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New 3D camera is onboard; gorgeous metal body phone bests Samsung's GS5 in some features

On Tuesday morning, HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) marked a close to weeks of buzzing rumors, unveiling its highly anticipated Android smartphone sequel, the flagship 2014 HTC One (M8).

I. The Launch

The Taiwanese device maker took the wraps off the fresh metal body superphone at a pair of 11 a.m. EST press events in New York City and London, England.

Last year the HTC One was announced prior to top Android phonemaker Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) Galaxy S4.  Despite garnering better reviews than the GS4, Samsung's timing coupled with legal headaches and supplier issues culminated in the HTC One underperforming in sales, a major disappointment for such an impressive device.
This year HTC has smoothed over its legal troubles (albeit at a cost) and smartly timed its flagship announcement to be after Samsung's February unveil of the flagship Galaxy S5, a device that largely underwhelmed and was met with lukewarm reviews.

HTC One M8
The second-generation HTC One (M8) (2014)

HTC CEO Peter Chou boasts:

HTC One was the best phone of last year.  We went the extra mile to do [the followup] the right way at the hardware level.  The HTC One (M8) is the best phone we have ever launched

As it did last year, HTC continues to differentiate itself by adopting unique and bleeding edge hardware features.  The highlight of the new phone is a shiny new 3D camera, a technology HTC has been dabbling in the smartphone space for some time now.  
In addition to the new 3D camera, implemented by a pair of CMOS backface sensors based on ultrapixel technology, the hardware and firmware have received other serious tweaks as well.

The camera allows for non-3D images to undergo post-processing refocusing to create bokeh (background or foreground blur) artistic effects.  The multi-frame high-speed shooting and selection proprietary tech is still onboard as well.  For those familiar with the boxy Lytro adjustable focus digital camera, the idea is pretty much the same.  While the 3D itself is somewhat gimmicky, the ability to refocus in post-processing at last arguably elevates the feature as more than a parlor trick.
The flash uses a dual-color LED for better light and tone balancing, a technology that Apple, Inc. (AAPL) first used in last year's iPhone 5S.  The phone trails the best of its peers like the Apple iPhone 5S and Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) Lumia 1020 in daytime camera performance, according to AnandTech.  But with the 3D and unique post-processing options HTC arguably still remains competitive with the best daytime cameras on merits of its exclusive features.

Peter Chou
HTC CEO Peter Chou and HTC North American President Jason Mackenzie pose at the unveil event.
[Image Source: The Verge]

The battery has been enlarged 13 percent, which will likely be necessary to keep pace with the larger 5-inch screen (same resolution -- 1920x1080 pixel (1080p)), up from last year's 4.7-inch screen.
The phone has a faster processor and swaps the LPDDR2 found in last year's device for the faster, more energy efficient LPDDR3.  One of the most welcome improvements is the inclusion of a microSD slot, a feature present in some international versions of the first generation One, but lacking in the U.S. release.  The built-in NAND has shrunk in half, but that's a small price to pay for the inclusion of expandable memory.  The phone also supports the new nanoSIM standard, which replaces last year's microSIM.
The phone's exclusive stereo speakers have improved since last year, particular in the bass department, but the overall sound quality has also benefited from a new amplifier chip and digital to analog converter (DAC).

II. The Full Spec
The full spec can be seen below.  The good bits we highlighted in green, things that seem bad are highlighted in red, things that are a matter of opinion (e.g. screen size) or unchanged are left black.


III. Externals

The downsides of the HTC One are that it's grown a bit heavier and thicker with the new battery and larger screen.  It remains substantially thicker than the GS5 and iPhone 5S, as well as other Android OEMs' flagship phones.  But some are willing to deal with a little bit of extra weight and thickness in exchange for such an eye-and-hand-pleasing brushed aluminum metal unibody.
Given the tendency of metal-body smartphones to experience screen cracks if dropped, HTC is kindly offering a single courtesy screen replacement if the screen shatters within six months of purchase.

Externally the phone will be available in several body colors, including gold, silver, and black, all based on the same underlying brushed metal chassis.
The phone will also be paired with a unique peripheral/case, the Dot View case, which has small holes exposing some of the screen pixels, to deliver low-powered notifications in Lite Brite fashion.  
HTC Dot View
As these notifications are the actual screen pixels, they're freely color capable, and there's the potential for compatible third party apps.  It's unclear how HTC is selectively deactivating most of the screen and showing only some pixels, something typically only possible with OLED displays. HTC is keeping tight-lipped about the new screen, merely saying it was "LCD based".  Whatever the technology it is clearly crucial to the Dot View case and it replaces the SuperLCD 3 display used in the first-generation HTC One (M7).
On the firmware front HTC is introducing Sense 6 and a new set of apps including a prettier, more efficient version of its BlinkFeed content stream UI element.  Perhaps the most important firmware tweak, though, is Extreme Power Saver -- a power saving mode similar to those offered by Apple and Motorola Mobility.  The mode progressive scales back processing speed and usage allowances, eventually disallowing app use when you get to a few percent of your battery.  The phone can last several hours on the mode, though, allowing brief phone calls, texts, and emails to continue to stream in and be read.

HTC One girl
By the sound of it, HTC managed to solve its battery life issues of its first-generation model with firmware, not by bloating the battery.  In this regard HTC borrows one of the smartest aspects of Apple's design philosophy, a principle Samsung has largely failed to learn from.

IV. Gary Oldman Ads and Launch Dates

HTC has aired a couple of interesting commercials for the device, starring Breaking Bad star Gary Oldman.  The commercials are a little obtuse, but in our eyes Gary Oldman being a bit obtuse is much more tolerable than those bizarre Robert Downey, Jr. commercials.

Verizon Wireless -- America's largest carrier and subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) -- appears to be alone in having the smartphone in stock at stores today.  But AT&T, Inc. (T), Sprint Corp. (S), and Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE)) T-Mobile USA will all have the device in stock later this week.  It is available to order on those three carriers immediately.  Canada's largest carriers -- Rogers Communications Inc. (TSE:RCI.A)(TSE:RCI.B), Telus Corp. (TSE:T), and Bell Aliant Inc. (TSE:BA) -- also have the device up for order, which shipments starting this week.
The phone will be online exclusive, except at Verizon, until the first two weeks of April, when they'll arrive at carrier stores.  Still this early debut gives the HTC One a 17 day sales lead on the Samsung Galaxy S5 -- a potentially dangerous scenario for the world's largest phonemaker, given the market slide in sales of the Galaxy S4 in the last six months, a slide which may signal waning consumer interest.
Release timetables for Europe and Asia were not discussed, but are expected to follow a similar format, with online sales ramping up to a full storefront launch in early April.

Sources: HTC, HTC on YouTube, AnandTech, The Verge

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Looks pretty sweet
By hypocrisyforever on 3/25/2014 12:40:49 PM , Rating: 5
It's hard not to root for HTC. They refuse to throw in the towel even with one setback after the other. They also keep putting out top notch products that are seemingly overlooked by the market. Hopefully they'll put some dollars into marketing this new one.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By retrospooty on 3/25/2014 12:44:41 PM , Rating: 1
Most of their problems have been well earned by ineptitude in the past, poor marketing, poor quality, etc... But I do agree, the current One and this new One are actually great phones. It's a tough hill to climb though, once people have a poor impression of you as a company.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By ipay on 3/25/2014 1:15:05 PM , Rating: 2
I consider myself in that group. I have and OLD HTC Windows Mobile Phone that still runs (even with it's current duty as a toddler button smash toy), however I had a few awful Android units since then that left a very bad impression. With other quality choices, I don't have any Desire (get it?) to own another HTC.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By retrospooty on 3/25/2014 1:17:29 PM , Rating: 1
Yup... They had a reputation for poor quality long before they even had their own brand on the market, all those old Palm Treo's that had 6 or more repair cycles were built by HTC as well.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By Mint on 3/25/2014 1:41:32 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not a fan of their ultrapixel "technology". I have yet to see compelling evidence that in low light it's superior to a 16MP camera downsampled by 2x in each direction and equal processing.

In good light, the HTC One's images are way behind the competition. Even for web publishing you'll notice if you do any substantial cropping.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By JasonMick on 3/25/2014 7:17:04 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not a fan of their ultrapixel "technology". I have yet to see compelling evidence that in low light it's superior to a 16MP camera downsampled by 2x in each direction and equal processing.

In good light, the HTC One's images are way behind the competition. Even for web publishing you'll notice if you do any substantial cropping.
Er, you're half right.

Four back-side illuminated 1um CMOS pixels could certainly be downsampled to a single 2 um x 2 um CMOS pixel in terms of the light being absorbed. That's more a function of the lens/camera structure, and sensor size. In that regard the GS5 and HTC One are pretty similar camera wise.

However, by building larger pixels Ultrapixel improves upon a far more tricky issue to solve -- cross-talk between pixels (sort of the leakage of the CMOS sensor world) by bumping them back to a larger size.

Now there are other ways around this. For example Samsung has a technology called ISOCELL that uses a pair of technologies to build the trench the sensor different to mostly silence the cross-talk.

Both Samsung GS5 and HTC One M8 will likely be downsampled at some point when they're posted online. The GS5 has a marginally larger sensor, but not big enough to make a difference.

As you point out both downsample, but both also have proprietary technologies to fight cross-talk/noise, a key problem in a variety of lighting scenarios. Sony and HTC's Ultrapixel solution does it by building a more monolithic pixel. Samsung does it by building a highly structured vertical pixel.

But your comment is misleading as it would imply if HTC just used smaller pixels (without new technologies such as ISOCELL) that it would get equivalent results. It would not, due to crosstalk.

A more interesting question is -- "Which solution prevents crosstalk more effectively -- monolithic pixels or ISOCELL structured smaller pixels??"

The answer could well determine who has the better camera considering the spec is otherwise relatively similar.

*Note: also remember pixels' surface area isn't always perfectly square, so it's a bit more complicated than this basic description.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By jharper12 on 3/25/2014 9:45:28 PM , Rating: 3
I work in an industry where we take a lot of indoor pictures for proof of performance, and I routinely am complimented on the quality of my photos since upgrading to the HTC One. I have plenty of coworkers with the latest Galaxy and iPhones, and they envy this feature of the HTC One. They wouldn't switch for just this feature, but I can assure you, all of my coworkers agree that the HTC One takes the best low light pictures. Here's the deal, my Samsung Instinct could take an excellent daylight picture, so to me, all I care about is low light performance.

I guess it just depends on who you are and how you use your camera, but I would argue that more people take and do not crop their pictures, and share them online, than those who use cropping routinely. I'm certainly in that camp.

Here's another great feature of 4.1 MP images. My average picture is just short of 1 MB. I sync my camera with my dropbox account, so ALL of my pictures are automatically uploaded, which uses a decent amount of data. In the month of March, I have so far taken 849 pictures. Using the HTC One, that requires just over 800 MB of data. Using the Galaxy S5 images are closer to 3.5 MB. Data is typically sold for around $15 per GB, so for me the question is, even if I believe the S5 takes better pictures, does it take $31 a month better pictures?!? Definitely not.

So I think HTC did a brilliant thing here. Most of us view these images on monitors with a resolution lower than the pixel count. I personally downsample to 1920 longest edge for my reporting. With that in mind, why not take in more light and drop the extra pixels? You get a good quality picture for a low data cost. Say what you will, I'm convinced, and I'll be purchasing the new HTC One as well :-D.

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By techxx on 3/25/2014 1:12:37 PM , Rating: 2
Well said. It makes me sad to see a company selling a superior device to not push the same volume the Galaxy series does due to lack of marketing and and societal ignorance. The 2014 model will beat the GS5 as the 2013 model beat the GS4. Excellent job on the 2014 model HTC. I hope it can take a bigger chuck of Samsung's pie this time!

RE: Looks pretty sweet
By stm1185 on 3/25/2014 4:15:40 PM , Rating: 3
It does look pretty sweet, but not $300 sweeter then a Nexus 5. $650 off contract is too high, bring that down to $450.

Samsung marketing
By vision33r on 3/25/2014 12:47:39 PM , Rating: 3
Americans equate Android phones to Samsung. Not even Google's own Nexus phones is competitive to Samsung because just about every TV channel you flip there's a Samsung TV commercial. HTC needs to invest in higher quality marketing.

RE: Samsung marketing
By crimson117 on 3/25/2014 1:00:58 PM , Rating: 2
And before that Motorola's "Droid" was top dog (at Verizon, at least). Things can change, though it'll be tough for HTC to oust larger Samsung.

RE: Samsung marketing
By ven1ger on 3/25/2014 4:31:17 PM , Rating: 2
Not all Americans equate Android phones with Samsung. Nexus phones are competitive with Samsung's if you consider that Google virtually does no advertising (at least on tv) and the Google store has been sold out of Nexus phones on many occasions.

Some people may want an expensive top tier phone like the Samsung IV, others prefer a less expensive quality phone like the Nexus.

Worthless buzz words
By krotchy on 3/25/2014 1:44:57 PM , Rating: 2
Is it just me or is basically every high end phone they make going to be the "Best Phone we have ever Launched"

Technology is constantly improving, especially in the consumer devices world. One year in the world of microprocessors pretty much guarantees you are going to be putting out an improved product for probably the same price or cheaper.

If every top-tier device you launch isn't the best thing you have ever done, then you probably won't last too long as a company.

RE: Worthless buzz words
By retrospooty on 3/25/2014 1:47:51 PM , Rating: 2
I think he meant that grading on a curve. The One as of today is better than last years One as of last year and better than the One X was as of 2012. ??? Or he's just full of crap.

RE: Worthless buzz words
By coburn_c on 3/25/2014 9:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
I really liked the CEO's intro, not a lot of marketing nonsense just pride in the product. Then that designer got up there and told us how special people would buy his phone and I wanted to puke in my boots.

It's a good phone, good design, has the SD card to silence the whiners... but that extraneous bezel still disturbs me.

HTC makes the best Android phone, period.
By Roy2001 on 3/25/2014 1:47:18 PM , Rating: 1
HTC makes the best Android phone, period.

PS: I am using S4 now, used to have One X.

RE: HTC makes the best Android phone, period.
By retrospooty on 3/25/2014 1:48:56 PM , Rating: 2
Based on what? Metal?

If you want a metal design, then yes, but there is alot more going in a phone than the shell.

By themaster08 on 3/25/2014 5:16:54 PM , Rating: 2
but there is alot more going in a phone than the shell.
The specifications of this phone are also up there with the likes of the S5 and Note 3. So in what way other than the user replaceable battery is something such as the S5 a more compelling phone?

Quoted TheVerge yet said Anandtech
By blzd on 3/25/2014 6:03:45 PM , Rating: 2
"in daytime camera performance, according to AnandTech."

Then you link to TheVerge.

By CZroe on 4/5/2014 10:13:26 AM , Rating: 2
Did you notice that you were wrong about the cover having a grid of notification LEDs and I was right about it being holes through which screen pixels were visible?


It would work better with OLED like I imagined. I'm sure they at least considered it.

No sh1t
By Motoman on 3/26/2014 3:34:57 PM , Rating: 2
The HTC One (M8) is the Best Phone We Have Ever Launched

Just once I want to see a company launch a product with a statement like "Well, it's not as good as the last few products we put out...but you know, f%ck it."

Gary Oldman?
By Bytre on 3/26/2014 4:25:51 PM , Rating: 2
What's the Breaking Bad connection?

Another crappy battery
By flyingpants1 on 3/25/14, Rating: -1
RE: Another crappy battery
By FITCamaro on 3/25/2014 3:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
And exactly how many phones have a battery at or over 4000 mAh?

Even the Note 3 has a 3200 mAh battery.

RE: Another crappy battery
By stm1185 on 3/25/2014 4:19:31 PM , Rating: 2
Except its not a 6 inch phone and its already bulky, so yeah never going to happen in a 5inch with current tech.

RE: Another crappy battery
By Mint on 3/25/2014 7:17:12 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe he's thinking of aftermarket batteries, which are only possible through the USB connector here, but can be more integrated with a different cover on a Samsung.

RE: Another crappy battery
By retrospooty on 3/25/2014 7:23:27 PM , Rating: 2
He might have meant 3000 and typo'd.

I would be worried about HTC batteries too considering they have a long history of buying crappy ones. Not all batteries are created equal, and HTC hasnt been buying from the best in the past.

RE: Another crappy battery
By flyingpants1 on 3/26/2014 3:00:12 AM , Rating: 2
The Droid Razr Maxx had a 3300Mah battery with a 4.7" screen. Are you telling me a 20% increase is impossible?

RE: Another crappy battery
By retrospooty on 3/26/2014 8:35:55 AM , Rating: 2
Why would you be worried about battery mah ratings? Just look at actual battery life. The current champ is the LG G2. 3000mah but it lasts longer than any other phone out there.

I dont expect the One-2014 will be in the same range as the G2, but If the best available isnt good enough for you then you really are being too picky. Better off with a GS4 or GS5 so you can swap it out.

RE: Another crappy battery
By retrospooty on 3/26/2014 11:53:13 PM , Rating: 2
And there you have it... The One 2014 is even beating the previous best of the best in battery life. SWEET!

RE: Another crappy battery
By rocman on 3/25/2014 4:32:28 PM , Rating: 2
I would LOVE to have a 4000mah internal battery. But there's exactly zero phone on the market (or even in the pipeline as far as I know) that has anything close to 4000mah. The closest is probably the Droid Maxx at 3500mah.

I don't think the HTC would have crappy battery life. It'll be average, no doubt.

RE: Another crappy battery
By flyingpants1 on 3/26/2014 3:06:38 AM , Rating: 1
I actually looked it up, and that phone was released in Jan 2012, with a 3300mAh battery on a 4.3" screen. Yes I expect improvements over time.

HTC Butterfly S 5" was plastic with 3200mAh.

If it's a choice between a larger battery or a fucking metal casing, I'll choose battery every time.

RE: Another crappy battery
By retrospooty on 3/26/2014 8:38:43 AM , Rating: 2
It is improving. It's just that you are looking at the wrong spec. You are looking at battery size/mah rating when you should look at battery life in real world tests. You wont likely ever find a 4000mah battery unless it's over a 6 inch phablet, and even then its a stretch.

RE: Another crappy battery
By flyingpants1 on 3/27/2014 8:31:36 AM , Rating: 2
No, I disagree. Both power efficiency and battery capacity can and should be improved at the same time. 2600mAh is pitiful. 4000mAh would have given this thing 50% more life.

RE: Another crappy battery
By retrospooty on 3/27/2014 8:35:25 AM , Rating: 2
Check it. It's beating the current champ the LG G2. I am actually really surprised at that, but it is... Hopefully they didnt cherry pick a perfect battery sample to send to Anandtech for the review.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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