HTC launches One M8, brings the fight to Samsung for high-end Android smartphones

Samsung's Galaxy series has crushed HTC in the high-end Android market, but the M8 features a full-aluminium body that outclasses the S5's plastic

Taiwanese manufacturer HTC has launched a new flagship handset, the Android-based HTC One (M8), that the company is hoping will revive its fortunes in the competitive high-end of the smartphone market.

The M8 is the successor to the HTC One, a stunningly designed handset launched last year with the highest-resolution display yet seen on a smartphone. It was garlanded with design awards, and its front-facing speakers and striking interface were praised widely.

And although the HTC One sold in substantial enough numbers that alongside the smaller and larger versions (the imaginatively named HTC One Mini and HTC One Max) to become the company's biggest selling phone range it was still leagues behind the sales generated by Samsung's Galaxy series.

HTC puts its financial quandary down to an intense focus on the high-end smartphone and not enough on the money-making mid-tier range and has since moved to address these weaknesses with the announcement last month of a more affordable model, the plastic-cased Desire 816.

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The M8 has a dot matrix case that can be interacted with using swipes and taps just like a touch screen.

The new HTC One (M8) however, is aiming to strengthen HTC's position right at the top of the market. It builds on the design chops of last year's model - still on the market and rebranded as the HTC One (M7) - but opts for a slicker, classier finish while adding a smattering of new features.

HTC's controversial camera sensor is back (opting for fewer but bigger pixels), now augmented by an extra lens that lets users take photographs and then change the focus afterwards. The sensor is still 4-megapixels but has been tweaked to perform better in brightly lit scenes. The HTC One's camera was already excellent in low light environments (something that defeats many smartphone snappers) so this should really let the handset compete with Apple and Sony's lenses.

BlinkFeed, the HTC interface for digital snacking on social networking and news, makes a return with a more elegant ribbon design. Although it's configurable to suit the individuals' tastes and interests and is sometimes used as an example of how HTC likes to do things differently, it won't find favour with every user, with most of us more accustomed to accessing different streams of info from different apps.

The phone also has gesture-controlled effects so if you raise the phone to your ear when it’s ringing it answers automatically, for instance. As with BlinkFeed, this could be useful - or you may turn it off pretty smartish.

So how does it compare to the other flagship smartphones that have been recently revealed? The real competition comes from the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One (M8) certainly has the edge in terms of premium feel, while the 4-megapixel camera also gives Samsung's 16MP sensor a run for its pixels.

But Samsung has some headline extras (including a fingerprint sensor which can be used with PayPal and a water-resistant case) that HTC can't match. The S5 also offers compatibility with Samsung's growing range of accessories including its new smart watch, the Gear 2. Sony's Xperia Z2 has a more powerful camera (20.7MP) and is also waterproof. All three have bright, pin-sharp screens of around five inches.

In the coming days I'll be reviewing the phone in depth for the features that really matter such as battery life, which the company says it's improved so much it should last well into a second day.

HTC has performed one more trick, an Apple-like strategem of releasing the phone quickly after the announcement in order to capitalize on the buzz. In fact, this is faster than even Apple manages: the HTC One (M8) is on sale this afternoon.

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