Howard Chui lent me a brand new HTC One M8 to test, but to give me something very relevant to compare it to he also loaned me his old HTC One. Both phones were equipped with KitKat (version 4.4.2), which put them on a level playing field. I'll still compare the M8 to my Samsung Galaxy S4 where applicable, but a lot of the comparisons you'll read here will be between the two HTC models. It seems only fitting, given that HTC has chosen to associate this new phone with the older one by using the same name.
With both phones operating on Telus, I headed down to my basement to perform countless tests to see if the new one improved on the old one in any meaningful way. The signal strengths reported by their operating system usually showed a stronger LTE signal on the M8 by around 3 to 5 dB. As I noted in a recent review of the LG Flex, these differences can be deceiving, and the only way to really find out which one does best is to find increasingly weak locations and compare the actual performance.
After countless tests of this type I finally came to the conclusion that there is very little difference between the two phones when it comes to picking up a weak LTE signal. I even went as far as holding the phones inside my clothes dryer, which acted as an excellent Faraday Cage. Even under those conditions, the two phones were so close in performance that it made no practical difference.
This isn't really surprising however, because both versions of the HTC One use a Qualcomm chipset, as does virtually every other phone that supports LTE. I couldn't compare the M8 directly to the S4, as one was on Telus and the other was on Rogers. I had this same problem in my original test of the HTC One (no doubt the very same one Howard lent me this time). In that review I'd noted that there was always so little difference in the RF performance of one Qualcomm-based phone over another, regardless of manufacture, that it's hard to believe the HTC One is any different from the rest.
My first set of tests was performed in my basement with all of the phones connected to my 2nd-floor Linksys 802.11G router. Each phone was placed in exactly the same spot at the beginning of each test and I stepped away from the phones to avoid interfering with the signal. I hadn't expected to see any differences, but surprisingly the M8 just couldn't keep up. Downlink speeds were routinely 25% to 35% slower than either the HTC One or the S4. Uplink speeds were abysmal at around 1.5 Mbps, whereas both the HTC One and S4 could easily provide the maximum 3 Mbps on my Rogers internet service (and often peaked at 5 Mbps at the beginning of the tests when the Rogers service allowed short bursts at speeds well beyond the capped limit). I'd seen this same problem with other phones I'd recently tested.
Next I headed outside and I connected all of the phones to my TP-Link 802.11N router. In this test the M8 fared better and it could keep up with the other two phones. This suggests that the problem is strictly with connections to G-routers, but you won't always have the luxury of a connection to an N-router outside of your home.
During calls, either on standard cellular or when using a VoIP client, the overall sound quality of the earpiece is a little harsh compared to the Galaxy S4, but overall tonal balance is quite good (which is especially noticeable on VoIP from another VoIP caller). The harshness isn't excessive, but it can be enough during certain calls to force you to turn down the volume.
When it comes to outgoing sound quality however, the new M8 does about the same as the original HTC One, but neither of them performs as well as the Galaxy S4 in this regard. The S4 has some truly impressive bass response that the two HTC models just can't touch. The microphone produces sound that is clean enough, it just isn't very full-bodied.
Testing the quality of a microphone based on a standard cellular telephone call is very difficult, because the frequency range of such a call is tightly limited and they always sound thin compared to anything else. Instead, I performed the tests using a VoIP service.
In all of the VoIP comparisons I used both the built-in Android SIP client, as well as a 3rd-party SIP client. In all cases the S4 sound was markedly richer and more full-bodied than what I got from the two HTC phones. Of the three however, the new M8 is clearly the worst, though the amount of difference between it and the original HTC One is relatively small.
When the original HTC One came out, it raised the bar for sound quality for built-in speakers so high that no other manufacturer has really tried to match it since. However, the M8 will have to try much harder, because buyers will expect it to meet, or even exceed, the quality of the BoomSound speakers in the original HTC One. Sadly this isn't the case, and while the stereo speakers on the M8 are a cut above just about any other phone on the market, it just doesn't hold a candle to the original HTC One.
No matter what the reason, this is really quite sad, because the quality of the sound was one of the single greatest features of the original. To its credit however, the M8 has greater maximum volume than the HTC One, and it stays clean and undistorted even at high levels. In fact, the volume of the speakers on the M8 is the loudest I've heard on any recently-tested smartphone.
The M8 uses the same LCD3 display technology as does the original HTC One, but it's been bumped up from 4.7 inches to 5.0 inches. The size increase however, is somewhat negated by the shift to on-screen softkeys. Both phones have a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080. The display of the original HTC One was one of the best you could get, and the M8 continues that tradition without any negatives as a result of increasing the screen size.
At maximum brightness, displaying a mostly-white screen, the M8 is slightly brighter than the original HTC One, plus the M8 has a slightly cooler (meaning bluer) color balance. The HTC One was already an easy phone to see in bright sunlight, but the M8 improves upon that, even if ever so slightly.
Like the original HTC One, there is no color distortion no matter what angle the screen is viewed, but the loss of brightness is quite obvious as the viewing angle increases beyond 45 degrees.
Processor and Chipset
The original HTC One came with a Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz, coupled to an Adreno 320 GPU. The new M8 comes with a Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.3 GHz, coupled to an Adreno 330. This particular combination is pretty standard for most of newest smartphones, including the LG G2, LG Flex, and the Nexus 5.
The difference between the Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 801 is the inclusion of a secondary low-power processor that it kept alive even when the phone is sleeping. It monitors various inputs and allows things to be done at a time when most other phones would be deaf, dumb, and blind. In the case of the M8 this means you can wake the phone up by just swiping from the bottom to the top of the screen, but as far as I can tell it does not include the "always listening" feature of the Motorola X. With the secondary processor in the Snapdragon 801, this should be possible.
One improvement that had been made to the HTC One is the addition of a MicroSD slot. Over the last year or two these slots have been disappearing on many high-end phones and this has generated a lot of blowback from buyers. HTC has wisely listened to these complaints and fixed an issue that probably prevented quite a few people from choosing the original HTC One over its competition.
Howard tested the speed of the USB port and observed speeds of 32.8MB/s for writes while reads went at 28.7MB/s with the built-in storage. These are very good speeds and approach the limit of a USB 2.0 port.
HTC has decided to stick with its low-resolution 4 megapixel camera on the back. I really have my reservations about this, because despite some early praise for low-light sensitivity of this sensor, its overall image quality just couldn't match the competition. Nothing has really changed here, though the video mode has markedly better low-light performance than the original HTC One.
The rear camera actually has two lenses. The second one is used to record the distance to each object in the picture so that the photo editor in the M8 can adjust the focus (and other attributes) of foreground objects vs background objects. I played with this for a while, but in the end I came away feeling it was just another toy to flaunt to the buyers. The line between close objects and far objects was a bit "fuzzy", not always as accurate as you might want. In other words, it was just a gimmick to help differentiate the M8 from the rest of the pack, but it is unlikely that anyone will seriously use the feature after the novelty wears off.
Because the recently-tested LG Flex offered video modes of 1080p at 60 frames per second and 4K at 30 frames per seconds, I thought that I might find the same in the M8. After all, the power offered by the Snapdragon 801/Arendo 330 allows the phones to perform these recording feats. Sadly the menu for available video resolutions looks identical on both phones and there are no 60 FPS or 4K options to be found. This is quite disappointing given that the M8 has the power to offer these features.
There's no question that the new M8 has a better GPS chipset than the original HTC One. It's definitely more sensitive, which allows it to lock on to more satellites more quickly in iffy conditions. It still doesn't match the performance of the GPS in the S4, but it comes closer than any non-Samsung phone I've tested so far. Even down in my basement the M8 can easily lock onto 11 to 13 satellites, while the original HTC One can usually do no better than 4 or 5 satellites. Even when the satellite signal is strong, the original HTC One has more difficulty locking onto them and can only sustain locks on 10 or fewer satellites.
When used in strong-signal conditions however, the difference between the M8 and S4 is fairly obvious. The S4 will routinely lock onto every single satellite in view (which is usually 20 to 23 outdoors), while the M8 will only lock onto 10 to 13 of them, even though GPS test apps show that the chipset is receiving a strong signal from those to which it doesn't lock onto. This results in great location accuracy in the S4, as well as more resistance to massive errors when driving between tall downtown buildings.
The newest iteration of the HTC one brings about a few design changes, aside from the obligatory increase in physical size brought about the slight increase in screen size. For instance, they've taken the headset jack and moved it to the bottom, and then they've taken the power switch and moved it from the left side of the top edge of the phone to the right side of the top edge.
If you didn't like the button arrangement of the HTC One, you aren't about to like it on the M8 either. The volume buttons are on the wrong side of the phone for right-handed people (and that's most of us) and the power button on the top is an inconvenience for many.
The M8 seems like a fitting update to the original HTC One, but the loss of the high-quality sound from the native speakers, which made the original HTC One such a standout device, means that the new M8 doesn't really stand out. It's a quality phone with lots of power and a great screen, but it offers very little to differentiate itself from the current crop of Snapdragon-800-powered phones on the market. If HTC had been able to retain the quality of the speakers AND increase their volume, or provide high-end video modes, the M8 would be pack-leading entry.
4.5 out of 5 Howies.
- Excellent 1080p screen
- Slightly better-than-average multimedia audio
- Low-light sensitivity on the camera
- Fast Processor/GPU
- MicroSD Slot
- So-so 802.11G performance
- Thin-sounding speakers compared to the original HTC One
- Low-resolution photographs
- So-so GPS performance
- Physical key placement