The latest flagship from from HTC is the One M9, which is a solid upgrade on last year’s One M8. With HTC’s One series now entering it’s 4th year, we’re expecting a lot with their 2015 model, the only one so far. After spending around a month with the One M9, it’s time to detail what they got right and what they didn’t.
The phone itself is substantial at 5.0” Full HD display is surrounded by a gold metal finish that also wraps the side of the device. Then we get to the strange design decisions. The back of the phone is a polished silver metallic back, this meets awkwardly half way up the sides of the device, or right where your fingers rest while holding it.
This decision, paired with the ‘here I am’ t-shaped antenna lines that run down to the camera, mean that while the M9 could be a sexy phone, just isn’t.
Packed inside that body is a ridiculous 8-core chip, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, made up of 4 x 2GHz and 4 x 1.5GHz processors with 64-bit processing. There’s really no reason 64-bit is important, other than to match the iPhone spec sheet. Regardless of why, the processor is speedy and an improvement over the performance of the M8. Applications launch quickly, and running multiple doesn’t slow down the M9. The phone itself weighs just 157grams and is evenly distributed across the large body making it easy to operate single handed.
The screen is flanked by two front-facing speakers which pump out great stereo sound. Most phones get this arrangement wrong and place the speaker in the back of the device, so when placed on a table the sound is muffled. HTC expects you’ll be using this to watch plenty of video, so having the screen and speakers work in harmony is a success.
On the back, we have a 20 megapixel camera with a serious f/2.2, 27.8mm lens that protrudes ever so slightly from the body. This really isn’t an issue, like it is on other phones like the Lumia 1020. There’s an accompanying dual-LED flash, but if you’re using this for anything other than a flashlight, you’re doing it wrong.
The camera itself is fast to fire, but sadly like so many Android phones, the camera experience is a let down. The images produced by the HTC One M9 can be great, but only if a bunch of conditions are true. It’s best asset is in video mode where it’s capable of 4K video recording. If anything, that still reasonably rare capability is the saving grace of this camera. If you invested in a 4K display, being able to create your own content is a big win.
What you want is the confidence that when you snap a photo, it’s right the first time, every time. Sure there’ll be times when you try fancy effects and experiment, but if you hand the phone to a friend, you want it to ‘just work’ on auto.
We put the HTC One M9 through a series of difficult lighting conditions and here’s the results. Keep in mind, these often took many attempts to achieve. If you’re after an easy point and shoot, this isn’t the phone for you, if you’re willing to spend the time, it is possible to take nice shots. When life’s events happen quickly, you’ll want to snap a bunch of photos, cross your fingers and hope you got one in focus. When you have more time to set focus and exposure, you’ll be fine.
HTC have really struggled over the years to leave Android alone. In the early releases, nobody would blame them for improving on stock builds as the experience needed it with many areas lacking. As we’re now at Android 5.0, the same can’t be said anymore. Thankfully the M9 leaves Android alone for the most part the phone runs Android 5.0 (Lollipop) with HTC Sense. The touches of Sense UI thrown in are sparse, like Blinkfeed, there if you need it, when you scroll to the extreme left, but not in your face.
Blinkfeed surfaces posts from across your social networks which is actually a really nice feature for catching up if you’ve been offline for a few hours, like a road trip or commute. It won’t replace your dedicated apps in terms of functionality, but will give you that glance and go experience or fill in time if you find yourself with too much.
Price & Availability
The HTC One M9 is available now in dual-tone Silver and Rose Gold from all Australia carriers and major retailers since 24 March, 2015. Alternatively a gunmetal grey version is also available exclusively from Telstra.
The HTC One M9 is a solid feeling phone, but has enough small problems that make it hard to say you should throw your money at it. The dual-metal design is completely confused, like it could decide if the front melted into the back or the other way around and just got stuck in the middle. That damn camera is just not where it should be for a 2015 flagship, taking great photos in the best situation isn’t what we need, we need it to perform in average and everyday situations.
The customisations to Android do help, not hinder, but this will mean delays in receiving updates whenever companies tap their own engineers.
The M9 is a good phone, with a great display and good performance, but it’s certainly not the best Android phone on the market right now. Fingers crossed they get it right with the M10.