HTC’s flagship One M8 was one of our favourite phones of last year, thanks chiefly to its gorgeous, metal design. With the M9, HTC hasn’t done much to change that design and while some will argue that that makes it less exciting, I’m personally glad HTC hasn’t made its phone any less stunning. The M9 really does look and feel like an extremely luxurious device.
If you’re an Android user who’s looking for a beautiful, well-built and easy to use phone then the One M9 is worth your consideration. But we strongly suggest waiting until Samsung’s Galaxy S6 — which boasts a similarly luscious metal and glass design — is available for testing, so we can let you know how these rivals stack up against one another.
SlashGear writer Chris Davies also harped on the M9’s similarity to its predecessor in his review. In the end Davies questions whether there are enough differences between the M9 and M8 to not only warrant an upgrade for customers, but to also keep HTC relevant for an entire year.
The One M9 smacks of HTC playing to the HTC faithful: a device that’s designed to answer the lingering complaints of current users, and play up to their design tastes. On that level, it does very well. Viewed as part of the smartphone spectrum in 2015 as a whole, however, and the strategy feels myopic. There’s none of the goofball appeal of the HTC RE camera, for instance, which while wacky is at least memorable. In short, I’m not entirely sure there’s enough to the HTC One M9 to address what has long been HTC’s biggest issue: clawing enough attention out of the gate from its well-heeled, well-marketed rivals.
One change HTC heavily touted with the One M9 was the camera. Last year, the company bragged about its UltraPixel technology and how it was the future of smartphone cameras. A year later, however, HTC has switched courses altogether and come back with a standard 20MP rear-facing camera on the M9. Chris Velazco, writing for Engadget, argues that the improvements aren’t as prevalent as HTC wants you to think.
In bright, consistent light, the M9 fires off detailed photos with nicely reproduced colors — they can be a little washed out compared to the M8, though, and the cooler screen on the M9 doesn’t help them look any better. Here’s the rub: You’d expect this thing to be uniformly better than the UltraPixel shooter HTC’s been pushing, but that’s just not always the case. I’m not just talking about low-light situations where the UltraPixel camera truly shines, either. Sometimes the M9 comes through with crisper details; other times the M8 seems to do a better job. Sometimes the M9 has richer, more accurately exposed colors; sometimes it doesn’t. You get where I’m going with this. It’s such a mixed bag that I’m honestly surprised HTC gave in to the simplicity of advertising a camera based on its megapixel count at all. When the company dropped the news, I think we were all hoping the company’s megapixel gamble would pay off in spades. Well, not so much. At least the UltraPixel selfie camera still works the way you’d expect. The lens is wide enough to capture most of your crew come Groufie time and, as usual, it excels in darker climes like bars and clubs (though you might come out looking a little pink for your liking).
As far as HTC’s latest Sense 7 overlay goes, Dan Seifert of The Vergesays that it, paired with the powerful internals of the M9, is the best overlay on the market right now. Seifert claims that the device is responsive and quick, without any slowdowns whatsoever.
Part of that speedy experience also is thanks to the new version of Sense, the software that HTC layers on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop. It’s responsive and quick, and unlike other custom Android interfaces, doesn’t slow down the experience at all. It’s visually very similar to the software on the M8 and has most all of the same features. But there two new standout components: a new theming engine that lets you quickly customize the look and sound of the software, and a widget for the homescreen that attempts to predict which apps you’ll need based on your location.
One of the biggest concerns with the HTC One M9 was an overheating problem allegedly caused by the Snapdragon 810 processor. Phil Nickinson of Android Central claims, however, that this wasn’t a problem at all with his One M9. Of course, that’s not to say someone won’t push the device beyond its limits deliberately trying to overheat it.
Don’t want a warmer phone? Don’t waste time with benchmark apps. The M9 can get hot, just like with any other phone. And metal conducts heat better than plastic. But I experienced absolutely nothing that caused me any sort of concern or seemed out of the ordinary, or anything that would send me scrambling for a thermometer. And this was before the March 19 software update that was supposed to curb thermals during benchmarks even more. And any software-implemented “throttling” — wherein the CPU is told to slow the hell down before it does get dangerously hot — led to no real-world slowdown in performance, and any change in benchmark numbers (which still aren’t anything but a number) was negligible.
The display on the One M9, according to PhoneScoop’s Eric Zeman, is excellent, although its outdoor viewing performance could be improved. Despite HTC not jumping to the latest quad HD resolution trend, Zeman claims the company’s flagship offers an excellent display:
The One M9 maintains the same size and resolution of the M8’s screen. It measures 5.0 inches across the diagonal and has full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). HTC prefers LCD panels and the M9’s looks fantastic. It’s colorful, pixel-dense, and bright. Viewing angles are superb. I do wish it were easier to use outdoors, though, as the glass panel covering the screen is easily gunked up with fingerprints. HTC is not matching the competition’s recent jump to quad HD screens (2560 x 1440 pixels), but it doesn’t need to. Full HD resolution is plenty sharp enough at 5.0 inches. I have absolutely no complaints about the M9’s display.
TechnoBuffalo took a similar to tune in its HTC One M9 review as others, pointing out that while the device is the best phone HTC has made, it’s not the best on the market. With Samsung pulling out all the stops this year, HTC has the strongest competition its ever had.
I’m not upset the hardware hasn’t changed, though I would prefer a home button with fingerprint sensor rather than BoomSound speakers. The two-tone color scheme does give the M9 a more elegant look, and the brushed aluminum and flatter sides means it’s not quite as slippery as last year’s M8. Good news if you don’t use a case on your device. But the strong design is no longer a standout feature when many of the top OEMs have their own aluminum wonders.
If you were to compare the M9 to the S6 on paper, Samsung’s device wins out every time. The S6 has a better display, terrific metal design, Samsung Pay, fingerprint sensor, wireless charging, and, more than likely, a better camera; superior in all ways, save for the fact that the M9 has a microSD slot, and the S6 does not. That gives you an idea of the competition the M9 will face this year.
The Next Web, in its review, took shots at the M9 for its lack of “headline” features, such as waterproofing and fingerprint sensors. While those features were considered gimmicky not too long ago, they’re slowly becoming capabilities that people look for in their smartphone purchases.
However, while HTC has focused on its core abilities – sound, camera, usability – rivals have been persistently introducing more ‘headline worthy’ features, like waterproofing and biometric security. The major difference though is that what used to be ‘high-end’ features like these are now found on considerably more moderately priced mid-range handsets.
Just like the M8, the M9 is easily one of the best Android smartphones out there, and just like the M8, it’s still not one of the most exciting – it is totally competent, however, which should be the more important consideration for people who aren’t interested in the frills offered elsewhere.
Finally, PocketNow’s Michael Fisher continues to address the lack of upgrades between the One M9 and the M8. Fisher compares HTC’s 2015 offering to an ‘S’ year of the iPhone. Familiar and finely tuned, but not necessarily revolutionary.
As with most smartphones, there’s more than one way to look at the HTC One M9. As a sequel to the One M8, it’s definitely a letdown: the new camera is worse in low light; the aesthetic changes are subjective; and most of the software improvements will probably come to the M8 anyway. As the flagship product to set HTC apart from the Apples and Samsungs in the inevitable market-share slugfest of 2015, it’s no better – especially considering the latter’s widely anticipated Galaxy S6.
For the regular Joes and Janes shopping for an Android phone, the One M9 still stands out amid a sea of plastic-clad rivals. Its metallic fuselage catches the eye, and going hands-on is like a firm handshake: reassuring and not soon forgotten. The M9 is for these folks – people who haven’t owned an HTC phone before. Like an S-model iPhone, it’s meant to be familiar rather than groundbreaking, accessible rather than revolutionary. It’s no Porche 911, and it’s certainly not going to propel HTC to new heights all on its own … but it is, for now, a worthy custodian of the company’s iconic smartphone legacy.