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.

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Unconventional camera setup

HTC is doing something unapologetically different with its smartphone camera setup -- and depending on whom you ask, it's either a brilliantly bold move or a weak point in an otherwise strong device.

After using the phone for the past week, I'm convinced the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle: The new One can take some great-looking photos and allows you to do some interesting things with your images, but it does have some undeniable limitations.

Like last year's device, the M8 utilizes what HTC calls an "UltraPixel" camera. In short, it uses only 4 megapixels -- a shockingly low-sounding number compared to what we see on most flagship phones these days -- but according to HTC, those megapixels are larger and consequently capable of capturing far more light than what other phones use.

This year's device also adds a second rear-facing lens designed to record depth perception data -- how near or far different objects are from you when you snap a shot.

If you're like most smartphone owners and use your phone for casual on-the-go photography, the end result is going to be a camera that's delightfully simple to use and capable of giving you perfectly decent-looking pictures. It does particularly well in low-light scenarios, sometimes producing images that are lighter and more detailed than what I can see with my own naked eyes.

The new One's images aren't flawless, though, and photo aficionados may at times feel let down by their quality. The biggest issue is just that they're inconsistent: While some shots look fine, others -- especially those taken in bright outdoor conditions -- tend to look a little washed out and under-saturated. They're certainly not unusable, but to the discerning eye, they're not always at the level of what other phones produce. The lack of optical image stabilization (which, curiously, was present in last year's model) doesn't help.

The other issue is simply size: Because of its lower megapixel count, the One's images are fairly low in resolution by current smartphone standards. If you're sharing pictures online or even printing them, that shouldn't make much difference -- but if you ever want to zoom into specific areas of a photo or crop it to leave only a particular part of the image in place, the smaller starting size can be a serious limitation.

The dual camera setup lets you create some neat effects with photos you've taken, though, like blurring or recoloring the background of an image while leaving the foreground in regular focus. I put together a gallery showing the various dual camera effects in action, if you want to see how the different possibilities work in real-world conditions.

Camera
"Sketch" applies a sketch effect to everything in the background of your image but leaves the foreground in regular focus.

The new One offers plenty of more traditional photo-editing tools, too, ranging from filters and frames to options for cropping, flipping and rotating images. And beyond just the basics like HDR, the camera app has a huge array of modes and settings -- the type of stuff you usually have to install a third-party tool to access -- if you want to control all the nuances of its performance.

Despite all of that, HTC has managed to keep its imaging software from becoming overly cluttered or confusing. If you like advanced options, they're certainly there -- but for the rest of us, the interface is pleasingly clean and easy to use. The One is astonishingly fast at focusing and snapping photos, too, which can make a world of difference when a photogenic moment arises.

The M8 has a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter for selfies, which results in surprisingly good-looking photos (though I can't vouch for the attractiveness of your subject). Both the front-facing camera and rear camera can capture 1080p-quality HD video as well.

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