Once considered a juggernaut in the smartphone industry, HTC has struggled in recent years to keep up with larger rivals Samsung and Apple. But the company is hoping its latest flagship will be the one to help it regain some ground.
As expected, the Taiwanese cellphone maker unveiled the new HTC One (M8) at a press event today in New York, and it’s already trying to get a leg up on Samsung by making the smartphone available right away — a couple of weeks ahead of the Galaxy S5.
HTC needs a hit with the latest edition of the flagship phone after last year’s release failed to turn the company around, due in part to poor marketing and not being able to launch the One on all four major U.S. carriers at once.
The HTC One will be sold online from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon and retailers, including Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart, beginning today around 10 am PT. Verizon will be the only one to carry it in retail stores today, while the other providers should have them in stores by April 11 (the same day the Galaxy S5 goes on sale). This includes T-Mobile, which will also make the One available online on the same date.
Verizon and AT&T will sell the phone for $200 on contract, with the latter offering the option to purchase the phone using the AT&T Next installment plan. The cost is $0 down and 26 equal monthly payments of $24.62 with the AT&T Next 18 plan, or $0 down and 20 equal monthly payments of $32 on the AT&T Next 12 plan. Sprint subscribers can buy the phone using the Easy Pay program for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $27.09 or for $200, with a two-year service agreement. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is selling the phone for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $26.50.
You can also purchase the HTC One unlocked for $649, and a Google Play edition of the One, which runs the stock Android experience, is coming for $699.
So, what’s new in the 2014 version of the HTC One?
Like Samsung, HTC took more of an evolutionary approach to the One, building on last year’s features, rather than reinventing the wheel.
“If there’s one thing that HTC had a history of maybe doing was over-trying sometimes. Being the new guy in the industry, we felt we had to change and revolutionize every year,” said Nigel Newby-House, executive director of product planning at HTC, in an interview with Re/code. “While that may draw in the technophiles with all the new stuff that goes in another generation, it can actually alienate a lot of the general consumers, who feel like they’ve been left behind and everything they just spent their money on last year is now last year’s news. We don’t want to do that this year.”
The highlights include a larger 5-inch full-HD display, a new feature called Motion Launch that lets you launch apps by making swiping gestures on the screen, even when in standby mode, and a third camera sensor that allows you to refocus an image after you’ve taken it. The smartphone has also been updated with a faster quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and microSD card slot.
Finally, HTC will offer its own case for the One. Called the Dot View case, it displays the time, temperature and notifications on the front cover in a cool, retro dot-matrix style. The Dot View case costs $50 and is available today from HTC.com.
All in all, the new HTC One is beautifully designed and solid smartphone. You can read my colleague Walt Mossberg in-depth review of HTC One (M8) here. But making good phones has never been the issue with HTC. Last year, the One received critical praise and won all sorts of awards, but HTC’s sales and marketshare continue to decline.
Part of the problem is that the company hasn’t been able to compete with Apple’s and Samsung’s large marketing budgets, but HTC said it plans to do more marketing around the One. In fact, a new ad campaign starring Gary Oldman is launching today, one that HTC calls a little more polished and cohesive than last year’s “zany” ones featuring Robert Downey Jr.
The company is also shifting its strategy a bit by expanding its portfolio to include more mid-range devices. At Mobile World Congress, HTC introduced the Desire 816 and Desire 610. While HTC hasn’t said whether these specific models will come to the U.S., Newby-House said they are focused on offering its customers handsets at all different price points, not just the premium end.
Newby-House also noted that there will be another One model coming out later this year.