[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]
OS Android 5.0 Lollipop
Processor Snapdragon 810
Screen 5 inches
Resolution 1,920 x 1,080-pixels
Memory 3GB RAM
Storage 32 GB
MicroSD compatible? Yes, up to 128GB
Camera 20.7MP rear and 4MP (UltraPixel) front
Dimensions 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61mm
We’re four months into 2015 and already we’re pining for a new flagship smartphone, like the shivering addicts we are. Fortunately for us, just as in 2014, HTC has decided to make the first move. The HTC One M9, the sequel to the HTC One M8 (What Mobile Awards’ Phone of the Year) is here.
When discussing the One M8, there’s not much to be said that hasn’t been said already. Even if sales didn’t quite reflect it, it was a device that clearly stood out among its peers.
Its eye-catching premium design and top-end performance left us infatuated. But there were a few criticisms – issues which, if addressed, could make the HTC One M9 the greatest Android smartphone we’ve ever seen, bar none.
Another gripe some had with the One M8 was its form factor. While it undeniably looked great, it was taller than you might have expected. In fact, despite only having a 5-inch display, it was actually taller than a number of devices with a 5.5-inch display, such as the LG G3. A large part of this was down to the HTC-branded black bezel awkwardly wedged between the bottom of the screen and the BoomSound speaker at the base of the device. When we asked HTC about it, they said it was needed to give the handset the space to fit in all of its components.
Unfortunately, it’s still present on the HTC One M9. Clearly aware of the criticism, though, HTC has opted to move the power/lock button from the top of the device to the right-hand side of the handset, as is rapidly becoming the norm with the ever-expanding size of flagship Androids. A fair compromise.
Thankfully, that small ergonomic shuffle has had no impact on the overall look of the device. At a glance you may be hard pushed to tell it apart from the One M8. The most noticeable difference is the large, square camera that now forms the focal point of the rear of the device – replacing the two smaller, round lenses seen on the One M8. That change is indicative of the overall design philosophy applied to the HTC One M9: everything is fractionally more square.
The edge of the device is a bit sharper and its corners are slightly less round. Really, though, the average person who doesn’t spend all day looking at and writing about smartphones won’t likely notice a difference.
The body is still one solid piece of aluminium, which feels like no other device when you’re holding it. It has a reassuring weight and smooth finish that is simply unrivalled. All three colours – gunmetal grey, gold-on-silver and amber gold – look great and add to the premium feel.
The most common complaint with the One M8 was to do with the camera: HTC took a slightly different approach to the competition and installed an ‘UltraPixel’ snapper on the rear. Rather than boasting about a huge megapixel count, this UltraPixel lens instead relied on larger but fewer pixels and a unique depth-sensing second lens for a comparably unique photographic experience. It required a lot more tweaking than conventional point-and-shoot smartphone cameras – and it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. While it performed outstandingly in low light, it didn’t always fare too well in comparison with the superb shooters found on other devices, such as the Sony Xperia Z2.
HTC has listened to its critics and this time followed the beaten path, placing a 20.7-megapixel camera on the HTC One M9. There’s no second lens for the cool focus-shifting ability you had on the One M8, but what you do get is a more reliable day-to-day snapper. It functions admirably, with a lightning-fast autofocus and two-tone flash is always a bonus. Do the photos on it look any different to those you’d take on, say, the Sony Xperia Z3? No, not really. Does that matter? Again, no – unless you’re a regular David Bailey, but if you are, then you probably have a much nicer camera that you use for serious snapping anyway.
The UltraPixel camera of 2014 isn’t dead though. Quite the opposite, as it now sits on the front of the HTC One M9. This means you essentially have one of the best cameras of 2014 sat on the front of your new phone. Its detail is frankly excessive, if you look anything like we do, but the wide field of view and aforementioned low-light performance make it just about perfect for selfies. For some, that may be reason enough to buy the device.
It’s not only the body that remains largely unchanged: the same can be said of the display. It’s still 5 inches, a pretty popular size nowadays, and it’s still 1080p Full-HD resolution. But this is more of a talking point than we would have expected, following Samsung’s decision to place a quad-HD display on its upcoming Galaxy S6.
Naturally, the HTC One M9’s 1080p display looks fantastic, but could it be improved by a resolution upgrade? It’s hard to say; on a screen measuring just 5 inches, it’s debatable whether there’s even a difference to the naked eye.
We’d rather see HTC working on brightness and colours, to create a display capable of rivalling Samsung’s best. As it is, the display on the HTC One M9 is never underwhelming, but it won’t likely impress you either. It’s protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 4, as is that large rear camera, which is a nice touch.
HTC is still an industry leader when it comes to sound. Those dual front-facing BoomSound speakers – something of a trademark for the One range – are present, correct, and as loud as ever. The technology is provided by Dolby this time around, as well as high-end audio parts manufacturer Harman Kardon. That means it’s very, very good.
[alert type=alert-blue]Performance and software[/alert]
While the One M8 was packed with innovations that really set it apart from the competition, there’s not quite as much going on with the HTC One M9. Naturally, those innovations are all still in place – the tap-to-wake lock screen is back, as is information-feed app BlinkFeed, and they’re all still very enjoyable. But there’s not much new here – apart from one rather handy feature.
Fresh to Sense 7, the latest version of HTC’s Android Skin, is Themes. One of the key issues with Android as an operating system is that, despite its openness to customisation, there’s very little stopping one device from looking exactly like another. With Themes, no two HTC One M9s should look the same. Themes extracts the key colours from an image of your choice and applies them to the phone’s various menus and icons. The result is a much more coordinated and personal user experience. Rather than having just a picturesque home screen, but standard, pitch-black Android menus, your One M9 appears more coherent.
The inclusion of Android 5.0 Lollipop ties things together beautifully. This is HTC’s first handset to ship running the latest version of Google’s operating system, and it really makes a difference. The little animations and transitions combine with HTC’s reworked interface to provide a smoother and prettier experience than ever.
A major contributor to this smoothness is the new hardware HTC has packed into the HTC One M9. The Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor is Qualcomm’s latest and best chip, and it makes its first high-profile appearance here in the HTC One M9. Don’t be surprised if you see an awful lot more of the Snapdragon 810 in 2015. Games run perfectly, with even the most processor-heavy new releases playing as smooth as silk, as you would hope.
In fact, this is where the HTC One M9 might hold an advantage over the Samsung Galaxy S6. A quad-HD display is more demanding on a phone’s graphics and processing chips, meaning there’s potential for slowdown. Of course, we can’t say for sure just yet, but the HTC One M9 fares excellently regardless. The 3GB of RAM, combined with the octa-core set-up, rather than quad-core, means the One M9 is also an excellent multitasker. Even with more than 10 apps running at the same time, we didn’t notice a hint of lag in the phone’s user interface.
It’s clear that the HTC One M9 is an outstanding smartphone. As the first major release of 2015, HTC has a natural advantage in getting its product onto the market unchallenged. Right now, the phone is unassailable. Still, we can’t shake the feeling that in six months’ time HTC might regret its “evolution, not revolution” approach. HTC doesn’t enjoy Apple’s luxury: people won’t update their One handset on a yearly, or even two-yearly, basis simply because a new version has been released.
We love the HTC One M9, but nothing about it makes our jaw drop. It doesn’t do anything that your current smartphone can’t do – it just does everything a lot better.
The unique selling point is still important: the HTC One M9’s build quality is top notch. But if you have a One M8, then that probably won’t be enough to persuade you. For anyone due an upgrade, though, this is the clear leader – for now.
For more on HTC, visit What Mobile’s dedicated HTC page.