Rising as an early alternative to Apple’s touch-screen iPhones a few years ago, HTC has had a long history of association with Android. Starting with the HTC Magic, then the Google Nexus One, the company has always been a favourite with smartphone geeks.
The new HTC One, codenamed M8, is its latest effort at turning around a ho-hum couple of years which have seen the Taiwanese company lose much of its early Android mojo.
Like last year’s HTC One – the M7 – the new phone hopes to not just win awards from tech sites and garner great reviews, but also grab hold of some of that goodwill that consumers have placed on rivals such as Samsung.
The first thing that captures your eye with the new HTC One is its resemblance to the one from last year. Despite the increase in screen size from 4.7 inches to 5 inches, it doesn’t look much bigger, which is a good thing.
The resolution remains the same at 1,920 x 1,080, which should ensure that text and images remain sharp when you peer at them.
What has clearly changed is the improvement to the phone’s body. The metal unibody that HTC is famed for now encases the entire phone and curves right in next to the screen. There are no jagged edges and very nicely, the design reminds you of the HTC One X with a “pebble-like” feel.
As one would expect, there should be a speed bump using Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 801 quad-core chip clocked at 2.5GHz. Certainly, it helps make for a zippier experience when the hardware is matched with Android’s latest 4.4 KitKat operating system with full support for 4G/LTE connectivity.
Very importantly, unlike the previous HTC One and One X, there is now a microSD card slot. This lets you pop in memory cards holding as much as 128GB of additional capacity. That’s a boost for folks who shoot a lot of photos with their phones and would use up the 16GB or 32GB onboard.
How will all these additional features impact battery life? HTC has also increased the capacity to 2,600mAh, up slightly from the 2,300mAh on last year’s model. That doesn’t seem like too much, until you see the overhauled power usage of the entire phone, which HTC promises can last 40 per cent longer.
During my tests this past week, I could run the phone for an entire day, and still have about 20 to 30 per cent of juice left, which is remarkable. This would be for moderate use, with mobile data turned on, while checking on social media posts and listening to Spotify streams while commuting.
When it comes to sound, HTC has kept the two front-facing speakers from before and made them louder. The treble and mids have improved somewhat though the bass is still missing, which is not a huge surprise from such small speakers.
The sound stage has amazingly expanded, thanks to HTC’s improved BoomSound technology with a new amplifier, redesigned speaker chambers and some tweaking of the sound profile. That said, I would still prefer using a good pair of headphones with the new HTC One, to have a more immersive experience.
When it comes to the phone’s camera, HTC has a difficult act to follow, after last year’s UltraPixel technology made taking photos on the phone really easy, even in scenes with difficult lighting.
In the new HTC One, the company has included another sensor that measures the distance of various objects in the picture. With this U Focus feature, users can easily pick and choose what to focus on in the picture by letting the phone selectively blur the rest of the image while keeping the selected portion in focus.
This is very useful if you want to just shoot a photo first, then worry about where the focus should be in post-production. The feature also lets you create some dramatic shallow depth of field images.
The other party trick that HTC has included is a way to create pseudo 3D effects using 2D pictures. Although it doesn’t work like Lytro’s light field technology, the result is still quite satisfactory.
For night shoots, the phone performed somewhat similarly to last year’s HTC One. However, it is now armed with dual toned LED lights to give subjects a yellow glow instead of the ghostly white illumination when flash is used.
After the focus point is applied on the yellow hot air balloon, the rest of the scene is selectively blurred to make the balloon “pop out”.
One of the convenient features that the new HTC One brings is quick access to apps, even when the screen is on standby, thanks to motion detection.
For example, swiping the screen from left to right will call up HTC’s Blinkfeed information service. Swipe right to left and you bring up the home page, while swiping from bottom up will launch the last-used app.
Most interestingly, double-tapping on the screen will bring up the lock screen, instead of having you press on the power button. And when the phone rings, you can just place it on your ear to automatically answer a call.
For those who are into fitness, HTC has included the Fitbit app in the phone. This means you can use data collected from Fitbit’s own tracking devices easily.
Good news too if you are more of a couch potato. The new HTC One has improved on the Sense TV app, which makes it easy to watch programs on pay-TV, where you’re on SingTel or StarHub. Firing up the app, I could quickly set up my favourite shows such as TopGear and get notifications when the show was broadcasting.
If you are channel surfing, the app will show the full TV schedule and the content before you even enter the channel itself. With it, you can also control the TV, the cable set-top box and the sound system from the phone via the infra-red transmitter at the top of the phone. For me, this is one really handy app to be included in the phone.
One small area that HTC has clearly improved on is the accessories that make a phone so much more out of the box.
Nothing shows this more than the HTC One’s unique Dot-View Cover, which shows the time and weather through a nifty series of “dots” when you double tap on the cover. Nope, no need to flip open anything to see the time.
Similarly, if a call comes in, just swipe the cover to answer or reject it. That’s simply convenient. For both fashionistas and geeks looking to impress, this S$59 cover is a must-have.
Worth the price?
When the new HTC One reaches shops in Singapore tomorrow, it will come in either grey or silver, two rather masculine but sleek colours that will appeal to the masses.
For a princely sum of S$998, the phone certainly does not cheap. Yet, with some features that are unique and others upgraded from before to rival the best from Samsung and Sony, the HTC One is an attractive deal.
It should definitely be a contender for your money if you are looking for a top-end phone this year.