HTC has taken the wraps off its latest smartphone – the HTC One (M8). While its name might not exactly roll off the tongue, it’s a gorgeous phone; wrapped up in curvy metal, with an innovative camera and an improved version of HTC’s Sense UI.
Android has a new champion – so how does the HTC One (M8) fare against perennial ‘droid rival Apple, and its iPhone 5s? We’ve pitted the two flagships against each other to find out.
Death to all but metal
The M8 improves upon its predecessor’s metal-and-plastic design with a gorgeous build that feels like a single piece of metal – available in brushed steel, silver and gold variants. It’s hefty, at 160g and 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm, but its newly-curvy surface fits in the hand even more neatly than the original One. HTC’s attention to detail can be seen in the gorgeous micro-drilled speakers and brushed-metal finish, though the phone’s chunky bezel is slightly less welcome. Opinion is divided as to whether the M8’s row of on-screen buttons is an improvement over the previous One’s bezel-based buttons, too.
The iPhone 5s sticks with Apple’s tried-and-trusted design philosophy, a metal-and-glass build that delivers only incremental changes over the iPhone 5. Apple may have been conservative, but it’s hard to improve on the iPhone’s design, a beautifully-engineered slimline slab of anodised aluminium. It’s an ergonomic marvel; Apple’s refusal to join in the screen size war means that it’s perfectly suited for one-handed use, with carefully-placed buttons helping it feel just right in the hand. Like the One (M8), it’s available in three finishes: Space Grey, silver and a subtler-than-it-sounds white-and-gold finish.
The most substantial change? Apple’s replaced the Home Button with its new Touch ID fingerprint sensor, of which more later.
The One’s the closest an Android phone has come to matching Apple’s design and build quality – but the fact remains that the iPhone is the yardstick by which smartphone design is measured.
Winner: iPhone 5s
Power! Unlimited power!
The HTC One (M8)’s spec sheet is as impressive as you’d expect from an Android flagship in 2013. You get a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM. 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage is a bit stingy, but you have the option of up to 128GB microSD card storage, correcting one of the previous One’s few flaws. Power comes courtesy of a 2600mAh battery, with a new low-power mode offering a claimed 15 hours of life on just 10 per cent battery.
The iPhone’s 1.3GHz A7 processor and 1GB of RAM look somewhat scanty in comparison, though in everyday use it handles everything you can throw at it with ease. The wonders of having developers optimise their apps for a single platform, no doubt – and for apps that require location data, Apple’s M7 motion co-processor helps to lighten the load on the A7 by processing motion sensor data. Apple’s much-vaunted 64-bit architecture has yet to deliver on its promise, though.
The iPhone’s 1560mAh battery is a little bit small for a modern phone, and on raw capacity the HTC wins out; we’ll have to wait for a full test of the M8’s battery life before we can make a fair comparison between the two.
In terms of sheer grunt, the M8 wins out here; it’s the fastest phone we’ve tested.
Winner: HTC One (M8)
Where once it ruled the roost with its Retina displays, Apple has rather been left behind when it comes to screens. Its 4in, 1136×640 display hasn’t changed substantially since the previous generation, delivering 326ppi. A few minor tweaks to the display have resulted in better contrast and a little bit of extra detail.
The HTC One (M8)’s display, by contrast, is a substantial 5in, 1080p affair that’s sharper than the iPhone at 441ppi. Vibrant colours and a wide viewing angle make the most of all that extra screen real estate – it is a beautiful display, and easily bests the iPhone’s effort.
Winner: HTC One (M8)
HTC has doubled down on its Ultrapixel camera – literally. It packs what HTC’s calling a Duo camera; a 4.1MP snapper coupled with a dedicated depth sensor for Lytro-like refocusing tricks. What initially seems like a gimmick proves to be rather useful in practice, allowing you to tweak pics to your heart’s content. The Ultrapixel camera does make for lower-resolution snaps, though, and the promised improvement in low-light performance isn’t really noticeable enough to warrant the trade-off for bigger pixels. But unless you’re planning to print your pics, the M8’s snapper is plenty sufficient for the Instagram food pics and Facebook baby snaps that are the mainstay of most phone cameras. Round the front there’s a 5MP camera, which easily bests the iPhone’s 1.8MP FaceTime camera for selfie snaps.
The iPhone 5s sticks with an 8MP sensor for its main camera, – albeit with some subtle upgrades over its predecessor. Like the HTC One, it features a dual LED flash for more natural flesh tones, and boosted pixel size for improved low-light performance, making for bright, punchy images.. The Camera app, meanwhile, is a “delight”; quick to open, with easily-accessed filters and a simple burst mode.
With the latest smartphones packing cameras with up to 41MP sensors and 4K video capability, neither phone is at the cutting edge of camera technology – so if you’re choosing between the M8 and the 5s, it’s fair to say that the camera isn’t your highest priority. It may not have the raw power of the iPhone’s camera, but the M8’s extra features are genuinely useful on a day-to-day basis, so it wins this round.
Winner: HTC One (M8)
Sense 6 vs iOS 7.1
The iPhone 5s packs Apple’s iOS 7.1, which finally brings the operating system’s visuals in line with Jony Ive’s minimalist hardware design. It’s slick and speedy, with intuitive, useful features. Android fans may complain that the Control Centre, with its handy bank of buttons, is lifted from similar ‘droid docks, but who’s interested in point scoring? What matters is how it works in day-to-day use, and iOS 7.1 is simple, feature-packed and smooth. The iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor is typical of Apple’s approach – it makes unlocking the phone and paying for apps and music that little bit easier.
Apple’s App Store continues to lead the field, too – there’s none of the fragmentation that you get on the Android platform, which means that Apple users can usually expect to get apps and updates first.
HTC’s Sense 6 UI is no slouch, though. Built on Android 4.4 KitKat, it’s slick and engaging, with a new tap-to-unlock feature and gesture controls for quick access to the homescreen and BlinkFeed. BlinkFeed itself has been improved, too; the social media and news aggregator is no longer limited to HTC’s official selection of feeds. You can now add any RSS feed you like, making it a brilliant at-a-glance snapshot of your world.
As ever, the choice between Android and iOS comes down to personal preference – but with Sense 6, the HTC One (M8) is on an equal footing with Apple’s iOS 7.1.
The HTC One (M8) has impressed us, and with good reason – it outclasses pretty much every phone out there in terms of build quality and power. The M8’s camera may cause some quibbles, and if you’re blessed with small hands you may find its bulk daunting, though.
The iPhone 5s is certainly the M8’s equal in terms of design; Apple’s aesthetic sensibilities are second to none, and it’s beautifully complemented by the iOS 7.1 operating system. But but on pretty much every other spec, it loses out to the newcomer. Faced with a phone like the M8, Apple needs to up its game.