HTC One (M8) – Wrapping it all Up

My time with the HTC One (M8) is almost up. Here are my parting thoughts on the device.

Introduction

My time with the HTC One (M8) is nearly over; and I’ve had one heck of a time with the device. There are some things I really liked; and there are some things that I really didn’t care for at all.

I’ve published a number of blogs here on Soft32. You can search for all of them if you like, or you can simply click through and check out the links below:
HTC One (M8) Unboxing
HTC One (M8) – Initial Impressions
HTC One (M8) – Performance at a Premium
HTC One (M8) – Duo Camera
HTC One (M8) – Is Retro Good Enough?: The Dot View Case

I wanted to take a few moments and give the device the proper treatment before I box it up and send it back, so here are the core essentials of a proper review.

The Specs
The device has some really nice hardware specs from a device perspective. The camera, as you can see in my review of it, leaves a great deal to be desired. It does OK, but if you’re used to 8MP or better on your phone, I think you’re going to be greatly disappointed. However, I also have a decent DSLR and take some (semi-professional quality) pictures. Honestly, I don’t want to be a camera snob at all, but I would definitely NOT buy the HTC One (M8) for its camera. I’m not even certain I would rely on it as a smartphone camera. My iPhone 5 takes much better pictures, and by today’s standards, its 8MP sensor with f2.2 lens is about average. There are smartphones (some Android, some not…) out there with much, MUCH better lenses. If you’re wanting to double up smartphone and camera needs, this is not the phone to look at, in my opinion.

However, as I said, the rest of the specs are quite respectable, and I think, worth the premium price. The camera would have made this a home run, and instead, it unfortunately makes the HTC One (M8) just a mediocre phone.

Quad-core 2.3gHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
32GB Solid State Storage
2GB DDR3 RAM
microSD Card Slot supporting up to 128GB cards
5″ HD Display
HTC BoomSound
HTC Duo Camera – 4MP, dual LCD Flash
5MP Front facing camera
Bluetooth 4.0

The device does not appear to have BT LE as part of its Bluetooth stack. I’m not certain why. My iPhone 5 does, and its 2 years older than the HTC One (M8). Very disappointing, and somewhat confusing…

The device has enough onboard storage to hold a movie or two as well as most of your music collection. I’ve got a HUGE music library and have about 2300 songs on my iPhone 5. I’ve got maybe 500MB of space left over after that and all my tech podcasts (apps, etc.) are on it. With only 16GB, I don’t bother with video. There just isn’t enough space.

However, the HTC One (M8) has twice that space, and as I said, you can hold 1-3 HD movies, PLUS a large music collection, PLUS other audio (like podcasts) and still have space left over. You can also stick in up to a 128GB microSD card in the device for a max total space of 156GB. The HTC One (M8) gives you enough storage capacity to take everything with you, without having to compromise.

Its 2GB of DDR3 RAM insures that nearly everything you run – games, video player, music player, productivity apps, etc., run smoothly. In the month or so that I’ve had the device, I haven’t had any performance issues with it. It’s been running smoothly and quickly. I really couldn’t have asked for a better performing device.
The Hardware
Despite the camera issue (which for me, is HUGE, due to my photography bent), the HTC One (M8) has a lot to offer. From a hardware only perspective, the (M8) hits a home run.
The Device Itself
The HTC One (M8) is a great looking, great feeling device. Its aluminum body is solid, and it doesn’t look or feel cheap by a long shot. The device is thin and sleek. As you can see from the pictures below, it makes the larger iPhone 5 (with a 4″ 16×9 screen) seem dinky by comparison. I’ve tried to give you a decent look at the device. You have the full 360, plus the device’s front and back.

HTC One (M8) -0001
The HTC One (M8)

However, I did find that with a 5″ screen, the HTC One (M8) REQUIRES two hands to operate. I am huge (and have been for well over 10 years) on one-handed operability. I live in my device, and often have a notebook, pen and cup of coffee in one hand and my smartphone in another, checking mail, messages and the location of my next meeting. I can do this with my 4″ iPhone 5 quite easily. The device is skinny enough that I can hold the device and work the screen with my thumb.

HTC One (M8) -0002

The HTC One (M8) and the iPhone 5 – front view

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Is Retro Good Enough? – The HTC One (M8) Dot View Case

It offers good protection, and the dot view display is cool in a retro sorta way, but…

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When I bought my iPhone 4S, I tended to carry it without a case. Most of the cases that I found, I didn’t like. The ones I liked, were too expensive, or…they wouldn’t work with an Apple branded or third party cradle. I got so fed up with it that I just decided to carry a naked device. Working with the cases that I found was just too frustrating.

That changed a little bit with my iPhone 5.  I’ve been using the same Speck case for nearly 2 years. I’m very happy with it, mostly because the back folds up and out of the way, so it works with devices and cradles that don’t work well with cases. It’s pretty cool to have a case that works – and I mean really WORKS – with your device and not against it.

When I received the HTC One M8 a few weeks ago, I was very excited to see that it came with the Dot View case.  Since it’s a loaner-review unit, the last thing I wanted to do was return it with scratches or dents in the screen or aluminum unibody. I know most reviewers understand that these things make the rounds, but you really want to take care of it. YOU don’t want to work with a beat up review unit. The next guy doesn’t want to, either.

So, the moment that after I unboxed the HTC One (M8), I put it in the Dot View Case. Here’s my feedback, specifically on the case.

1.Dot View Display Doesn’t Always Display

I find this one very frustrating. The Dot View display is supposed to display every time you close the case and then every time you double tap the front cover of the device while it’s closed over the display.  Simply  put, the HTC One (M8) review unit I have initially did this, but then stopped displaying the Dot View Display when the Dot View Case is closed on the device shortly after I started working with it on day one. Since then, the Dot View Display does appear when you double tap the closed case while it’s closed over the display, as required.

 2. Cracks and Wear

I’ve said it before. I have concerns about the hinge on the Dot View Case cracking over time with wear.  The logical way to work with this case is to flip the cover around the back of the device so that the cover stays open while you hold the device.  Over time, that’s going to create stress cracks on the spine of the case, and it’s going to weaken, rip and/ or crack. Period. This is just a matter of time.

3. Dot View Case and the Duo Camera

It’s clear to me that whomever designed the Dot View Case, never used it with the device. Part of the normal use case for the device is to take pictures with the device while it’s in the case.  This presents a couple of problems:

a.   Wrapping the Case Cover around the Device – You Can’t Take Pictures with the Case Cover open and wrapped around the back of the device. It covers the secondary lens, and the camera complains because the lenses are obstructed.  If you’re using the device with the Dot View Case and you want to take pictures, you have to open the case and let the cover flop open…which leads to our second problem.

b.   Elasticity in the Case Hinge – Leaving the case to flop open while you’re holding the device in landscape orientation, using the volume rocker as a shutter button, the Dot View Case cover wants to close shut on the device, turning off the display. This makes taking pictures with the device very frustrating.

In the end, you’re better off taking the device OUT of the case when you want to take pictures with the HTC One (M8).  Having the device in the Dot View Case while using it as a camera is very frustrating and very aggravating. While it’s very easy to take a lot of pictures with the HTC One (M8) and its rapid shutter release, the longer you work with the device as a digital camera, the more you’re going to want to have it out of the case, which completely defeats the purpose of having it in the case in the first place.

I’m not sure what the right answer is here. The case needs a couple of holes in the front at least for the camera (which would screw up the dot matrix look of the case OR require a graphic redesign of the dot view display), or you just need to make a different case choice for the HTC One entirely.

4. Use with Automotive Universal Device Cradles

This is another hot mess.   Most universal device cradles use some kind of spring tension arm to hold the device in place. Arkon makes some great universal holders. I’ve been using them for almost 10 years.

Your device needs to be in a cradle of some kind while it’s in the car. If you’re using it for navigation or for music playback, you’re going to want it secured and within reach so you can change songs, address GPS issues or answer phone calls without diverting your attention from the road.

The problem is that the case is flexible and there’s a great deal of elasticity in the plastic/ rubber hinge. You have to fold it around the back of the device so you can see the device while it’s in the case and in a universal cradle.  Side gripping cradles want to grab the case cover and fold it in half long ways/ portrait style. When this happens, I feel like the case cover is going to crack. Top gripping cradles want to grab the case and fold it in half short ways/ landscape style. When this happens, I feel like the plastic/ rubber hinge is going to rip AND the case cover is going to crack.

Again, this is another instance where you’d think that taking the device out of the case would be best, but at that point. However, that brings me to my final point regarding the Dot View Case.

5. Practicality Over Time – Don’t Bother

The Dot View Case is a book style case that rests its novelty in a dot matrix styled, retro display created by the holes in the cover.  When using this case with the HTC One (M8), I found I wanted the device in some sort of a protective case nearly all the time. It’s a mobile device, and I use mine most when I am in fact…mobile.

However, I found myself wanting to plug and chug the device in and out of the case more often than not when taking pictures and when putting it in a universal device cradle in the car.  The case doesn’t work well in these use cases.

I have an hour drive to work every day. That’s 2 hours in the car. Add normal picture taking/ selfies posing and other use to this, and I think you’ll find as I did.  The Dot View Case is a flop.

The problem is the case design, not the case type – a book style case. In contrast, book cases for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 works and works well because of the huge window cut in them to display the date and time when they are closed. When you fold them back, the opening in the case cover doesn’t obstruct the camera lens or LCD flash, allowing for unobstructed camera use.  The case hinge also doesn’t have the elasticity that the Dot View Case’s plastic/ rubber hinge and doesn’t want to swing closed all the time. I believe it’s also made of leather or other material and will probably weather the stress a bit better.

In the end, while I truly believe you need a case for any and all mobile devices and smartphones, the HTC One (M8) Dot View Case, unfortunately isn’t very practical; and that really bothers me.  I like the retro styled, dot matrix display and the fact that the device can detect a double tap to activate the display THROUGH the case, but in working with it over the past few weeks, I am too afraid of ripping, cracking or breaking it while using it for it to be of any real, long term use to me or any other user of the HTC One (M8).

What do you think?  Is the Dot View Case’s cool factor enough to excuse its many foibles? With its Gorilla Glass front and aluminum shell, is a case REALLY necessary?  Am I being too critical of the design and of book style cases in general?  Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know what you think?

 

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HTC One (M8) – Duo Camera

You’re either going to love it, or you’re going to hate it. There is no middle ground…

So… I’m a huge digital photography nut.   I have two Nikon DX series DSLR’s and about 8 different lenses. I love taking pictures with them. My kids and my granddaughter are some of my favorite subjects to shoot.   That is, if you can get them to sit still long enough for me to get the camera out and the right lens attached.   While it is a bit harder with my granddaughter – at 18 months, getting her to sit still for ANYTHING is a challenge – this is the reason why God invented cameras in smartphones.   It’s much easier to whip out your phone and take a number of shots than it is to take them on a real camera, especially if you weren’t planning on taking photos.

htc-one-m8-duo-camera-smartphone-unveiled-03-570x712So, enter the HTC One (M8) and its Duo Camera.   The HTC One (M8) is the first camera that I have seen with a dual rear-facing camera with dual LCD flash.   The camera is supposed to pair its main UltraPixel module with a depth sensor that concentrates on depth of field information in the secondary lens. What you get is (supposed to be) a sharp foreground as the camera knows EXACTLY where everything is and what you’re really trying to focus on.   The camera has different tools related to both foreground and background (Foregrounder and UFocus, respectively) that provide specialized effects that can be applied to the pictures you take…and it’s all possible due to the extra depth of field information you get from the secondary lens.

The camera also has one of the fastest shutters I’ve ever seen in any kind of digital camera, either DSLR or point and shoot.   The HTC One (M8) can take 9-12 continuous shots with an autofocus speed of 300 milliseconds.   The camera begins snapping shots as soon as you press the shutter button.   The shutter is so fast, you’ll barely even notice that its capturing shots, which is one of the reasons why I ended up taking over 600 photos this past weekend (literally…) in under 30 minutes. I’ve never seen any camera so fast on the draw in my life.   There are a lot of features here that the average user won’t ever get to or even think about using.   The camera is pretty advanced.

So, how did it perform in actual use…?

Eh…

I was very disappointed.   As I said, I take some pictures, and I’m used to taking several hundred in a single shoot. There are a few things that are a bit concerning about the HTC One (M8)’s camera that HTC hasn’t hidden, per say, but they haven’t advertised them very well, either.

First and foremost, the rear facing camera has a 4MP sensor.   No.   That’s not a typo. I meant to use just the number “4” by itself. It’s not 14MP, or 24MP or even 40MP. Just 4MP.   That’s it…   The front facing camera intended for Skype and for selfies has a larger sensor at 5MP. While the secondary lens is supposed to compensate for the reduced sensor size and provide extra background information to allow for a sharper picture, that’s not what I experienced.

Many of the photos that I took, in varying lighting conditions, were “cloudy” (and yes, I checked the lens and cleaned any dirt or finger prints off…).   Many of the photos were blurry, even in direct sunlight and when the subject (and the phone/ camera) were relatively still.   I tried some of the special picture features and was equally unimpressed. Many of those things are novelties anyway, and unless you find something you really feel is cool or interesting, they’re not something you’re going to use on a regular basis.   Most people are just going to want to take pictures. Period.

IMAG0104_BURST005 IMAG0009

For example, the rapid shutter setting can either be used to take a bundle of pictures or to take rapid, single, shots.   If you take a bundle of photos, you can have the phone pick the best shot in the bundle and then delete the others.   If you’d rather do it yourself, you wind up with, like I said earlier, between 9-12 shots that are pretty much the same, unless you’re taking pictures at a sporting event or of your children traveling faster than light.   You have to watch, as you can accumulate quite a bit of photos, very quickly.   That’s how I shot over 600 photos over the weekend.

Getting them off the device and on to my Mac, I think was the biggest train wreck I’ve experienced. EVER.

With most other smartphones, once you connect the device to the computer, the smartphone shows up as a disk drive, and you can copy or move files off the device; OR in some cases, its recognized as a digital camera and whatever tool you have on your computer that senses cameras starts up and offers to transfer files for you.   That’s what I expected to happen on my Mac.   I was severely disappointed.

On the Mac, you have to install the HTC Transfer Manager.   The app assumes you’re using iPhoto to manage pictures and not any other app. Unfortunately, I don’t use iPhoto.   I had to jump through a number of different confusing screens to finally get to a point where I was looking at the device itself; and where I could browse files.   The photos aren’t in the “camera” folder on the device.   They’re in the DCIM folder.

It’s nice that HTC Transfer Manager supports iPhoto on the Mac, but the app should allow me to configure the device to use any transfer method and/or to show up as a drive automatically. It was confusing to have to wade through all the screens I had to wade through only to have to hunt for the files after I finally located the DCIM folder on the HTC One (M8).

After I imported them into Adobe Lightroom the amount of retouching I had to do to get them to look right was extensive.   You’re also going to see that at just 4MP, you aren’t going to get a photo suitable for anything bigger than a 4″x6″ or 5″x7″ print out. 4MP shots just don’t have enough data to support a decent 8″x10″.   You’re also not going to do a lot of cropping here, either. There just simply isn’t enough detail in the photo (read: enough pixels/ resolution) to support any decent cropping or detailing of the shots you take.

This was HUGELY disappointing to me; as it will be to many potential HTC One (M8) customers as well.   Digital photography is something that nearly everyone does now-a-days, as its every easy with many smartphones now sporting better digital camera sensors and equipment than many point and shoot cameras you can buy at Wal-Mart or BestBuy.   I also do a great deal of post processing to my images as well. There are a lot of tools out there that make retouching and adding post process effects easy.   The lack of resolution at a time when digital photography is something that nearly everyone makes use of on their smartphones is nearly inexcusable.

Is there anything you want me to look at on the HTC One (M8)?   Are you as disappointed as I was with the camera’s performance?   Why not join me in the comments section below and give me your thoughts on the matter?   As I said in the beginning… you’re either gonna love this device as a camera or you’re going to hate it…

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HTC One (M8) Initial Impressions

I have seen the new hardware; and it is good… if you have 3 hands.

As I’ve said, I’ve been in mobile devices for a long time. I’ve used nearly all of them, too; at least on the Windows Mobile and Android side. I had nearly every Compaq iPAQ. I had all the Palm Tungsten T devices (T, T2 and T3… that hardware was totally awesome – solid and well built).One of the biggest and most important tenants of mobile device use has consistently been one handed use.

HTC-One-M8

With the HTC One (M8), it’s just not possible. The phone is very wide, with the body measuring 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 in). Don’t get me wrong. The device fits very nicely in my hand(s). The problem is that you can’t use the device with one hand. The average person’s hand isn’t wide enough and their thumb isn’t long enough to enable one handed use on a device that’s nearly 5.5″ tall and 2.7″ wide. However, it fits well in the one hand that you do use to hold it. The device’s curved back lends to the comfort you do feel, holding the device

This is a big problem with the current smartphone screen size trend as I see it. You can’t work the device with one hand. You must use two, meaning that in order to successfully use the device for the task at hand, you must focus all of your attention on it and nothing else. You also don’t get to have anything else in your hands. This means that you can’t be at the office, walking down the hall on your way to another meeting with a notebook, tablet or a cup of coffee in one hand while you check newly arrived mail with your smartphone in the other. You either need to be empty handed or you have to stop and put something down so you can use your phone. Not totally intuitive or user friendly, if you ask me; and I think it’s the biggest reason why Apple hasn’t jumped on the new wide screen fad/ paradigm shift up to this point. Jobs was all about one handed use (which is also another reason why he didn’t like styli. You had to use both hands AND it was another thing to carry and lose…)

The screen is clear and bright. It’s easy to read and easy to view content on. For someone firmly in the middle of life where eyesight is currently an issue (and it most certainly is with me), this is a great screen to have on a mobile device. Fonts are easy to read and are crisp and clear. Video is easy to view on the large 1080p compatible screen.

The other thing that struck me right off the bat was the dot case and the clock/weather screen. I activated the phone on Saturday 2014-03-29, shortly after I did my unboxing. The first thing I did was put it in the dot case, because it was included and I honestly didn’t want any scratches or blemishes on this device while I had it on my watch.

When you opened and then closed the case, the device clock and current weather conditions would activate as you expected it to. It did that pretty consistently…for about the first hour and a half that I had the device going. Shortly after that, it stopped displaying the time and current weather conditions when the case closed. Now when you close the case, the display just goes dark. The only way to get that information to display is to double tap the case while the cover is closed.

Amazingly, the device detects the double tap through the case cover and displays the time and current weather. However, I have been all through the device’s settings. I can’t find any information or settings page where you control what happens with that case. I find that very aggravating. I didn’t change anything on the device to make that cease from functioning. The HTC One (M8) just stopped doing it on its own. Yeah… I don’t get it.

The dot case itself, however, is a dark gun metal grey. It’s a dark contrast to the HTC One (M8)’s light gunmetal grey metal casing. I like the way it looks. It’s unique in the mobile device world, as I’ve never seen anything like it before; and it does a decent job of protecting the device. The only thing I don’t like about it is that there’s no good way to use the device with any kind of a universal device cradle in my vehicle with the case on.

In order to use the device in the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount for example, you have to bend the cover back around the back of the device. This produces two potential problems.

1. Hinge Stress
Unless the plastic in the case will be able to withstand a great deal of stress, I can see cracks developing in the hinge over time. The whole thing makes me nervous; but I’d rather not risk scratching the beautiful screen without one.

2. Flexible Cover
The Arkon mounts I have in my Camry allow me to secure my iPhone 5 as well as any other mobile device (in this case the HTC One (M8)) while I’m driving. That way, I can use either/both device’s built in GPS functionality and/or audio players while the vehicle is moving. However, the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount likes to grab the dot case cover while its wrapped around the back of the device and not let go of it when you try to remove the device from the universal mount. I can see the cover tearing away from the case backing, especially if there’s stress cracks in the hinge. You can use a side gripping mount like the Arkon Mobile Grip 2 mount; but honestly, I don’t feel that the device is as secure as I do with the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount.

I’ve done a lot of talking about the screen today – size, resolution, etc. as well as the device’s dot case. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have some thoughts on Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat and HTC’s implementation of it on the HTC One (M8) as well as device performance.

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Must Have Android Apps and Widgets for Business Users

For those that got an Android smartphone for Christmas, finding the right software to assist you in your work and personal life can be a bit of a challenge. Here are some great suggestions to get you started.

Any time you move to a new phone, you’ve got to determine if the software you’ve grown accustomed to or dependent upon will work on your new device. If you’re moving from one device to another that uses the same mobile OS, this isn’t a huge issue, however, when moving from, let’s say a Blackberry to an Android smartphone, this can be a problem.

A good friend of mine recently took a position at a new company and had to leave his Blackberry behind. He chose a new HTC EVO Shift 4G from Sprint; and while he loves the phone, moving from standard BB fare to something as connected and capable as the EVO Shift 4G can be a bit daunting, especially when you’ve got to integrate one device for both work and play into your life. There’s a great deal of valuable software in the Android Market that can help do that for you. Finding it, is the hard part. Here are my suggestions for must have applications that can help the busy work and road warrior integrate a new Android Phone into their daily routine.

Android Agenda Widget
Whether you’re a C-level exec or a busy soccer mom, having your schedule in front of you when you turn your device on, is a must have for many smartphone users. Unfortunately, the Android Calendar widget leaves a great deal to be desired. Thankfully, I found the Android Agenda Widget from Everybody all the Time. With the ability to display multiple calendars and supporting a number of different display sizes, this free Android widget fills a huge hole; and makes it easy to keep your next appointment in front of you.

Go Weather
EVERYBODY that I know of, loves the HTC Clock & Weather widget that their SenseUI interface made famous. Unfortunately, unless you root your non-HTC/non-SenseUI device and install a custom ROM on it, non-SenseUI devices won’t have anything similar available to them by default. Thankfully, a similar look and feel is available through apps from many different developers in the Android Market. One of my favorite freebies is Go Weather.

Like the HTC widget, the app is Location Services compatible, and will give you not only current time and weather conditions on your home screen, but a separate app that displays your extended, local forecast information. The application supports skinning, full motion HD video, has live wallpaper as well as a status bar icon that displays current temperature information for the location you’re currently “following.” The application is worth installing, regardless of the type of device you have, solely for its status bar, temperature icon.

 This gets your schedule and a decent weather presence on your device. It also gives you a healthy sense of how location services can provide value without compromising too much personal information. Come back next time, and I’ll give you my final recommendations for must have Android apps.

Launcher Pro
Android’s stock program launcher is ok; but there are other launchers available that offer increased functionality at a very reasonable price. Launcher Pro provides access to not only the standard Android application tray, but also an unlimited number of scrollable docks. The launcher is free, and is less memory intensive than SenseUI. The registered version is $3.49USD, and offers users access to its custom home screen widgets.

If you use Launcher Pro on a SenseUI device, you may disable SenseUI, so you’ll need to be aware of this.

Google Voice
All Android phones can benefit from Google Voice. Its deep OS integration provides for free, unlimited text messaging through your standard cellular data connection. Its visual voice mail features bring this highly coveted feature to all users regardless of what your carrier and specific voice/data plans provide for. Sprint users get the added benefit of using their standard cell number as their Google Voice number without having to port their number to Google Voice thanks to an agreement between Google and the number three US carrier.

Google Maps with Navigation
While Google Maps is a standard application from Google, not every Android device has it installed. This may be the case if your wireless carrier has a branded navigation app. In that case, installing and using this data connection dependent, free, turn-by-turn navigation app is high on my recommended application list. For a freebie, it’s one of the best navigation applications available, and its data connection dependency for map delivery insures that you’ve always got the latest maps for your geographic area.

There are a TON of other apps in the Android Market that are more than likely, part of the MUST have list in your mind. These, really are just a few, and despite what most anyone thinks, they’re safe and solid choices; and they WILL provide you with value.

Do you know of any other must have Android Apps for the business professional bringing their personal smartphone to the office, or for the busy prosumer? Why not join us in the discussion below and tell us about them?

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