HTC One (M8) deep-dive review: Smartphone sophistication made better

HTC's latest Android smartphone not only has a sense of luxury but may be close to the ultimate high-end device.

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Buttons and gestures

One thing HTC hasn't yet mastered is the placement of power buttons. The company has moved the power button from the top-left to the top-right edge of the phone, which may be a minor improvement but is still awkward and out of the way -- particularly given the phone's tall height. Having the power button on the side of the device would have made it far easier to reach.

Thankfully, the M8 has some new motion gesture commands that let you rely on the power button less than usual. You can double tap the phone's display to turn it on, for instance -- similar to the KnockOn feature in LG's latest devices, except it actually works consistently and is consequently quite useful. The only problem is that you can't double-tap again to turn the screen back off, so you still end up having to reach for the power button some of the time.

The M8 has several other useful gestures, all of which work impressively well: You can swipe up anywhere on the screen while it's off to activate the display and unlock the phone; swipe left to activate the display and unlock directly to your home screen; and swipe right to activate the display and unlock directly to BlinkFeed, a news-reading app built into the device (more on that in a bit).

BlinkFeed
The BlinkFeed news-reading app is built right into the HTC One (M8).

The phone will automatically answer a call if you bring it to your head while it's ringing, and you can swipe down on the display while it's off to open a voice-dialing program (which is unfortunately just a simple voice dialer and far less useful than the native Android Voice Search utility).

Something you'll notice right away is the lack of any buttons on the new One's face. With the M8, HTC has ditched its awkward capacitive button setup and moved to the standard Android on-screen buttons instead. Android has been designed to use virtual buttons since 2011, so it's good to see HTC finally embracing that standard; needless to say, it makes the phone significantly more natural to use.

One curious thing, though: The black bar where the capacitive buttons lived on last year's HTC One is still present on the M8, albeit now with no obvious purpose. HTC says the area is necessary for components that live under the hood in that area, but having a sizable blank bar on the front of an already-tall phone sure seems like a strange decision from a design and engineering perspective.

Under the hood

Let me make this part easy: You won't have to worry about performance with the new HTC One. The phone packs a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU and 2GB of RAM -- yadda, yadda, yadda. What matters is that the phone's fast as can be; from app loading to Web browsing and heavy-duty multitasking, I've yet to see a single stutter or slowdown anywhere in the system.

The M8 also performs admirably in the realm of stamina: With its 2600mAh non-removable battery, I've consistently made it from morning to night without having to worry about recharging. On days with particularly heavy use -- a few hours of screen-on time with a scattered mix of voice calls, LTE video streaming and general Web and social media use -- I've sometimes made it down to 10% or 15% by the time I go to bed. But most days, I never even come close.

The U.S. models of the M8 come with 32GB of internal storage, about 23GB of which is actually available to you after you factor in the operating system and various preinstalled applications. Notably, the phone also has a micro SD card slot on its upper-left side that lets you add up to 128GB of additional external space.

The new One includes 65GB of free Google Drive storage for two years, too -- which, when combined with the 15GB of free Drive storage Google already provides, gives you a total of 80GB of cloud-based space.

Like most current Android phones, the M8 supports near-field communication (NFC) for contact-free payments and data transfers. It also has an IR blaster for remote control of your TV and other entertainment components. The phone does not, however, support wireless charging.

The new One can get 4G-level data on both LTE and HSPA+ networks, depending on your carrier and what's available in your area. The data speeds seem typical with the Verizon model I've been testing.

Voice call quality on the device has also been fine, though in-call sound seems to come only out of the left corner of the top speaker, so you have to position the phone in a specific way against your face for the volume to be sufficiently loud. That ends up being slightly unnatural for me, as I usually hold a phone up to my left ear when I talk, but it's easy enough to get accustomed to.

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