Review: The Beautifully Crafted HTC One M9

HTC One M9 goes on sale in Singapore this weekend. Described as a classic yet timeless celebration of beauty and elegance that combines high end style and performance, the HTC One M9 is quite the head turner. While it looks largely similar to its predecessor, that’s not a bad thing as the HTC One series ranks highly due to it’s crafted, all metal body design. There are still a number of hardware and software updates compared to last year version, and in this review, we will cover the new features introduced for the One M9.

Design

The HTC One M9 looks a lot like the HTC One M8. This means: it’s a gorgeous phone. Even more so this year, as HTC focus even more attention on the build and finish. The striking hairline texture, gorgeous mirror polish, and dazzling dual-tone jewellery finish, are terms not often associated with tech gadgets but yet strangely appropriate with the One M9. HTC graciously loaned me the dual-tone silver and rose gold unit for review. The silver this time around is more striking than last year’s version. The hairline texture finish is quite eye-catching which shines lustrously when it catches light at the right angle. I find myself flipping the phone around just to admire the back. From a distance, the HTC One M8 and M9 are still hard to tell apart. But when you pick it up, the above details offers a premium level of distinction.

There are further tweaks to the back, the obvious one being the camera. However, the phone is also now slightly slimmer and more ergonomic to hold. The two tone design, is a nice touch, and the rose gold complements the silver well. The rose gold edge does make the phone feel a little more pronounced when you grip it.

Unlike the Galaxy S6, the HTC One M9 still sports a microSD card which lets you expand the memory easily.

I like the looks of the HTC One M9. It’s a fine looking phone. However, the fact that it looks so similar to the HTC One M8 is itself a bane. Is the improvement enough for HTC to make an impact on the mobile phone market? I am not sure.

Specs

Nowadays, there are less to say about specs. Every phone performs admirably well. The HTC One M9 sports the Snapdragon 810, which might be the weakest link in this phone. The Snapdragon 810 is notorious for throttling issues. My experience with the HTC One M9 is that throttling is not as severe, I ran Antutu concurrently for around three times and scores dropped from 51500 to 49500, which is a marginal 4% decrease. Thermal performance was not an issue for me. The phone did felt warm to touch under gaming load, but that’s also because the metal body allows heat to dissipate quickly through.

However, in actual world performance, the HTC One M9 is a joy to use. Everything was snappy, a combination of an improved Sense OS, 3GB of RAM and the octa core processor in the Snapdragon 810 translates to smooth as silk performance.

HTC reused the same screen from the HTC One M8 – a 5″ 1080 Super LCD 3. I think keeping to a 1080p screen is a great decision. There’s no need to chase pixels to QHD or even 4K for mobile phone size screens. The HTC One M9 does offer a low screen to surface ratio than competitors, but that’s largely due to the Boom Sound speakers taking up space on the bottom.

HTC New Software Enhancements

The HTC One M9 features the latest HTC Sense 7, which offers more customisation. Across the other OEM default screens, I think the Sense 7 is one of the better UI offering. Many of the additional features can be enabled / disabled.

There’s now support for themes, which by itself is nothing new. However, HTC now lets you analyse your favourite photo to modify the look and feel of your apps, colour scheme and backgrounds. There’s a new widget, which intends to reinvent the home screen to deliver the most useful apps to the homepage based on your location. It delivers apps that it thinks you need when you are at home, work, or play. It’s an OK feature, and it does detect and offer apps rather intelligently. However, if you don’t like it, it is easily removed as a home screen widget.

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HTC new photo editor app is a nice addition. It offers a number of new editing effects which is easy to use. There’s still HTC Zoe, which automatically edits photos, and combines them with music for a short video strip, to celebrate your special moments. There’s also a new One Gallery. It makes it easy to search through your entire photo library, viewing images saved on the phone, on social media, and on cloud platforms such as Facebook, Google + etc. Searchable meta include date, location, event, album or even the images themselves with Image Match. As I archive all my photos on mainly Google+, with some tagged photos on Facebook, this was a nice feature to have to access all my photos.

The New Camera

If HTC had included this camera in last year HTC One M8, it could have easily been the star of 2014.

Yet, now, it seems borne out of necessity. I haven’t use the camera much, but in my experience, it has been positive. My version of the HTC One M9 sports the latest camera software release. It is a 20 mp camera that lets you capture more detail. If you were put off by last year M8 camera, this is definitely worth a revisit. However, with other manufacturers catching up, such as Samsung’s improved S6 camera, and LG’s own 16 MP F1.8 lens shooter to come on the G4, the HTC One M9 is in a crowded market. The omission of OIS on the M9 becomes even more glaring.

I followed the tips on XDA forums on how to take better photos with the HTC One M9 camera. In a nutshell, increase contrast and saturation by 0.5, reduce sharpnes by -1.5, capp ISO at 400.

The ultrapixel is still around. This time it is manifested in the front camera. The UltraPixels that can capture 300% more light would help to deliver sharper, more natural and balanced self-portraits, especially in low light conditions.

BoomSound – Still Best in Class

While other phones have attempted to replicate the BoomSound quality or success, till date, no one has come close. HTC literally blows the competition away with their BoomSound and the HTC One M9 continues to impress with the richness and quality of the front facing speakers. This year upgrade sees 5.1 channel Dolby Surround sound. That’s a little gimmicky. I tried out demos that you can download from Dolby. There was an increase in the surround sound effect, but the overall sound felt a little distorted. I listened to an Orchestra demo and the instrument pitch seem slightly affected as the speaker source pan around.

Availability

The HTC One M9 will be available in dual-tone silver and rose gold, and single-tone gunmetal grey in Singapore from May 2, 2015 at M1, Singtel, and StarHub. Price is at $1,008 – $10 increase from last year flagship M8 roll out of S$998.

Verdict

There’s much to like about the new HTC One M9, especially the all metal craftsmanship. However, the changes might be considered as incremental if you own a HTC One M8. Previous flaws such as the camera have now been improved, but they are not stellar in face of other competition. Other manufactuers are also starting to pay more attention to design – cue the glass / metal Galaxy S6 or leather backed LG G4. However, despite that, the HTC One M9 is still a good recommendation for those looking for a beautiful handset, and an all around well performer.

Sean

Sean is a tech geek and star wars fan. He loves playing with new gadgets, writing little code snippets in Python, JS, and dabbling with Android programming from time to time, while keeping a lookout for the next biggest happening in the world of tech!

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