HTC One (E8) Review – Polycarbonate Power

Overview

When HTC launched their flagship One (M8), I was quite disappointed with their choice to go with the 4 MP UltraPixel camera. Not long afterwards though, they released a 13 MP variant, albeit in polycarbonate. Read on to find out how this alternative stacks up to the M8, and whether it is any good.

 Pros:

  • 5 inch 1080p display is very good
  • Camera has full manual settings (e.g. shutter, WB, focus length)
  • BoomSound is fantastic as ever
  • Motion Launch is really useful

Cons:

  • Polycarbonate body feels horribly cheap
  • White colour gets ridiculously dirty
  • Battery is still unimpressive
  • Camera struggles too much for handheld night shots (underexposure and noise)
  • Stupid placement of power button

Introduction

IMG-11

In essence, the HTC One (E8) is a carbon-copy of their flagship One (M8) released a few months earlier. The only difference is that the E8 has a polycarbonate chassis instead of a metal one, and it has a 13 MP camera over the 4 MP UltraPixel module in the M8 while dropping the second camera. However it lacks an infrared (IR) blaster. Have a look at the specs.

  HTC One (E8)
Display 5”, 1080p SLCD3 display
Camera 13 MP, 1/3 inch sensor
Video Recording 1080p/FHD
Processor 2.5 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
GPU Adreno 330
RAM 2 GB
Storage 16/32 GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 2600 mAh, Extreme Power Saving mode
Other BoomSound front-facing speakers, NFC, LTE

All in all, it’s an extremely robust specs sheet, but how is it to use? Let’s find out.

Design and Build Quality

IMG-12

At first glance, the phone looks fine. It has a nice silver finish at the top and bottom BoomSound speakers and a white band running around the phone. Pick up the phone though, and the magic is lost.

IMG-6

It feels incredibly cheap and looks extremely uninspiring from the back, especially in white. While the black option looked fantastic in press releases and in-store, the white is the polar opposite. It gets dirty extremely easily and the dirt doesn’t come off easily either.

IMG-9

The phone is otherwise well built, except for the placement of the power button. While it is wide, HTC has put it at the top, in the center. This makes it really annoying to switch on, and you feel you can lose your grip on the device easily.

All in all, it has a relatively bland design, with some not-so-smart design choices.

Handling

IMG-8

The HTC One (E8) isn’t an extraordinarily large device like the Note 4 or iPhone 6 Plus, but one annoyance is that the BoomSound speakers add a lot of bezel. Nonetheless, one handed usage is definitely possible with it.

It also feels solid in the hand, even if it is plastic, though it can be a little slippery on the back.

IMG-4

Switching on the phone is easy thanks to Motion Launch which allows you to swipe up, left, right or double-tap the screen (while the screen is off, no less!) to wake up the phone, though the double tap option was really finicky. Switching off the device poses a problem, no thanks to the location of the power button and so you have to shift your grip awkwardly to do so.

Display

IMG-10

The E8 features nearly the same display we saw in the One (M8); a 5 inch, 1080p Super LCD 3 module. It has fantastic viewing angles, but lab tests show that its performance varies compared to the M8.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC One (E8) 0.2 250 1268 0.51 615 1208
LG Nexus 5 0.31 298 948 0.54 526 967
Motorola Moto G 0.35 315 906 0.57 550 967
HTC One (M8) 0.2 245 1219 0.46 577 1256
Samsung Galaxy S5 0 274 0 529
Oppo Find 7a 0.33 280 842 0.68 580 852
HTC Desire 816 0.15 164 1087 0.46 478 1032
HTC One mini 2 0.19 220 1141 0.42 501 1196
LG G3 0.14 109 763 0.72 570 789
Oppo Find 7 0.22 248 1135 0.4 448 1123
Sony Xperia Z2 0.41 488 1195
Apple iPhone 5s 0.14 163 1145 0.49 596 1219

It does lose contrast under sunlight making it a little hard to read, but you can still use it comfortably.

Sunlight Contrast

Overall, it is a high contrast and bright display that can be seen easily in sunlight. As always, HTC’s display is fantastic and we’re glad to see that.

User Interface, Apps and Audio

The One (E8) has an identical user interface as the (M8), so here’s a link to that where you can read more about HTC’s Sense 6.

IMG-1

BoomSound is also as fantastic as ever, and the problems we saw with distortion in the M8 seem to be gone.

Battery Life

As with the M8, HTC has decided to pack in a 2600 mAh battery in their E8 – which is a small capacity by today’s standards with Sony and Samsung pushing upwards of 3000 mAh since September 2013.

We then used the device in the following situations as part of our Daily Usage Test:

  • 1 hour LTE web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi YouTube video streaming (1080p)
  • 2 hour 1080p movie
  • 30 minutes light gaming (Angry Birds Rio)
  • Standby idling under Extreme Power Saving Mode

Battery Life

The E8 performed marginally better than the M8, though not by much. It had a longer screen-on time and overall power-on time by 6 minutes and 42 minutes respectively. Nothing that will win it awards, but it will last you a whole day if used conservatively.

Performance and Benchmarks

As I’ve said many times, performance benchmarks are literally just numbers and a lot of times have zero bearing on how the device will run. Still, here are the benchmarks the E8 throws out. It runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 at 2.5 GHz, with 2 GB of RAM.

AnTuTu

Surprisingly, the E8 runs far ahead of the M8 in AnTuTu scoring nearly 7000 more than the flagship, though it didn’t feel any snappier in operation.

Browsermark

Its Browsermark 2.1 performance is horrendous, though, falling far behind every other offering released this year, and this was especially curious given I found no issues browsing the web on this device.

Vellamo

In Vellamo the E8 is slightly the worse for wear than the M8, though ahead of the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2.

All in all, you’re going to be very happy with the One (E8) in terms of real world performance where I didn’t find any stuttering.

Camera Interface

The camera interface of the E8 is standard HTC fare, just like other HTC devices, though there is a change with the presence of the manual mode, which you can see in the pictures above.

Camera Performance

IMG-7

The E8 comes with a 13 MP camera with a 1/3 inch sensor, which has become quite dated now. Current crop of smartphones feature larger sensors ranging from 1/2.6 inch to 1/2.3 inches, with the Nokia Lumia 1020 far surpassing that at 1/1.5 inches back in July 2013.

Let’s have a look at the samples.

Still Image Quality (Auto):

Day Samples:

The day shots are decent, although the white balance is slightly off kilter and the images lack contrast (or blacks). It is generally underwhelming, and aside from the larger resolution which gives it slightly more fine detail, the E8 actually falls behind the M8 in terms of image quality.

Night Samples:

The night shots are horrendous when coming from Auto mode. Noise is rampant, and fine detail is non-existent. Furthermore, the camera doesn’t dare increase the exposure for fear of shake.  But if you have a surface to rest your hands on, the E8’s camera has a fantastic manual mode.

Manual vs Auto:

The E8’s manual mode allows you to change the shutter speed, white balance, ISO, add exposure compensation as well as focus manually. Here’s some samples (with their corresponding auto mode shots).

With a solid surface to put your hands on, you can get some really good images even in the night. Problem is, there are still egregious amounts of noise at night, so even with manual mode, the E8 cannot go head-to-head with other smartphones like the Sony Xperia Z3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Besides, smartphone cameras are meant to be instantaneous, and having to rely on Manual mode would be rather pointless.

Video Quality:

Disappointingly, the E8 sensor can only record 1080p video, unlike counterparts which offer 4K video capabilities.

Day (1080p):

In the day, the colours are all right although there seems to be a slight white vignetting around the edges, which we found quite annoying.

Night (1080p):

At night, the story is no better. The environment is underexposed and there is absolutely no fine detail whatsoever. Noise is also present all over the place, which makes this one of the worst smartphone video cameras I’ve seen.

Conclusion

HTC One E8
HTC One E8

In short, the E8 is a superb budget alternative to the One (M8). A full S$340 cheaper, it is also a good choice for those who want flagship performance, a large screen, but for cheaper than what similarly specced flagships retail for.

It is not without its faults though, with its curious button placement and horrible camera. It also has some really large bezels, and might be a little on the thick side for some. Otherwise, it is pretty much a fantastic buy.

The Xiaomi Mi3
The Xiaomi Mi3

However if you are content with living without LTE, the Xiaomi Mi3 is much cheaper at S$328 and it has virtually the same innards as the E8.

Ultimately though, HTC has to move quickly to sort out its camera department which seems to have no clue as to what’s considered a high level of performance. Hopefully we will see a new module feature in the One (M9) that should be launching in March 2015.

In the end, you’ll be getting a really nice package with some serious performance, and lives up to your expectations nicely.

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