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HTC One M8 debuts, but can it save the company?


HTC on Tuesday showed off the latest updates to its flagship phone, the HTC One (M8), in the hopes that a cool camera, sleek styling and faster processor will be enough to distinguish the phone and save HTC from a continued slide in the smartphone market.

That shaky state of HTC is not because of a lack of quality. The HTC One has long been considered one of the best Android smartphones on the market. The new phone aims to take the engineering and design that HTC has poured into its flagship line even further, most notably with a new dual-lens camera that lets users refocus pictures after taking them. So if you find that you've accidentally focused on the background instead of the foreground, you should be able to fix that with a tap.

The phone also got upgrades to its processor, a slightly bigger 5-inch screen, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of memory. It comes with an option to add your own, removable storage via a microSD of up to 128 GB. It also has the same front-facing speakers of its predecessor, promising "immersive, powerful and clear sound," and sports a sturdier, more metallic body.

All that sounds great, but the sad reality is that even if the new phone keeps its reputation as one of the best on the market, it still may not be enough to help HTC  regain ground in the smartphone world.

Simply put, HTC just doesn't have the brand recognition of other smartphone makers, especially its leading competition, Samsung. Samsung spends hundreds of millions on advertising, and that budget has helped it claw its way to the top of the field -- so much so that consumers often mention Samsung in the same breath as Apple.

HTC, meanwhile, has nothing like that kind of reputation, despite efforts to raise its profile with a series of decidedly bizarre spots featuring Robert Downey Jr. that riffed off the fact that, well, no one knows what HTC stands for. (Officially, it doesn't stand for anything; the company used to be the High Tech Computer Corportation.)

While the firm was the first smartphone maker to build a phone that runs Google's Android operating system -- the HTC One (M8) will run the latest, Android 4.4 KitKat -- it's seen is marketshare slip significantly as it tries to find its place between the high-end phone makers like Apple and Samsung and the low-market manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE. And as it has struggled to find its footing, other competitors have simply passed it by. In 2013, the smartphone maker wasn't even in the top five vendors in IDC's snapshot of the world smartphone market, falling behind not only Samsung and Apple, but also Huawei, Lenovo and LG.

It's best bet, for now, may be to exactly what it's doing: releasing a strong phone on all major U.S. carriers to try to attract customers. Verizon announced that it is selling the phone in stores immediately and even has a buy one, get one free offer.  AT&T is also offering the phone in stores and online now; Sprint announced it is  opening online orders and will have the devices in store sometime next month. T-Mobile will begin online orders in April

The phone costs $199.99 with a two-year service agreement, and $649 at full price.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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