HTC One (M8) Review
A lot of emphasis has been put into its new duo camera, providing photos with some snazzy bokeh effects. However, the general quality of its shots doesn’t dramatically improve upon what we’ve previously seen with its ‘UltraPixel’ 4MP camera.
The facts point to the obvious, HTC is continuing to bet on its ‘UltraPixel’ camera. First introduced last year with the HTC One, we’ve seen it become a staple feature in HTC’s flagship portfolio of late. It features the same size 4-megapixel 1/3” sensor, resulting in larger-than-normal 2-micron pixels. However, this comes at the cost of having a relatively low image resolution of 4 megapixels, while rivals offer 8, 13 or even 20MP ones. As before, the camera comes with wide, f2.0 lens, but this time the flash is updated to feature two differently colored LEDs, called “Smart Flash”. Gone is the optical stabilization, replaced by “Smart Stabilization” that is said to rival the optical ones.
In this newest device, HTC is experimenting on something new by carrying along a secondary camera used specifically to measure depth information, so that the camera can cast specific focus onto different depths throughout the shot.
Placing our attention to the primary rear camera, It’s not to say that we’re a bit perturbed by the lack of any changes with the specs, but we were at least hoping to see something marginally better – to make up for the year long wait. The bigger question here is how the new ‘duo camera’ will be able to factor into enhancing the quality.
HTC has rearranged the camera UI with the new HTC One M8 by giving it a cleaner and more organized layout. Well, it’s wonderful that we can quickly launch the camera app while the phone is locked/turned off by utilizing the new motion launch gesture. Gone is the unified menu system that combined options for photos and videos, which are now separate from one another to reduce headaches in differentiating settings for either more. Of course, it’s blessed with a myriad of manual controls and shooting modes that really add some fun post photo.
Let’s first talk purely about its general image quality. From the looks of it, little has changed with the quality here. Outdoor shots turn out fairly sharp (but not oversharpened) with a good handling of dynamic range, where it balances out dark and light areas properly – and without under or over exposing certain elements. Despite the charming results, the ‘UltraPixel’ camera can’t capture fine details as good as higher resolution cameras. Sadly, purple fringing artifacts can often be noticed in high-dynamic areas. Meanwhile, macro shots tend to be delightful with that profound bokeh effect being cast to the area surrounding the object in the foreground.
However, photos taken indoors or in low lighting situations, produce underwhelming shots. Indeed, those large, 2-micron-sized pixels help to draw in more light into the camera, simultaneously giving our shots a brighter appearance and minimizing noise, but colors are washed out looking. In addition, details are once again soft and speckled looking.
Somewhat untraditional, the HTC One’s front-facing camera actually has more megapixels than the rear one – it's a 5-megapixel, wide-angle FF snapper. Not only does it play nicely when it comes to cramming in more people into the shot, but we’re pretty impressed by how good-looking the photos turn out.
1080p video recording quality in general is pleasing to the eye, as long as there’s sufficient lighting around. By default, the phone has its focus locked when recording, which means that adjusting it is done via touch focus. Turning it off, though, the camera is constantly adjusting the focus on the fly. Frankly, it’s a nice option, but it seems a bit too sensitive – causing certain situations to become out of focus. Under low light, we’re content by how bright the videos turn out, but yet again, we’re simply faced with softer details. Regardless of that, audio recording is impressive, since it’s fantastic in capturing depth in low tones.There's also the ability to capture panoramic and 360-degree images, which adds depth to the camera shooting experience. Even though the quality follows what we’ve talked about already in different lighting situation, the process in making them is a pretty simple one.
Along for the ride again are those memory making Zoe video highlights from before, complied and created automatically by the phone using a collection of captured images and videos. Choosing instead to do it manually, we can use the “Zoe Camera” mode to capture the collection of content by tapping the screen to take a photo, or holding down the camera button to start recording video. From here, Zoe highlights will capture a burst of 20 hi-res shots during the first 3 seconds. Again, not everyone will take advantage of this feature, but it’s something to bear in mind at least.
As we’ve detailed already, the secondary camera on the rear is strictly used for depth information. If you love bokeh effects (the blurred background behind the object in focus in shots taken with a DSLR camera) to the max, you’ll absolutely love how the second camera is able to attune the effect into the shots. When it comes down to it, the second camera allows us to select what areas of our pictures we want to be in focus – while the rest of the areas have that dreamy bokeh effect applied to them. Now it should be noted that this is only enabled with shots taken with the 16:9 aspect ratio.
Once a shot is captured, we can go back and apply the various ‘duo effects’ – they include ufocus, foregrounder, seasons, dimension plus, and touchup. Amongst them, the ufocus effect is what dishes up the most intriguing results, seeing that tapping anywhere on the photo adjusts the focus accordingly. Essentially, that riveting bokeh effect is composed to the area outside of the focus point – giving images that professional-like touch.
In addition, the foregrounder effect is carries along some amusing post effects too that replaces the usual bokeh with other enhancements. There are other effects too, like the copy and paste feature, that deliver Photoshop-like qualities by allowing us to ‘Photoshop’ ourselves into other photos with celebrities. However, the 'seasons' and 'dimension plus' effects seem rather tacky – just thrown in for the fun of it.
A warm, fuzzy feeling creeps in whenever we apply these various duo effects, primarily because of the sleek professional touch they splash onto our otherwise normal shots. Still, this isn’t a feature that’s necessarily new to a smartphone, since there are third-party apps that can achieve the post bokeh effect. Nevertheless, the seamless operation in bringing the effect to life is an inviting touch for the new HTC One.
Bigger screen, louder speakers, and a speedier performance makes the new HTC One more of a multimedia powerhouse.
The same categorized layout seen with the Gallery app with last year’s Sense 5.0 interface makes its presence yet again here with Sense 6.0. Compared to other stock or customized gallery apps, this one has a more dynamic look thanks to the Zoe highlights that prop up automatically under each categorized set of images. And of course, we have the wealth of editing and sharing functions to further share the joy of our content.
Although the bulk of the Sense 6.0 music player functions and appears similar to its predecessor, it’s undeniably one of the more stylish music players out there. In fact, it has a more discerning dynamic quality to it, evident by the cool 3D-filled visualizer player and its ability to display lyrics as a song is being played. If the Sense 6.0 music player isn’t your cup of tea, the Google Play Music app is preloaded as an alternative.
Audio fans have a lot to rejoice about with the new HTC One, just because the signature dual front-firing speakers with HTC BoomSound and built-in amplifiers are back for another ride. Showing us it’s serious, they deliver a pounding level of audio quality that’s unrivaled – while maintaining a pleasant audio level that’s accompanied by some subtle bass, making them sound fuller compared to the speakers of most rival phones. Meanwhile, its 3.5mm headset jack also proves to be a venerable thing in making the experience such a joy.
Keeping it simple, HTC didn’t tinker too much with the video player. Indeed, it’s a tantalizing thing to behold with its larger and sharp looking display, as high-definition 1080p videos fill every nook and cranny of the screen. However, it would’ve been nice for HTC to follow suit by adding some kind of multi-tasking element to the experience, but that’s not the case here. Nevertheless, those front-firing speakers make themselves known by enabling us to adequately hear everything even in noisy environments.
Supplementing the experience’s new Motion Launch gestures, there’s actually one particular gesture that applies to media integration. Referred to as HTC Connect, the three-finger swipe gesture allows us to send music or video via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to a host of compatible multimedia devices – such as television sets, portable speakers, or other home theater devices. Quick and simple, it’s something that will gravitate towards media sharing individuals.
Back for round two, the HTC One M8’s HTC Sense TV app and built-in IR blaster allows the phone to double as a universal remote and media hub. Not only can we program it to work with an array of media players, but there’s a social element included with the app’s functionality. In true to Sense, the app ‘senses’ what content we enjoy watching and makes relevant recommendations based on that.