How does the new HTC One (M8) compare to last year's model, the M7?
With today's launch of the new HTC One, the "M8," we're sure plenty of owners of last year's HTC One will be wondering how the new handset stacks up. Sure, 2014's HTC One boasts beefier internals, a larger screen, and an additional camera for capturing depth information. But what about the look, feel and software features? Join us after the break for an in-depth comparison of HTC's 2013 and 2014 flagships.
Video: HTC One (M7) versus HTC One (M8)
Design and build
Less boxy, more curvy.
The M7 wowed us last year with its metal-backed chassis, and the M8 takes things a step further with a wraparound metal unibody, wider corners and smoother curves. And with no more ("zero-gap") injection molding this time around, it's metal, not plastic that your hand's in contact with when holding the new HTC One. (HTC says the body is now 90 percent metal, compared to last year's 70 percent.)
The 2014 HTC One is a better-looking, more sophisticated smartphone.
The curved sides make this year's HTC One more comfortable to hold, though it feels just a little slicker in the hand, and that's especially true of the "gunmetal gray" model we've been using over the past week. (The gold and silver M8s have a more M7-like matte finish.) What's more, the wraparound design presents fewer opportunities for weird join issues of the kind we noticed on some earlier 2013 HTC Ones, particularly around the speakers. By contrast, the screen, speakers and chassis of the 2014 model fit perfectly, with no gaps or inconsistencies in our review device.
There's no doubt that the 2014 HTC One is the better-looking, more sophisticated smartphone — the result of a year of refinement for an already great design. As we say in our full review, it feels like a phone from the future. Perhaps more impressively, it makes the M7, with its sharper angles and plastic sides, seem old.
The M8 boasts a 5-inch display, up from the M7's 4.7 inches, and as such there's a noticeable increase in footprint size, particularly height-wise — the new HTC One is 146.36mm tall, up from 137.4mm on the already lofty M7. That means tasks like dragging the notification shade down and reaching controls at the top of the screen are a little harder, and you're more likely to have to two-hand the M8 in certain instances. Personally, I didn't find in any way awkward to hold — though admittedly I've spent much of the past four months using the bulky Sony Xperia Z1. Phil Nickinson says he's adjusted pretty easily to the larger device.
We were able to adjust to the new on-screen keys relatively quickly.
HTC's made the switch to on-screen keys, having used a somewhat controversial two-button setup on the 2013 HTC One — so you get a dedicated task-switching button in addition to back and home. But it also means the "HTC" bar beneath the screen doesn't really do anything besides show you the manufacturer's logo. (Though as HTC is keen to point out, there's plenty of electronics hiding behind that black bar.)
If you're coming to the M8 from an M7, you might end up trying to tap the nonfunctional spaces either side of the HTC logo for the first few hours with the phone, but the adjustment to the new key setup is, in our experience, relatively quick.
We've talked a lot about metal here, but the one patch of plastic on the M8 is also worth discussing. It's found at the top of the phone, where it contains the power button and IR blaster, in addition to housing the antennae and other gubbins. (Of course, you can't have a completely all-metal phone if you want to be able to send and receive radio waves — which is kind of important.) But the curved design of this area fits with the overall look of the device.
Elsewhere, you'll find the headphone jack has moved down below, next to the microUSB port. And there's an extra tray on the right edge to house a microSD card — something missing from the old HTC One. And the power button has shifted across to the right, which might make it more difficult for right-handed folks to press. Fortunately that's not the only way to switch on the M8 — HTC's got a wide range of gesture controls for powering on its new phone without using the power button. Double-tap to power on and go to the lock screen, or swipe in various directions to unlock and jump to BlinkFeed, your home screen or the last-used app.
Internal hardware and specs
A typical generational shift in smartphone tech — faster chips, bigger screens and better battery life.
The internal hardware is arguably the least interesting aspect of the new HTC One, and for the most part you're dealing with a typical generational shift in smartphone tech compared to last year's model. A Snapdragon 801 CPU, up from last year's 600. A 5-inch 1080p display, up from 4.7. And a 2600mAh battery, stepping up from the M7's 2300mAh cell. A tiny nanoSIM instead of the less tiny (and more common) microSIM.
What's more interesting — aside from the clear performance boost delivered by the faster internals — are the changes to the audio and camera hardware.
HTC says the BoomSound speakers, first introduced on the M7, are some 25 percent louder in the M8 — and based on our unscientific testing, the new device's speakers things certainly seem a little boomier.
And the new HTC One boasts an improved Ultrapixel sensor — an upgraded module, and not the same sensor from last year, HTC tells us — coupled with a secondary camera used to gather depth information. That second sensor lets you add all manner of depth-sensitive effects to your photos, including 3D illusions and selective defocusing. As far as image quality goes, the second-generation Ultrapixel setup fixes some of our gripes with the M7's camera. But some issues remain, and the relatively low megapixel count means you're not going to capture as much fine detail as many rivals. We'll dive further into camera differences later in this article — and of course there's even more in our HTC One (M8) review.
One hardware difference worth mentioning is the somewhat surprising downgrade in the base level of internal storage — M8 buyers will choose from 16 or 32GB of built-in flash, versus 32 or 64GB on the M7. That's bad news for anyone wanting a massive helping of internal flash, but the addition of removable storage goes some way towards addressing this, allowing you to offload music and photos to a microSD card.
Moving onto battery life, we've noticed a sizeable bump in longevity compared to last year's HTC One — however our praise should be tempered with the fact that we've been using a British M8 in the U.S., which means no LTE. However our own Phil Nickinson has been getting 15 hours or so per charge, up from around 12 on the M7. And the new HTC One also supports faster charging through Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 standard, something lacking from last year's model. On top of that, the M8 expands upon the M7's battery saving features with Extreme Battery Saver mode, which lets you shut off most of the phone's higher functions to eke precious hours out of the last few percent of charge.
Here's a quick breakdown of some of the major internal hardware differences between the old and new HTC One —
|Category||2013 HTC One (M7)||2014 HTC One (M8)|
|Dimensions||137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm||146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm|
|Colors||Glacial Silver, Stealth Black, Gold, Glamor Red, Vivid Blue||Gunmetal Gray, Glacial Silver, Amber Gold|
|Display||4.7-inch, 1080p, Gorilla Glass 2||5.0 inch, 1080p, Gorilla Glass 3|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
2.5GHz quad-core CPU in Asia/China (MSM8974AC)
2.3GHz quad-core CPU in US/EMEA (MSM8974AB)
|Platform||Android 4.4 with HTC Sense 5.5 (with upgrade), HTC BlinkFeed||Android 4.4 with HTC Sense 6, HTC BlinkFeed|
|SIM Card Type||microSIM||nanoSIM|
|Internal Storage||32/64GB||16/32GB + microSD up to 128GB|
|RAM||2GB DDR2||2GB DDR2|
|Camera||HTC Ultrapixel Camera (4MP)
F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
2.1MP front-facing camera
|HTC Ultrapixel Camera + Duo Camera (4MP)
F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
5.0MP front-facing camera
|Battery||2300mAh non-removable||2600mAh non-removable|
Sense 5 versus Sense 6
A lighter, brighter, sharper UI in Sense 6.
With a new HTC flagship comes a new version of the company's Sense UI, and while Sense 6 doesn't represent a total sea-change like its predecessor, there's a lot to get to grips with, including visual changes that make Sense seem sharper, brighter and more modern. Compared to the mostly dark aesthetic of Sense 5, the new UI features fairly bright accent colors in many apps, including BlinkFeed, Messaging and the Music player. These can be customized through the new Sense themes menu, and themes can also influence accents used elsewhere in the UI, like settings icons and quick-settings toggles.
Brighter colors and the move to an almost completely flat UI gives Sense 6 a sharper look than HTC's earlier interface. But the changes aren't too far-reaching — this still looks like HTC Sense, complete with liberal use of the Roboto Condensed font, and many of the icons we're familiar with from Sense 5.
BlinkFeed also makes a return, though its layout has been redesigned slightly to better incorporate visual content — and it's a little smarter too, with the ability to draw on the context of items. For example more "liked" Facebook posts will get more prominence, and it'll be able to use your device's location to recommend nearby places through Foursquare. Other significant changes in Sense 6 include Motion Control, which lets you double-tap the screen to wake it, or swipe in various directions to load straight into the home screen, BlinkFeed or your last-used app.
On top of that the new Gallery app has been overhauled visually, with new artistic and 3D effects, some of which use depth information captured by the second camera to work out what's in the foreground and what's in the background. Video highlights return in Sense 6, representing sort of a "best of" catalog of video themes from Sense 5 and 5.5. The IR-enabled Sense TV app is back, and now incorporates sports scores and more live information when you're watching a game, as well as related social content from Twitter and Facebook. And some of these Sense apps can even be updated through Google Play, allowing HTC to bring new features to Sense 6 phones more quickly, without pushing out a firmware update.
There's no official word on when the new Sense 6 interface might be coming to the 2013 HTC One, but given HTC's track record in this area we're sure it's a question of when and not if. It'll be interesting to see how much of the Sense 6 experience can be ported over to the M7's older internals — we wouldn't be surprised to see certain hardware-dependent features, like Motion Launch, not make the cut.
We'll take a closer look at Sense 6's new features in our full review of the M8, so be sure to check that out for more details.
The M8 sports an improved, but still imperfect 'Ultrapixel' camera.
The 2013 HTC One introduced us to the "Ultrapixel" camera — a 4-megapixel sensor with large (2-micron) pixels for better low-light photography. The results on the original HTC One were mixed at best. The M7 took great pictures in the dark, and the camera benefitted from fast capture speeds and a wealth of software features like Zoes — miniature three-second videos including rapid-fire photos — and automatic video highlights. But the low megapixel count meant it didn't capture a whole lot of fine detail, and images too frequently suffered from noise and wash-out due to the camera's narrow dynamic range.
So how have things improved on the M8? Well, you've got another "Ultrapixel" camera, which on paper measures up to last year's — 4 megapixels, 2-micron pixels and an f/2.0 wide-angle lens. But this is a new sensor, and there are clear improvements to be seen. There's less visible noise across the board, colors appear more accurate than on the M7, and the M8's camera does a lot better in daylight scenes than its predecessor. But this is far from a slam-dunk for HTC, and the M8 camera's real weaknesses become apparent when you compare it to the non-HTC competition.
The new HTC One's camera is an improvement, but not the quantum leap we were hoping for.
The year-old Samsung Galaxy S4 captures way more fine detail than the M8 in daylight — no surprise, as that device has a 13MP sensor. And through either over-aggressive compression or software wonkiness, you'll occasionally notice patches of chroma noise, even in well-lit scenes. A year after HTC gave us so-so image quality on the M7, the M8 offers an improvement, but not the quantum leap we were hoping for. And when it comes to straight-up image quality, we've seen better from the likes of Sony and Samsung. As before, though, HTC seems more focused on ease of use, and features like Zoes and video highlights than fidelity alone.
HTC's camera UI has improved in leaps and bounds.
The HTC camera UI, however, has improved in leaps and bounds. It's evolved from a fairly unintuitive list of text-based options in Sense 5 to something much more full-featured and user-friendly in Sense 6. You'll find six main modes including the staple "photo," "video," "selfie" and "Zoe" capabilities, as well as dual capture, which debuted in Sense 5.5. And there's also Panorama 360, HTC's take on Google's Photosphere, one of the best implementations of this feature we've seen.
Should you want to use that all-new "selfie" mode, you'll appreciate that the front-facing camera also gets a significant upgrade on the M8, jumping from 2.1 megapixels all the way up to 5.0, allowing it to capture much more detail (more than the rear camera, in theory), while also gaining 1080p video recording capabilities.
But what about the rest of the camera equation? HTC's novel Duo Camera setup introduces a second camera to capture depth information while you're shooting photos (but not videos or Zoes) and stores this in the image's EXIF data. That enables a bunch of new depth-sensitive effects. You can selectively defocus the foreground or background, add 3D tilt effects, or selectively apply artsy filters to the background or foreground. As it relies on a hardware feature of the M8, that's not something you're going to get on the M7. And that means the new HTC One's refocusing and 3D effects are likely to remain exclusive to the newer device.
Should you upgrade?
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the new HTC One is how old it makes the old HTC One feel.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the new HTC One is how old it makes the old HTC One feel. The M7 was one of our favorite phones of 2013, and a year on the M8 surpasses it in every measurable way. That alone makes it a great buy, and one of the most impressive handsets we've used. The new wraparound design, faster performance, improved battery life and more attractive Sense 6 UI are all valid reasons for existing HTC One owners to jump on the M8 bandwagon.
The "Ultrapixel" camera remains a point of contention, unfortunately. Despite the wide array of genuinely impressive new software features, upgraders hoping for all of the M7's camera woes to be fixed may come away disappointed. It's not terrible, and it has gotten better. But it's very much a repeat performance of last year — and sadly, really great images are outside of this camera's reach.
Nevertheless, it's a solid upgrade over HTC's 2013 flagship, and as we've said in our full review, a phone we can solidly recommend, especially to those already happy with the HTC ecosystem. It's a familiar, yet much improved experience. The real challenge will come later this year, when the new HTC One goes up against fresh challengers from Samsung, Sony and LG.