The HTC One E8 is a plastic phone in search of its metal soul

Plastic phones have a bad reputation and HTC is partly to blame. The company that defines itself as “a global leader in mobile innovation and design” has, for two years running, built the finest Android smartphone with an all-aluminum thing of beauty it calls the One. First the One M7 swept up the phone design awards in 2013, and now the more refined One M8 is repeating the feat. In an Android world dominated by frumpy-but-functional Samsung Galaxy phones, HTC’s One line stands out with its premium materials and tasteful design.

HTC has undoubtedly raised the bar for high-end phones and challenged everyone else to match it, but the company can’t afford the luxury of writing off plastic phones altogether. It tried to do so last year by introducing aluminum handsets to its midrange with the One mini and One max, but the only thing those unsatisfying devices proved was that compromising design was a worse idea than compromising on materials. Now the Taiwanese company is trying the alternative approach by sacrificing the premium metal construction in order to retain almost everything else about its flagship phone. The HTC One E8 is a faithful plastic copy of the One M8, trimming away a few peripheral features and nearly halving the price in the process. That makes it the perfect device with which to explore a pair of related questions: can premium design transcend premium materials, and can anyone make a cheap phone that still feels special?