That In Your Pocket Feeling
One of the best things about the iPhone is how invisible it can be. Its slight in size by modern smartphone standards, both in physical size and weight. The HTC One M8 (from now on referred to simply as “M8”) is definitely more hefty than the iPhone. After a week of use, I have gotten used to the weight and don’t think anything of it, but those more sensitive to weight might find this off-putting.
That said, the M8 is not a bulky mess of a phone. At only 1.7mm thicker than the iPhone 5S, the phone almost disappears when it’s in my pocket. Fear not, iPhone fans, this phone isn’t going to stick out of your jeans.
The phone is aided in slipping into a pocket by its incredible slickness. This is a phone that feels like it wants to be dropped. The brushed metal exterior is means it slides right into your pocket, but it also slides right out of your hands if you’re not careful. The good news is that HTC will replace the screen for you on the house if you break it in the first 6 months you own your M8. The phone is frickin’ beautiful, but you might want to invest in a case for this one.
I've been using my new phone all day and 7 hours into the day it's sitting at 70%. Take note, Apple, that's what the new iPhone should do.
— Matt Birchler (@mattbirchler) July 9, 2014
Much has been said about how good the battery is on the M8. Most reviewers said it lasted them a full day easily and some said they would feel comfortable going 2 days if they needed to. I myself have found the battery life of the M8 to be good but not mind-blowing. Most days have the phone doing great in the morning, but dropping quicker later in the day when the screen is on for longer periods of time (that RSS isn’t going to read itself).
What’s I do like are the M8’s power saving modes. There is standard power saving mode, which clocks down the CPU, reduces screen brightness, and turns off your data connection when the screen is off. In this mode, I was able to get a little more life out of my phone, but the show-stopper here is Extreme Power Saving Mode, which basically turns your elite smartphone into a dumbphone. You only get access to the phone, messages, email, calendars, and a calculator. In this mode, your battery sips power and supposedly can last a full day on less than 15% charge. I’ve been using this at work lately, since I basically only text people while I’m there anyway.
I’m happy with the battery life for now, but I do think that other reviews are over-stating just how good the battery is in this phone.
The screen on the M8 is a stunner. At 5 inches and 1080p, the IPS display is simply great. I’m not one to do detailed measurements to see if this display is accurate or not, but I can say that color representation is basically identical to the iPhone, which is to say it looks good without looking like one of Samsung’s overly-saturated screens.
The Apple loyalists are right that it is not easy to use a phone this size with just one hand. More often than not, I have to hold onto it with my left hand while my right navigates the massive space. I’m generally fine with this trade-off, as this screen lets me do things that I was not able to do on the iPhone. Browsing the web is much more comfortable, as I rarely have to pinch to zoom in on something to read. It also makes reading through my Instapaper queue much more tablet-like, as I can fit many more words on screen at a time. On the iPhone, I’m always scrolling down and down and down…
While the screen itself is bigger than the iPhone, it’s pixels are smaller; much smaller. At over 400 pixels per inch, the screen looks objectively better than the iPhone’s in every single situation. Videos look stellar, websites are readable even with small text, and games really pop off the screen.
No review of the HTC One M8 is complete without praise screeching to a halt when you get to the camera section. I’ll say this up front: the camera in the M8 is a definite step down from the iPhone 5S. There are some good things to say about the camera, but there is no part of it that makes me think, “wow, this is better than what I had in the iPhone.” Compared to other 4MP cameras, this phone does great, and it’s impressive that such low resolution shots look as good as they do, but it’s still not great. If you need to crop an image at all, it’s going to look bad. If you are trying to capture fine details of something more than a few feet away, you’re not going to be totally satisfied.
The unique thing about the M8’s camera is of course it’s depth sensor, which lets you manually change the focus of your images after the fact. I’ve used this a few times, and it is genuinely cool to play with, but it’s not mind-blowing. The effect looks good on a phone screen, but when I got them onto my desktop monitor, they looked pretty fake. I’ve used this feature more to subtly increase the amount of blur in the background of photos that already have a blurred background. It’s nice to have there, but I don’t think I’ll miss it if my next phone doesn’t have it.
Overall, the camera has a lightning-fast focus and a lot of great manual controls built into the default camera app, but it’s sad to say that none of the wiz-bang features HTC crammed into this camera gave me shots that looked better than what the iPhone 5S would have done.
Here are some sample photos from my run yesterday:
Getting That iPhone Experience
The good thing about Android is that you can do things that you really shouldn’t be able to do. For instance, one of the things I thought I would miss is the ability to AirPlay things to my Apple TV from my phone. It turns out that numerous people have created workarounds for this so I actually can still use AirPlay. AllCast is a great app that lets me stream local movies, music, and photos to my Apple TV, and the horribly-named AppleTV AirPlay Media Player lets me stream YouTube to the TV. This is not as convenient as having the functionality built in, but it gets the job done.
As I wrote about a few weeks back, there are plenty of great, polished apps on Android. Since moving to the One M8, I have found plenty of apps that are either the same as their iOS counterparts or fitting substitutes. 1Password, Pocket Casts, Instapaper, FitBit, and Spotify are all exactly the same as they are on iOS. Meanwhile, other apps have helped me regain the functionality I loved on my iPhone. Quantus Tasks is a decent app that syncs with OmniFocus, so my task manager can stay the same. Life360 has taken over for Find My Friends and let me and my wife stay location-aware. Press is as good as Reeder, maybe better. Arcus Weather has taken the role of Dark Sky as my weather app of choice.
All of these software features along with the beautiful, Apple-like hardware make this Apple devotee a very happy phone owner.
That Pre-installed Software
While I love that my phone is completely free of carrier branding anywhere on its body, the phone is tragically not free of bloated really from my carrier, T-Mobile. Some of these apps are completely useless and others are just mostly useless. The most egregious app is Lookout, which is basically Norton Antivirus software that scans every single app as you install it and scans your system daily for viruses. It was so helpful as to even scan every single app that came pre-installed on the phone upon first launch. After deactivating, I feel just as safe. I’ll brave the toxic hellstew on my own, thank you very much.
That Surprisingly Good TV App
Tucked away in the app drawer is am app simply called TV and it’s pretty great. It’s one line pitch is that it turns your phone into universal remote for your TV, but it does so much more than a simple remote.
I was able to sync it with my 2 TVs and my cable box in under a minute. As a remote, the phone can do the basics from changing channels, to adjusting volume, to bringing up and navigating menus. It even adds a persistent widget yo your notification action drawer that let’s you perform basic actions without opening the app itself.
TV also let’s you tell it what shows you like to watch and what channels you tune into most often. If you take a few minutes to give it a good picture of what you watch, it will pay dividends when it informs you that a random channel you have never seen is playing a rerun on Scrubs and will change to its channel by simply taping a button.
You can also browse a channel guide on your phone. While the app defaults to your personal lineup, you can manually select which channels you see. This is great for someone like me who really only ever watches 5-10 channels. This makes my channel surfing much quicker, which I’m sure Comcast doesn’t like, but I love it.
If you can’t tell by now, I am very happy with my decision to dive into Android, and I think I chose the right phone to do it with. Current iPhone users should feel comfortable making the switch if they’re craving a big screen, Apple-level build-quality, and very good apps. My only hold ups in unabashedly recommending this phone to everyone are the camera, which is good but not great, and the size of the phone, which is going to be a big change that some simply will not like (especially if you have smaller hands).
And I have to add, if you’re already on the Android train and are looking to upgrade, I would highly recommend this phone over the insanely popular, but not that great, Samsung Galaxy S5.