HTC One M8 hands-on review (first impressions)

I am an unashamed Apple fan. I live in a nearly-all Apple ecosystem. I'm the person who will be queuing at 5am in the cold in a few months for an iPhone 6. It all works for me, I love the continuity (which will improve further with iOS 8 an OS X Yosemite) and how the majority of things I do and use all tie in together across my devices. 

But a couple of weeks ago work gave me the opportunity of picking my own new work mobile. Now I could have just picked another iPhone and carried two around with me, but thought this could not only cause some confusion if I had the same colour/model, but also I know that when the new iPhone is released I probably end up getting frustrated and having one piece of brand new hardware and one slightly older 'out of date' piece.

So I took the opportunity to experience something completely different - my very first Android phone.

When looking at Android phones there was only going to be two phones I'd consider - the Moto X or the HTC One M8. I'm really not a fan of the Samsung phones - good hardware but FULL to the brim with Samsung-only bloatware, so they were never really going to be an option. The Moto X and M8 also come highly recommended from people in the industry I trust, so it was going to be one of those. The carrier Elisa only had the M8 in stock, so that was my choice.

So after one week of usage, here are my initial thoughts on both the hardware and software.

Hardware

The phone itself is really well designed and looks good. I went for the gold option, which is more of a bronze colour, but still looks good without looking 'flashy'. The metal back feels good in the hand, but as their is no grip, it does sometime feel like it could easily slip from your hand or off a surface. Admittedly, I put the included plastic case on it almost immediately. It now doesn't look as good, but does give me slightly more peace of mind that it won't go flying out of my hand or off the table.

The gold HTC One M8 alongside the silver and white iPhone 5s

The gold HTC One M8 alongside the silver and white iPhone 5s


The size of the phone is something new to me and it's a bit hit and miss. While my iPhone 5s, at 4 inches, now does sometimes feel a bit small when looking at the screen, the M8, at 5 inches, is just a tad too big for my liking. The rumoured iPhone 6, at a supposed 4.7 inches, looks like it will hit the size sweet-spot. Having the additional screen real-estate is nice, but it doesn't feel fully utilised on the M8, and for someone with small, girly hands, it's just not for me.

The HTC One M8 next to the iPhone 5s

The HTC One M8 next to the iPhone 5s


iPhone 5s on top of the HTC One M8

iPhone 5s on top of the HTC One M8

I'm no photographer, but the camera has been a bit of a let-down. The M8 boasts two cameras on the back, helping to add additional detail and depth to pictures. Normal day-to-day pictures look good, but in high or low light the pictures haven't been great. Now I appreciate there are a myriad of almost pro settings in the camera app which will probably allow for amazing pictures, but as snap-and-shoot kind of person, I just want it to work and produce decent pictures in any condition. I don't want to have to fiddle around with settings just to grab a quick picture in the sun or in a dimly lit place. While the M8 is probably capable of taking better pictures that the 5s, the 5s just takes good pictures pretty much no matter what and with no extra fiddling or setting tweaks required. If you're serious about your pictures, this could be the phone/camera for you, but if you just want decent pictures with no fuss, maybe not.

Performance-wise the phone works well. It comes with a Snapdragon 801 chipset and a quad-core 2.3 GHz CPU and 2 GIG of RAM. It's right up there with the most powerful phones on the market and I'm yet to experience any lag of issues when using features and apps. 

My main and major gripe about my beloved iPhone 5s is the battery life. The M8 trounces the iPhone here. I have to keep my 5s plugged all day at work, but even then I'll still struggle to get to midnight without it dying. Yes, I'm a heavy user, but I expect at least a days use out of a modern phone and not having to constantly worry about getting to a charger and plug socket.

The M8 battery lasted well during the day - even with me playing with it a lot, and was even more impressive on standby. I charged it Thursday night, used it at work on Friday, and then left it in my bag all weekend until late on Sunday night - even then it was still at 67%! The 5s wouldn't have even made it home on the Friday!

A big plus for the phone is the expandable memory via a MicroSD card. This means you could purchase the 16GB base-model, but still increase it up to 128GB as you use it (depending on your needs). This means that if you're buying it off-contract you don't have to fork out for the largest capacity/price up-front. 

The HTC One M8 alongside the iPhone 5s

The HTC One M8 alongside the iPhone 5s


Software

Not being an Android user I'm sure there are things I don't know about and ways of doing things in a more easier way (including by rooting), but my initial experience with KitKat (v4.4.2) hasn't been particularly impressive.

Some features are great - Google Now, being able to link data between apps (such as LastPass) - which will be coming in iOS 8, but generally it's a lot less intuitive than iOS and I find myself having to search and fiddle around to find settings and options.

Another thing which bothers me is the Home screen of the M8 and how the OS manages this. I have a huge screen, yet I can only fit what seems like a limited number of app icons on it. The large gaps between each icon mean I can only have 4 apps on each row, even though there is space for 5 or 6. This seems like wasted real-estate and the ability to customise this slightly (from the box) would be a great addition.

The Android HTC One M8 homescreen - wasted space?

The Android HTC One M8 homescreen - wasted space?


A frustrating thing for me is the limiting gestures, especially when waking the phone up. With my 5s it will sit flat on my desk and I can just tap the Home button to show me all the information on the lock-screen. But with the M8 I have to actually pick the phone up and double tap the screen or swipe to wake it. I don't mind the double-tap, but there should be the option for this (or another specified) gesture to wake it whether it's laying flat, being held or whatever - it shouldn't have to be held up in a certain way just to get a view of what's on the lock-screen. This, in combination with then having to unlock the phone, is very frustrating and means I've now actually turned off the security screen (face recognition, gesture and PIN). Again, I'm used to the easy and super convenient Touch ID on the 5s - I can just touch that one button and everything is unlocked in a split second.

Linking to the above point of locking/unlocking the screen, is another annoyance. I've found the screen randomly turning itself on quite a lot, especially after just locking it and then putting it down flat on a table. Another time it tends to do it is when it's flat on a table and I put my 5s on top of it - the screen just magically turns on - strange and slightly annoying.

Conclusion

While I like the phone in general, it certainly hasn't, and won't, make me convert to all things Android. The M8 is a bit too large for my liking, and the software just not particularly intuitive or initially user-friendly. I'm sure I'll end up rooting the phone and this will then solve some of my issues and bug-bares, but as a stock device, it really doesn't float my boat. I'm going to continue using it as my work phone each day, so I'll continue to look for useful apps and tweaks and will revisit what I've written above in about 6 months time and see if I still feel the same.........