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Review: HTC One (M8): The world's best smartphone

  • New HTC One.jpg

    The new HTC One smartphone.BGR / Zach Epstein

  • New HTC One 1.jpg

    The new HTC One smartphone.BGR / Zach Epstein

It is considered poor form to begin a review with the conclusion, but there's no reason to drag this out: the HTC One (M8) is the best Android phone the world has ever seen.

Period.

Full stop.

In many ways, in fact, it is the best smartphone the world has ever seen. From the design to the power of its components and everything in between, HTC's new One is better than its predecessor -- and its predecessor, as you might recall, was the best all-around Android phone the world had ever seen.

One of the most important things to be aware of from the get-go with the new HTC One is that looks can be deceiving. From afar, the M8 looks very similar to last year's One. Having the same name certainly doesn't help matters either. But the new HTC One is not a minor, iterative update. It's not a bunch of newer components stuffed into the same case. It is a brand new smartphone from top to bottom, inside and out.

The Scoop

Product: HTC One (M8)

Summary: In many ways, it's the best smartphone the world has ever seen -- despite continued problems with the integrated camera.

Processor: Quad-core, 2.3-GHz Snapdragon 801

Screen: 5.0-inch, 1080p Super LCD 3

Storage: Approx. 10GB (for 16GB model)

Camera: Duo-camera system made up of 4-megapixel camera + "depth" lens

HTC redesigned the device's case, for starters. It looks similar but there are plenty of important differences. First, there is much more metal. Last year's HTC One case was 70 percent metal; this year's model is 90 percent. The aluminum on the back of the new HTC One wraps around to the sides and bottom now, with the only remaining plastic found in inserts on the back and top of the phone.

The display itself is fantastic, as was the case with the original HTC One. HTC's M8 uses a Super LCD 3 panel that is slightly larger than the screen on last year's model, having been bumped up to 5 inches from 4.7 inches. It's still the same 1080p full HD resolution so pixels are a bit more spread out, but the difference isn't discernible to the naked eye. Text and objects are smooth, colors are rich and the contrast is impressive.

Metal inserts above and below the glass screen house HTC's signature BoomSound speaker system -- speakers, amplifiers, audio tuning and hollow chambers behind the micro-drilled holes you see on the face of the phone. These chambers help amplify the sound from the speakers, and on the new HTC One they're 20 percent larger. HTC also used new and improved speakers and amps on the new model. The result is sound that's deeper, 25 percent louder, and even a bit clearer (at least to my ear).

A dual-LED flash and two camera lenses comprise HTC's new "Duo Camera." HTC is not worried about the megapixel race. Instead, the company stuck with its 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" technology and focused on two things: Improving the quality of the images captured, rather than the size, and adding unique new features to the camera experience.

This is a fine strategy, in theory. In practice, the results are somewhat mixed.

On the "adding unique new features" front, HTC absolutely succeeded. A second smaller lens is used to measure depth, for example, and the related information allows the phone to apply several very nifty photo effects after the fact.

But image quality, sadly, is another matter entirely. HTC said that it spent a great deal of time working on improving the quality of the camera so photos would come out better in all lighting conditions. I didn't find that to be the case in my testing. I still found colors to be washed out when taking pictures in many lighting scenarios and the photos definitely don't pop like they do with leading cameras like the ones on the Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5s.

On the software front, HTC has redesigned just about every last pixel in the Sense interface. And as is the case with the phone's housing, everything was changed for the better. In keeping with the latest trends in iOS and other Android software, Sense 6 is much more minimalistic than earlier versions, and it also makes use of nice bright colors that vary depending on which app you're in.

Read all the details in the full review at BGR.com.

Unlike iOS, Sense 6 supports themes so you can change the color palette to suit your preference. Fonts have been changed across the device, while gradients and textures have been flattened and made solid. The result is a much more modern look throughout the entire operating system.

HTC added intelligent features to Sense 6 that use location, time and other context to present the user with relevant information even before she requests it. So, for example, HTC's Foursquare integration will allow the phone to pop up information about a restaurant the user is passing if it's lunchtime and the user's friends have recommended it in the past.

Another key partnership has been made with FitBit, which has added support for the M8's in-built "sensor hub" to its step-tracking app. Like the M7 motion coprocessor in Apple's iPhone 5s, the new HTC One includes sensors that track movements in order to count steps. But the sensor hub is about more than just step counting.

One of my favorite simple new HTC One (M8) features is called "Motion Launch," and it is made possible by HTC's new sensors. This feature allows the user to pick up his or her phone with the display off and perform one of several tap, swipe or motion gestures to perform specific commands.

The last big software change I'll draw attention to is one that I absolutely love: Extreme power saving, a drastic measure to squeeze as much as possible out of your battery. Enabling this mode lowers the brightness of the screen and displays a special screen that provides access to voice calling, texting and email, though automatic email downloading is turned off. Everything else, including background data, is disabled. According to HTC, a 5 percent charge will last 15 hours and a 100 percent will last a ridiculous two weeks.

My review of the first-generation HTC One was titled "the smartphone that changes everything," and it was quite apropos at the time. The One was easily the closest thing we had ever seen at the time to a no-compromise smartphone.

The new HTC One changes everything again.From the design, to the materials, to the internal components and the software, it's all new and it's all remarkably impressive. And the new gunmetal gray color with a brushed finish is absolutely stunning.

The HTC One (M8) will go on sale in the U.S. and abroad Tuesday, and will start at $199.99 on contract for the 16GB model. At launch, Verizon's retail stores will be the only to stock and sell the M8, though it will be available from all four major carriers online. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile will start selling the phone in stores as well sometime early next month.