HTC’s struggle in the smartphone OEM space has almost become a constant in the past few years, with a dramatic fall from the top of sales and market share in many regions around 2011, to now. While the One line in 2012 was hoped to be the reinvention that would bring HTC back, Samsung effectively dominated 2012 with the Galaxy S3 and Note 2, and while the HTC One/M7 in 2013 was a ground-breaking phone with great critical acclaim, HTC posted its first ever loss.

That brings us to the new One, one of the most leaked devices ever. While the hype surrounding the One (2014) doesn’t quite approach Moto X levels, the leaks have certainly served to fan the hype in many ways. As always, the best way to get all of this out of the way is a table to show the specs. Interestingly enough, the Asian SKU will get the MSM8974ACv3 SoC, which is the 2.45 GHz bin of the Snapdragon 801. At any rate, all the relevant information for international units is below.

  HTC One (2013) HTC One (M8)
SoC APQ8064AB 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600 MSM8974ABv3 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 801
RAM/NAND 2 GB LPDDR2, 32/64GB NAND 2GB LPDDR3, 16/32GB NAND + microSD
Display 4.7” SLCD3 1080p 5” 1080p LCD
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x15 UE Category 3 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE)
Dimensions 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm max / 4mm min, 143 grams 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35mm max, 160 grams
Camera 4.0 MP (2688 × 1520) Rear Facing with 2.0 µm pixels, 1/3" CMOS size, F/2.0, 28mm (35mm effective), 2.1 MP front facing 4.0 MP (2688 × 1520) Rear Facing with 2.0 µm pixels, 1/3" CMOS size, F/2.0, 28mm (35mm effective) and rear depth camera, 5MP f/2.0 FFC
Battery 2300 mAh (8.74 Whr) 2600 mAh (9.88 Whr)
OS Android 4.4 with Sense 5.5 Android 4.4 with Sense 6
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
SIM Size MicroSIM NanoSIM

As seen by the table, going from the One 2013 to One 2014 is mostly a jump in platform, size, and battery. Previous pain points like the lack of microSD expansion are gone, although I find it disappointing that HTC has decided to view microSD as a way to cut costs on internal NAND rather than a supporting feature, although it remains to be seen if the 32GB SKU will remain standard on the US operator variants. Some of the disappointment also carries over to the camera, which retains the same sensor from last year when it’s become clear that while larger pixel size was a great boon to low light spatial resolution and quality, it came at a great cost to low ISO, daytime spatial quality. HTC has also cut out OIS as they claim that the dual camera system doesn't work with OIS. While the HTC One 2013 was tall, this is even taller. While it may not be as wide as a phablet, it’s almost as tall as one, something that makes the top-mounted power button incredibly hard to justify, especially with its awkward positioning on the top right.

While those definitely hurt the new One’s first impressions, there’s surprisingly a lot to like. The new design, which might have seemed rather “inspired by nature” in photos, is quite striking in person to see, especially with the brushed gunmetal grey finish. The new edges, reminiscent of the 8X, take the all-metal unibody design even further should feel great in the hand, and the size/height concerns are lessened by the new motion gestures that allow double tapping or swiping up with the screen off to turn on the display. While daytime spatial resolution is unlikely to be any better than before, the new depth camera enables some potentially interesting bokeh effects that other phones are unlikely to be able to pull off without requiring still subjects and long shot to shot latency. An example of this bokeh effect, called "UFocus" can be seen above and below. There are other features that are also enabled by the depth camera, such as some perspective shift/warp effects and seasons, which add some rather odd effects and change the color balance. I’m not quite sure who asked for seasons, but if you ever wanted to have 3D leaves falling through a photo, it’s there. Something a bit less gimmicky is the copy and paste face feature, which leverages the depth camera to be able to accurately replace faces based upon another face in a photo, which could also have great potential for hilarity.

Camera aside, HTC seems to have made solid improvements upon the 2013 One. The dual-color temperature LED flash first seen in the iPhone 5s has made it into the 2014 One, and the front facing camera has been improved with a new 5MP module. The speakers are now even louder with better bass due to a new amplifier/speaker protection IC and newer speaker modules. Sense 6 is also a solid improvement upon Sense 5.x, with improved Blinkfeed that can adjust feed content based upon social network activity and a skin that heavily utilizes the transparent status bar introduced with Android 4.4, and further flattening of the UI with fewer gradients than before. The buttons are also much less flush than before, a major friction point in the 2013 One. The Snapdragon 801 means that battery life will be dramatically improved from the 2013 One, and while the on screen buttons means that there’s a lot of “wasted” bezel area where capacitive buttons could be, it does mean that a three button layout is used again. HTC is also continuing its Advantage program, which gives 50GB of Google Drive storage and one free screen replacement within the first six months of purchase if the display is shattered.

Ultimately, HTC has solidly improved upon the 2013 One, but in some ways the 2014 version is a bit of a disappointment, something that was almost guaranteed to happen by virtue of how impressive the previous version was with its all-metal unibody build, a camera that was different for the right reasons, and speakers that greatly improved the media consumption experience. Ultimately though, it seems that the two major flaws of the 2013 One, its tall profile and poor daytime camera resolution, have been carried forward. Whether those two flaws are too great to bear compared to everything else on offer is another question entirely, and one that remains to be seen.

Edit:

I thought I had posted this, but HTC managed to launch the AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint variants by 1PM EST, the same day as the announcement. Verizon's rumored exclusive only applies to retail sales, and they have a two week exclusive before other carriers can sell the One M8 at retail locations. This means that AT&T and Sprint will only have the phone for sale online until April 8th.

Also, the Developer Edition and Google Play Edition have both been launched, although they won't be available for a few weeks. The GPe will be the 32GB SKU for 699.99 USD. The Developer Edition should be the same SKU for 649.99 USD. The GPe supports 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM, 850/AWS/1900/2100 WCDMA, and 700/850/AWS/1900/2600/1800 on LTE, which means bands 17, 5, 4, 2, 7, and 3, respectively. It should be able to do carrier aggregation on bands 4+17 and 2+17.

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  • Xinn3r - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    True, that's why I think it's a pretty important information to be missing.
    They did say that the EIS will be helped by the second depth sensing camera, and I think if implemented correctly, will still benefit a lot.
    We'll just need to wait and see...
    Engadget already has a review up, but, as usual, no in-depth information of anything at all, I seriously can't call that a review.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I want to be enthusiastic about OIS on my HTC One/M7, but after waiting 4 seconds to take a picture, it is hard to be enthusiastic about that great picture I missed 3.5 seconds ago. Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - link

    The presence of OIS doesn't inherently mean super long focus and shutter speed, that's just bad programming on the software end and/or particularly challenging conditions. Reply
  • JoshHo - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I'm aware, although the 2013 One had extremely small accommodation angle so the OIS had relatively little effect on photos, although videos were noticeably less shaky. Reply
  • buckschris - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    "it seems that the two major flaws of the 2013 One, its tall profile and poor daytime camera resolution, have been carried forward."

    I would add in the camera, which performs admirably in certain situations, and falls well short in others.

    HTC had an opportunity to take what many marked as 2013's Smartphone of the Year, and improve upon it to an extent that it would once again be clear front runner. The phone was already too tall and was pushing it in terms of weight. Now, we have a phone that is significantly taller and significantly heavier. They added onscreen buttons, which I personally view as a positive, yet they kept the black bar where the capacitives used to be. They had an opportunity to improve the camera and build on their philosophy that it's not all about megapixels, yet we get a recycled unit with a second camera that appears to be mainly for gimmick purposes.

    Aside from the typical new generation of processors, the only two positive changes appear to be a more uniform metal build and improved BoomSound.

    The 2013 One was a phone with few tradeoffs. The 2014 One appears to be a phone full of trade offs.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I will wait for the in-depth reviews before writing off the camera, but the size thing totally turns me off as well. I already have awesome battery life and a 1080P screen on my M7, not sure what the point is to the biggering. (Sorry Seuss reference). Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I really hope they release a version where the ONLY difference is that it's 4.5" instead of 5". I'm 6'4" with large hands, even I think once you start getting beyond 4.5" it becomes too big. 5" is firmly out of range. 4.7" is at least acceptable, but really I've found (with my hands large enough to one hand basketballs) that 4.5" is as big as you can make a smartphone before the size becomes cumbersome. If I have to strain my wrist to reach the upper/left side of the screen, then it's too big.

    This phone is too big, I hope they release one that's the exact same in every way except 4.5". As long as I can use it on MetroPCS I'll buy it ASAP.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I could see going down to 4.2" really. I currently have a 4" smartphone and there's no problems, but a little more screen real estate would be really nice. I'm unsure if raising the 800x480 resolution would be enough in the same physical screen space, it might. Anyway, I think somewhere around 4.2-4.4" is probably the perfect size.

    I'd like to see a full review of this, especially with some daytime pictures taken. That's normally the one type of shot a smartphone can do competently, is it really so bad on this phone?
    Reply
  • JBVertexx - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    I have the 2013 One VZW version and have been overall very happy with it. I can't tell you how many time people have complemented me on the phone, saying it's the best looking Android phone they've ever seen, but then have also said never heard of the HTC One. That experience matches the story of having critical acclaim but little market success.

    I agree with most on this forum - 5" is too big. I wouldn't buy it. The biggest flaw I run into is the combination of the location of the Power Button and the Volume buttons plus the sequence of turning the phone to vibrate and adjusting the volume. Keeping my phone on vibrate all the time, there have been dozens of times when I've accidentally kicked up the volume button up one while powering on or off the phone. This has the affect of turning it from vibrate to silent - doesn't tend to make the wife very happy with my phone accidentally placed on silent.

    I also really like the camera, as I mostly take indoors or low-light shots with my phone and the outdoors shots are really good enough. Not said very often, but the wide angle of the camera makes for very good shots indoors - perhaps a preference thing, but I like the wide angle shooting. It's still unfortunate though that they failed to improve on sensor, which was really the only flaw routinely pointed out.

    Overall, it looks great, but the size and relatively small bump in capability means I'll pass this time around. But that's unfortunate, because I think HTC being in a better competitive position would be better for the market as a whole.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - link

    Not surprising no-one has heard of it. Every VZW store I checked out had a broken, dummy, or no HTC One on display at all, and immediately steered me towards a Samsung. Reply

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