An Android Upgrade 2: Part I – A Re-review of the HTC One (M8)

17 months ago I upgraded my Nexus 4 to an HTC One (M8) and at the time I was very very happy with the phone. I undertook a fairly comprehensive run-down of my thoughts on the device and what I made of the change away from the Nexus programme to the HTC programme. Now, quite a bit down the line, I have run out of patience with the HTC and it has run of last chances, and I have opted to replace the phone with an all-new Google/Huawei Nexus 6P. I’ve yet to receive the Nexus, but I thought it’d be interesting to re-review the phone at the end of its service with me to see how my initial thoughts held up compared to the long-term thoughts.

You can read the entire original post about the HTC One (M8) here

Let’s take each area of the review at a  time and see what I said and what I would say now.

- Screen

The first thing I realised when looking to upgrade was that the screen sizes had increased a lot - the HTC One (M8) has a 5'' HD screen, which is pretty much par for the course on all the top-line phones. I wasn't sure about the massive screen at first, and went to a mobile phone shop to check that the size was manageable, and it kinda is. I have fat chubby fingers that are notoriously clumsy but my hands are large enough to make short work of the screen's real estate.

The new Nexus’s screen is a whopping 5.7’’, making it massive. I used to scoff at phones this big. I am worried about usable it’ll be, in the long term, but I wen from 3.5’’ to 4’’ to 5’’ so moving up again won’t be too tough, I reckon.

- Phone Design

The main reason I love the One (M8) is the impressive metal body, which feels more premium even than the iPhones that I have held. The design of the phone is easily the best design I've ever came across - it feels heavy and solid in the hand, and despite being slippery nothing is more slippery than the nonsensical glass backed Nexus 4 I upgraded from, which slid off everything and anything I put it on.

This is all still true. The HTC is one of the best made handsets I’ve ever had, and has not even slightly faltered in the time I’ve had it. The scuff marks on the bottom and top from being dropped are small, and the back plate has a few abrasions that has got far more noticeable in recent months, but otherwise it is in perfect working order. The glass on the front has been pretty good at resisting scratches too. It might have been the best built phone I’ve ever had to be perfectly honest.

One thing I do dislike; the volume keys are on the "wrong" side, being on the right hand side, rather than the left; where they were on all my iPhones and the Nexus 4. This is a change I am struggling to deal with, sadly.

I got used to this, obviously. From what I can tell the Nexus 6P has it’s keys on the right hand side too, so that shouldn’t be too big of a change.

- Battery

The M8 is one of the best batteries on the market, according to the reviews, and it can't be worse than the Nexus. I've noticed that it does have a few quirks, and they're pretty neat - there's a low power mode that kicks in at 20% which does a good job at extended the battery, and a really mental mode I've yet to use that makes the phone essentially off, but still on, that can take 5% on for another 8 hours or something. It's pretty clever actually.

“…It can’t be worse than the Nexus”. Oh boy. So for the first 12 months the HTC managed well. Yes, it’d run out by the time I went to bed but that’s to be expected really, in all honesty. Not many phones can last a full day on their charge. But in the end the HTC ended up way worse than the Nexus ever did. The HTC was actually, for the most part, used less than the Nexus 4 – it was used during the height of my walking/train/bus commuting, which meant it was on each morning and night for 60 minutes doing playback, and the worst it ever got was 5.25pm. The HTC spent most of it’s time in my bag during my biking and it still struggled, and now it is being used to play music at work each day for a few hours the HTC is not even making it to 3pm most nights.

And that’s nothing to say about the power saving modes – there are two, and one is in use 100% of the time now, extending the battery to around 5pm most nights. Without it I might as well have brought a brick to work. The battery on the HTC was the final straw, and the end of the love affair. I just couldn’t have it die so soon each day. Time will tell if the Nexus 6P is better than that – surely, it can’t be worse than the HTC…

-Camera

Tonnes has been written about the HTC camera, which eschews larger megapixel numbers for larger sensor details, which has put a lot of people off. All I can say is that it's the first phone since the iPhone 4 that has a camera that has really impressed me, what with the cool shift focus feature, the neat (but gimmicky) 3D photo thing, and the video capture has been brilliant.

The camera on the HTC is good. It’s been my daily point-and-shoot camera since I got it, of course, and I’ve uploaded umpteen photos onto Instagram and videos of Joni into our MacBook from it. The main issue I have with it is launch time, which is just abysmal. I think it might be the phone waking the processor or something, but if I use the shortcuts it is somewhere between four to twenty seconds before it’s open, and then there’s a lag between the image showing up on the screen and the button even being able to be pressed to take the photo. Also, videos are worse, having stuttering issues and pauses in some if there’s a slight nick of something else going on in the background. All of the 3D features are now buried under a series of odd software changes to the point that I forgot I had them until a few weeks ago.

That being said, the photos are still above and beyond that of the Nexus 4 and most, if not all, look amazing. A good chunk of my Paris photos are pretty great.

A big boost is the fact that it has two rear cameras, which means that photos in the dark are very impressive, and I've yet to need the flash.

The two cameras is actually a neat little idea, and I’ll be sad to leave it behind. The night time shots are pretty great considering. We will see how the 6P measures up to this.

- Speakers and Audio

The one major thing I've found I adore is the speakers on the phone - they are on the front and are called "BoomSound", which means they are louder than my laptop speakers, which is saying something. Joni loves to snooze listening to some of my ambient white noise radio shows, and the speakers have been a gift to that. Seriously, the speakers blew me away when I first heard them.

The speakers on the HTC is the only thing that was to give me pause when considering an upgrade to a new phone. I use the speakers literally daily because of their clarity and sound quality. They are louder than my MacBook and better sounding than them too, and make listening to podcasts and music whilst doing the dishes really nice when I can quickly pop music on. Time will tell to see if the 6P can match this (reviews say that it’ll come close) but I got a Chromecast audio as one of my birthday gifts this year and it means that playing audio through out actual speakers is easier, so maybe it won’t be as much of a problem if it isn’t as good.

- The Operating System

My biggest worry heading into the HTC world was leaving the Nexus' Google supported operating system - a quick lesson: Nexus phones are updated by Google directly, every other phone is updated by Google, then the manufacturer, and then the network, which adds months to the updates. HTC have tinkered with Android to change almost everything, including the settings and the basic applications. Amazingly, the main basic apps they have changed (Phone, Messages, Gallery, Settings) have all been changed for the better, and the small things they've added are pretty neat too, like the Car Mode, or the FM Radio.

So, you might want to consider that I am going back to the Nexus line. HTC’s OS modifications are nice, but also infuriating. And the speed of updates is pretty unfortunate, with four months to wait for Android 5.0 to hit and maybe longer for 6.0 to hit. With the Nexus 6P it’ll be instantaneous, pretty much.

Anyway, I didn't use the stock launcher on the Nexus 4, and I haven't continued to do so on the One either - I use Nova Launcher, so the HTC acts exactly as the Nexus 4 did for me, which is exactly how I like it.

If you’ve read this post you’ll know how reliant I am on the Nova Launcher set up, and it’ll continue on the 6P.

- Things I Don't Like

There are a few issues I have with the phone (HTC), but they are nit-picky at best. The first is that the volume keys are far too easy to hit and change the sound setting. For the first three weeks the phone was randomly switching between loud, silent and vibrate, and there appears to be no way to stop it from doing this (even my sister's older HTC, which got the OS upgrade shortly after I bought mine, has this exact issue when before she didn't). This was solved by permanently enabling the Do Not Disturb feature, and adding in exceptions for Connie, the House, and a few family members.

This is still in use on the HTC and it annoys me no-end. I hate it. I hope the Nexus sorts this out.

Another thing I didn't know before getting the phone was that the Notification Light only has two colours, and I can't change it for different applications. Those of you who haven't had an Android phone might not know this, but Light Flow allowed me to change the colour of a wee light on the Nexus 4 depending on what my phone had received; green for Whatsapp, blue for Twitter, red for Gmail, purple for Missed Calls. I used this all the time, and it has been very hard to get used to not having that almost essential feature. I could get a version of it back by rooting the phone, but I can't be bothered doing that just yet.

I never did root the HTC, as it seemed far more trouble than it was worth. Now, heading back to the Nexus line, I’ll get this function back and I can’t wait to have. You have to enable it mind you, for some reason, but it’s going to be nice to have the notification light back. I really did miss it (and sometimes wistfully gaze into the distance, thinking of the wee green pulsing light showing me I had a WhatsApp message.

The front camera is fucking called the "selfie" camera. Almost returned it there and then. There is also this "Zoe" mode thing that I can't quite figure out, which appears to take a video and then splits each frame as a photo... for no reason. Weird, eh?

This seems to be the name for these cameras now. I have made peace with this.

The "sleep" button is all the way up at the top, like the iPhone, which is a nightmare on a phone that has a bigger screen than the entire size of the first two iPhones I owned. Luckily, there is a cool "Tap to Wake" feature on the screen that unlocks the phone, which is so obvious I have absent mindedly started doing it to Connie's iPhone. Oops.

The Nexus doesn’t have a tap-to-wake feature, as I understand it, but the wake button has been moved to the side of the phone. This is a good thing – the thing’s screen is the same size as the HTC right now. Yep, I am going full “phablet” this time round, less than 12 months after mocking a certain friend for buying the Nexus 6. He also is a recipient of the 6P upgrade, which isn’t as big, but it is still big. Massive. One feature the 6P has that I am looking forward to is the fingerprint scanner to wake and unlock. That will make for a good phone addition.

The HTC was a great phone. Probably my favourite  phone I’ve ever had, actually. It desperately needs replacing, however, and so it’s time has come. The bell has tolled. Next time I’ll hopefully be chatting about how awesome the Nux 6P is.