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HTC One M9 review

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HTC One M9 review

With its aluminium unibody design, the warmly received HTC One (M8) was one of the best handsets of last year.

Now HTC has dropped the brackets and upped the number to bring us the HTC One M9.

It makes some improvements over last year’s model. But a lot has happened since the One (M8) broke cover.

QHD screens have quickly become standard for high-end handsets.

Meanwhile, Samsung has embraced curved screens with the ground-breaking Galaxy S6 Edge.

And then there’s the small matter of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

In the face of this stiff competition, can the One M9 still cut it? Let’s find out.

First impressions and design

htc one m9 uswitch

On first viewing, you might struggle to spot any difference between the One M9 and its predecessor.

The aluminium unibody looks almost identical, but there are some changes.

The back of the One (M8) curved all the way to the screen, but the One M9 has a ridge connecting the front and back. It looks as if the back is a tray that the handset is sitting in.

It also comes in a new dual-tone finish. The front of our test unit was gold-silver, with a silver back and gold edge.

htc one m9 side review

The changes are subtle and not all that noticeable. Though the One (M8) was such a dapper phone we would be happy with new innards in the same case.

The new design is slightly easier to grip, though, making the handset less slippery than some metal mickeys. It feels tall and narrow in the hand.

One other change is that the power button is now on the side, under the volume buttons.

This is much easier to reach than on the top, as on its predecessor, but it is easy to confuse with the volume buttons.

htc one m9 back review

HTC has anticipated this and given the on-off switch an etched finish so you can discern it. We still kept getting them confused, however. Maybe it’s just us.

One other niggle is that it's tricky to reach the top of the screen, when you want to tap on the URL bar in the web browser, for example.

There’s no one-handed mode à la Apple or Samsung to be seen. Poor show.

Software

htc one m9 front rob

Android 5.0 Lollipop comes as standard, and it’s overlaid with HTC’s Sense 7 UI.

This is one of the best skins around. It looks less amateurish than Samsung’s TouchWiz, and is less obtrusive than others.

It has some rather cool new features too.

Sense Home detects where you are and serves up relevant apps to your home screen.

So if you’re at home, Netflix and Spotify might be there. While if you’re at the office, maybe email and a sneaky game might be called for.

When you’re out and about, Google Maps and other location-based apps are the order of the day.

htc one m9 sense cooking

It’s essentially HTC’s take on Google Now. It learns your habits and gives you the apps it thinks you’ll need, when you’ll need them.

And in our time with the device, it did a pretty good job. You can also pin apps to keep them within easy reach at all times.

Sense 7 lets you customise the phone. You can change themes, fonts, icons and even the navigation bar (the Back, Home and Recent Apps icons that appear at the bottom of the screen).

Want some more? Add some! Three too many? Take some away!

The extra options – Auto rotate, Notifications, Hide navigation bar, Quick settings – are mostly pointless and just clutter the navigation bar.

But we love the Turn off screen option, as it lets you put the phone to sleep without reaching for the button on the side. Very handy.

Features

htc one m9 camera rob

Now we get to the real meat and potatoes of the phone. What can it actually do?

Quite a lot. There’s an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip alongside 3GB of RAM, which is plenty of power.

Onboard storage of 32GB is expandable using a microSD card – Samsung did away with expandable storage for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, so this is a real feather in the M9’s cap.

You get the usual NFC and Bluetooth, plus a 20-megapixel rear camera, which is quite a step on from the UltraPixel model found on the M8.

htc one m9 rear rob

The UltraPixel tech has been shifted to the front-facing camera, which makes for great low-light selfies.

It has a 5.1-inch 1080p screen. A year ago that would’ve been cutting-edge, but since the LG G3, QHD is the new standard. QHD has four times as many pixels as 1080p, and is seen on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and Galaxy Note 4.

Usability

No complaints in day-to-day use. The phone absolutely flies thanks to its meaty processor and hefty amount of RAM.

Games run without a hitch, and while the back of the handset did get a little warm, there was none of the overheating worries that have plagued the Snapdragon 810 chip.

The UltraPixel camera on the One (M8) was a bit of a letdown.

While we loved the ability to change the focus after shooting, and it performed well in low light, shots tended to lack detail.

With the One M9, HTC has shifted the UltraPixel tech to the front-facer, bolting a 20-megapixel shooter on the back.

Snaps are nice and detailed, and colours really pop. It struggled to deal with a low, bright sun, but overall it’s a big improvement on the One (M8).

Though it’s not quite as awesome as the snappers on the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6.

The front-facer is great too. Selfies come out sharp and clearly defined even in murky conditions.

The screen does a good job, but again, it’s not quite on a par with its rivals.

Maybe we’re being picky, but having used the wraparound QHD display on the Galaxy S6 Edge, we weren’t wowed by this 1080p panel.

Colours are bright, and pixels weren’t visible. But we’ve been wooed by better suitors.

It lasted a full day before needing a recharge, which is par for the course nowadays.

Verdict

htc one m9 rob case game

HTC may not have reinvented its flagship with the One M9, but it didn’t need to.

The One (M8) was a fine handset, and this improves on it in almost every way.

The only thing is, the competition have moved on.

The iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are still a nose ahead of the One M9 – especially in the camera department – and for that reason, we can only give it eight out of 10.

It’s a mark of how good the competition is right now.

Key specs

  • 5" super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen
  • 20.7-megapixel camera with autofocus and dual-LED flash
  • 32GB storage, expandable by up to 128GB via microSD
  • Li-Po 2840 mAh battery (not removable)
  • 4-megapixel front-facing camera with HDR video
  • Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 processor

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