Name: HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition

Carrier: Sprint

Price: $230 (w/two-year contract)

The Back Story:  Exclusivity once played the biggest influence when it came to buying a smartphone. We witnessed it with the original iPhone, and notably, through one of HTC’s earliest Android offerings, the EVO 4G, which until this day is considered Sprint’s greatest sole mobile handset. But those days are gone, as every major manufacturer is now being solicited to create multi-carrier handsets. Though it seems the company's Now Network is revisiting the old business model, securing a deal with HTC to re-release its latest flagship device in conjunction with Harman Kardon, creating the HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition.

Seeing how the original One M8 is already seen as the front-runner for smartphone of the year, one has to question how else the handset can be improved. The answer lies in a new audio solution and enhanced music experience highlighted by special services not found on any other phone. So, is the One M8 Harman Kardon Edition a massive step up from its regular counterpart or the same device with minor bonuses?

DOPE

• Mobile audio at its best: The regular M8 already stands out as an elite sound handset courtesy of its pleasing BoomSound technology and amplified speakers. Though it’s amazing to see how HTC was able to up the ante this time around by optimizing its receivers with HK’s audio software. Being accustomed to the heavy and un-tuned bass levels standard on the older Beats-enabled smartphones, you can definitely notice the difference in depth here, as HK's architecture produces better clarity and fuller output.

At the core of it all is two of the company’s patented technologies: Clari-Fi and LiveStage. The former uses specific algorithms to analyze music as it’s being played to pick up notes that were lost due to audio compression, where the latter expands the soundscape for headphones so users can hear tracks as if they were being played on a live stage. The two work incredibly together to produce clear bass and complete highs and mids. We’re also huge on the phone playing uncompressed FLAC files flawlessly without losing reproduction.

• Same beautiful design, updated color: When it comes to mobile craftsmanship, HTC continues its reign as king with the One M8. Its stunning all-aluminum unibody frame and sleek curves just scream extravagance. the newly introduced gold and black shade adds flavor to its resonant presence by giving off that high-end ‘80s speaker look. In an odd way, the gold in front makes the gorgeous 5-inch, 1080p display pop more by complementing the richer colors and vibrant contrast better than the standard version. The HK imprint in the back is also a sweet touch that adds to its exclusivity status. 

.NQ Live experience: While most interface additions integrated by mobile carriers are trash, Sprint gains cool points for introducing an innovative new feature dubbed NQ Live that sits on the homescreen and overlaps Sense 6.0—serving as the default music experience on the device. We love the fact it provides instant access to Spotify. Not to mention the "ID a Song" feature pulls up results quicker than expected, naming and recognizing tracks in a matter of seconds. Users can access it by hitting the yellow tab on the top left, where it also submits music suggestions and the chance to purchase ringtones/ringbacks.

•  Great battery life: Vitality is one of biggest areas HTC improved on, as the built-in 2,600 mAh battery pushes a good 13+ hours on heavy use and close to 20 hours on standard use. Turning on the power-saving mode or utilizing Sleep Mode will certainly squeeze more juice from the cell. It's satisfying to know you’ll be able to browse the web and engage in multimedia playback without worrying about the power bar draining before mid-day.

• Extra audio perks: A third partnership was introduced with the handset, as Spotify linked up with Sprint to bless HK edition owners who sign up for a Framily plan with a six-month free trial of the service. Once the trial period is finished, subscribers can continue using it at a discounted fee of $8 a month, where as those with 6 to 10 people in their Framily receive the service for $5. And as a part of the phone packaging, HK throws in a free pair of its AE-S headphones that are individually priced at $80. Trust us when we say it's a vast improvement from the Beats in-ears bundled in previous HTC devices. 

NOPE

• Bad 4G service: Relegated to Sprint’s new Spark LTE, the handset suffers from weak data speeds to the point where we found ourselves running on the network’s 3G service in most areas in New York City. Then again, Sprint subscribers are accustomed to such slow performance by now. 

• Same unfavorable camera: As we mentioned in our previous review, the UltraPixel sensor is still plagued by a lack of optical image stabilization and low-res output. Image quality remains patchy in low-light settings and the camera struggles with mixed scenes, leading to the consistent use of UFocus.

Final Say: Simply put, the One M8 Harman Kardon Edition is the same awesome phone that was launched about a month back, only boasting the premier sonic profile of a top-tier audio brand. Owners will still receive the signature camera features, high-powered specs, and sharp motion-sensitive gestures. They just have the luxury of basking in HK’s striking soundstage as well. The only really complaint comes from Sprint’s premature Spark network, which is still in its development stages and fails to deliver high-speed results. Other than that, this version of the One M8 is easily the best one out, as well as the carrier’s top option.