We weigh in on how HTC's 2014 flagship has fared after 12 months
HTC certainly took its smartphone game to the next level with the introduction of the One M7 in 2013, and the follow-up One M8 improved and solidified the idea in 2014. The M8 was built on the same platform as its predecessor in terms of a solid metal body, ergonomic curved design, BoomSound speakers, UltraPixel camera and unmistakable HTC look — but naturally boosted the internals, added an interesting second rear camera and refined the processes required to put the whole thing together.
The One M8 by all accounts has been a successful device, and has found its way into plenty of hands since its launch — but coming around on a year since it was released, we wanted to see how it has held up against time. It's one thing to enjoy using a device two weeks after launch, and it's another completely to still enjoy it a year later.
1. Hardware and durability
The all-metal design of the One M8 sure is beautiful, but with its slippery exterior it's pretty easy to accidentally drop. Have you learned to deal with the slick exterior, and how has it held up to a year of use (and abuse)?
Phil Nickinson: The M8 was the first phone I've ever really used with a case. That pretty much says it all right there. And it wasn't so much about protecting the phone as it was needing a little extra help holding on to the damned thing. In fact, this is the only phone I've ever damaged during the review process, having dropped it right as I was starting to take the review pictures. When I moved back to the M8 a month or so ago, I didn't bother with the case. I'm not really sure why.
Regardless, look at my M8 now and it's definitely showing the signs of wear and tear. Part of that is because phones too often end up crammed into a bag when I'm traveling. But at the same time, the metal just seems to pit more easily than I would have expected.
Maybe the most disappointing thing about all this is that the Dot View Case was just so difficult to use when open, making it all but impossible to type. Because I love the idea of it. But not being able to properly use the phone kinda of made it a deal-breaker.
Alex Dobie: I haven't used the M8 for the entirety of the past year, but it's seen a decent amount of regular use, and I feel confident saying it's held up pretty well. Yes, that metal body is slippery — in fact, it's striking how a larger, but more angular phone like the Galaxy Note 4 feels more secure in-hand than the M8. However I've managed not to drop the M8 at all during the past year. What's more, the knocks and scrapes it has picked up are relatively minor — some small scratches around the metal trim, and a couple of notches on the plastic trim around the screen.
I'd like to see HTC address the slipperiness of the M8 in its next flagship, for sure. For the moment, though, I'm not losing any sleep over wear and tear on this device.
Andrew Martonik: I've somewhat learned to manage the slippery exterior of the M8 in daily use, mostly because the phone is still much narrower than other devices and I can actually wrap my hand around it. Though the only way I can be confident that it's staying put in my hand is to put a case on, and that's a shame because the M8's exterior is so beautiful to look at — but as soon as the corners start to get gnarled by a few drops (as mine has), it's not worth a whole lot.
Jerry Hildenbrand: I used the M8 for a week. That's all it took for me to realize that it was awkward to hold, and I would be happier using a different phone. So I sent it on its merry way and have used a different phone since.
Russell Holly: It took exactly one drop for me to move the HTC One M8 into a Dot View case. The phone slipped out of my hand and hit a corner, and that damage is irreparable. I've tried a few different cases, but keep coming back to the DotView. I've yet to have any other damage to the metal phone casing, but the plastic around the screen has a couple of noticeable scratches from daily use.
It'd be nice if the M8 was a little less slippery, maybe like the M7, but it was never something I'd call a deal breaker.
2. A year relying on UltraPixels
Nobody was really that impressed by the new generation of the UltraPixel camera in the One M8 when it launched. A year on, have you come to cope with the strengths and weaknesses of the 4MP sensor?
Phil: I was pretty unimpressed a year ago, and I remain pretty meh today. It's not that I can't get some great pics out of the M8 — I definitely have. But I need a better everyday shooter. It's that simple. A camera that's going to be in your pocket all day, every day needs to be good every day, and not just in specific instances. UltraPixel was a great idea, but either technical limitations got in the way (specifically, resolution and file size), or the implementation just wasn't there.
And I never was really sold on the whole dual-lens "defocusing" phenomenon of 2014. That's not just an M8 thing, but HTC was the first to bring it. I want good everyday pictures, an easy-to-use video highlights feature, and that's it.
Alex: By using a different phone. Seriously. The M8's camera is my biggest reason for not using it more in 2014, and the fact that it's so bad — low resolution, riddled with noise, terrible dynamic range — is what's driven me to more capable cameras like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4. And while the Duo camera effects are neat, they're no substitute for taking good photos.
For me, at this point, the whole Ultrapixel thing is a failed experiment, and HTC needs to move on.
Andrew: The M8's camera is just downright inferior compared to other phones launched in 2014, and my view on that hasn't changed since it was released. HTC's done a great job with the camera software, and I'm always happy with the experience of using the M8 for photography — the problem is the photo quality. There's no tips or tricks for making the most of this camera, really, as the ceiling of what's possible is just too low. HTC really needs to up the megapixels next time around.
Jerry: I'm part of the minority that likes the UltraPixel camera on the M7 and M8. Any phone can take good pictures in bright light, but the camera on the M8 gets shots in dark places like a bar or restaurant that no other smartphone camera can. Those are the kind of places where I want to use a phone to take a picture, so it worked for me. I'll almost hate to see it go ...
Russell: As much fun as the added features to the HTC One M8 Duo Camera are, the quality of photos and the inability to share some of the active depth changing features early on made me quickly grab another phone when I wanted a good photo of something. This was hands down the biggest weakness of the M8.
I'd love to see UltraPixel tech remain a part of the HTC lineup, but probably just as a front facing camera like we've seen in the Desire 826.
3. Now with Lollipop
The Lollipop update has started to arrive for most versions of the One M8, breathing new life into a nearly year-old device. Does the update to Android 5.0 improve the experience of using this phone for you?
Phil: The M8 is the second phone I've used that's been upgraded to Lollipop. And, first, HTC needs to be commended for getting that update out in a pretty timely manner. It hasn't really changed the way I use the phone. Lock screen notifications look a little different, and HTC is back to using large album art on the lock screen when music's playing, so that's nice. I imagine there's a lot of great new stuff under the hood, and I should probably hard-reset to really take a look at that. (Google Play Music's four-deauths a year is making me drag my feet on that, though.)
Thank god HTC didn't go with the stock Lollipop notification options (which I very much expect to see changed by Google at some point this year). But I still want to see the do-not-disturb function smarten up a little bit. I might want to turn off DnD one morning without killing the overall scheduling.
Anecdotally, it does feel like there may be some bugs lurking.
Alex: HTC wasn't first with the Lollipop updates, but there's a strong argument for saying it did the best job with Android 5.0, blending it with Sense 6 without diminishing either one. HTC has smartly kept the best parts of the stock Lollipop lock screen, including notifications and animations, without trampling over existing features like quick app shortcuts. Same deal with the notification shade and app switcher — it feels like Android 5.0 and Sense 6, but at the expense of neither one. That's in contrast to LG's efforts on the G3, in which Lollipop and the LG UI awkwardly coexist on the same device, and the overall feel is of an Android 4.x phone.
And — hallelujah — HTC's Lollipop implementation actually lets you mute your phone properly, like in the good old days.
My only real gripe? Google Fit is inexplicably broken on current Sense-Lollipop builds, whereas on the Google Play edition device it works perfectly. [Ed. note: HTC is aware of the Google Fit bug and says it's working on a fix.]
Andrew: HTC hit its 90-day time frame for the update to Lollipop on a number of M8 versions, including my own unlocked model, and I'm really glad I gave the phone another full look after the update was installed. The update managed to keep the best parts of Sense, including a consistent design, while also integrating support for the new notifications system and small spurts of Material Design. And best of all, HTC smartly decided to keep its volume system the same as it was in KitKat, giving us a plain old mute switch to silence the phone.
Jerry: I'm a fan of the way HTC does software. They find a way to mix their own thing into Android (or Windows) and the end result always seems better than the previous version.
I've not had much time with Lollipop on the M8, but I'll have to say from what I have seen, they got it right once again. A good user experience should offer small improvements when updated, without a slew of unfriendly user-facing differences. HTC seems to be able to nail this down better than anyone else.
Russell: Android is one of those things that doesn't really have one "right" way to do UI, but we've seen plenty of cases of companies doing it wrong. HTC has been doing a great job offering their own software while staying out of the way of general Android UI design, and Lollipop offers further evidence of this. When compared to the efforts of the other forked versions of Android, it feels like HTC's UI team offers the most complete thought to date.
4. Using the One M8 a year later
Almost a year after it was first announced, could you still use the One M8 as your daily phone without skipping a beat? Or are there certain aspects of the phone — performance, software, camera, screen, etc — that just haven't aged well and are deal-breakers for you in February 2015?
Phil: Absolutely — and I am. Even after a year's worth of use, it's still one of the fastest phones I've used, software-wise. Coming from the 2014 Moto X, the camera's not that disappointing. (But it's definitely nowhere near the LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4.) HTC's got to do something about that in the M9. I'm just not sure how many more empty promises we can take on that front.
I'm really curious to see what happens with the BoomSound speakers. Look at the slivers on the HTC Desire EYE. Will the M9 scale them down and make room for a larger screen in the same footprint? Or something else?
Or does HTC have something new up its sleeves altogether? This is going to be fun.
Alex: The M8 still holds up really well in early 2015, with a single exception. The rear camera really hasn't aged well at all. It was average in 2014, and it's starting to look decidedly crappy next to what's available in early 2015 — devices like the Note 4, LG G Flex 2 and iPhone 6, to say nothing of what's next from the big Android phone makers. As we approach new phone season this spring, the M8 is sure to become more affordable. And as it does, the device's imaging chops (or lack thereof) are the only asterisk next to my recommendation for this phone.
Andrew: At this point I still have no problem popping my SIM in the M8 now and then for use. The hardware is still plenty powerful for anything you can throw at it, the outside is slippery but manageable and the screen still looks great. The only real issue I have is the camera, which I just can't rely on at this point. I'll leave the house with just the M8 in my pocket, but not if it's a situation where I need to take lots of pictures.
Jerry: I'm picky about how a phone feels in my hands. I couldn't use the M8 very long because of the way it felt like I was on the edge of dropping it from the minute I picked it up. Software updates can't change this.
Russell: I'm still happy with most aspects of the HTC One M8, but the rear camera kills things for me. I've found ways around this by bringing my Olympus or my HTC Re Camera places, but not having a decent camera on the back of this phone really is the one big thing that needs to be fixed in future versions.
We've learned a lot about night time photos over the last year, not the least of this is how a decent two-stage flash and good software outperforms the low-light capabilities of the UltraPixel sensor. Since it's clear the camera is going to be a huge focal point for smartphones for a little while, this is something HTC desperately needs to address.
5. What are your feelings on the One M8 over the last year?
There are plenty of things HTC did right with the One M8 that have stood the test of time, and other aspects have, shall we say, not aged well. This is how our experience with the One M8 has been in the last year, but we want to know yours as well. If you've been using the phone for the past year, let us know how it's done for you — you can always continue the discussion in the forums!