HTC One M8: Fast to be Dropped, Slow to Respond

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In the midst of my enthusiasm/disorder of gadgeteering on the cheap, I managed to have possession for a couple weeks of an HTC One M8, the phone that upon its release was more or less universally hailed for its build quality and performance.

Guess what. I didn’t really like it. And I really, really thought I would.

I assumed it’d be a good phone for me because of the rave reviews, of course, but also because it was the Android device that seemed to have been designed with the same degree of thought and care that Apple products are. The metal, the curves, the heft. It wasn’t a mimic of an iPhone, as it was clearly designed with different priorities in mind. iPhones get generally thinner and more svelte as they iterate, while the M8 looks more like it’s been designed to be felt, with noticeable weight, a striking metallic sheen, and a substantial footprint. It looks absolutely lovely.

But I liked almost nothing else about it.

I’ve passed the point where total one-handed use is a necessity. The industry is clearly moving away from it, and that being the case, it becomes more a matter of degrees and trade-offs. How much one-handed use are you willing to trade for the benefits of having a bigger screen or battery? That kind of thing.

But even with my change in perspective and expectations, the HTC One M8 fails in some basic areas of one-handed usability. Most notably, it’s just too damned slippery. Without using glass or plastic for the chassis, and with the metal polished to an extreme degree of smoothness, the phone is just far, far too easy to drop. Without immediately applying an unnaturally firm grip, the thing just slides right out of my hand.

Making this worse is how sensitive the volume rocker on the side is. The slightest tap against the rocker activates it, which always gets in the way of whatever it was you actually intended to do with the phone. And it’s all the easier to accidentally hit the volume rocker because, again, you need to grip the damn thing so firmly in order to not destroy it. It is a feedback loop of frustration.

I needed to put it into a case just to hold it. Not protect it, just hold it.

And then there was the software. Reviews and anecdotes reported the M8 to be incredibly fast and smooth in performance. This was not my experience. Now, as a gadgeteer-on-the-cheap, my phone was a refurbished unit, so I suppose it’s possible I had just gotten a lemon, but I found the phone to be incredibly laggy and jittery in almost everything, particularly in multitasking, camera, and photo gallery. I kept researching ways to mitigate the problem, thinking it must somehow be my own fault, but nothing helped, beyond the occasional cache-clearing. And that, only a touch.

The HTC skinning of Android, Sense, is not awful. On the whole it adds features and mostly stays out of the way of the “pure” Android experience, but what it does add is mostly pointless, and in the end adds up to needless additional complexity.

One night, desperate for a change, I considered attempting a rooting and flashing of stock Android, but at the last moment I chickened out, afraid to screw something up and brick the device.

Instead, I unloaded it.

I should say, though, that I did like the camera, when it worked. Most reviews are lukewarm on the camera for being gimmicky and insufficiently stuffed with megapixels, but I found that I was getting some lovely shots with it. (See below for a couple of examples.) The editing tools were mostly useful and interesting, and so I actually consider the phone’s camera a big plus for it. But, alas.

I might have had a bum unit, but even if I did, the M8 was a big disappointment. But there is a silver (but not a “Glacial Silver”) lining to this story, as I have settled on what now feels like the phone of my dreams, and it’s a kind of reunification story, and not a reunification with iPhone like you might expect. But that’s for another post.

This photo uses the M8's dual camera setup to alter the focus of a photo after the fact. IMAG0117_1-1

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Rocks

I usually really don’t like going to the beach, but I acquiesce for the sake of getting the kids out of the house, plus my wife really loves it. But today, I had a blast. It was cool, the sun was unoppressive, the kids were having a good time, but mostly, I became fascinated by the extraordinary variety of rocks and pebbles strewn all over the shore. And whatever was visible before a wave came in could change entirely after. I took some photos of what I saw, and while I also have plenty of my own personal photos of the family, mostly these are of the landscape and the rocks and the water. 

Your $2000 iPhone

An interesting infographic (source) on the full cost of iPhone ownership — and really, it applies to all modern mid- to high-end phones, not just iPhones. I can’t vouch for all the numbers, but this is good to have in the back of your mind when thinking about phone purchases. 

The first mistake people make is believing that the subsidized cost of the hardware (usually $200) is the real cost of the device, when it’s far wiser to remember that this small device you’re haphazardly tossing around and shoving in your jeans pocket is actually a super-advanced computer that costs roughly $650 or $700. 

But if you consider all that goes into owning one to make it usable, namely the cellular data and accessories, you really are in the $1500-$2000 range. That’s more than almost anyone other than professionals pays for a brand new, top-of-the-line PC!

Which may be fitting when you think about it, since these phones really are our PCs these days. (As opposed to tablets, which we all thought would be our PCs, and probably aren’t going to be, but that’s another conversation.) And in many ways they do more for us — more of what we actually want to be doing — than our desktops and laptops ever could. 

The Sublimity of Bagpiping for a Penguin

This is quite possibly the greatest photograph ever taken.

Gilbert Kerr of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, playing the bagpipes for/at/in the presence of a penguin. Amazing.

This photo was taken in March of 1904, and it’s hard to imagine a more sublimely absurd picture. 

Hat tip to @terracolta, who characterizes the penguin as “indifferent.” Oh, would that we knew for sure.

The Sublimity of Bagpiping for a Penguin

This is quite possibly the greatest photograph ever taken.

Gilbert Kerr of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, playing the bagpipes for/at/in the presence of a penguin. Amazing.

This photo was taken in March of 1904, and it’s hard to imagine a more sublimely absurd picture. 

Hat tip to @terracolta, who characterizes the penguin as “indifferent.” Oh, would that we knew for sure.