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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The software

The M8 runs custom HTC software based on Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system. With this latest effort, known as Sense 6, HTC's take on Android has really come into its own and grown into a polished and cohesive setup.

The user interface still has a distinctly HTC flavor to it, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many of the weird and annoying UI quirks that have held HTC's software back in the past -- things like overly complicated procedures for adding apps onto your home screen or changing your phone's wallpaper -- are now corrected and the system is actually quite user-friendly. At this point, it almost feels like a custom Android launcher with much of the familiar Android environment still intact at its core.

The leftmost home-screen panel of the new One is taken up by BlinkFeed, a news-reading service built into the phone. BlinkFeed lets you scan through articles and social media tidbits right from your home screen. It's gotten a visual refresh in this latest Sense incarnation that's helped it mature into a useful and inviting tool -- and if you don't want it, it's now easier to turn it off.

Beyond that, you've got the usual mix of app shortcuts and widgets, all of which are now refreshingly easy to customize and arrange (unlike on HTC's previous software efforts). Some of HTC's changes to Android are still mildly annoying -- the Recent Apps tool is visually overwhelming, for instance, and the expanded Quick Settings panel is mysteriously missing the basic option to display your phone's battery level. But all in all, the company has finally started to get out of its own way and mold its software into something that's pretty pleasant to use.

(One major exception: bloatware. My Verizon review unit came larded up with loads of random garbage that can't easily be uninstalled. Sadly, that's par for the course with carrier-connected handsets these days.)

HTC is also guaranteeing the M8 will get major OS upgrades for at least two years from its launch date -- a significant promise that sets it apart from other Android devices.

Bottom line

Last year's One was the start of a fresh beginning for HTC. With the new One, the company has built upon that foundation and created an exceptionally good device that's in no danger of becoming Just Another Android Phone.

The new One has a huge list of impressive qualities: The phone is beautifully constructed, with an all-metal body that gives it a distinctly premium look and feel. It has a gorgeous display and outstanding speakers. The device provides great performance, commendable battery life and a polished and cohesive software experience. Its unique dual-camera setup opens the door to some interesting photo-editing opportunities, too, and HTC's "UltraPixel" technology shines when it comes to capturing photos in low-light conditions.

But hold the phone: It isn't all good news. The M8 is awkwardly tall, its power button is in a hard-to-reach place, and its camera -- while impressive in some ways -- produces inconsistent image quality and comes with a resolution that is potentially limiting.

Ultimately, the question is if the positives outweigh those negatives for you. One thing I can assure you: HTC has created something special. If you can live with the size and aren't bothered by the camera limitations, the M8 will give you an experience like no other -- one in a class all its own.

This article, HTC One (M8) deep-dive review: Smartphone sophistication made better, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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