The HTC One M9 is a phone that embodies the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra. Taking all the best bits from last year’s all-conquering One M8, HTC clearly reckons what people want is the same thing again… only better.
It’s given it a darn good go: packing the industry’s new chipset du jour in the ultra-powerful, octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, slipping in 3GB of RAM, tossing away the misunderstood Ultrapixel camera and even raising the size of the battery to boot. On paper at least, this is a phone with the power to rule the world again.
However, even before we delve beneath that exterior, let’s take a moment to savour it. The two tone gold and silver band sounds feminine, but actually looks more luxury watch than you’d expect.
It feels like something actually worth holding when you slip it between your digits, which makes sense given each model is hand finished by a ‘craftsman’ following countless hours of building.
- Read more: HTC One M8 vs HTC One M9
The weight is comfortable, despite being nearly 25% weightier than an iPhone 6, and sits in the palm very well. HTC reckons this is a lovely fusion of the One M7 and M8, and you can see the design language from both seeping in throughout the phone.
However, it seems that HTC’s gone big on the design, and not that much else. The raising of the camera to 20.7MP sounds like a great idea, and has improved the snapping prowess, but is distinctly middle of the road when it comes to the output.
The BoomSound speakers have had an overhaul as well, now imbued with a boatload of Dolby smarts to give you a virtual surround sound experience when chopping peppers for dinner.
It’s not that noticeable though, with the output merely improving the clarity of dialogue rather than making you mistakenly think someone’s at the door.
The output through headphones is clearer than in recent years though, keeping HTC as a market leader in pumping tunes into your ears.
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HTC has definitely taken the idea of a luxury watch a little further than we would have liked, with the price shooting up past iPhone 6 levels at launch. You can see why, given the extra craft that’s gone into creation, but for the money we’d like to have seen something next-gen like the QHD screen Samsung’s packing.
For a long time HTC has been the master at one thing: making the best of the operating system it’s running on top of. It started with Windows Mobile (and if anyone made that beast usable, they deserved a chocolate medal) and has continued with Android, taking the best bits of Lollipop and using them to deliver a really clever experience.
So while naked Android has inexplicably forgotten about silent mode, HTC has popped it back in. The notifications pane is cultured and easy to use, with a couple of double taps getting you into any app that’s after your attention.
Sense, the overlay HTC has been using for a number of years, continues to get more refined and cultured with every iteration, fitting nicely with the premium finish on the outside.
While mostly nothing more than a tidy up this year, it flicks along nicely under the finger and comes with a few clever tricks that’ll make you feel like the One M9 is really your phone.
Theme creator sounds like it belongs on a turn of the century advert for premium rate mobile ‘fun’, but in reality it’s rather cool.
Take a picture and the One M9 can work out the predominant colours used, pulling patterns and palettes to offer you the choice of a number of relevant themes.
Your picture is used throughout the phone in the background too, so you’ll see your gurning cat around 412 times per day.
The camera is where HTC has plugged in the biggest upgrade, ditching the 4MP Ultrapixel sensor as it simply couldn’t convince the phone buying public that fewer pixels was a good thing, despite the fact you could finally take a good picture when the sun went down.
At 20.7MP, it’s gone too far though; while the pictures look sharp and clean, they’re a lot darker and have a narrower field of view – meaning you get less of the picture in per snap.
HTC is one of the few brands to let you have full manual control over your photos though, so if you’re annoyed at the white balance or exposure it’s a few simple tweaks to get your perfect picture.
Camera fans will be pleased to hear that the One M9 can even shoot in RAW, so you’ll be able to pull those photos onto the PC to get a really clear run at editing (useful if the high price of the One M9 has prevented you from forking out for a proper DSLR).
The phone can shoot in 4K and record the usual slow motion movies as well – however, these seem like more of an afterthought and don’t really add a huge amount to the mix.
We’re still waiting for a company to explain why we need Ultra HD recording on phones, but it seems something the likes of HTC are unable to resist.
Something we’ve always been slightly narked with HTC about is battery life – the company keeps making the power packs bigger but was always unable to make its phones last through the day.
With the One M8 it finally reversed that trend, getting well into the second 24 hours before needing a charge – so when we found the One M9 has seemingly gone backwards in battery life, we were a little confused.
It’s not a terrible experience and will usually last you just until you step through the front door in the evening (and that’s if you’ve been using the screen for an extended amount of time, or spent a few minutes playing a high power game.
However, given it’s got one of the most advanced processors on the market, a battery that’s almost as big as the iPhone 6 Plus and a company that’s been at this smartphone game for a couple of decades, we simply expected better.
The rivals: Samsung Galaxy S6
It’s taken a while, but Samsung has finally created a stunning phone through a beautifully slim fusion of metal and glass.
Take your eyes off the build for a second though and you’ll realise that its beauty is more than just skin deep, with a lightning fast 16MP camera and a superbly sharp and vibrant 5.1-inch QHD Super AMOLED display.
It’s got more than enough power to keep up with the pack too, eschewing Snapdragon in favour of a super-speedy own-brand Exynos processor with 64-bit octa-core power.
The battery could be better, but it will still last a day and benefits from both fast and wireless charging.
Our verdict? Samsung has arisen phoenix-like from the flames to make a brilliant smartphone, but at £580 it’s every bit as expensive as HTC’s latest.
HTC One M8
The HTC One M9 might be newer, but the M8 hasn’t lost much of its shine, with a beautifully well-made metal shell that’s actually less sharp to hold in the hand than the HTC One M9.
In fact it even has the M9 beat in some ways, as the HTC One M8 can outlast it, with over a day’s life easily achievable on a single charge and while the screen is no better it’s no worse either, with the M8 packing the same 5.0-inch 1080p Super LCD3 display for bright and clear visuals.
Its quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor is inevitably starting to sound a bit dated, but it’s still up to nearly any task you can throw at it and while HTC is backing away from UltraPixels their use on the main snapper here results in lightning fast shutter speeds. All that and it’s cheaper too at just £380.
Our verdict? A year older, a lot cheaper – this is a very real choice for the discerning HTC fan.
Not enamoured with Android? Then the iPhone 6 is an obvious alternative. Apple is known for the design of its phones and the iPhone 6 is the best yet, with a light and metallic build that’s smooth to the touch.
Apple is one of the best around when it comes to smartphone cameras too and the 8MP snapper on the iPhone 6 delivers industry-leading photos, while the iPhone 6’s powerful A8 chip ensures the device can breeze through any app or game.
The battery life has been given a boost over earlier models, finally allowing it to last a day and while the 720p screen could be sharper it’s big by Apple standards at 4.7 inches. Plus its colour reproduction is gorgeous.
Our verdict? The iPhone 6 is a flagship through and through. That extends to its £519 price, but it’s the best iPhone by a street and even diehard Android fans have been having wandering thoughts.
The HTC One M9 is a phone that takes the design heritage, DNA and all the other good bits of last year’s phone and, well, does them again.
It’s again shown the rest of the competition how to make a premium smartphone, and if it can iron out some of the wrinkles around battery and speed, it’s another great phone – but the competition is catching up quickly.
HTC has merely polished last year’s model without adding much new – a very good phone, but not brilliant.