HTC was once the darling of the smartphone world, but there is only one way to go from the top of the tree, and that's down. HTC has been in the doldrums recently, and the company knows it has to do very well with its 2014 flagship phone.
This is one of the reasons that, at the launch event last week, HTC said the One M8 phone was available to buy from that very day. Sure, you can buy the LG G Flex right now, but other obvious rival flagship handsets for this year, such as the Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy S5, still aren't available to buy (just yet).
HTC has worked hard on both the outside and the inside of the One M8 to give us something that's new but also recognisable. The overall effect is very appealing indeed and HTC deserves to have a success on its hands here.
The One M8 builds on the looks of previous One handsets, but makes some significant advances too. This is a stunning phone to look at and to hold. The brushed aluminium backplate curves into the long edges and the bottom edge, although there's a strip of plastic along the top edge. It looks gorgeous and feels great in the hand.
And when you hear HTC going on about "zero gap" in the design, it isn't just fluffy PR talk. It refers to the way plastic and metal are melded together on the back of the chassis. Those two black horizontal lines of plastic have been injected into the metal so there really is no discernible gap between the two materials.
You can't get the backplate off, so both nanoSIM and microSD sit in trays on the left and right long edges respectively. Just as with the original HTC One, there are speakers above and below the screen – and they make the handset rather taller than you might expect. I often grumble about excessive bezel above and below a handset's screen, but in this case I am more than happy because these are HTC's BoomSound speakers, and they're quite simply brilliant.
HTC says the speakers are 20 per cent louder than in the original One, but it's not just the volume that matters. Sound quality is fabulous too. Okay, so you're not going to ditch your audio equipment, but for a phone the quality is very impressive.
So, the 5in screen plus those speakers does make for a big phone, but the size seems appropriate for what you get here. The power switch is on the top edge, which smaller hands might find a struggle. However, you can double tap the screen to turn it on and off, and the responsiveness is excellent – unlike, incidentally, my recent experience of the LG G Flex, and more on a par with the LG G2. This and other "Motion Launch" gestures can be configured to suit your requirements.
BlinkFeed is HTC's attempt to bring together news and social information that's personalised to you. I'm not its biggest fan, and it appears HTC has listened to my two requests. Okay, so maybe it wasn't just me that made these requests, but I'll carry on believing my voice had something to do with this...
I wanted to be able to have news feeds on personalised search terms, and now I can, though my test of a few relatively obscure interests suggests this has a way to go yet. I also wanted to be able to get rid of BlinkFeed completely, something the original HTC One did not allow. Now you can just remove it as you would any other widget.
The screen doesn't break any new ground, but it is perfectly good enough. Its 1,920 x 1,080 pixels are sharp, bright and clear. Gorilla Glass 3 isn't used everywhere, and here it provides good protection.
This being a flagship handset, unsurprisingly enough it has flagship specifications. The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 used here runs at 2.3GHz and there is 2GB of RAM on board. Internal memory is 16GB but there's only 10.1GB of this free for you. Still, in an advance from the original HTC One, there are lots of expansion and storage options. As well as allowing for memory expansion via microSD, the microUSB slot supports USB On The Go so you can use USB storage. The HTC One M8 happily grabbed content from my Kingston Data Traveller microDuo which has both microUSB and standard sUSB connectors. In addition, there's 50GB of Google Drive cloud storage on offer, and of course you can tap into other cloud services too.
If you are looking for other state of the art specifications, you will find them here. Near Field Communications, a barometer, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, MHL through the microUSB connector, and infrared. And of course, this is a 4G LTE handset. Oh, and a motion coprocessor means that gesture and motion features, and the GPS, don't need to use the full processor. This helps save battery life.
HTC's Sense user interface is well known and loved by many. It has been updated to Sense 6 and the HTC One M8 runs on Android 4.4. These two factors mean the HTC One M8 is state of the art in terms of software. If you've used the previous version of Sense you won't notice a lot of difference, but there are plenty of tweaks that continue HTC's quest to simplify its Android skin. One tweak I am really pleased about is the removal of the clock from the apps drawer view. When I am in the apps drawer I want to see app shortcuts, I don't care if it is sunny outside or what the time is. Thanks, HTC.
The biggest, most game changing thing about the HTC One M8 is its main camera. HTC has been using ultrapixels for a while now, and the 4-ultrapixel camera here is the same spec as in the original One. You can't grab 4K video (the limit is full HD), but what's new is a second camera on the back that grabs depth information for shots. This means you can do fancy things like switch focus between near and far objects after you've taken a photo using a feature called Ufocus, or there's Foregrouder which allows you to apply filters to near or far objects while leaving others unchanged.
My time-limited experience testing these features suggests that you need to take the right sort of photo for them to work well – fairly uncluttered, with a clear foreground and background, for example. But when they work, they can be fun.
Other aspects of the camera please as well, such as its quick focus, and there is a range of photography and editing features for those who like to fiddle with photos. Zoe is here too, of course.
The 2,600mAh battery is probably good enough to see most people through a day of usage if they're an average or light user, and there are two power saving modes. The most extreme of these locks a lot of the phone down, but can help you eke out that bit more life just when you need it the most.
It is difficult to find much to grumble about in any serious way here. Okay, so the HTC One M8 screen resolution isn't improved on last year – but the screen is still fabulous. And with my complaints about BlinkFeed dealt with, along with fab stereo sound, the ability to read USB storage, a top notch build, and plenty more plus points besides, HTC is right back up there with the leaders of the pack.
Manufacturer and Model
HTC One M8
2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
5in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 441ppi
4 megapixel (ultrapixel)
70.6 x 9.35 x 146.36mm (WxDxH)