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.

Watch out, world: The HTC One has finally arrived. Again.

The company that gave us last year's critically acclaimed HTC One phone is back with its follow-up effort, the HTC One (M8). After living with the device for the past several days, I'm confident in saying it's HTC's most impressive effort to date.

HTC One (M8)
HTC One (M8)

With the new One, HTC has taken all the good qualities of the original One and subtly refined them to make them even better. The company has clearly listened to criticism, too, as it's corrected many of the hardware and software faults that held the previous model back.

The HTC One (M8) is on sale now online from AT&T and Sprint, and both online and in stores from Verizon, for $200 with new two-year contracts. The phone will be available in stores and online at all the major U.S. carriers -- including T-Mobile -- starting April 11.

So what's the new HTC One like to use in the real world and is it the right phone for you? Let's find out.

Getting to know the new One

You can't talk about the HTC One (M8) without talking about its form. With its all-aluminum unibody shell and sleek-looking metallic colors -- your choice of matte silver, matte gold or glossy gray -- the phone practically screams "premium" from the second you pick it up.

Sound familiar? It should: The new One maintains the same basic design language as last year's model -- but with some noteworthy new twists. The phone's aluminum back now slopes around its sides, for instance, creating a less angular and more gently curved body. The phone has even less plastic than its predecessor, too, as the wrapped-around edges eliminate the need for any trim along the perimeter.

All the smooth metal makes the device feel as good in the hand as it looks to the eye; the new One comes across as a luxurious yet approachable object, and is truly a pleasure to hold.

There's just one caveat: The M8 is unusually big for its class of device. At 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 in., the phone is more than a third of an inch taller and also a hair wider than the first-gen model. At 5.6 oz., it's meaningfully heavier, too, compared to last year's 5 oz. frame. (For perspective, Google's Nexus 5 is 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.34 in. and 4.6 oz., despite having practically the same size screen as the new One.)

As a result, the new One is just a touch too large for comfort; it's slightly awkward to carry in a pocket -- even in roomy men's jeans -- and too tall to use comfortably with a single hand. You get used to it after a while, but I can't help but think the phone would have provided a better overall experience if HTC had stuck with the smaller and more manageable dimensions of last year's device.

My, oh my -- that display and those speakers

The new One's increased footprint is partially a result of its 5-in. display, up from a 4.7-in. screen on the first-gen model. At 1080p and 441 pixels per inch, the LCD panel pops with brilliant, vivid colors and beautifully crisp detail. It's plenty bright, too, and easy to view both indoors and out.

Like most phones with LCD displays, the M8 has less dark blacks than you'll see on AMOLED-packing devices -- but on the flip side, it also has more pure whites. All in all, it's a stunning screen and easily one of the best you'll find on a smartphone today.

And take note of this: As part of its new HTC Advantage program, HTC will fix a cracked or damaged display free of charge for up to six months with all M8 purchases. For the butter-fingered among us, that's a pretty significant piece of insurance to have. (The screen is also protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 3, which should help reduce the risk of breakage in the first place.)

Surrounding the screen are what may be the One's most distinctive elements: Its powerful front-facing stereo speakers. Man, those things are great. They have the same outstanding quality as the speakers on the original One, only with even more power -- about 25% more volume capacity, according to HTC. Whether you're listening to music, watching videos or playing games, multimedia on a smartphone doesn't get any better than this.

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