For a long time, the biggest knock on Android phones was that they were ugly. Plastic. Cheap looking. Indiscernible from one another, no matter who the manufacturer was. Then, in February 2013, HTC quietly unleashed its Hail Mary, of sorts: the HTC One, a big, beautiful, premium-looking device carved from a thick sheet of aluminum with a super-sharp 4.7-inch screen.
The phone went on to win several awards in months that followed, including Best Smartphone at Mobile World Congress 2014. And, without hyperbole, the phone may have just saved HTC.
Just now, the Taiwanese company officially pulled the curtains off the One's successor. What's new about it? Is it every bit as promising? Take my hand, friend. Here's an overview of the changes you need to know about:
What's the new phone called?
The new phone is called HTC One (M8).
So what's new about it?
At first glance it looks awfully similar to the old one, no? There are quite a few hardware differences once you spend some time with it, though. The screen is a little bigger (5.0 inches versus 4.7 inches) and its all-metal body has a little more heft to it. During a pre-briefing, the phone felt very sturdy. Solid. "This year with the HTC One we really wanted to double down on what was working very well on that design, which was about 70% metal," Scott Croyle, HTC senior vice president of design, told Fast Company. "We're actually able to get 90% metal now… all the way around to the front housing. It creates fewer breaks and a purer design."
Also different: The original One's physical home buttons have been moved. Now those buttons are digital, and have been built into the screen. You'll also notice that the phone has an expandable memory slot now, which is nice to have. And the already very loud, front-facing stereo speakers are—somehow—even louder.
This thing ain’t tinny. When Croyle played a song (Macklemore's "Thrift Shop") to demonstrate its thump in Fast Company's open office, I was mortified about distracting nearby coworkers who were trying to work. Also: it was Macklemore.
At launch there will be three colors of the One available: silver, gold, and brushed gunmetal.
So the phone hinted at in that big leak was the real deal?
It sure looks like it.
Okay. What about the phone’s software?
It runs Sense 6—HTC's rejiggered version of Android.
BlinkFeed, Sense’s Flipboard-like reader that arranges pieces of content into tiles on your homescreen (picture above), is still there. It’s a bit cleaner and works with new apps, including Foursquare and Fitbit, to feed you updates, like what restaurants are nearby, or how many steps you have taken throughout your day. (It can still be hidden on one of your other Android screens, if you so desire.) HTC says it is opening an SDK so that developers can build their own apps for it soon.
How's the camera?
Really good! It’s worth mentioning that its front-facing camera is an impressive 5MP. (Hello, selfies!) And the rear-facing camera application has been totally redesigned with a focus on simplicity. "We’ve revamped the entire UI," says Croyle. "We have this very simple camera chooser, where you can go between video, camera, and the front-facing camera." The icons are big, round, and obvious; think Tumblr buttons for creating a post.
On the back is a new depth sensor that gives the new HTC One the ability to refocus images after you’ve taken a photo. It is kind of like the Lytro camera. During the demonstration, images came out very clean, bright, and sharp in all the right places. Bokeh was creamy, especially on the phone's big and sharp screen.
What’s the battery like?
It’s bigger: 2600 mAh versus 2300 mAh in the old model. How long that lasts depends (obviously) on how much you use it and what kind of applications you use. Croyle insists that moderate users—someone who texts, emails, and browses the web once in a while—might be able to squeak by two full business days on a single charge.
One of the HTC One’s more exciting additions is an option called "Extreme Power Saving Mode." This strips out all inessential functions (background app updates, email fetching, location data), leaving you with calls, text messages, and the ability to do manual pulls on email. So, if you’re out at 11 p.m. on a Friday night and only have just 5% battery life left, switching to this mode can can make the phone last an extra 15 hours, says Croyle. Which, if true: huge.
What’s the coolest new thing about it?
Different gestures and swipes on the lock screen activate different phone features. For example: Whipping your phone out and holding it to your face like an old point & shoot camera will automatically open the camera app.
The most attention-grabbing new thing about the phone, though, is the attachable case, which you’ll be able to purchase separately for $50. The flap on the front is perforated, allowing for something HTC calls the Dot View.
Essentially, light bleeds out through the tiny holes to communicate visual information like time, the weather, and who's calling you. It’s kind of like a Lite-Bright toy, or what words would look like spelled with Christmas lights. It's neat, and speaks to the power and usefulness of glanceable displays—even when your screen is covered.
How much does it cost and when will it be available?
$199 to $249, depending on your carrier and how much storage you want. (It comes in either 16GB or 32GB.) The new HTC One goes on sale today for all major carriers, and we’re told a Google Play edition is just around the corner.
Read more about the marketing efforts behind the new phone here.
[Images courtesy of HTC]