HTC One E8 review

The HTC One E8 is the plastic-bodied cousin of the M8; a stripped down version of the flagship device that has proven popular with both customers and critics alike. It's designed to be a cheaper handset than the M8, available online for around £330.

However, the E8 isn't as widely available. Currently limited to parts of Asia and with rumours of it making its way to the Sprint network in the US in the near future, it's not quite so easy to obtain in the UK unless you buy it outright.

We've been living with the HTC One E8 for the last month to see whether the move into a more affordable package delivers the same experience as the M8, or if this plastic-fantastic model is instead more cheap than cheerful.

Dialled-down design

We often start reviews talking about a product's design, which in the case of the HTC One E8 feels like one of the most important areas. Certainly, the metal-bodied HTC One M8 is one of the best designed smartphones on the market, whereas the plastic E8 dials things down.

Holding both devices, it's surprising how much of a difference the move to plastic makes. There's a luscious premium feel to the M8 which simply isn't there with the E8. If you have never handled the M8 then you won't know, but if you think you'll be getting the same thing for less money in the E8, then you'll need to think again.

The E8 misses that cool (in terms of temperature and aesthetics) feel in the palm of your hand. The sculpting is less refined too. There's one slight advantage though: the M8 can be a little slippery when you have dry hands, which the tactile finish of the plastic E8 avoids. For some, the E8 will be more secure in the hand, but that grippy finish isn't without issue. 

Having used the E8 for about a month we've started to notice that there's some wear on the corners, with that matte finish beginning to rub away from the polycarbonate body. How this will appear after a year of ownership, we can't imagine.

From the front there's little discernable difference between the two phones, as they are near identical, with the same layout of BoomSound speakers flanking the 5-inch display. But from the sides and back, it's a very different device. 

The E8 maintains sealed design and sticks to the use of pin-accessed trays for the microSD and SIM trays, but around the back there's a change in the camera arrangement (the second lens of the M8 is swapped out for a single LED flash and the great dual-tone flash of the M8 isn't there), while on the top the lack of IR blaster means a move to a central button.

The HTC One E8 measures approximately 146.4 x 70.8 x 9.9mm and weighs 145g, making it a touch fatter, but lighter, than its M8 cousin.

Hardware and performance

The hardware story is a familiar one: the HTC One E8 has a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset and 2GB of RAM. There's 16GB of internal storage (of which just over 11GB is available), plus a microSD card slot to expand storage by up to 128GB.

In other words, the core innards of the E8 is identical to the M8 and, in that regard, the performance is identical. The same software experience in Android 4.4 KitKat and HTC's own Sense 6.0 also offers very much the same experience.

In day-to-day use, the fast user experience of the M8 is repeated in the E8. It delivers Android and Sense faster than the slightly downgraded HTC One mini 2, so if performance and price are important, then the E8 might be just the ticket, because it's in the performance that the E8 shines.

The display also delivers the rich visuals in the same striking manner as the M8. It has a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution screen measuring 5-inches on the diagonal, giving you plenty of space to play on the 441ppi touch panel.

Side by side with our M8 in the office the screen output looks almost identical. The M8 appears marginally brighter with a touch more contrast (not visible in the photo above because of reflections). The polarising layer in the LCD panel is different, meaning the E8 is the better choice for those using polarised sunglasses (unless the M8 panel has changed since we got our device) because the M8 will black-out at some angles when viewed with polarised glasses.

There's practically nothing to call in terms of the hardware and performance, making the E8 a top device. Even the BoomSound speakers deliver the audio richness you'd expect, so there's no compromise in this department in taking the cheaper device.

Minor software omissions

We won't dwell too long on software, because in many regards it's identical to the M8. You can find lots on information in both our HTC One M8 review and our detailed HTC Sense 6 review for the nitty-gritty on what it offers.

READ: HTC Sense 6 review

The software changes only come about where forced by hardware differences. The hardware changes include the cameras on the back as well as the omission of the IR blaster on the top, so there's no remote control function and no associated TV app.

Aside from that, the HTC One E8 launches with Android 4.4 KitKat and Sense 6.0. The latter Android re-skin is one of the most refined we've seen and we like its mature approach. HTC has been removing the clutter from Sense over the past few iterations, so you'll find that Sense 6 covers most bases without too much duplication, or adding features you might not want.

There's the great BlinkFeed news and social feeds aggregator, as well galleries that will give you neat highlight videos from your photo collections. There's also nicely linked-up contacts and media players that offer Gracenote detailing and the option to stream from network sources.

The best point, however, is that Sense 6.0 is fast to navigate. There's no sign of lag and little gets in the way of what you're trying to do. There's always space for refinement, however, and you can find all those details in our Sense 6 review.

Cameras: All the more conventional

The switch in cameras is one of the biggest changes on the E8 over the M8. Whereas the M8 looked to differentiate itself from the pack with the Duo Camera and UltraPixel sensor, along with claims of better low-light performance and enhanced effects, the E8 goes altogether more conventional.

The move to a higher-resolution 13-megapixel sensor in E8 may be welcomed by some as it sounds more competitive to its rivals on the spec sheet. But it means that the One E8 loses those Duo Camera effects - there's no Ufocus pseudo shallow-depth-of-field function, for example, or the other depth-based effects.

Instead you now have greater options for zooming and cropping, without such a drastic loss in quality, in theory. We say in theory because the 13-megapixel camera on the E8 isn't the best performer around. Many of our test shots appear to have a slightly pinkish tinge to them and it struggled in bright conditions by underexposing and lacking contrast.

It's not all bad however. Take it out of those bright conditions and it copes much better, although in low light, there's a fair amount of image noise. The HDR (high dynamic range) mode can rescue things a little, but it looks slightly artificial, and restoring a little contrast after shooting improves the images overall.

The front-facing camera offers 5-megapixels of resolution and provides a countdown feature so you have a chance to compose yourself for selfies. It gives pretty good results and remains one of the better options out there for selfie fans.

The HTC One E8 camera app is among its strongest points, carrying over the solid aspects of the Sense UI camera. The interface is clear, fast to focus, and makes shooting easy - there are even full manual controls if you want them too, although some options need to be dug out of the menus. HDR is buried a bit deep, although you can create another "camera" shortcut icon to give you faster access if you want to.

Overall, the shift to a different sensor in the E8 isn't the magic bullet that some might have predicted. The software experience is good, as is the highlight video and Zoe capture options, but we didn't find this camera as exciting, or the results as compelling, as that of the LG G3, for example. 

READ: LG G3 review

When it comes to video capture, one of the flagship device's omissions - when compared to the LG G3, Xperia Z2 or SGS5 - is the lack of ultra high definition 4K video capture. That isn't possible on the M8 because there's a lack of megapixels on the sensor, and while the E8 has enough pixels available there's no support for 4K capture either. However, the Full HD capture is decent, especially with the 60 frames per second option.

Calling and battery life

We had no problems making or receiving calls on the E8. The BoomSound speakers add depth to calls, so they sound nice and rich and there's plenty of volume too. 

One of the already impressive things about the flagship M8 is its battery life. The E8 adopts the same capacity battery (2600mAh) that, while it may sound limited in capacity compared to some rivals, provides ample use per charge. In data-intensive use, we've found the E8 to make it through a busy day. However, you can't access the battery to change it, as the rear panel isn't removable.

Verdict

There are a number of areas where the HTC One E8 fails to live up to the M8 experience. But given the reduced price that is to be expected, so it's difficult to see the E8 as doing anything but delivering on its aims.

The speed, power and software experience is, with only a few minor exceptions, the same as the already excellent M8. In short that makes the E8 a compelling option if you're looking for a powerful and affordable Android handset.

But the M8 this isn't, and the plastic design does make a difference. In the world of smartphones that design difference might be diminished by using a cover, but for those who don't, what the E8 lacks is that premium feel you get every time you touch your phone. The E8 might leave you wanting more: indeed it might leave you wanting the M8 instead.



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