The brand new HTC One (M8) really managed to impress me. From the design and build to the revamped Sense 6 software and impressive performance, HTC really has a winner on its hands. Whether or not its efforts will translate into sales remains to be seen, though HTC says that last year’s One fared well despite Samsung and Apple’s dominance in the smartphone industry. The first HTC One, the company told me during a meeting last week, was HTC’s best-selling smartphone ever by a substantial margin.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the new HTC One (M8) is better than its predecessor in every conceivable way. It’s sleeker, more polished, faster, smoother and the software has been dramatically improved. HTC also added a handful of new features that really add to the user experience, such as intuitive location-aware functions and new “Motion Launch” gesture controls.
But despite how impressive HTC’s new M8 is, it still has flaws.
On the plus side, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had this little to complain about while reviewing a smartphone. In fact just about all of my complaints focus on minor usability issues (mostly layout inconsistencies), a handful of common-sense feature omissions (why doesn’t a double-tap turn the display off?) and other small things that HTC could have done to improve various apps.
The M8 is also a bit large for my taste. It’s bigger than last year’s One, which makes sense since it includes a 5-inch display whereas the first One had a 4.7-inch panel, and most owners will not be able to use it comfortably with one hand. Bigger is better in the market right now though, so it is what it is. As it stands, the new One is still far more manageable than monstrous phablets like the Nokia Lumia 1520 and HTC One max.
But none of those things are important enough to bear the label “worst.” No, the worst thing about HTC’s brand new flagship phone is its camera.
As was the case with last year’s model, the new HTC One’s camera is not on par with other leading smartphones. HTC has stayed away from the megapixel race, which is fine as long as the quality is there. At just 8 megapixels, Apple’s camera on the iPhone 5s is easily among the best on the planet, capable of capturing images that are far sharper than rival devices that take much larger pictures.
The same cannot be said of the camera on the new M8, however.
As I noted in my full HTC One (M8) review, the colors in photos taken on the M8’s camera are often washed out and dull. Clarity is also lacking; looking at a full-size image taken by the new One reveals blurred edges and an unacceptable amount of noise.
It’s a shame, really, because HTC’s camera software in Sense 6 is fantastic. The vendor also introduced some great new effects made possible by its new “Duo Camera,” which uses a second rear-facing camera to collect depth information while the primary rear camera captures an image.
For example, I love the ability to refocus photos after the fact like you can with a Lytro camera, and HTC’s automatic bokeh effect, which adds blurring to the background as you might see in a photo taken with a DSLR camera, is among the best I’ve seen.
But the quality of photos and videos captured by HTC’s Duo Camera just isn’t there.
The fact of the matter is that smartphone cameras are crucially important to the overall experience and the camera on the HTC One (M8) is quite poor, relative to competing devices. People increasingly rely on their phones as their sole cameras, and photo sharing on services like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is obviously hugely popular.
While other smartphone vendors continue to add new camera features while simultaneously improving camera hardware and photo quality, HTC has not been able to make significant progress where photo quality is concerned. Unfortunately, this is an area where HTC was already lagging, so the gap between HTC’s flagship phone and rival flagship devices will grow disappointingly wide in 2014.
Sample photos can be seen in my full review.
This post is part of a new feature on BGR that supplements our standard product reviews. In this series, BGR takes a closer look at the best and worst qualities of some of the most popular consumer devices in the world in an effort to dive deeper into exactly what makes them stand out.