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Four Months with the HTC One M8 (Long Term Review)

I’ve been using HTC’s Flagship since mid April, and after four months my experiences have been largely positive. I’m probably not going to blow anyone’s minds here, but HTC has delivered a pretty terrific experience.

Build quality is of course second to none in feeling like the premium price tag this phone commands. The rounded corners, the tapers, the gentle rounded backplate. Almost no detail is overlooked. The edges around the Micro USB port are wonderfully finished (unlike the scratchy plastic on the LG G3), and the antennae stripes can’t be felt running a finger over them. The only complaint I have is again with the headphone jack. Like the one found on the M7, it’s not centered on the bottom casing, and the edge of the jack runs over the tapered edge of the phone. Does this have any affect on the usage? Not in the slightest, but that’s the nitpickiest complaint I can come up with.

It’s one of the few androids that I haven’t automatically started looking for a case to customize it. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the dot view case or the tiny smudge dots it can deliver. I also have a nice Speck Bumper and the Fliptroniks wallet case we recently reviewed, but the phone is so damn pretty that I mostly use it naked.

The layout is improved over the M7. The power button is located on the correct side of the top piece, but as this phone is taller than most other 5 inch screens, I do wish it were on the side of the phone under the volume rocker.

The audio is of course the shining feature of this phone. The M8’s speakers have a slightly harsher and more aggressive tone than the M7, but they are noticeably louder. Movies and gaming are helped tremendously by this speaker layout. We don’t really talk about “immersive” experiences on small screens, but not having the audio muffled by your hands while watching or playing CERTAINLY helps.

Before we move into an era of USB powered headphones, the M8 will likely stand as one of the last phones to have a fantastic headphone jack. It’s one of the loudest you can find on any mobile, and BoomSound software adds a punchy dimension to electronic and bass heavy rock. I don’t always enjoy the stereo widening tricks when used on jazz and classical, but for the most part it helps more than it hurts music.

Battery life has been a mixed bag. Managing several email addresses and real time updates to just about every social network under the sun, the low-power CPU state in power saver is often required for me to make it through the day and night. I can’t quite eke out two day use unless I shut everything down to try and hyper-mile the phone. Thankfully power saver doesn’t completely wreck performance, and keeping it engaged usually helps me get similar if not slightly better daily battery life than the Galaxy S5 or Lumia Icon. It of course can’t quite hang with the likes of larger batteried phones like the LG G2 or G3.

If there is a weak link it’s the camera. Now don’t get me wrong, the M8 has a good camera. Anyone who claims it isn’t good probably doesn’t understand how cameras work, or they’re more impressed with spec sheets and megapickles rather than actual photo output. While the camera is “good”, it’s competing against the VERY good cameras found on the Galaxy S5and LG G3, and the excellent cameras found on Nokia phones.

Tweaking depth effects from the dual sensor is fun, but I just don’t find myself using it as much as I’d hoped. Many will disagree with me, but when it comes to background blurring, I greatly prefer a shallow depth of field from the lens instead of software blur.

There’s also an ergonomic issue with how close to the top edge that secondary camera sensor is. The edges of the phone taper so gracefully that the M8 can be a little tricky to hold onto. Bracing the top of the phone with the pads of my palm for a more stable grip will sometimes block that second sensor.

Out of all the manufacturer skins I still prefer Sense for it’s sleeker and more minimal design. It feels clean. Grown up. Sophisticated. It’s like high performance cars, sometimes people will be willing to pay more for less stuff packed inside. I ultimately still prefer Nova launcher as my daily driver, but if I had pick one manufacturer skin, I’d side with HTC’s Sense.

There are a couple of quirks I don’t like. HTC only provides one Contacts Widget, a 4x4 monstrosity, and to make a single contact widget you have to dig through a sub menu for shortcuts to find the Person shortcut and of course this menu is called “Apps and Widgets” not “Apps and Widgets and Shortcuts”, with nothing else to convey that’s where the feature lives.

I also don’t particularly like the keyboard. The options for word prediction and spelling correction are limited to an almost all-or-none style experience. I find myself regularly correcting the auto-correction after hitting the spacebar, even on short messages. I’m totally spoiled by the customization options on keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype, but even the stock Google Keyboard doesn’t feel as twitchy.

Speaking of twitchy, I’ve made a lot of noise about the Tap-to-Wake feature on the M8. Many have commented on my previous videos that the M8 does not need to be oriented in portrait for Tap-to-Wake to function. To be fair, it’s easy to see how I might have made that assumption as that’s exactly what HTC says about the feature. Regardless, the fact that you have to waggle the phone in some way before Tap-to-Wake will work sort of defeats the feature. Again, I’m admitting that I’ve been spoiled by how this works on Nokia and LG handsets, where you can easily activate the screen even if it’s just lying static on a table.

I go back and forth between LG and HTC over the TV Remote apps. Ultimately HTC’s ability to learn functions via pointing a remote at the IR blaster for custom functions takes a victory here. Between this app and a Chromecast, virtually everything I use my TV for can be controlled via my phone, and we’ve given up on game consoles for media streaming in our household.

We’re a long way removed from the days where metal phones were a death knell for signal reception. I get speedy AT&T access now in my area, and happily the HTC can often outperform plastic bodied phones like some of the recent LG’s we’ve reviewed.

So where does that leave us?

In general usage, the One is proving to be one of my favorite Androids to use. It’s simple, clean, sophisticated, and garners positive responses from people when I show it off in public. Like a luxury car, that’s exactly what I want out of a flagship phone. My main quibble is the camera, so the M8 is rarely the phone I’ll pick up if I think I’m going to have a heavy photo or video day.

What’s funny, after spending time crafting this revisit review, I’m now far more excited to see how the Windows Phone variant of the M8 will perform. Many of HTC’s custom tweaks get Android users really close to the modern look and feel of Microsoft’s Live Tiles, and BlinkFeed just looks like it was made to be a Metro app. Sorry HTC, I just can’t bring myself to call it the “HTC One M8 for Windows” though. That’s maybe one of the dumbest phone names I’ve ever seen outside of the “Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch L-M-N-O-P” on Sprint. Let’s all just agree now that the M8 is an Android and the W8 is a windows phone. Deal?