HTC One E8

Turns out an M8 in a plastic shell is still a pretty awesome phone.

A couple of months after the launch of the HTC One M8 came word of a new plastic-clad variant aimed at emerging markets — the HTC One E8. Looking like a mashup of various HTC designs from the past year or so, the E8 aims to translate the core of the M8's high-end experience into a less expensive package. Right now HTC is targeting markets like China, Russia and India with the E8, so there's no indication of any wider international launch. Nevertheless, we've got the device in-hand, and we've given it the full hands-on treatment.

And as it turns out, transplanting the M8's guts into a soft-touch plastic shell makes for a pretty compelling smartphone.

The E8 feels like a cross between an M7 and a Droid DNA.

With the main differentiator being a plastic, not metal body in the HTC One E8, you might expect this to be a cheap-feeling phone, but that's not the case at all. We're using the matte grey E8, which feels fantastic in the hand. It's not unlike the Droid DNA, only the soft-touch shell extends further around the sides, and the black space around the display tapers off towards the edges, like the HTC One M7.

In fact, there's a lot about the E8 that reminds us of last year's HTC One. The more angular shape, for one, meaning it's easier to hold onto than the current HTC flagship. We're reminded once again that HTC knows how to work with plastic as well as metal.

The E8 is also available in glossy red and white color options, which are more than a little reminiscent of HTC's Butterfly devices.

HTC One E8

On the inside, however, this thing is essentially an M8. It's running a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor at 2.3 or 2.5GHz, depending on where you buy it; our Singapore model E8 is running the 2.5GHz chip. That's paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, expandable via microSD. There's a fixed 2,600mAh battery, just like the M8, and a similarly gorgeous 5-inch 1080p display. That's flanked by HTC's trademark BoomSound front-facing speaker setup, which to our untrained ears sounds just as boomy as the M8's. So the hardware muscle of HTC's flagship is intact.

More: HTC One E8 specs

HTC One E8

Aside from materials, the camera setup is the E8's biggest hardware change.

The most significant hardware change — aside from the materials, of course — has to do with the E8's camera setup. The front-facing "selfie" camera is a 5-megapixel unit with a wide angle lens which appears to be the same module used in the M8 and One Mini 2. But the rear camera sees HTC moving away from its Ultrapixel-plus-Duo Camera setup, instead using a 13-megapixel BSI sensor and single LED flash. Photos from the rear camera comparable to what you'll get from a Mini 2 or Desire 816 — good, but not great; a little washed-out in daylight, a little dark in low-light. They're decent, but nothing to write home about. (And that's probably the biggest weakness we've come across so far.)

You do at least get the full suite of camera software tricks, with the obvious exception of the M8's Duo Camera effects. Zoes — the combined reels of video and rapid-fire photos — are present and correct, though stills saved in Zoe mode are output at only 4 megapixels, not the full 13. And Dual Capture and Pano 360 have made the transition across to the E8 as well.

HTC One E8HTC One E8

Another manufacturer might've released the E8 as its flagship device and stopped there.

On the software side, there's HTC Sense 6 atop Android 4.4.2 KitKat, much the same as you'd find on an M8, and the software experience is just as fast as on that device. Sense 6 includes HTC's BlinkFeed home screen experience, which brings social, app and news updates into a scrolling panel in the launcher. There's also support for HTC's Motion Launch feature, which lets you wake the phone by double-tapping the screen, or swipe to launch directly into BlinkFeed or your home screens. It's a welcome addition, not least because the power button is situated in a rather awkward spot, around the top edge of the phone.

The HTC One E8 is intended to be a trimmed-down version of HTC's premium handset at a lower price point, but it's not a lesser product across the board. Surprisingly, the opposite is true in a couple of areas. The E8 lacks its big brother's impressive metal body, but as a result it's much lighter and easier to hold. It uses an off-the-shelf 13-megapixel camera, but that actually inches ahead of the M8's Ultrapixel shooter in daylight performance in some cases.

As much as the E8 is destined to live in the shadow of the M8, it's a strong phone in its own right. Another manufacturer might well have released something like the E8 as its 2014 flagship and called it a day.

We're going to put the HTC One E8 through its paces in the days ahead, so stay tuned for our review. In the meantime, be sure to share your first impressions down in the comments!