Wondering why there's no HTC One M9 Mini? One may turn up one day, but until then the HTC One M8s is here to give us 90% of what that phone would provide, apart from being significantly smaller than the top dog.
The HTC M8s nicks the shell off last year's best HTC phone, the One M8, which means it looks and feels top-end while costing a good £150 less than the most expensive mobiles. Sounds like a good deal, doesn't it?
At about £340/$550/$720 SIM-free or free on a contract of £20-30 a month, the HTC One M8s will be a sound buy for many. Just make sure you know what you're getting.
With hardware eerily similar to the £125 Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, this is very much a mid-range phone selling at an upper mid-range price. It's in no sense an 'upgrade' to the HTC One M8 - camera performance isn't hot and insufficient taming of the Snapdragon 615 processor leads to woeful battery life.
There are problems that need fixing here.
We get to start with a highlight. The HTC One M8s has a lovely design, one good enough to pass off as a £500-plus phone among your less tech-savvy friends.
At first, second and third glance, it seems to use exactly the same shell as last year's HTC One M8. However, the HTC One M8s is a shade thicker, 0.2mm to be exact, than the M8, at 9.6mm. You'd struggle to notice this, even with one in each hand, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rear shell component is the same. After all, it'd cut down on tooling costs.
There's no drop in the quality of materials, either. The One M8s has a bruised aluminium rear and its smooth curvature is a treat for the hand, helping you forget this is actually a fair bit chunkier and heavier than most manufacturers' high-end phones. It feels just as good as the HTC One M9.
The phone comes in silver, grey and gold, predictably mimicking the colour styles of the One M8. We're testing out the grey version, and it's both serious-looking and seriously good-looking.
Considering that people have paid the same amount for some watered-down 'mini' version of phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini, you can't help but be a little impressed.
For ports, sockets and buttons, the HTC One M8s shadows, you guessed it, the One M8. And it's here we find one of the few niggles with the phone's design.
This isn't a giant phone, but it is a large one, and we're a little disappointed to see that the power button still lives at the top rather than the side. The result is that at times you may have to wiggle the HTC One M8s down your palm to reach the button and bring it out of sleep.
HTC fires back with a partial save, as you can turn the phone on with a double tap if you switch on gestures. But there's no ergonomic replacement for a power button that fits under your thumb: it just feels like home, simple as. Given HTC has included a side button on the One M9, there's surely no clearer sign that the One M8s recycles some leftover One M8 bits.
The phone uses two pop-out trays, one on each side of its body. The left holds the nano SIM, the right the microSD card. You get 16GB or 32GB storage, although most retailers seem to be stocking the 16GB version only.
We're skirting around the main event, though, the BoomSound speakers. As its adventures into odd camera tech have largely failed, top HTC phones tend to get props for two main reasons: build and sound quality.
While the HTC One M8s hasn't been fitted with the new Dolby sound mode of the M9, it does have those famous well-above-average front speakers. As good as they've ever been, they sound much richer and fuller than 95% of the competition.
I got to pit the One M8s against Sony's Xperia Z3+, and it makes Sony's speakers sound terribly thin and harsh, especially at top volume. The HTC One M8s' speakers are simply far beefier-sounding.
One of the few phones to compete comes from a surprising place, with the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 5.5-inch. It's louder and offers comparable sound quality, although it 'pushes' its drivers and sounds less composed at top volume.
The HTC One M8s' screen is less remarkable at this point. It has a 5-inch 1080p LCD display with a Gorilla Glass top coating. Over the last 18 months we've seen the entry level for 1080p screen phones come right down, close to £100 in some cases. It's no guarantee of greatness.
The HTC One M8s has a decent screen, but it's a couple of leagues below what you get in a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S6. While you can get the QHD resolution LG G3 at a similar price, resolution is actually the least notable of the screen's, admittedly minor, issues.
What struck me when I first looked at the HTC One M8s was that, like an increasing number of phones, its colours are somewhat over-saturated. Next to the Google Nexus 6 it appears positively restrained, but the over-saturation is there. This is fine. Just as people like a bit of extra bass in their headphones, most like extra colour in their phone screens.
However, the skew of the HTC One M8s isn't perfectly managed. As well as having a slightly cool colour temperature, green tones are emphasised more than other colours. And turbo-charged greens end up looking pretty sickly.
Let's be clear: we're not talking about a green cast to the screen, but how intense green tones appear. It leads to a tone that, while nice, isn't as satisfying as the best phones around.
It's like HTC has tried to achieve the same results as Samsung's OLED screens and Sony's Triluminos technology (surprisingly, it's not just marketing waffle) with a more conventional LCD screen. And it hasn't quite pulled it off.
There are no controls in the Settings menu to tweak the saturation or colour tone either, which is a shame.
Other aspects of image quality are good, though. Black levels stay decent for an LCD even when the brightness is cranked, better than the Sony Xperia Z3+, and with 441ppi sharpness, is just about perfect.
Get right up close and you can see a bit of granularity compared with 5.x-inch QHD phones like the Galaxy S6, but there's not a great deal in it.
There's still some work to do on the reflectivity of the screen itself. Turn the display off entirely and there's a slight greyness that comes into play when you try to use the HTC M8s in daylight. Outdoors visibility is respectable thanks to the bright display backlight, but could, and perhaps should, be better.
This is not meant to be a demo of the latest and greatest HTC has to offer, mind. The HTC One M8s uses an SLCD2 panel where SLCD3s are available, and it uses Gorilla Glass 2 when version four is doing the rounds. Both of these are more dated than what's found in the One M8.
Viewing angles are very solid, though. The HTC One M8s fits into a category of 'fine for the money, but not standard-setting'.
So far, the HTC One M8s seems an awful lot like the HTC One M8, and it has most of its extra features too. You get 4G, Wi-Fi right up to the ac standard, and Bluetooth 4.0 with support for the aptX Bluetooth audio codec. This is particularly important if you have a nice set of wireless headphones.
NFC is here too, something that will become more important over the next 12 months as Android Pay has a crack at taking over the high-street. While you're just as likely to have used it for pairing Bluetooth accessories, NFC can also be used for wireless payments.
The HTC One M8s doesn't have everything, and actually lacks a feature we assumed it would have. See the black bar on the top edge of the phone? One of the neat (deliberate) side-effects of this design in the HTC One M8 is that it hides the IR blaster. Here we get the black top bit, but no IR blaster.
IR transmitters can be used to mimic the signals of the remotes for your TV, Blu-ray player, and more. It's not an expected feature at any price, and about 70% of people I know who own an IR phone don't even know about it, but it's still kinda neat to have.
Interface and performance
The HTC One M8s runs Android Lollipop 5.0.2 at the time of writing, with HTC Sense 6.0 on top. That's almost the newest version of Android, teamed with the one-generation-behind edition of HTC's custom interface. It's reportedly going to get the upgrade to Sense 7 in August.
Before we look at what's missing, let's take a quick look at what Sense is actually like.
The HTC One M8's UI has a distinct style, one that is a little at odds with the style of Android, and starting to age. Its homescreens look good, being the same blank canvas you get with default Android.
However, the apps menu is rather different. Not only does it scroll vertically rather than horizontally, fracturing these two parts of the interface where vanilla Lollipop brings them together as much as it can, it's background-free and lumbered with more interface buttons than most other UIs. It's starting to look a bit stiff and in need of a visual refresh.
Compare how much Samsung TouchWiz has changed in the last few years with the minimal aesthetic changes Sense has made in the same time, and it's no surprise.
The HTC One M8s' BlinkFeed is as good as ever, though. This slick, full-page news feed widget isn't to everyone's tastes, but when customised with the info you want to see, whether it's the latest news from your favourite tech sites (including TechRadar, of course) or updates on subjects like sports, movies and fashion, it's a neat way to get an idle digital fix.
BlinkFeed is dead easy to disable if you don't like it, and simple to make your default homescreen if you flat-out love what it does.
BlinkFeed and the apps menu round off the most notable changes Sense makes to Android. There are a few bonus gestures, but we've already mentioned the most important one: being able to take the HTC One M8s out of standby with a double-tap of the homescreen.
Is it a light-touch UI? Not by today's standards, but it does remain a good one judging by the HTC One M8s' general performance. We've experienced very little lag and no obvious increase in load times compared with the high-end norm.
When flicking around and browsing the web, there's not much to separate the HTC One M8s from the One M8 or One M9. You might think, 'Surely that's obvious? This is still a fairly expensive phone.'
However, while the phone's name suggests it lies somewhere between the One M8 and One M9, it doesn't in terms of power. The HTC One M8s has a Snapdragon 615 processor, which is a mid-range chipset. It has more in common with the Snapdragon 415 of the entry-level Moto E than the Snapdragon 810/801 of the One M9 and M8.
Where those higher-end chipsets use a combination of Cortex-A57 performance and Cortex-A53 low-power cores, this one only has the lesser Cortex-A53 kind. Its Adreno 405 GPU is also modest in comparison.
But does it matter? Not really. It has enough power to make the phone run well, and to run top-end Android games at 1080p. Though give the Snapdragon 615 a QHD phone and a 3D game that actually renders at QHD resolution, and the results might not be so pretty. It scores 2455 in Geekbench 3, where the One M8 scores around 2700, although the difference in power is greater than this may suggest.
The HTC One M8s has what sounds like a pretty good battery. It offers capacity of 2840mAh, which is strong for a 5-inch 1080p phone. That's significantly greater than the capacity of the Samsung Galaxy S6, which uses a 2550mA battery despite having a QHD 5.1-inch screen.
It's a little baffling, then, that the HTC One M8s's stamina is poor. Over the period of a week it never got through a full day without needing a top-up, tending to circle the drain by mid-late-evening.
At first it seemed like the latest update hadn't been installed or that there was some errant app gobbling up the juice like a toddler raiding the Capri Sun cupboard. But all seemed to be above board.
The HTC One M8s also performed very poorly in TechRadar's standard video test. It lost 30% playing a 90-minute 720p MP4 video, where you'd hope the loss would be somewhere in the teens.
So why is the HTC One M8s's stamina so, well, rubbish? There are a few explanations. First, it gets warm quite easily, and tends to stay warm even if you're not doing anything particularly taxing. Not once did a message pop up about overheating, and not once did it feel like the phone was overheating. It just wasn't cool when it probably should have been.
This suggests that HTC hasn't incorporated the Snapdragon 615 very well. It's a chipset known to have some issues with heat and efficiency, which may come as a surprise when it seems like an upscaled version of the generally very solid Snapdragon 410/415. Maybe the One M8s only runs well because the CPU goes at near full-pelt at the drop of a hat.
We're not engineers; we're extrapolating. But an explanation like that does make sense.
There are some other possible contributing factors too. It has an SLCD2 screen, relatively dated in tech terms. Is this less efficient? It certainly could be. Even the original HTC One used SLCD3.
HTC should be able to improve performance significantly with a software update, as the HTC One M8s drains far quicker than expected when the screen is off. I tried using the Battery Saver mode, but this didn't seem to fix the problem. Instead it limits CPU speed, display intensity, vibration feedback and mobile internet when the screen is off.
There's also an extreme power saver mode, which actually changes the UI, but only gives you access to basic phone features.
The HTC One M8s has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera. A couple of years ago this sort of spec would have been reserved for seriously high-end phones. These days you find it in fairly affordable mobiles, like the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL.
It seems like the One M8s uses the same Sony front and rear sensors as most of these more affordable 13-megapixel phones. And, well, they're fine. Not amazing, not terrible. Just fine.
The HTC One M8s suffers slightly less from exposure problems than the HTC One M9, but it has its own share of photographic issues. Hold your breath.
First, zoomed-in, fairly well-lit photos can look a little noisy. It's not the same sort of grainy noise you see in low-light phone photos, but a certain scrappiness that's down to the processing style. As a result, fine detail can look stressed, which is a shame when the fairly respectable detail level of a 13-megapixel sensor should make cropping into photos possible.
It also struggles with getting the exposure right and maintaining an impression of good dynamic range when dealing with difficult lighting. People often think phones only struggle with low-light situations, but give them a brightly-lit cloudy sky and they'll have serious issues.
The HTC One M8s doesn't seem to offer any post-shoot 'behind the scenes' dynamic range enhancement in the standard shooting mode, and using the HDR mode often results in large parts of the image looking milky and low in contrast. HDR shots also tend to look quite soft.
We're clearly not dealing with the best camera lens here either. While HDR softness is as much down to software as hardware, the edge of the frame in photos generally loses definition, and there's notable purple fringing around high-light-contrast objects throughout the frame.
The HTC One M8s responds to middling light levels by jacking-up colour saturation to ensure its images still look punchy. But it's very poor at compensating for genuinely bad light levels. Where Sony's Low Light mode boosts exposure so you can make out objects clearly even in near-dark settings, here dark photos stay dark. It has a dedicated Night mode, but it doesn't seem to help too much.
Even when the shutter slows down to 1/9 of a second in dark scenes, the HTC One M8s' camera brain just doesn't make use of whatever detail the sensor does manage to make out.
The HTC One M8s can take some smashing photos, especially if you use the full width of the sensor while avoiding digital zoom or cropping.
However, it comes across as a camera that has none of the smarts we see in top cameras like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4. We're not talking about the whizz-bang gadgets either, just the basics of their processing, exposure metering and dynamic range management.
Honestly, after the so-so HTC One M9 camera it's no big surprise.
It's not 'just' a camera, though. It also has the secondary depth sensor HTC used in the One M8, then discarded in the One M9. This uses parallax to tell the difference between close objects and far-away ones, letting you blur and apply effects to in-focus or out-of-focus areas of the image. It's a cool idea, but in practice doesn't work 60% of the time.
That's probably why this effect has fallen out of favour with this year's flagships. It's fun to play around with, but when you realise how patchy it is, you'll likely stop using it.
Zoe mode feels behind the times too. It lets you join stills and video clips to make a little digital montage, but compared with a Vine video, it often feels like watching a slide show of someone's boring holiday photos. Yawn.
At this point the camera app could do with a spruce-up. It has the same software seen in the HTC One M8, and while it has a cool, distinctive style, it doesn't put the bits you need for day-to-day use right at your fingertips.
Turning HDR on and off needs three taps and the app doesn't make great use of space. It has a standard/duo camera switch at the side of the screen, but lacks a HDR toggle and front/back camera button. One good thing is that it gives you decent manual control, with easy settings for ISO, exposure and white balance. Manual focusing is missing.
Moving around to the front, the HTC One M8s has a 5-megapixel selfie camera. And like other HTC phones, it has a mode that smoothes-out your crinkly bits.
Unfortunately it suffers from the same kinda nasty-looking processing as the rear camera. It doesn't seem to know what to do with beard hair, for one. While it's pretty good at exposing so the face in shot is clear, the results aren't much better than some 2-megapixel selfie cameras.
The HTC One M8s earns massive media points for its BoomSound speakers. I talked about these front-facing stereo speakers at the start of this review, but they're much fuller than the majority of phone speakers. They're great.
Having a microSD slot is important too. With 128GB microSD cards available for under £60 and 64GB ones well under £20, you can get a huge media library on your phone for very little cash.
It also has its own music player, and one that comes as part of the Google apps suite. This is welcome, as Google cares far more about getting you to sign up to its music services and download music from Google Play than letting you listen to locally-stored music. Fair enough, it's what a lot of people do these days, but it's not for everyone.
If you want to ruin the sound of a good pair of headphones, the HTC One M8s offers a BoomSound EQ mode. What this does is ramp up the bass and treble output, as well as add a bit of studio compression. That is what it sounds like, anyway. It's good for the speakers, not so good for headphones.
It's a bit like a Beats sound mode, but adds too much bass to balanced headphones and can make the sound a bit harsh.
What's missing is a custom video player app that'll handle all of your downloaded video files. So if you want a portable video player phone you'll need to head to Google Play.
The HTC One M8s' hardware makes for a pretty decent little video buddy, though. The screen, while not gigantic, is large enough to watch TV episodes, or even a movie, on.
A year after its release, the LG G3 is still available, but now at a bargain price. We're talking £100 less than the HTC One M8s. For that saving, you get a better screen and a much more powerful processor, plus better battery life. However, the HTC feels nicer and has better speakers.
The 1080p, larger brother of the Galaxy A5, the Galaxy A7 is a mid-range phone with a lot of the same grade specs as the HTC One M8s. Unlike previous mid-range phones, it doesn't feel cheap. While the back is plastic, the sides are metal and it has a unibody design. As nice as the One M8s? No, but it does cost about £80 less, and has a larger Super AMOLED screen.
Willing to give up the big-brand name? The Honor 6 has just about everything the One M8s has, plus a significantly more powerful (if less up-to-date) CPU for £140 less. Its battery life is much, much better too. Not everyone will get on with its oddball EmotionUI software, however, and it has a less impressive design that feels like a rip-off of some other well-known phones. Good price, mind.
Samsung didn't revive the Galaxy S5 in the same way HTC has with the HTC One M8 and M8s, but it's available for roughly the same price as the HTC One M8s. The HTC sounds a lot better and feels better, but otherwise the Samsung Galaxy S5 is quite a bit stronger. It has a nicer screen, much faster CPU, and a significantly better camera.
A bit like the HTC One M8s without the gloss, the Desire 820 shares a lot of the M8s' internal components, including CPU and rear camera. And it costs at least £100 less. What lets the Desire 820 down is screen resolution. While it's bigger than the HTC One M8s' display, it only has a 720p screen, and that shows.
It's not hard to see what the HTC One M8s is about. It has the glitzy feel of last year's flagship and costs about £150-200 less than this year's one.
Inside, though, it's a different matter. The M8s has the same specs as an 'entry-level' 1080p phone. And yes, those things do exist.
While some elements of the HTC One M8s shell could be improved, it still looks and feels great. You could easily convince someone it's more expensive than it is, or that it's last year's One M8.
One of the best bits to make a return is the BoomSound speaker setup. You get two front-facing speakers and they sound beefier than most phone speakers out there. Volume won't blow your head off, but that's not what it's about. BoomSound speakers make people's voices sound right.
The screen is nice and sharp too. While there was zero chance of this phone using a QHD screen, it doesn't need one. At this sort of size, 1080p is enough.
While the Snapdragon 615 isn't as an impressive a chipset as the Snapdragon 801, it's good enough. General performance is perfectly fine. You're not constantly reminded that you have a slightly cheaper version of an older phone.
The big issue, even if you don't consider yourself a hardcore mobile-fondler, is battery life. Despite having a decent-size battery, stamina is fairly poor. As it heats up a lot, there are obviously some underlying efficiency issues tripping the phone up.
You also need to be aware that there are phones with very similar specs for as little as £125. Granted, that's the Vodafone Smart 6 Ultra, which is a loss-leader device designed to attract people to the network, but the point still stands: cheaper phones have the same chops.
The screen also isn't as good as that of the One M8. It goes for the bold look you get with most Sony and Samsung phones, but by slightly overdoing the greens it spoils the tone.
You can get better cameras at the price too. While they're fine for snapping stuff to post on Facebook, the results don't seem to be much better than those of the budget 13-megapixel phones currently flooding the market.
The HTC One M8s concept is a bit odd. Where we see plenty of re-treads of phone designs each year, and shrunk-down versions of flagships, this one actually seems to take the exact shell of last year's top HTC phone and then bung some cheaper bits in it.
You see the results a little in camera and screen quality, but some phones at £100 cheaper give you better results. However, it's the battery life that's really an issue. It's pretty bad.
Once HTC sorts this, the HTC One M8s will make a neat phone for people who'd value something that looks and feels great over one that can take beautiful photos or crush benchmarks with awesome CPU power. But for now it's a bit too problematic.