The All-New HTC One (M8)

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Image source: HTC

Today, HTC announced the all-new HTC One (M8) in a press release that, no doubt, was a disappointment for many loyal HTC fans.  Last year’s One, the M7, was considered by many one as of the best Android flagships on the market.  With its sturdy aluminum chassis, its high-resolution 1080p display, and excellent call quality, the One was an excellent alternative for buyers to consider as an alternative to last year’s Galaxy S4.

The only gripe that many had with this shiny, new device of last year was the camera.  At four megapixels, uniquely dubbed “Ultrapixels” by HTC, the resolution and pixel density of the photos was a far cry from the eight and thirteen megapixel shooters found on most high-end flagships of 2013.  So, HTC should learn from that mistake with the unveiling of the all-new One (M8), right?  Wrong.  The camera remains far behind the competition of other smartphones of 2014, and it will, no doubt, be a deal breaker for many users who are looking to decide between the new One (M8) and the Galaxy S5.  No one wants to carry around with them a DSLR everyday.  A smartphone camera will, obviously, not replace a DSLR, but it it’s 2014.  We should be able to take great photos with their smartphones.  With devices like the Oppo Find 7 sporting a 50MP shooter and last year’s Nokia Lumia 1020’s 41MP sensor, the measly 4MP shooter is far behind its competition.

With the presence of a 16MP rear camera in the Galaxy S5, anyone who cares about image quality on their smartphone will choose the Galaxy S5 over the M8 if they are in the market for a new Android flagship.  There is still something strange about HTC’s electing to keep a 4MP camera on a 2014 flagship that will have to be able to sell units by this time last year in order to stay relevant in the smartphone space.  Even though the M8 sports its “Ultrapixel” sensor in the rear, the images are still pixelated, no matter how hard you try to get a good shot.  The pixels are slightly bigger than last year’s One, but the iPhone 5s has a much higher resolution than the M8… and the 5s is over six months old!  Also, the huge elephant in the room is the fact that the front camera has a higher resolution than the rear shooter!  Do not misunderstand me, a 5MP wide-angle camera on the front of a smartphone would be amazing, but there is something inherently wrong with the fact that the rear shooter is a lower resolution than the main camera.

Although HTC has been considered one of the best OEMs in the Android market, their profits have suffered the effects of Samsung stealing all of Android’s thunder.  With its superior marketing, Samsung continues to reign as the king of the Android space.  Even though HTC uses far superior build quality, such as aluminum instead of Samsung’s polycarbonate “band-aid” finish on the rear of the S5, it is not marketed to as many users as the Samsung devices are.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 was marketed as the all-around device for many different users, but how often did you ever see a commercial for the HTC One (M7)?  Not many, I’d imagine.

Anyone who considers image quality as an important feature in a smartphone will probably wait for the Galaxy S5 to hit store shelves in April.

Only time will tell how HTC will market this new device.  It could be argued that last year’s One (M7) could have easily been the hottest Android device on the market, but Samsung’s marketing power catapulted the S4 to the top.  Overall, the M8 is a great phone, but it could be better.  Sure, HTC had an already great phone with last year’s One, and expectations were high for them to create a device that would surpass the excellent quality of the M7, but it was a very minor upgrade over last year’s model.

Maybe smartphone manufacturers are running out of ways to innovate.  Is the smartphone we carry around in our pockets everyday as powerful, and everything we actually need in such a device?  Over the past few years, smartphones have gotten better, their chipsets have gotten more powerful, more RAM has been packed in, screens have gotten bigger, and cameras (for the most part) have gotten better; but no true innovation has really happened.  Have we hit the glass ceiling?  Is there any more innovation to be done?  What say you, ladies and gents?  Let me know what your opinion is.

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Introducing Windows Phone 8.1 and your all-new Intelligent Voice Assistant, Cortana

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Image Source:  The Verge

Today, Microsoft announced some fairly compelling new options for Windows Phone today.  Unsurprisingly, Windows Phone 8.1 was announced, alongside the long-rumored Cortana–Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice assistant software found on their smartphones.  One of the major complaints Windows Phone users have dealt with since the launch of the first Windows Phone was the lack of a truly useful voice assistant.  Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, has been found on the iPhone since the introduction of the iPhone 4S way back in 2011, while Google has used its own voice assistant baked into Android since 2012.  This is technology that has been around quite a while, so Microsoft has some catching up to do.

While it is certainly a nice feature for Windows Phone to finally have some sort of voice assistant software, one could argue that Microsoft should have had this software ready to go two years ago in order to remain competitive with both Apple and Google.  Apple’s Siri, although very sluggish at the early stages of its release to the public, has become a very nice way for one to interact with his phone in a way that was never before possible with smartphones in the past.  The same goes for Google Now.  Google Now has its own set of compelling features, such as cards for nearby attractions, sports scores, traffic information, and others.  On devices such as the Moto X, the phone is always listening for the user to interact with Google Now.  One can simply say, “Ok Google”, and Google Now will automatically launch and be at the user’s disposal.

Only time will tell how useful Cortana will turn out to be.  It is definitely something to keep an eye on when the Windows Phone 8.1 becomes available to the public.  (Especially for all you Star Trek fans out there).

The question is, however, is Microsoft too late to the game with the announcement of Cortana alongside WP 8.1?  Android and iOS have had voice controls for years.  No doubt, at launch Cortana will be full of bugs, as Siri and Google Now were.  Keep in mind, also, that Cortana is still has a beta tag at the end of its name.  Sure, Microsoft has the opportunity to build a truly great feature set to promote its WP 8.1 hardware, but is it enough to draw users away from iOS or Android?  In my opinion, no.  I do not see many people at all being willing to abandon Android or iOS in order to make the transition to the third-most popular operating system for the length of their two-year contract.

Another crucial part of smartphone software that is present in most platforms is some sort of a notification center.  Often found on the top edge of smartphones, one will see no such thing in WP 8 or earlier versions.  Well, Microsoft finally has a solution.  Say hello to Action Center, their take on what a notification shade should be.  This is a big improvement over previous WP versions because Action Center can be one central place the user can see all the notifications that need attention without being forced to scroll through all the Live Tiles in order to find notification information.  If implemented correctly, this could be an excellent feature on WP 8.1.

Overall, this update was a good one.  Nothing that was not expected from the numerous leaks tracing back months, but nonetheless, Microsoft has addressed many of the complaints that users have made known.  Nothing truly innovative was announced, but it is a solid upgrade for the WP platform.  But is it too little, too late?  After waiting all this time to implement some of the critical features that other platforms have been using (with great success, by the way), will Windows Phone gain popularity in a smartphone market that is hotter than ever?

Windows Phone has a long way to go in order to knock off either Android or iOS for one of the top two slots in the smartphone market, but it is certainly going in the right direction.  What do you think?  Were you pleased with this new version of WP, or were you a bit disappointed as I was?  Let me know what your thoughts are.