HTC's widely leaked flagship smartphone has finally been unveiled, and it's on sale nationally from tomorrow (Thursday), beating both Samsung and Sony to start the battle for best smartphone of 2014.

If you're after a top of the line phone to keep you going a year or two, what does the new HTC One (M8) have to stop you hanging on for the imminent arrivals of the Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2?

First impressions

On paper, it seems to have plenty of reasons. Leaving aside the design for a minute, the M8 comes packing the very latest Snapdragon 801 chipset, an extremely bright and vivid 5-inch Super-LCD display, improved BoomSound speakers, and the latest version of HTC's Sense user interface.

HTC is also promising regular updates for two years, with most core apps now managed via the Play store instead of via Over-The-Air firmware patches.

The other feature that HTC will be keen to promote is a second (duo) camera on the rear of the phone, which gives the camera added depth perception. And if you're wondering why this would be useful, it's clearly to give the Instagram-generation new ways to make photos look unique.

Whether unique equals better is open to debate, but it does mean M8 users can jump on the bokeh bandwagon, an increasingly popular effect that, like Instagram, can make otherwise bland photos look more exciting.

It could used for keeping focus on a face, picking out an individual decoration on a Christmas tree, an individual flower, or anything you want.

What's clever is that you can pick and choose the area of the photo to focus on after taking the photo, much like Lumia 1020 owners can adjust the level of zoom at any time in the future.

Professional photographers have been able to play around with apertures and depth of field for years - but always before taking the shot.

My first impression is that it's really quite a limited feature, and I wonder how many people will want to use it. At least after a while. More concerning than that is the thought that Facebook and Twitter might soon be full of them, where nearly everything is blurred out, or stylised with one of the other filters.

One such filter can make your photo look like a pencil sketch, but keeping a selected area looking real. Probably something most people will do once out of curiosity.

The downside of this duo camera design is that the optical image stabilisation has been removed as a result, although the autofocus time is now down to just 0.3 seconds. HTC has also added a dual-tone LED lamp (identical to the iPhone 5S), giving better colour accuracy in different lighting conditions.

Given the M8 still only has a 4-megapixel sensor, there's not much room to manoeuvre if you wish to crop images later. There's also no way to zoom, compared to phones with 16, 21 or 42-megapixel sensors that give much more freedom, and no 4K video recording.

The front facing camera has been upgraded to 5-megapixels for better quality selfies, and there's a manual mode that allows you to create your own preset mode.

Ultimately, my fear is that the camera will actually turn out to be the weakest feature of the phone. Existing One (M7) owners might even see it as a step backwards with the loss of OIS.

But, a proper test will be needed to determine this and that will come in the full review later.

A thing of beauty

Moving on from the camera(s), I have to return to the design. The HTC One is now even more gorgeous than the original, and now features more metal than ever before. Over 90 percent of the rear cover is now metal, and it wraps around the edges to join with the Gorilla Glass 3 protected display. This means less of the plastic that picked up fingermarks so easily, but also less to grip onto.

The heavily polished and brushed metal finish is a little slippery in the hand, so you may well want to invest in a cover, like the Dot View cover that came with our review unit.

In standby mode and with this unique cover attached, a tap of the power button (sadly still at the top of the phone, making it hard to reach with one hard) will actually display the time, weather, and other information like incoming calls and texts, through the perforated display.

What's more, you can use gestures, such as answering a call, through the cover.

The dot matrix style text and icons is very retro, and it's a great accessory. Besides HTC, other companies will also produce their own cases and covers to protect the beautiful, but precious metal chassis.

Gaming potential

Packing Qualcomm's most powerful chipset so far, the M8's gaming prowess is most definitely not up for debate.

While it's the same chip as you'll get in Samsung's Galaxy S5 and Sony's Xperia Z2, for this current moment in time, the HTC One is the fastest smartphone on the market. And even when Samsung and Sony join the club, you shouldn't expect much variation between any of them.

The great news this time around is that the M8 now has a microSD card slot, capable of taking memory cards of up to 128GB. Rather than worry about limited space to download those huge games with 1GB+ data files, you are now virtually unlimited – as long as the developer has made sure to store said data on the external card.

Stamina

The non-removable battery is only 2,600mAh, but HTC has two separate power saving modes. The first is pretty standard, but if you really need a long standby time then invoking the Extreme power saving mode is the option for you. It knocks out just about everything, and is basically a copy of Samsung's own Ultra power saving mode.


Take a £550 phone and make it work like a £50 one.

HTC suggested a standby time of two weeks, presumably if the mode is enabled immediately following a charge, but before getting too excited, it's important to point out that in this mode you can only make calls, read texts, check your email or calendar, or use the calculator. That's it. No games, iPlayer or Google Maps.

For a phone costing over £500, it might seem crazy to have a feature to turn it into a basic feature phone, but many people are going to absolutely love this option when away from a power source, and not wanting to mess around with portable chargers.

Summary

The HTC One M8 looks set to give the competition a serious run for its money, and the only thing that might prove controversial is the low-resolution camera, continuing the debate on whether the 'Ultra Pixel' concept can actually stand up to the ever increasing resolutions offered by its rivals.

But for everything else, HTC has come up trumps. With an improved design, improved display and speakers, the most powerful performance (for now), and the addition of expandable memory, there's not much else to be concerned about.

And those concerns will hopefully be fully addressed in the full review, coming soon.