IRL: Taking HTC's One M8 for a test drive
The original HTC One was one of my favorite smartphones from 2013, but it was easy to see why you'd pass it up in favor of an archrival like Samsung's Galaxy S4 -- it just didn't have the battery life, camera quality or expansion to keep up. Fast-forward to 2014 and it's a different story. Most of those headache-inducing flaws have been fixed in the new One; indeed, my colleague Brad Molen suggested it was an all-around better device. But is that enough to avoid a twinge of buyer's remorse, especially with the Galaxy S5 and Sony's Xperia Z2 upping the ante? I spent a few weeks with the new One to find out whether I'd still be pining for features from those other devices.
I certainly didn't miss the designs of other phones. Simply put, the newer One has the best construction I've seen on a handset in some time. As much as I like the iPhone 5s' precious-feeling body, it doesn't have the solidity or eye-catching looks of HTC's handset. It exudes quality compared to the GS5's thin plastic shell, and it's certainly more tolerant of abuse than the glass-backed Z2. Yes, the One is a bit too tall and slippery, but I got used to that over time. It honestly feels like more a labor of love from passionate users -- which it is -- than the product of a committee. Oh, and if you're wondering about color choices? I prefer the gunmetal-gray hue, but the gold model (really, rose gold) is just subtle enough that I wasn't self-conscious about using it in public. The grainy matte texture also makes it a tad easier to hold than the gray variant.
There are a few pleasant surprises under the hood, too. The One has more than enough battery life to keep up with my weekend routine, which involves a deluge of Instagram photos and Twitter conversations. More often than not, I had to fight to get the battery below the halfway mark after several hours of heavy use; almost every other recent phone I've used runs perilously low under similar conditions. And while people might malign the camera (sometimes for the right reasons), it's generally better-suited to my uses than some alternatives. I tend to take a lot of low-light and macro photos, and the One rarely let me down where some phones I've tried (particularly the GS4 and Galaxy Note 3) produced dark, blurry messes. HTC's sensor still tends to blow out highlights in daylight photography, but not often enough to sour the experience.
It might sound like I'm fawning over the One, but there were a few quirks that got on my nerves. The keyboard would occasionally become insensitive while I was typing and would need a bit of cajoling to respond again -- this was consistent across several devices I tried, so it's clear there's a bug. And HTC desperately, desperately needs to improve the camera resolution. I could often work around it by framing my shots carefully, but I sorely missed the ability to crop detailed images from tiny portions of full-size photos. For the next One, I'd like to see HTC accept its competitive reality and increase the rear camera resolution beyond four megapixels, even if it means giving up some of that vaunted light sensitivity.
As such, I found myself missing the cameras from other phones, particularly the iPhone 5s or LG's G3 (both of which strike a good balance between resolution and low-light ability) and newer Lumias like the 1020 or Icon (which sacrifice very little). However, the omission wasn't enough to make me regret trying the One. The G3 and next iPhone would undoubtedly prove tempting, but I'd be more than happy to stick with HTC's hardware for a couple of years.
I've shared my experience with the HTC One M8; now it's time for you to share yours!
She hasn't experienced any of that keyboard behavior that you've seen, or at least I haven't heard about it. But she only used the HTC keyboard for a few days before switching to SwiftKey. I thought the HTC keyboard looked pretty ugly, so it's a good thing you can switch it out. The stock Android keyboard is way better than the HTC one, IMO.
My wife loves the screen, but the thing that she likes most is how it has some of the best speakers of any phone you'll find. She loves listening to podcasts on it without having to haul our portable bluetooth speaker around.
She's also experienced similarly long battery life. The other day she had a conference call with the phone on speakerphone mode for an hour, listened to podcasts for three hours, called her mom for 30 minutes, and did the usual amount of playing around on her phone that one might do. By the time she went to bed she had about 41% battery life left. That's all in a day when she woke at 8am and went to bed at 11:30pm. That's pretty great battery life, and FAR more than she was getting on her iPhone 5.
My wife loves her M8, and while I really like my Nexus 5 and am a devoted stock Android user, I must admit that there are things about it that leave me jealous.
If you are the kind of person who likes to print out your photos to a decent size or you are a bit of a pixel peeper and what all the detail you can get out of a phone OR you like to zoom and crop your photos to your liking then you want more than 4MP in your phone camera. The G3 would be a better fit.
For me I discovered, after getting my last phone (Lumia 920) for the camera that despite how good it was, I never used it for anything other than Instagram, Facebook or sharing moments with other people. I never printed them, I never zoomed or cropped after the fact (if I did it was because there was a finger creeping in over the lens or something like that).
Because of the way I use my photos, I'm willing to overlook the lack of resolution in favour of achieving good results in low light. For me that means taking better photos in challenging conditions which I would then share on social media.
The M8 might not be for you because of the camera but if your photo usage is anything like mine, the M8 will likely do a very good job for you.
Personally, my time with the HTC One had it tucked away in a microfiber pouch when I wasn't using it, but 'naked' otherwise. I'm relatively gentle with my gadgets, so I prefer to use them without always-on cases when possible.
Anyway, she got the dot view case and hated it. Right off the bat, you could tell that it's really poorly made. The plastic is really cheap, and to cap it all off if you just left the phone on a table screen up, the screen-protecting part of the case wouldn't even close fully! It just floated about a half inch in the air on the right side of the screen. Nice job, HTC.
On top of that, she wasn't able to get the notifications to work very well, so the case pretty much failed on every level.
In the end, she returned it and ordered a cheap plastic case that advertised its self as having a better grip. I guess it was better, but it still wasn't good. Regardless, her second case only cost her about $12 instead of the $30+ for the crappy dot view.
Stay away from the dot view case!
Annoyed with the software. Most of Sense 6 changes seem unnecessary and come off as a desperate branding attempt. Blinkfeed isn't as bad as I thought it would be but since I can't decide which home screen it occupies, I'd rather not have it. And while, initially, I thought the design philosophy of the Sense UI brought a matured subtlety to the OS, it only took a few days to realize that its actually just dull. I generally dislike Launcher Apps/Home replacement apps but HTC Sense 6 (albeit the best version of Sense to date and, arguably, the best OEM custom UI available) has driven me to the Nova Launcher.
I wish I could have gotten a Google Play Edition instead. That would've been nearly perfect for me.
As someone who is currently on the market for a new smartphone, I must say that I have become quite enamoured with the M8 and your feedback affirms that.
I guess, since you mention that the camera is suitable enough for what you use it for, is it possible for you to tell if the M8 has resolution deficiencies in an app such as Instagram? I will most likely post pictures from the phone to Instagram and I am under the impression that the 4MP camera will be fine for this use but I still hear that the M8 can't show as much detail even when downsized. Has that been something you have experienced?
Also, have you come across the lens scratching/cracking issue that many people seem to have reported? The issue seems common but I don't know if that's just the vocal minority.
I haven't encountered any scratched or cracked lenses, although I'm also relatively careful with my gear (I put phones in a microfiber pouch when they're in my pocket).