Friday, July 11, 2014

The HTC Won

I've been using the HTC One (M8) for a wee bit over a month.

Let's start with the short version:

This phone is so full of win HTC had to wrap it in a metal case to keep it from blowing your face off with pure awesomeness.

It does all the things you would expect from a high end smartphone, of course. Gobs of memory, high speed SD card slot, 32GB memory, excellent battery life with mega-massive-power save mode, fast charging, Andriod KitKat, and near flawless connectivity. If you want the scoop you can check in at HTC's flashy website, get all the techy specs here, or read a full review on CNET.

In this post, I'm going to evangelize because 1) you should buy it, and 2) all Android smartphones should be made with this much win.

This isn't really much of a review. More like a massive geekgasm. You folks in the front row might want to scooch back a bit.

Let me start by listing all the things I do not like about the One:


Okay, now that's out of the way, let's peek at some of the things HTC got right:

The design is just delightful. A man can use the word delightful because it's allowed when you're talking about a bitching high end phone like the One. Otherwise, no.

The One has a sturdy, all metal and glass build. I chose the Harmon/Kardon Edition of the phone from Sprint with the black lightly brushed metal back and gold/bronzish top and bottom bevels on the front. Technically the color is 'champagne' but I already used 'delightful' to describe the device and I don't want to push it.

The other available color has silver bevels and a brushed silver metal back.

This phone is put together with obvious care and style. There is just a whisper of left and right bezel. The top and bottom bezels are larger to accommodate the front facing speakers. The whole device is thin, light and sleek, yet still feels solid. Kind of like a women's Olympic volleyball player.

Screen-wise, the One is gorgeous. Contrary to what you may have been told, five inches is big enough to be pleasing, but not big enough to be uncomfortable. The One's SuperLCD screen has a pixel density of 441 ppi (pixels per inch) making it one of the sharpest screens available.  For comparison, an iPhone 5s has a screen density of 326ppi.

Located on the back of the device is the primary camera and it is pure high tech wickedness. It's an unusual bit of hardware because it is rated at 4 utrapixels. Because ultra ones are way better than mega ones.

It also has a second back facing camera for depth. No, not to give your pictures more meaning or emotional fortitude. It's for focus tricks and special effects. HTC did some nifty things with the camera and its software, so we'll come back to that in a separate post.

Yes, there's a 5MP (regular puny megapixels) on the front for taking shots of your mug. Assuming you didn't get it blown off by awesomeness, of course.

Sound is where the One really shines with HTC's much vaunted audio voodoo. Say what you will about HTC's engineers (mad geniuses, crazed Korean masterminds, smartphone prodigies?) but they must love to rock out. Hard.

Combining the big, razor sharp screen with monster audio wizardry makes the One perfect for Netflix abuse and Amazon Prime movie marathons on the go. Unlike most mobiles, the front facing speakers sound good without any external boost or headphones.

Basically, when you stack it up against any other smartphone, the One takes their video lunch money and finishes them off with a firm audio wedgie.

In truth, other than mucking about with the camera, HTC didn't do anything over the top with the M8. It's the little 'why didn't everyone think of that' things like this that make the One the well polished bad ass of the smartphone world.

Like most phone manufacturers, HTC felt compelled to load the phone with their own interface modifications on top of Android KitKat (4.2.2 at the moment, 4.4 on the way shortly). The One has a sweetly subtle interface called Sense 6.0. Subtle meaning you mostly won't know it's there until you pick up another phone and try to do without it.

Sense 6.0 includes several enhancements to the launcher, for example, that make it easier to manage apps and setup screens. I haven't felt the need to load a third party launcher at all. No fancy tab-based Setup app, just a list of all the under the hood bits neatly organized. Plenty of other simple, elegant touches like long press on any screen to manage all the screens without flipping back and forth or stretch dragging to scroll an icon.

Not new things, mind you, but the sort of stuff that just makes sense.

Get it? Ha!

The gesture controls follow the same design philosophy as the rest of the phone. It's not using the Force, Obi Wan style kind of gestures. Just polished quality of life improvements that should be on every device.

The One can tell when it's in your pocket and when it's not. When it is, it rings louder. When it's not, it rings softer. If it's laying on a table and the ringer goes off, just flip it over and it will shut up automatically. Don't want it to ring at all? Put face down. Pull the phone out of your pocket, hold it vertically up to your face and press and hold one of the volume buttons to take a picture. Done. No fumbling for the power button, just double tap the screen to wake it up.

Again, nothing earth shattering, just simple things that work.

A personal favorite? No button pushing, powering on, unlocking, swiping, flapping your arms about, or any of that crap when you get a call. Think about it. If someone looks at an incoming call on their screen and then puts the phone to their ear, what would you deduce the person wants to do? Answer the call, fool!

The One knows you are looking at the screen, knows you put the phone to your ear and just does it. Clever, HTC. Creepy. But clever.

Then there's the expected value added stuff from HTC and Sprint. They didn't bother to load the One with their own version of every other app out there. (Sprint managed to bloat the phone with a few worthless things, but not quite as bad as I expected.) Just a few simple things that work the way they're suppose to work.

Like a drive mode app already loaded on the phone and tuned properly for when, you know, you're driving. Kid mode for when you hand the phone over to your six year old. No more 'Sorry honey, you can't look at Daddy's phone because Mommy is a very naughty girl and... Well... You just can't.' Full documentation apps that are actually useful. The aforementioned HTC camera app that you won't replace after two snaps.

Sense 6.0 also comes with BlinkFeed, HTC's own news feed app, baked into the interface. I turned it off. There are plenty of outstanding news feed apps out there that are certainly more complete.

Then I got to thinking about the One itself and how it's designed. BlinkFeed is designed with the same philosophy. Keep it simple and make it work properly.

After I turned it back on, I tweaked the source feeds down to only what I wanted at a glance (no social media feeds!) and I found myself using it all the time. When you look at it the right way, it's a very slick and ingenious element that compliments the One's design nicely without cluttering it up.  The swipe left for similar stories feature is particularly nice when you're in hurry up and wait mode.

With this phone, HTC just focused on the details that make using the phone more convenient. Then they made them invisible.

Three of my favorite extra touches?

First, if you bust your screen within the first year of owning the phone, HTC will replace it no questions asked. Nice to have if it's ever needed.

The second is HTC's guarantee to update Android in a timely manner. Sprint (and to be fair, every other mobile carrier) is crap about this, so having both HTC and Google in the background lighting a fire under their ass and getting it done is a nice touch.

The last touch I'll mention is a giddy geek with a new toy kind of gimmick. I'm all for that sort of thing. It's an optional case called Dot View. See the picture. Tap to display the time and notifications without opening the case. When you get a call, it displays the caller ID right on the case. Swipe up on the cover to accept, swipe down to decline. Swipe side-to-side to make a call. It's simple and retro cool.  It works.

 And when you show it off, Dot View makes people look at their phones and go 'Awww...'

HTC really went all in with the finishing touches to the One (M8) and that's where this mobile really shines for me. You can say this feature is better on this phone and that feature is better on that phone. It's the little things and the polish that add up, however, and make a smartphone a special companion you really do want to take with you everywhere.

The One nails it. Kudos HTC.

Now excuse me while I put my face back on...