Sprint Aims For Music Lovers with HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon Edition (Hands-on)

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Sprint yesterday detailed a handful of announcements aimed at enticing music enthusiasts, highlighted by the reveal of the HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon edition, a variation on the acclaimed Android flagship that gives it a different paint job and adds new “HD Audio” tech to its sound reproduction.

HTC One Harman Kardon editionWe were able to get our hands on the One (M8) Harman Kardon edition at a Sprint event in New York this week. For the most part, the new model doesn’t deviate much from the original. Its jet black back and light gold highlights give it a slightly schizoid look, but otherwise it comes with the same aluminum body and specifications as before. (Though a small Harman Kardon logo has been plastered onto its lower backside.) It feels the same, and that’s a good thing.

The changes come when you fire up some music. Harman Kardon has fit the device with a new app dubbed Clarifi, which analyzes tracks in real time and restores the high and low frequencies that are typically lost when their audio files are compressed. Our demo of the tech seemed to verify this claim; after toggling it on in the settings menu, tracks immediately sounded fuller, louder and more detailed without any loss of clarity.

Alongside Clarifi was Livestage, another new technology which simulates multiple channels of noise and emits a surround sound effect. It also worked as advertised in our demo; when enabled, it made a single acoustic jam sound as if it was being played across a wider stage. This should be especially useful for movies and games.

Sprint also said that the phone supports 24 bit/192KHz digital-to-analog conversion for lossless FLAC audio files. That won’t matter much to the everyday listener, but it means that more hardcore audiophiles can play entirely uncompressed tracks.

It’s important to take prepared demos like these with a grain a salt, but between Clarifi and Livestage, Harman appears to have improved the One’s already-impressive sonic capabilities. There has been room for this sort of improvement for some time; going back to my personal phone and listening to some tunes later in the day felt like a noticeable downgrade.

HTC One M8 Harman Kardon editionClarifi (but not Livestage) can be used without headphones, but Sprint will package a pair of Harman Kardon earbuds with each new HK edition One for good measure. Those are said to retail for $150.

This version of the One (M8) is a Sprint exclusive, and as such, the carrier has preloaded some of its own software onto the device by default. An page corner-like icon at the top right of the home screen gives listeners a shortcut to Sprint sound sessions, a proprietary music portal in which they can view music news, buy tracks and ringtones from Sprint’s ‘Music Plus’ store, and so on. FM Radio app NextRadio is also on here, and the phone’s default wallpaper shows a live mix of album artwork based on what tracks have been downloaded. All of this can be pushed to the side, thankfully, but it’ll live on the device either way.

Another app that comes preloaded on the phone is Spotify, and with good reason: the popular streaming service plans on giving customers a few free months of Spotify Premium from this point forward. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek noted at the event that all Sprint users will get free three-month trial of Premium, while all users of Sprint’s “Framily” plan will get six months on the house. From there, Framily subscribers can get a discount on the service’s usual $10 monthly rate. Anyone with 1-5 members in their Framily plan can get it for $8 per month (per user), while those with 6-10 members can get the service for $5 per month.

Sprint eventAt first blush, the partnership appears to make sense for both sides — Spotify gets millions of users to whom it can market directly, while Sprint can tout itself as the audiophile’s carrier, potentially differentiating itself from a surging T-Mobile and the usual stalwarts of AT&T and Verizon.

The HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon edition is set to arrive online on May 2, and in Sprint retail stores on May 9. It’ll cost $30 more than the normal One, so you can grab it for $230 with a two-year contract, or for $0 down with 24 monthly payments of $28.34 (about $680 in total). It comes with 32 GB of storage space, though an extra 128 GB can be added through an included microSD slot.

Music was the definite focus of Sprint’s presentation, but the yellow carrier did update a few other items before showcasing its new toy. It said that its speedy Sprint Spark network has expanded to six new markets — Newark, N.J., Oakland, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Tacoma, Wash., Waukegan, Ill., and West Palm Beach, Fla. — while its much-anticipated HD Voice rollout has now expanded to 100 markets in total. Sprint said it expects its CDMA-based HD Voice network to reach 20 million customers by the end of the year.

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