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HTC Source | September 20, 2017

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HTC One M9 review – perfect iteration

HTC One M9 review – perfect iteration

Another year, another HTC One.

That statement can be read two different ways. The HTC One M8 and One M7 were amazing phones. They both feature iconic designs and incredible performance. But they also had their flaws. The new HTC One M9 shares a lot of DNA with its predecessors, featuring an UltraPixel camera and a unibody aluminum chassis. But there are a few notable differences which make it stand out. The UltraPixel camera is not on the front, the main camera has been upgraded to 20 megapixels and the software on the phone is better than ever.

On paper, the HTC One M9 is the best phone HTC has ever made, but does the phone live up to the HTC One name?

Specs

  • specs-image-htc-one-m9-silverQualcomm Snapdragon 810 (octa-core, 4 x 2GHz + 4 x 1.5GHz, 64bit)
  • 32GB internal storage with microSD expansion slot (up to 2TB)
  • Main camera: 20MP with sapphire cover lens, Auto-focus, BSI sensor, f/2.2, 27.8mm lens,  4K video recording
  • Front camera: UltraPixel (4 megapixel), BSI sensor, f/2.0, 26.8mm lens, 1080p video recording
  • Dual-tone metal unibody
  • Size & Weight: 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61 mm, 157g
  • Display: 5.0 inch, Full HD 1080p, SLCD3
  • 2840 mAh battery
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (octa-core, 4 x 2GHz + 4 x 1.5GHz, 64bit)
  • 32GB internal storage with microSD expansion slot (up to 2TB)
  • Main camera: 20MP with sapphire cover lens, Auto-focus, BSI sensor, f/2.2, 27.8mm lens,  4K video recording
  • Front camera: UltraPixel (4 megapixel), BSI sensor, f/2.0, 26.8mm lens, 1080p video recording
  • Front-facing stereo HTC BoomSound speakers with Dolby Audio
  • GPS, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX and Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz)
  • micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with HDMI MHL 3.0
  • NFC, ambient light sensor, IR sensor, proximity sensor, gyroscope

Build and Design

It’s impossible to describe the HTC One M9 without making reference to its predecessors. At first glance, the HTC One M9 is nearly impossible to distinguish from the HTC One M8. Personally, I’m not a fan; but I do understand what HTC is going for. The HTC One M7 and One M8 were gorgeous devices, but they each featured design characteristics which made them unique in their own right. The HTC One M9 bridges the gap between the One M7 and One M9 with soft edges on the back and hard edges around the front.

htc-one-m9 (16)

But there are a few tweaks to the design which set the HTC One M9 apart from previous versions of the HTC One. The speaker grills, front-facing camera and HTC logo on the front of the phone are practically identical to those of the One M8, but you’ll notice that the front of the One M9 has a cleaner look. This is due to the One M9’s layered design. Rather than having the rear metal panel of the phone wrap around the edges of the front, HTC has raised the front roughly 2mm, creating two distinct edges to the front of the phone. This change may appear minor, but it gives the One M9 a distinct feel in the hand and allows for an incredibly solid grip.

To add a unique flare, HTC has added a double anodization process to the metal chassis of the silver and pink variants of the HTC One M9, giving the phones a two-tone finish with mirror-polished, subtle gold edges.

htc-one-m9 (18)

With the One M9, HTC has finally conceded that the power button on a phone this large should not be on the top. The button has been moved to the right side of the phone, below the two volume buttons. The new placement is better than before, but it’s a bit too low for my taste. HTC should have moved the microSD slot to the left side of the phone, allowing all the buttons on the right to move up about half an inch. Flipping the phone to the back reveals a design that’s indistinguishable from that of the One M8, save for the squircle sapphire lens which protrudes slightly from the back of the phone.

Cameras

Since the introduction of the HTC One X, HTC has been experimenting with the camera technology and software on its flagship Android phones. The One X’s claim to fame was it’s incredibly fast launch time and burst mode. With the HTC One M7, HTC introduced us to its UltraPixel sensor technology for improved low light performance. That same sensor was used a year later in the One M8, but HTC added a DuoCamera sensor which captured depth information with every image, allowing users to add a bokeh effect after the fact to blur out the background or foreground of the shot.

htc-one-m9 (11)

All these software and hardware features allowed HTC to outline a clear story for consumers – a story of innovation. With the HTC One M9, that story has come to an abrupt end. The main camera on the HTC One M9 is powered by Toshiba sensor which captures images at a 20.1 megapixel. Paired with a two-tone, dual-LED flash, the camera on the HTC One M9 is capable of capturing great shots, just as long as those shots are taken in daylight or in a well-lit room.

While the images captured with the main camera won’t leave you breathless, the HTC One M9 is capable of capturing incredible images. I used the phone to take hundreds of pictures over the course of a week and wouldn’t think twice about using the pictures to print off a handful of 5×7 or even 8×10 prints. In low-light, the HTC One M9’s 20 megapixel camera doesn’t hold a candle to HTC’s own UltraPixel sensor. The M9’s sensor simply can’t absorb enough light to capture a good picture. Because of this, the software overcompensated with an excessive amount of ISO which adds a lot of noise, making pictures look smudgy and pixelated.

The issue with the HTC One M9’s camera is that it’s just not as good as what’s offered by the competition. The HTC One M9’s camera doesn’t come close to competing with the iPhone 6 and it even fell short when compared to last year’s Samsung Galaxy S5. Since the phone was unveiled at Mobile World Congress, HTC has release multiple software updates which have improved the performance of the One M9’s camera. The device I’ve been testing is running final software, but I wouldn’t be surprised if HTC releases updates to the camera in the coming months to further steak the performance of the camera.

Fortunately, there is a bit of good news. The HTC One M9 still has the UltraPixel camera sensor – they just decided to place it on the front of the phone instead. The beauty of the UltraPixel sensor is that it features massive pixels which allow it to capture any shot, no matter what lighting condition. Images turn out great when you’re outdoors, but the UltraPixel sensor shows it true potential when capturing selfies at night or with your friends at the bar. Sure, the image size is limited to 4 megapixels, but I’ve never once needed an image front my front-facing camera to be larger than that.

And if you’re having a hard time taking a good low-light picture with the HTC one M9’s main camera, just flip it around and use the UltraPixel sensor.

HTC Sense 7

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If you’re a fan of HTC Sense, you’ll definitely love HTC Sense 7. The basic UI isn’t much different than what’s available on all versions of the HTC One running Lollipop. BlinkFeed is back with a few cosmetic tweaks and Yelp integration which also allows for local restaurant suggestions on your lock screen during meal times. To take full advantage of BlinkFeed, you do need to connect your Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and pull in any news sources you follow the most. Having all my social media and news highlights in one spot in extremely convenient for when I have an extra minute or two to see what’s new. While you’ll still need dedicated social media
apps to get the full details of longer posts, BlinkFeed allows you to get your social media fix without falling into the endless pit of status updates that traditionally clog your feed. But if you’re simply not a fan, you can remove BlinkFeed from your launcher and go on your merry way.

htc-sense-7-3Fortunately, Sense 7 has a lot more to offer than a few simply enhancements to BlinkFeed. HTC has put together a location-aware widget on the homescreen which organizes apps based on your usage and location. If you use certain apps at work and other while at home, the HTC One M9 will organize them on the home screen, making them immediately accessible when you get to work or home.  And if you find yourself out exploring the world, the widget will also promote the apps that you use when not at home or work. The widget also includes a folder which shows the most recent apps you’ve downloaded from Google Play and another folder which shows download suggestions. HTC claims that suggested apps are based on your location and your recent downloads, but I never found any suggestions that were actually useful.

The feature is simple to use, but I’ll definitely be removing it from my homescreen now that the review has been written. i can see how the feature could be helpful for those who don’t spend much time organizing the icons in specific folders on screens, but it’s a pain in the side if you’re like me and rely on muscle memory to launch specific apps.

Fortunately, things get a lot better with the new Themes app and all the different personalization options that are included with HTC Sense 7. Other manufacturers have included quite a few customization options in the past, but HTC has taken things to a whole new level. The Themes app features a collection of curated themes from HTC and fellow HTC Sense 7 users who have decided to share themes that they have created for themselves. Applying a new theme will change the wallpaper, accent colors or textures, icons, sounds and fonts. Themes created by HTC can also change the look of a few different widgets and the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen.

But choosing someone else’s theme isn’t really personalization. Since we all love being unique, the Themes app is closely integrated to the Gallery app, allowing you to create custom themes based on the picture you have on your phone. Simply select the picture you want to use from the Gallery, press the Themes button below the image and the software will construct a custom theme with accent colors and icons which match your image. If you’re not 100% satisfied with the recommendation that’s made, you can choose to fine tune each feature of the theme to your own liking. Once you’re done, you can save the theme so that you can quickly come back to it at a later time. If you want event more control over your custom theme, you’ll have to head over to themes.htc.com on your computer. The site allows you to create and share themes in seconds and gives you the option to even create your own custom app icons.

While HTC isn’t the first to come up with a UI personization app, Themes is incredibly polished and is easily one of the most intriguing software features on the phone when showing it off to others.
HTC could have wrapped up the customization options there, but its software team thought it would it would be a good idea to allow people to customize the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen. HTC has shown off this feature in quite a few press shots of the HTC One M9 with a navigation button which turns off the display. Since gesture controls are still alive an well, this customizable option is better suited to open the notification panel, quick settings, toggle auto rotate or even hide the navigation buttons all together. You can only display four navigation buttons at once, but you do have the option to change the order however you please.

The final standout feature of HTC Sense 7 is the Photo Editor. Rather than giving you white balance, contrast and saturation controls with a few filter options that you’ll probably never use, the HTC One M9’s Photo Editor comes with a handful of templates for creative manipulation of your images. You can create simple double exposure overlays with two different images or more complex creations with Photo Shapes and prismatic effects. Rather than explaining the editing process, take a look below at a few of the images we were able to create with HTC’s Photo Editor.

Performance and  Battery Life

The HTC One M9 is a flagship phone, so it stands to reason that it is equipped with flagship specs.

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC – check.
  • 3 gigs of RAM – check.
  • 2840mAh battery – check
  • 5-inch QHD display – not so much.

Some people are disappointed that the HTC One M9 does not come with a quad HD display – I’m not. The fact that HTC chose to use a standard 5-inch 1080p Super LCD3 panel plays to the M9’s advantage by delivering impeccable performance and all-day battery life.

Performance on the HTC One M9 is impeccable. The bump from 2GB to 3GB of RAM isn’t really that noticeable, but the new Snapdragon 810 chip definitely gives the One M9 a huge advantage over last year’s One M8. The UI transitions and its animations are a graceful as a performance of the Nutcracker by the Moscow Ballet. I spent countless hours playing Real Racing 3 and Leo’s Fortune (two of the most graphically rich games available for Android) without ever noticing any lag and stutters. While last year’s One M8 handles these games pretty well, the One M9 showed a noticeable improvement in smoothness and the added RAM and processing power cut down game load times significantly – allowing you to enjoy the gaming experience more rather than having you wait for 10-15 seconds as the game loads.

HTC One M9 benchmark scores

When running benchmarks, the power of the HTC One M9 and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC come into focus. The HTC One M9 isn’t quite as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and its Exynos processor, but we doubt anyone will really notice a difference in day-to-day use

  • AnTuTu: 55855
  • Quadrant:36621
  • 3D Mark: 23871
  • Geekbench 3: 4277
  • Vellamo Browser: 3472
  • Vellamo Multicore: 2321
  • Vellamo Metal: 2438

Running benchmarks will definitely chew through the HTC One M9’s 2840mAh battery in a few hours, but things get a lot better if you actually use it in the real world. In the five days that we’ve had the phone, the One M9 proved that it’s more than able to make it through a full day of use. I averaged 14 hours and 20 minutes of use with 4.5 hours of screen-on time which included managing three Gmail accounts, checking Twitter several times per hours, listening to an hours of podcasts, 45 minutes of Netflix and roughly an hour or gaming.

Call Quality

One thing to keep in mind when buying the HTC One M9 is that this device can also make phone calls. Imagine that! In testing the phone quality, I found that reception and call quality on T-Mobile’s network was impeccable. Audio on both sides was extremely clear and the user on the phone end noted that the noise cancellation mics on the One M9 were able to drown out the street sounds on my end of the call.

The T-Mobile model I tested was also equipped with WiFi calling. While T-Mobile claims that the audio over WiFi calling should sound better, I didn’t notice any difference.

Conclusion

If you buy the HTC One M9, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The build quality of the HTC One M9 is superb, it’s software is impeccable and its performance make the phone a must-have for mobile gaming enthusiasts. The 20 megapixel camera on the phone isn’t the best at taking pictures at night or in low light, but the added resolution should silence a lot of critics who have been complaining about the 4 megapixel resolution HTC stuck with in on the HTC one M7 and One M8.

That being said, I’m disappointed that HTC’s iteration on the HTC One’s iconic design is moving so slowly. I totally get the idea that an iconic design like that of a Porsche doesn’t need a dramatic change every year,  but there’s a big difference between a smartphone which gets replaced every 12-18 months and a car which is built to last decades.

Fortunately, the success of the HTC One M9 isn’t directly tied to its design. Samsung has proven time and time again that a well-planned marketing campaign is what sells phones – not the phone’s design. If HTC can manage to pull together a marketing campaign and a decent budget to promote the HTC One M9, the phone could easily be the best selling device in HTC’s history.

About Nick Gray

Tech enthusiast, Android user and founder of the first HTC blog – Nick Gray has been blogging about HTC phones before most people knew what a smartphone even was. Over the years Nick has owned and tested dozens HTC devices and is constantly flashing new ROMs to his Android phones.

Review Overview

Design
7.5
Display
8.5
Software
9.5
Performance
9.5
Camera(s)
7
Battery
8.5
Call Quality
9
8.5

Rating

Comments

  1. Kwadwo Boadu

    Very good review Nick! I have some questions though, is it really expandable up to 2TB? Also do you think the placement of the power button was as a compromise between people with small hands and large hands? It is also an identical position to Sony Xperia phones. Finally did you give manual mode a try in low light situations, I am really interested in finding out whether lowering the ISO and slightly extending the shutter speed could fix the low light woes?

    • nickmgray

      Good questions. Yes, we’ve confirmed that is does support memory cards up to 2TB. While the cards don’t currently exist (and don’t for a while), it’s nice to know that you’ll be able to upgrade storage for years to come.

      The placement of the power button on the side of the M9 is actually lower than is it on the Sony Xperia Z3. moving it up 10mm would be a huge improvement.

      Manual mode is still alive and well, but it doesn’t really do much to improve low light image quality. Lowering the ISO and extending the shutter speed doesn’t really offer any noticeable difference. That being said, the images are not bad, but they’re not good either.

      • Kwadwo Boadu

        Thanks for clearing that all up for me, hopefully the incoming camera update that will bring along Raw picture mode takes some steps forward in improving the post processing. Failing that, hopefully something similar to the HTC Eye experience brings some innovation later in the year.

  2. Tarcísio Medeiros

    I’m reading across all sites that M9 have a worse battery than M8. Is it true? This point for me it’s the most important

  3. MCGTech

    Commented on the wrong article

    Wow I pre-ordered from T-MO on the 1st, they tell me it will release on the 9th, surprise! it arrives on the 2nd!

    Going from the M7 to the M9 Is without a doubt a very worthwhile upgrade. A reviewer said the silver/gold one is like a piece of jewelry and I wholly agree this thing is GORGEOUS! I can go on and on so in a nutshell, the performance is silky smooth, battery performance is improved, etc.

    The only downside I’m seeing is the 22Mp camera can use a little polish in the exposure department. I’m not much of a shutterbug but the macro function will come in real handy.