HTC launched the new HTC One (M8) in Australia this afternoon by treating a selection of local tech media to a cruise around Sydney Harbour accompanied by the company’s local and regional management.
The event contrasted with last night’s Galaxy S5 launch, and really emphasised the difference between the companies’ approach. While Samsung’s launch was a big, lavish and slickly produced event, HTC embraced its underdog position with an intimate setting and a candid and honest presentation. Don’t get me wrong – chartering a boat to take a catered cruise around Sydney harbour obviously isn’t cheap.
We heard from Ben Hodgson from HTC Australia and Darren Sng from HTC Asia, whose presence has become a hallmark of local HTC launches. We also walked away with review units in hand, a welcome touch.
Despite the company’s well-publicised financial issues of 2013, HTC is generally considered to have delivered the phone of the year – we were told at the One Max launch that the HTC One was the company’s best-selling phone, so HTC understands that it’s now in position to capitalise on that reputation. It’s hoping that by delivering a solid follow-up to the One, it can foster brand loyalty and keep users currently on HTC devices buying HTC into the future.
In the One (M8), HTC has brought an evolution of last year’s flagship, making key improvements in a number of areas.
The 2013 One was one of the best designed phones we’ve seen in a long time. While it was doubtless a head-turner, some did take issue with the sharpness of the machine-cut edges and how they affected the feel of the phone in the hand.
HTC made it very clear it was listening to these criticisms. The new One features an all-metal construction with sweeping curves and no such sharp edges, while the device body is still cut from a single piece of metal. To finish, the metal is polished and brushed, giving the new phone a striking unique yet familiar look.
The front of the unit shares this familiarity. It’s clearly an evolution of HTC’s 2013 design and while the black stripe below the screen on the front of the device adds to the overally size of the unit, it’s quite well-balanced and actually felt lighter in the hand than last year’s One, despite actually tipping the scales at about 20g more.
The Duo Camera
It’s clear that HTC’s making a big bet again this year on the One’s camera. Where 2013 brought us the UltraPixel camera, 2014 brings us a second camera which promises to add depth data to the image. Darren gave us an impressive tour of the features the Duo Camera brings.
We saw the U-Focus feature refocusing a photo after it was taken. The effect is similar to a Lytro camera, but without the crushing disappointment of a final image with 1MP resolution. Copy and Paste allows you to use the depth information in the image to copy items (like a person) from one photo into another, and use the depth information in the new photo to place the item at an appropriate depth in the new scene.
Of course, you can also use the depth information to turn a photo into a pseudo-3D scene and rotate around it a few degrees, but you can also apply visual effects selectively to items at a particular depth, allowing you to pull off some innovative effects only using your smartphone.
HTC’s become quite adept at adding these features to standard data files in the last year – the new One will add the additional depth data into a standard JPG file and the company is adament that it won’t blow out the file size.
25% more BoomSound in your face
With Beats branding and high quality sound, one of the surprising standout features of the 2013 One was the device’s front-facing speakers. The feature was also present in the One Mini and One Max, although by then the breakup of HTC’s partnership with Beats resulted in the removal of the Beats branding from the device.
In 2014, HTC’s bringing the latest evolution of BoomSound with 25% louder sound while retaining its superior clarity with completely redesigned and slightly slimmer speaker units housed within the device’s body.
A BoomSound demo unit was tucked away downstairs on the boat where you could hear the new One’s speakers outclass the Galaxy S4. It didn’t disappoint – BoomSound still faces forward, and it still sounds great.
HTC’s brought their new flagship to market with the latest release of Android (4.4.2), and the company has shown a newfound desire to aggressively roll out updates in the US that we hope will also apply to Australia.
The company’s representatives called Sense 6 somewhat Nexus-like, and the comparison seems apt. The UI is cleaner and flatter, with brighter colours and a lighter feel to it. Overall, the OS seems to have taken on a more mature feel than we saw in the 2013 One.
By far one of the neatest additions is Motion Sense, a number of new gesture controls that bring interesting new possibilities for interacting with the device. First of all, the device features double-tap to wake, so you no longer need to find the power button to wake it up.
You can swipe from the right edge to unlock the device and to your home screen, or from the left to open BlinkFeed.
BlinkFeed itself has evolved as well, showing additional comments and data around stories, and allowing users more control over what they’re subscribed to.
The new One also features Fitbit integration, although it doesn’t have Fitbit hardware inside the gyroscope can still add to your step count for the day.
HTC had a small selection of accessories on show – the Dot View cover, a Double Dip Shell and a couple of other covers, and their 6000 mAh Battery Bank.
Considering I’ve been pretty down on flip covers for the past few months, it’s quite funny how much I like the HTC Dot View cover. The perforated face lets light through from the screen behind, making it look like an LED display of yesteryear. The Dot View cover shows the time and local weather conditions, and might hopefully evolve to show more information over time.
Each of these items (and a lot more, actually) are up for preorder on HTC’s accessories site now.
Google Play Edition
A number of questions from the assembled crowd focused on the currently-US-only Google Play Edition (GPE) of the One (M8) which was recently announced.
HTC was happy to deflect the question of GPE sales in Australia to Google, but also pointed out that Australians who want the GPE experience are free to unlock their bootloader through HTC Dev and install the ROM themselves, a practice that became quite common with the original One in 2013.
If you do go down that path, you’ll be glad to know that the company is promising you’ll still get the full functionality of the Duo Camera and BoomSound, addressing some complaints against the 2013 model’s GPE treatment.
HTC opens up
We also heard how HTC is opening up some of the new features on the new One to the outside world. The company has promised an SDK for BlinkFeed and will make the specs for the Duo Camera’s data storage available for other apps to use – both on mobile and on desktop.
We also got mention of Blinkfeed going to other devices via Google Play, as reported yesterday (perhaps HTC’s been trialling this functionality for a little while with its FootballFeed app which runs happily on non-HTC devices).
It’s clear HTC is quite chuffed with the “all new” HTC One – the company’s representatives had an air of confidence and enthusiasm about them as they demonstrated the new phone’s features. It was great to see HTC put forward such an upbeat, candid and friendly face.
Is the One (M8) the “One” for you? Will you be buying it on April 1? Let us know in the comments!