The new HTC One M8 has leaked more times than any flagship phone in recent memory, but HTC still took to the stage and announced the device like nothing was out of the ordinary. Even a cursory glance would tell you this is a successor to the original One with its unibody aluminium shell and humongous front-facing speakers. The HTC One M8 certainly has the makings of a flagship phone, but does it have what it takes to compete with the Samsung Galaxy S5?
The M8 has a more rounded design than last year's One (M7), which honestly might have been a little too angular to hold comfortably. The device has a hairline brushed finish with even more of the device composed of metal, which HTC is quite proud of. In fact, the more extensive unibody design means fewer pieces are used in the assembly process.
HTC has packed the new One with some killer hardware including a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.3GHz, 2GB of RAM, and 16/32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The LCD screen has been bumped up to 5in, but remains at 1080p resolution. That works out to 440 pixels per inch, down from 469 on last year's One with a 4.7in LCD. That's still more than enough to make the pixels all but invisible to even the most eagle eyed user. The light from the LCD is also used to light up the holes in HTC's new DotView case (see the image below). This offers a way to see notifications without waking up the entire phone (just the screen for a few seconds).
Above and below the screen are HTC's front-facing BoomSound speakers – unequivocally better than the tinny mono speakers you'll find on every other smartphone. The bass and clarity of BoomSound on the M7 were excellent, and HTC says the M8 is even better. It's 25 per cent louder this time and has a multi-band amplifier for more accurate tunes.
Around back is likely the most notable addition to the HTC One M8 – two cameras. If you're having flashbacks to the disastrous HTC Evo 3D, just take a breath and relax. The Duo Camera system isn't just to take stereoscopic images, but rather to attach depth information to each pixel captured by the main camera (another 4-megapixel Ultrapixel sensor) – a lot like a mini-Kinect, actually. This allows you to (kind of) make changes to the focus of an image after you take it – the phone basically knows which pixels are further away and which are closer, so the software can apply a blur filter accordingly. It remains to be seen if this is the same kind of after-the-fact focusing promised by Pelican and Lytro, but we suspect it isn't.
HTC is launching its flagship device with Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the current version of the platform until Google rolls out an update (probably this summer). Along with KitKat, buyers will get the new Sense 6 skin that adds HTC's custom apps and services. The UI has been flattened out even more and the colours are a bit more vibrant. HTC is making use of the transparent status and navigation bars to introduce some more colours in its apps – and yes, there are software buttons in the navigation bar now.
Sense 6 includes a new version of BlinkFeed, HTC's home screen news feed. There are more options and services built in, and the company has added the BlinkFeed Launcher to Google Play so it can be updated over time. There are also a few other HTC services popping up in the Play Store today, which is very encouraging. It's the same thing Motorola is doing with its newer devices, and it has allowed that company to make substantial improvements without pushing a full OTA update. The M8 has a 2600 mAh battery and HTC says the improved power saving mode in Sense 6 can extend battery life by up to 40 per cent. That's a pretty bold claim that needs some testing.
The HTC One M8 is the company's last stand – if the new One can't challenge the Samsung Galaxy onslaught, HTC might not have the chance to launch another flagship smartphone. HTC is giving it a good shot, though. The new One is going to launch in more than 100 countries in the first few weeks of April, and it can be bought in the UK right now, with Vodafone, Phones4u and Three having it on sale just minutes after its release, not to mention Carphone Warehouse.
For more on the new flagship offering, see our hands-on with the HTC One M8, and we also have a raft of spec comparisons pitting the freshly launched handset against the Sony Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5, Google Nexus 5, Apple iPhone 5S, and of course its predecessor the HTC One from last year.