HTC One M9 Review: More of the Same
The HTC One M9 may look extremely similar to the One M8 released last year but this impressive new smartphone has plenty to offer. Over the past two years the HTC One line has been a shining example of how to make a beautiful smartphone, with its sleek edges and brushed aluminum design.
On March 1st HTC took the stage in Spain to formally announce and reveal the new HTC One M9. We’d seen leaks for months showing off a radical and impressive new look, as well as other leaks showing a device nearly identical to its predecessor. As we all know, the One M9 ended up being extremely similar to the One M8, but not without some major improvements we’ll go over below.
Read: 5 Things to Know About the HTC One M9
The HTC One M9 has all the makings for an excellent smartphone worth a buyer’s hard-earned money, but are some of the small changes worth it? Does it offer enough to make an M8, Galaxy S5, or iPhone 6 owner switch to HTC?
One of our favorite aspects of the new HTC One M9 is that the company fixed a few major complaints about the finish of the aluminum, making the phone easier to hold. At the same time, they managed to improve the specs and features in almost every category, while somehow actually making the phone smaller than the prior version. It isn’t too much smaller, but it’s enough to make a noticeable difference.
HTC One M9 Review Summary
With the new HTC One M9 you’ll get one of the most beautiful Android smartphones around. A device with a much-improved camera, a beautiful brushed aluminum design made out of a single piece of metal, excellent front-facing speakers, the latest and greatest technology under the hood and Google’s latest Android 5.0.2 Lollipop software.
Sounds nice, right? It also sounds vaguely familiar, as that is what the company promised and what we received last year. The HTC One M9 is a great smartphone and excellent piece of hardware, but doesn’t offer enough for anyone with a Galaxy S5 or the HTC One M8 to make the switch. If you chose a Samsung last year over the HTC One M8, there’s no real reason to get the One M9. And if you have an M8, you may want to look at the Galaxy S6 or wait until 2016 for the HTC One M10, HTC Two, or whatever they’ll call their next device.
What We Like: The new two-tone color design in unibody brushed aluminum frame, easy to grip with more rounded edges, dual HTC Boomsound front facing speakers, HTC Theme app for true customization and of course the micro-SD slot for user expandable storage.
What We Don’t Like: Screen seems a bit dimmer than prior versions, power button too close to volume keys, a design that is almost identical to the model before it, it doesn’t feel like the metal is as premium or durable and the camera is disappointing.
Bottom Line: If you’re an HTC fan, you’ll love the HTC One M9. Buyers coming from the original HTC One will love all the changes and the bigger screen. For everyone else, there’s far too much competition to get a phone that so closely resembles the model before it and still has one fatal flaw: camera performance.
HTC One M9 Display
In a world where most smartphones are coming with 2560 x 1440 Quad-HD (or 2k) resolution displays over the past 12 months, HTC decided to stick with the exact same 5-inch 1920 x 1080p Full HD display from last year with the new HTC One M9, and it looks just fine. No, it doesn’t match some of the competition for resolution, but it’s also inside a smaller display, so pixels are still dense, crisp and images or video look excellent.
Over the past few years HTC’s phones have had great screens and that continues again this year with the new One M9. However, it doesn’t appear to get as bright as previous models, it doesn’t do too great in direct sunlight (but what phone does) and, overall, it’s just good enough to pass. While we’d love a 2k screen, the vivid colors and sharp text look great. Even though it’s still only 1080p, it’s a better screen that the 2560 x 1440 quad-hd LG G3 from 2014. Numbers and resolution aren’t everything, so while you may want a higher resolution screen, there isn’t much to complain about in that regard.
Yes, the HTC One M9 looks almost exactly the same as the One M8 released in 2014, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It had an award-winning design, a beautiful unibody aluminum frame, and felt great in the hand. This year is more of the same. Whether you like it or not. It features the same look, but is actually slightly smaller, with a few changes for the better which we mentioned above.
HTC knows how to build a beautiful phone, which is likely why they chose to stick to the exact same design as last year. That said, they’ve introduced a new two-tone color and the silver with a gold finish looks stunning. The all aluminum design looks and feels great; it is very solid. If it seems a bit lighter and cheaper than last year’s model, that’s just nitpicking. It’s still all aluminum, made extremely well and is as finely crafted as any smartphone available today.
The metal frame appears to have a slightly more matte finish, so won’t be as much as a fingerprint magnet as the One M8, and hopefully be more durable as well. The HTC One M8 got scratched all around the Duo camera and on the edges relatively fast for us, so here’s to hoping the new One M9 can hold up better to the test of time. So far it seems better, but we’ll need more time with it.
As we said above, the One M9 actually is a little smaller, with more rounded edges. It’s easier and more comfortable to hold, has a bigger battery, much better internals and an 8-core processor, yet is still smaller than last year. All that means that HTC did make some big improvements, even though they’re not visible to buyers’ eyes.
Read: HTC One M8 Review: The Best Android Phone Has One Fatal Flaw
All said and done the HTC One M9 is an amazing looking phone, feels great in the hand, and is a joy to use. Whether or not you want a phone that looks identical to the previous model though, is up to buyers.
When it comes to the camera on the HTC One M9, we’re left a bit confused. This was the biggest downfall of the One M8, and we expected lots of improvement here. Yes, it now has a single 20.7 megapixel camera, but it still doesn’t perform as well as the 8MP iPhone 6, or even Samsung’s Galaxy S5, from last year. The camera is still one of its weakest links. Last year the One M8 had a “Duo Camera” system with a 4 Ultrapixel camera and a secondary camera for added effects and features. Users could do some fancy things to add points of focus and change the focus point after you took the photo. It was nice, but wasn’t up to par with the competition.
The new HTC One M9 comes with a single and much better 20.7 megapixel camera on the rear, and that 4 Ultrapixel camera is on front for some pretty great selfies and group photos. However, snapping images with the rear camera isn’t nearly as good as we expected or were promised. There’s no optical image stabilization like Samsung, Apple or LG offer, and images are only decent if the conditions are good. Low light picture taking is average at best, and for whatever reason the auto focus can be finicky and slow at times. Overall the experience has been sub-par.
Background lighting seems to make the camera have a hard time with proper lighting, and often times I found myself retaking photos because the auto focus was off. Maybe an update will help it focus better and not be confused by points of focus and depth during shoots, but so far the camera has been my biggest complaint. If the camera is extremely important, you may want to pass on the One M9.
They do have some neat software tools to help improve photos, change focus and more, however. Above are a few sample images snapped with the One M9 and that 20.7 megapixel lens.
While the HTC One M9 looks just as it did in 2014 aside from a few small changes, everything under the hood is completely different. This is one extremely powerful smartphone with top-tier specs. The new M9 is fast, fluid, and more powerful than the M8 last year, but that’s to be expected. While specs don’t mean everything, this is still something many consider, so here are the raw numbers for those interested:
HTC One M9 Specs
- 5-inch 1920 x 1080p Full HD S-LCD3 Display
- 8-core Snapdragon 810 processor (64-bit)
- 3GB of RAM
- 32GB of internal storage and a micro-SD slot for expansion
- 20.7 MP rear facing camera and 4 Ultrapixel front shooter
- Android 5.0.2 Lollipop and HTC Sense UI 7.0
- Dual HTC Boomsound Speakers with Dolby 5.1 Audio Technology
- 2,860 mAh battery
- Infrared Blaster for remote control
- Brushed Aluminum unibody design
One thing we can say is excellent when it comes to using the HTC One M9, is performance. This smartphone just flies. Everything from heavy gaming, multi-tasking, browsing the web and switching from YouTube to Gmail, then to a game, and back to answer an email, all works wonderfully.
There was some light controversy around the 8-core Snapdragon 810 inside this phone, but rest assured there are no issues. The phone doesn’t get overly hot during intense usage and performance has been top-notch for us. Even switching themes is quick and fluid thanks to 3GB of RAM, and HTC’s Sense software doesn’t slow down the speed that was delivered with Android 5.0 Lollipop.
We’re not going to post a bunch of benchmark test results either. And why? Well, because they’re a bit pointless. Each device is slightly tailored around the hardware, and those are only numbers. What buyers really need to know isn’t what it scored in a benchmark test, but how it performs. The phone doesn’t get hot, it performs as fast as any premium device around and there’s no CPU throttling because it gets too hot, like some early negativity suggested. In fact, it would be fair to say the HTC One M9 performs better than most phones I’ve used to date. It’s extremely fast, rarely stutters or lags, if at all, and has been an overall joy to use when it comes to performance.
Software & Themes
The M9 is running Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, the latest version of Android when the phone was announced, and will surely see Android 5.1 Lollipop coming to it in the near future. HTC has a software overlay called HTC Sense UI. The HTC One M9 comes with an all-new HTC Sense 7 interface. It offers some neat new features, a cleaner and more simple look, and even a predictive widget on the homescreen that learns from your usage. It then will gather popular and often used apps and place them in an easy to find widget right on your main screen. This is nice, but certainly not for everyone. It was constantly changing, so I quickly removed the widget and just put the apps I wanted on my main screen. Again, to each his own.
HTC Sense is still a bloated version of Android that makes the interface feel somewhat outdated. And while some love it, others not so much. I’m a part of the latter group. The software didn’t change too much, so buyers won’t need to learn anything new if they’ve used HTC in the past. There’s just little on the software side to differentiate this device from the pack, or even from the One M8.
That said, there is a new HTC Theme engine (and community) that is simply excellent. In a matter of seconds you can change the entire look and feel of your phone with tons of built-in themes, add-on themes that users have created, or even let the theme engine take colors from an image you took with that 20 megapixel camera and add it to the UI.
You can snap a photo of the sunset and it will take the orange, reds, and blue colors and integrate that into the user interface. You can quickly change colors, header colors at the top of each page, font and much much more. This is actually extremely nice, powerful and one of our favorite additions to the new HTC One M9. This same area lets you change the icons if you want, ringtones and more. This is customization we’ve been wanting from HTC and it’s finally here. You can even change the navigation buttons below the display, if you’d like. Personally I’m enjoying the fact we can change the buttons below the display and I’ve added my own custom icon pack for a more person and custom look.
We’re still busy using the new HTC One M9 as our daily phone and so far battery results have been mixed. Some days are better than others, naturally, but I’ve also been using it with a Moto 360 connected quite often. Thanks to keeping the same 1080p HD screen and not going to a 2k display like Samsung and LG, having the efficient Android 5.0 operating system, and now a bigger 2,840 mAh battery (compared to 2,600 mah last year), the HTC One M9 has great battery life. This is one of the few key things they finally got right, to be honest.
On average the phone has given me enough juice to last me from 7:30 AM when I get up, with a charge being needed late in the evening. I’ve made it from 8 to 8 with no problem, but other intensive usage days needed a quick top off or two. The HTC One M9 has Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 technology, meaning that once it gets below 10% it charges much faster than typical devices. 30 minutes on the charger gets it nearly to 50%, and you’ll certainly have enough for the rest of the day.
Thanks to an efficient 8-core processor in the Snapdragon 810, a bigger battery and Quick Charge technology, battery life won’t be an issue like it has been on previous HTC smartphones. No, it won’t last as long as the DROID Turbo or the Galaxy Note 4 and some phones with a huge battery, but it has more than enough juice for all average owners to get through an entire day, if not more.
All said and done, the HTC One M9 has the best battery life of any HTC phone I’ve used in the past few years, something that HTC fans will be happy to hear.
In the end though, there’s only a few small things that make this device stand out from the competition, let alone the One M8. We feel almost like HTC is fighting with themselves, more so than the competition. And that’s not a good thing. We’ve been enjoying what this phone has to offer, but buyers need to go in knowing that most of the same things are available on the One M8. It’s too much of the same. If you have an HTC One M8, you probably want to wait for another device next year. Those with the original HTC One will enjoy the bigger display, better camera, faster performance and more, but it’s still a somewhat similar device to the original HTC One from 2013.
The all-new HTC One M9 has tons to offer prospective buyers, but we can’t help but feel like they took an extremely safe route with the design, interface and overall package. This is a great phone that will make millions of owners happy, but those that want cutting edge may want to look elsewhere. There’s no doubt about it, this phone is worth buying, it just isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested, it hits all major carriers in the United States on or around April 10th.