Name: HTC One M8

Carrier: AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon

Price: $200 (w/two-year contract), $600 - $650 (off contract)

The Back Story:  When HTC launched its flagship mobile series last year, the device was met with universal praise from industry experts. Matter of fact, the One not only topped most smartphone lists across the world, but remained the highest-rated device in its class as well. Despite becoming the company’s best selling phone of all time, it was overlooked by the advertising power and mass appeal of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Carrying all glorified momentum into the New Year, the Taiwanese firm is determined to take the Android throne by upping the ante with its successor: the HTC One M8.

Highlighted by a new dual-camera system, stronger specs, and trademark all-aluminum design, the next-gen One certainly boasts a heavyweight resume. But as the Galaxy S5 preps for launch in the next few weeks, everyone is curious to know where HTC’s alternative stacks up against Sammy’s next big thing. Answer: Extremely high!

DOPE

• Duo Camera and editing suite: Arguably the phone’s biggest selling point is its Duo Camera system, which is engineered to determine depth-of-field info, while bringing 3D and bokeh effects into the mix to snap stereoscopic photos. However, it’s through HTC’s editing software where the technology takes off. The UFocus feature lets users change the focus of an image to the background or foreground and blurring out either or depending on preference. Some of the other modes should bring flair to images including the 3D Dimension Plus and filter-heavy Foreground options. As great as the additions are, the irony to the One M8 is its front-facing 5MP sensor is the better shooter—capturing light from the darkest settings and offering wider angles to produce the best selfies of any mobile out.

• Sense 6 aka "Sixth Sense": Our favorite Android skin receives a noteworthy facelift in terms of function and presentation. For starters, BlinkFeed is no longer designated to the home button and now allows readers to create custom topics and search for content. HTC has opened the platform to developers via SDK, allowing owners to get notifications on the universal news feed from third-party apps like Foursquare and FitBit. But the sweetest part about Sense 6 is how HTC plans on distributing its latest round of apps and features, making them available for download through Google Play rather than anticipating the next Android software update.

• Powerful design and performance: Keeping intact the One’s striking aluminum construction, HTC continues to showoff its mobile design pedigree—mating an all-metal chassis with curved sides and a gorgeous gunmetal finish. The inclusion of a 5-inch, 1080p display extends the One M8’s body frame, but establishes comfort in terms of grip and viewability. And like its predecessor, the One M8 performs just as well as it looks. Being the first smartphone to sport Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 801 chip, the handset crushes benchmarks and delivers instant execution from all ends. Multimedia (games, movies, etc.), UI navigation, and web browsing runs smooth. Speaking of media, the manufacturer finally caved in and welcomed the one component Samsung fanboys have forever thrown in the faces of HTC users: an microSD card slot. And yes, it takes 128GB cards.

• Motion-sensitive experience: Rather than incorporate a fingerprint scanner or air movement commands, HTC emphasized on developing more convenient ways to interact with the handset. The Motion Launch feature awakens the phone after a quick double tap on the screen and new swipe gestures let you bypass the lock screen and access specific areas. Swiping up sends you to the home screen, left launches a widget panel, right brings ups BlinkFeed, and down activates voice dialing. The gestures are both surprisingly effective and responsive for the most part. Not to mention the One M8’s sensors are set to work in unison with the new FitBit app and other upcoming motion-centric programs.

• Dope collection of accessories: Leading the pack is the eye-catching Dot View case, which presents notifications, time, and weather in pixelated form. A handful of premier casemakers have also released a notable lineup of safeguards like IncipioOtterbox, and Speck. Outside of protectors, HTC introduces two other unique accessories, one being the Fetch locator to track down the device’s whereabouts within a 15-meter radius and the other a mini-remote dubbed the Mini+ to perform several actions like snap photos and take calls while simultaneously using the device.

• Availability, pricing, and special versions: HTC got the jump on the competition by releasing the One M8  immediately after its announcement. The device is already on sale at AT&T, T-Sprint, and Verizon for the cool price of two Benjamins (two-year contract) with a full global rollout of over 100 different countries and 200 carriers to follow in the next two weeks. And on top of the company striking a deal with Best Buy to carry an Amber Gold version exclusively, HTC revealed Developer ($650) and Google Play Edition ($700) variants.

 

NOPE

• UltraPixel camera still disappoints: Despite bearing a wide feature set and dynamic interface, HTC’s 4MP camera still fails to produce high-quality shots. The sensor struggles with lighting conditions and produces soft images, where as its lack of optical image stabilization results in shaky video footage. That’s strike two already.

• Cool features unavailable at launch: Some of the phone’s more promising features such as the advanced battery saver, Fitbit BlinkFeed integration, and the Copy/Paste function for the camera app won’t be available till later on. The wait won't be long.

Final Say: The HTC One M8 is a certified stunner that takes every celebrated facet of its predecessor and improves it. Sense 6 drives the entire machine, solidifying its value as the top UI advertised on any Android device thanks to its colorful appearance and massive list of features. Hardware proves to be on-point as well with the 5-inch Super LCD3 panel generating beautifully vibrant visuals and Qualcomm’s CPU pushing absurd benchmarks. While the Duo Camera is a solid attempt at enhancing HTC’s shooter, the company’s UltraPixel technology still hinders the mobile photography experience. Aside from that all other complaints are ridiculously trivial. With that said, the One M8 might be the most exciting Android phone to blow your upgrade on since, well, the last One.