A quick look at superficial features on an otherwise excellent phone
So this here is the Harman/Kardon edition of the HTC One M8, a phone we've already crawled all over, inside and out. You know the specs. We know how good the 5-inch display is. We know just how good those "BoomSound" speakers are. We know how great the battery life is, how powerful the phone is, and how well the 4-megapixel — excuse us, UltraPixel — camera performs. We know the M8 has curves that might make Kate Upton take notice.
And we also know the M8 isn't perfect. But it's pretty much the most compelling Android smartphone available these days.
If you're on Sprint, though, you now have a choice. You can get the HTC One M8 in gunmetal gray, or the HK version in black with champagne highlights.
That's not all, of course. You'll also get Harman/Kardon's audio enhancements, instead of HTC's "BoomSound." Still need more? You'll get a set of $150 earbuds in the box as well.
So the question still stands: Is this Harman/Kardon version any better than the original?
First up if you haven't read our official HTC One review, take a few minutes and swing through it. We're not going to go too deep into things with this version. Rather, we'll focus on the three differences: The color, the audio enhancements, and the earbuds.
If the New Orleans Saints had a team phone, this would be it. The HK M8 (which is how I'm abbreviating it here on out) certainly wouldn't look out of place in the Superdome, with its black, brushed-metal back and not-quite-gold-but-OK-it's-"Champagne" fittings on the front. There's a ring on the camera housing as well, which provides some great contrast on the back, and the HTC logo has a nice patina to it. The Harman/Kardon logo sits where some FCC logos were before. And that's it as far as the visual changes go.
The black looks great. I daresay I prefer it to the gray. The only drawback is that it shows off fingerprints. Not surprising — we're used to that with black phones. It's just something to be aware of.
I wanted to love these earbuds. I really did. Recognizing that there's a lot of subjectivity when it comes to shoving little speakers into your ears, sure. And I'd argue that these are as good a reason to get the HK M8 as the color or any audio tweaks on the softwares side.
The earbuds sound pretty great. Lots of bass. No muddying up the mid-range. Highs are crisp and clear. Sound is not the issue I have with these earbuds.
What turns me off is that they just don't stay in my ears the way I want. And when I push them back in, I get the a weird sound and feeling. It's probably the rubber of the earbud itself, but it just sounds squishy and creeps me out a little. After the first couple times it makes me want to move back to something foam-based.
The cable is a decent length (and the plug itself is stylish, not something you see every day), but it's also surprisingly stiff. Maybe it'll loosen up over time, but in the week that I've had it out it's constantly been a source of tangulation. (That's totally going to catch on as a word. You wait and see.) It continues to curl up in varying degrees of annoyingness.
Again, it's a shame, because they sound great. Maybe the negatives will bother you less.
The Harman/Kardon sound
Ah, the real reason for this phone. HTC has replaced whatever audio tweaks are in its own "BoomSound" enhancements with Harman/Kardon's here. You'll find them in their own top-level section of the settings menu. You've got a couple options here:
- Clari-Fi "restores the quality of compressed audio."
- And LiveStage ... well, the phone doesn't tell you what that does, but you can only use it with headphones. (Or speakers. Anything plugged into the 3.5mm jack.)
Clari-Fi basically boosts everything. You can especially hear it in the highs, but the low end remains pretty fat as well. The mids also are brought out more, but sometimes that's with unexpected results. Parts you're used to being in the background are brought forward. LiveStage works on the high end, bringing it back to a more manageable level. It's still loud and distinct, but not painfully so.
I've taken to leaving Clari-Fi off, as I think it works a little too hard to normalize things. With headphones in, I leave LiveStage on.
Of course, all this is dependent on you having an idea of what the music "should" sound like in the first place. Is what Harman/Kardon has brought to the table any better or worse than HTC's own enhancements — or, for that matter, what you could achieve by yourself with some equalizer settings? Not for me, anyway.
So should you buy this thing or not?
For me, the decisions whether to purchase the Harman/Kardon HTC One M8 comes down to this:
- The color — very cool. A nice option.
- The included earbuds — a nice addition.
- The audio enhancements — I could take 'em or leave 'em. But I'm like that about HTC's as well.
- The cost — there is a $30 difference here (the HK M8 is $229 up front versus $199 for the standard M8), if you do a two-year contract with Sprint. If you do zero-down, the HK M8 costs $679 versus $649 for the standard M8. That's all a wash in my book, though.
- Plus you can save some on Spotify, which is nice.
The other sway factor might just be if you think it's cool to have Harman/Kardon on your phone. We won't judge.