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Review: HTC One (M8)

April 8, 2014, 11:38 PM UTC

There is a lot riding on the new HTC One. The Taiwanese company has struggled mightily as of late, watching its revenue fall month after month over several years as its mobile devices fell out of consumer favor. While Apple and Samsung wage war over the global smartphone market, HTC is behind them, desperately seeking a hit that will stabilize its fortunes.

For that reason, the late March debut of HTC’s new One wasn’t ideal. Samsung’s new flagship model, the Galaxy S5, was announced in February and is set to arrive in stores on Friday, casting a long shadow over HTC’s festivities. But HTC had a trick up its sleeve: It made the One widely available on the same day of its announcement.

As they say in comic books: “Kapow!”

The look of the new One — code-named M8 — is similar to its predecessor of the same name. It has a metal exterior (available in three colors: gold, silver and gunmetal), runs the latest version of Google’s Android operating system (4.4.2 KitKat), has an additional camera over the previous model, and carries a five-inch, 1080p-resolution display.

Inside, there’s a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and two gigabytes of memory. The combination provides a much-needed speed boost over last year’s model. In testing the new One, I rarely experienced any significant stuttering or sluggishness, with one exception: when I was switching between open apps. When I tapped on the multitasking button, there was a two- to three-second delay before the nine different app thumbnails would display.

Most versions of the One come with HTC’s proprietary Android skin, which it calls Sense. The new One is the first device to run version 6.0 of this software, and there are some new features worth mentioning. Owners of HTC phones are already familiar with BlinkFeed, which brings together your social feeds, your calendar and top interests into one, condensed stream of information; the feature now comes with the ability to view fitness stats using the Fitbit app. (Even if you don’t own a fitness tracker of your own, the One doubles as a step counter.) Sense now integrates restaurant recommendations from the local-focused social network Foursquare. And Motion Gesture gives you the ability to use six different gestures to carry out certain mundane tasks — for example, you can launch the camera app by lifting the device in landscape mode and pressing the volume-down button or you can see missed alerts, time, and weather by double-tapping the display. It’s my favorite new feature, and I found myself using the gestures constantly during testing.

One of the most impressive features of the new One is its battery life. At its introduction, HTC claimed it had improved battery life some 40 percent over the previous model. After using the new One as my main device for two weeks, I can confirm the battery life is markedly improved. My typical day begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. During my testing, not once did the One’s battery run out of juice before the end of my day — and on only one occasion did I experience a battery level below 10 percent. This performance comes with frequent use of Twitter, Gmail, Music, SMS, Hangouts, Chrome, Foursquare and other applications, and without the use of HTC’s Power Saving Mode, which allows you to disable non-essential features such as vibration or background data transfer. (HTC says it is working on an Extreme Power Mode and claims that it will squeeze 15 hours of life from a battery with just 5 percent charge.)

On the front of the new One is a 5-megapixel, wide-angle “selfie” camera, and one the back is a pair of cameras (4.1 megapixels and 2 megapixels) that allows you to adjust the depth-of-field of a photograph after it has been captured. HTC calls this feature “UFocus,” and in my experience, it takes some time to learn how to use it. The results sometimes left something to be desired, and there’s a reason for that: The feature doesn’t actually allow you to refocus photos. Instead, the camera’s post-processing software is able to differentiate the various layers of a photo and apply a blur effect to add the illusion of depth. It’s a nifty parlor trick, and once you figure out what photos best lend themselves to the feature, the end result can be quite impressive.

The new One’s camera application also allows you to add a 3-D effect or various filters to photos, as well as touch them up. More serious photographers will be happy to know that the software allows you to modify ISO, exposure, white-balance and other specific attributes. As for video, the new One allows for the recording of 1080p footage in real time or slow motion, with editing and trimming available immediately after capturing a moment — about on par with today’s field of smartphones. In testing, I found the performance of all these imaging components to be about on par with that of Apple’s iPhone 5S.

So what’s the verdict on HTC’s new flagship phone? The new HTC One is the best Android phone I have ever used. The Sense 6.0 skin is smoothly integrated with core Android features and not a nuisance. The new features such as Motion Gestures are something that everyday users will enjoy and use frequently — and if you don’t like them, HTC makes them easy to disable. And the battery life on this phone addresses a persistent pain point for so many smartphone users today. There aren’t any truly buzz-worthy features on this device, but no matter: A well-rounded phone is often the best phone.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly specified which version of Google’s Android operating system. It is 4.4.2 KitKat, not 4.2.2. Additionally, an earlier version of this post mistakenly included an image of the HTC One (M7). We regret the oversight.

Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on each Tuesday.