The Verge on the new HTC One (M8): "HTC Improved Everything But The Image Quality"

I don't know about your Twitter timeline - if you have one - but mine is filled with news, the first hands-ons, reviews and some pretty strong opinions about the next HTC One (M8). I wasn't present at the announcement in London, so I can't share anything like a first impression - let alone first shots.

But it's pretty big news in the mobile space and I kind of admire HTC for getting so much attention in an Android world that is dominated by Samsung, Sony, LG, Huawei, Motorola, etc. The first HTC One has been a very impressive device and even the best selling according to HTC's CEO Peter Chou, and it has won quite a few prestigious awards. But still: you hardly ever see it - I know only two persons who own one in fact.

So although as a smartphone it has a fantastic reputation, it didn't seem to have sold as well - not as well as other brands, like Samsung, at least. That makes the once quite successful company a bit like the "underdog that has to fight back" - and we all know which company that reminds me of.

HTC One sample shot The Verge

Now for the PureViewClub I'm really looking forward to test the camera(s) of the HTC One (M8) myself, but judging from what TheVerge published today, I don't need to hold my breath in hope of spectacular results I'm afraid. In an otherwise  raving review David Pierce writes about the camera as well, and it's no good news so far. I'll quote that part from his review in full:

"The One really only has one major flaw left, and it’s a big one: its camera is still pretty bad. It’s the same UltraPixel camera HTC debuted last year, which trades resolution for pixel size so as to collect more light at a time. The idea is certainly sound, but the execution was wrong then and it’s wrong now. And the changes it did make are either niche features or interface changes attempting to disguise the device’s basic shortcomings.

There’s a new simple icon-based settings menu that lets you switch between Selfie mode, Camera mode, and HTC’s cool-but-pointless Zoe mode, which makes a sort of hacky animated GIF out of your photos. Manual settings like white balance and ISO are only one tap away, and there are filters and effects galore; there’s even a surprisingly powerful image editor, which let me either fix photos or do truly terrifying things to my own face.

Most of its camera features are gimmicks, but the coolest one, the one we’re sure to see in a commercial before long, is UFocus. It uses the second lens on the back of the new One as a depth sensor, recording data alongside the image you shoot. Put together, they let you refocus your photos after you shoot them, Lytro-style, and even play with a slight 3D perspective shift. The effect isn’t perfect and requires some real staging, but it’s endlessly fun to refocus a shot in the gallery app.

I love the One’s camera interface, I love what it lets me do with my photos. I just don’t like most of the photos I take. The UltraPixel sensor sees remarkably well in the dark, able to capture a usable picture in virtually any situation, but my praise for the One’s pictures rarely goes beyond "usable" in any situation. Photos are mushy and soft, as if nothing’s ever quite in focus.

Even the 5-megapixel front-facing camera, the ultimate selfie machine, is better in a lot of situations. And it has higher resolution than the rear camera, which makes no sense to me. The new One does do far better than last year’s camera, which took almost hilariously bad photos in spots — color depth is particularly improved — but this is not a good camera."

HTC One sample shot 2 The Verge

Well, that's a bit disappointing, but not really surprising after having seen what the "Ultrapixel" technology has proven to be able to do the first time (see my comparison here and on Flickr). What is surprising is to read that HTC only added a second camera to get the "Refocus" aspect in the hardware, not the software like Nokia did.

I get the impression it's about as effective as on the Samsung Galaxy S5, giving you two different points to focus (front and background), but what's the point of adding an extra camera for that? In my humble opinion, that's just expensive hardware going to waste.

Being able to change foreground and background is fun, sure - but it's a gimmick, not more. And Nokia Refocus even gives me 5 points to focus - not just two like Samsung and now HTC (check  this post if you haven't seen my best Refocus shot with the colorful pegs).

You can have a look at the shots The Verge got from the HTC One (M8) in the Gallery they published today, but unfortunately you can't see the full resolution result. I borrowed the two shots you've seen in this post (crops from screenshots I made on my PC).

Mind you: I do realize there is more, much more to a smartphone than "just the camera". But this site is about smartphone camera technology. HTC has made quite a fuzz about the UltraPixel technology in the past and has been quite disappointing. Now someone concluding that HTC has improved everything in the phone but the image quality is even more of a letdown - especially after HTC adding an extra lens...

But that's just my two cents for the moment, based on someone else's opinion. So I'm still looking forward to test the HTC One (M8) myself - and do some serious "pixel peeping" - but my expectations aren't driving me crazy after this review at The Verge.

Update: you'll find the fist shots Engadget got from the HTC One M8 in a dedicated set on Flickr, but you can't seem to download the originals. PS: You can in fact download the originals, I just wasn't used to the new Flickr I now know. Sigh.

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