seen from an Android device. The iPhone is still the pinnacle, but HTC's latest effort is scaling the peak.