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HTC One M9 review

evan kypreos

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HTC One M9
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Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Beautifully crafted and well-designed
  • Speedy processor
  • Sense Home works brilliantly
  • Great front-facing camera
  • Best speakers you can find on a phone

Cons

  • Aesthetic changes not an improvement
  • Rear camera not as good as the competition
  • Some software niggles

Key Features

  • 20-megapixel rear camera
  • 4-megapixel Ultrapixel front-facing camera
  • 5-inch 1080p LCD screen
  • BoomSound speakers with Dolby Surround
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, 3GB RAM
  • 32GB onboard storage with microSD slot
  • HTC Sense 7 on Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • Manufacturer: HTC
  • Review Price: £580.00

Originally reviewed on 23 March 2015

What is the HTC One M9?

Taking up the mantle as HTC’s flagship phone in 2015, the HTC One M9 has a lot to live up to.

The HTC One M8 and original One were both great handsets, the latter a winner of the TrustedReviews’ Phone of the Year Award in 2013. The previous models in the One range were both arguably better than their Samsung and Apple counterparts at the time, but the competition has since caught up, and then some. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have sold a shedload and Samsung has put its flimsy-design woes to bed with the sturdier glass and metal Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

Does the HTC One M9 live up to its predecessors? HTC has opted against a complete design-overhaul, choosing evolution rather than revolution. Design-wise it has a lot in common with the One M8 and the screen is almost identical. The majority of the hardware developments come in the way of a new camera, processor and a bigger battery, while HTC’s version of Android has had a makeover with Sense 7.

This all results in a great phone with some clear areas of improvement. However, neither the new rear camera nor the battery life live up to their respective promises. And this isn’t wholly unexpected.

Nevertheless, this is still a solid flagship and it proves how far HTC has come in the last 2 or 3 years that we hold its products to such high standards and intense levels of scrutiny.

Watch the HTC One M9 video review

Related: HTC One M10

HTC One M9: Design

The HTC One M9 is to the One M8 what the iPhone 5S is to the iPhone 5. It shares the same basic design and screen as the HTC One M8 but some small adjustments set it apart from last year’s handset.

The most immediately noticeable of these tweaks is the new two-tone design. The trio of two-tone colour schemes available from launch will see a gold on silver handset joined by gold on gold and gun metal on grey offerings.

Where the back of the One M8 curved round to the screen, the M9 has a ridge connecting the front to the rear. The front of the handset looks as though it has been shoehorned into the back, the benefit being that HTC has been able to do away with the thin plastic edge between the screen and the frame.

Related: HTC One M9 vs HTC One M8

HTC One M9

Do any of these changes make it better? Not in our opinion. The HTC One M8 has a classier air about it – it’s like comparing an understated Breitling to a gold Rolex. Both are well-made, but which one you’d grace on your wrist depends entirely on your taste.

This is a little harsh on the M9. It's a good-looking phone, full of slick design touches and craftsmanship – a word HTC keeps using, and with good reason – but we like the M8 more.

The one upside to the ridge is it makes the M9 easier to grip – it's less slippery than the M8 and other curved phones like the iPhone 6. It's easier to hold one-handed, too, though it's a smidgen less comfortable to hold.

Related: Best Smartphones and Mobile Phones

HTC One M9

In every other respect the design of the HTC One M9 is a triumph. This isn’t a thin phone, but neither does it feel porky – it’s 0.2mm thicker than the M8, but almost 1mm narrower. The back curves into your hand and the metal feels solid – more so than the previous model even though it’s a few grams lighter at 157g. That weight gives it a good heft – the One M9 is well balanced, if a little bottom heavy. It feels like you’re holding a quality phone not a toddler’s toy. We like that.

One major new design improvement is the feel and location of the volume and power buttons. Previously plastic and along the top, the power button was a struggle to reach. It’s now in a far more sensible position, on the right hand edge, just below the volume buttons. It’s also been upgraded to metal and comes with a light etch so you can tell the difference between it and the volume buttons. These have had a tweak too. The buttons are a mite firmer and feel that bit better to press.

Related: Best Android Phones and Smartphones

HTC One M9

This is a tall and narrow phone so the new button position means it’s easy to reach with your thumb, if you’re using it right handed, or with your left hand’s index or middle finger. What’s still an issue is reaching the top of the screen.

It’s a real stretch to get your thumb to the browser back button or search box. Apple has gone some way to solving the issues that come with handling a large phone by dropping the screen with a double-tap on Touch ID. Samsung has as well, to a lesser extent, with one-handed mode. HTC hasn’t addressed the problem at all. If you’ve got average or small hands, you will need to juggle the phone to reach certain areas of the screen when you’re using it one-handed.

Related: Best Mobile Deals: Top Smartphone offers this month

HTC One M9

In most other respects the HTC One M9 is what you’d expect from a flagship phone. The microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack are at the bottom, while there’s a pair of fine grilles at the front which house the new BoomSound speakers – we’ll cover those in more detail later.

Almost the whole top edge is covered with translucent black plastic. This is there to accommodate the infrared blaster that lets you use the M9 as a TV or home cinema remote.

Related: Best Android Apps

HTC One M9

The only other difference between the One M9 and last year’s phone is on the back. Rather than a round camera that sits flush to the body the M9 has a square one that’s slightly raised. Rounded edges ensure the phone doesn’t snag when you’re sliding it into a tight pocket.

All in all the design changes HTC has made to the M9 are positive. The ergonomics have improved thanks to the new power button and narrower body, but some of the aesthetic alterations are less of a success. HTC could have left well enough alone, but there’s no denying that the HTC One M9 is dashingly handsome.

SEE ALSO: Best Cheap Smartphones

The M9 is available in three colours at launch: Gunmetal Grey, Gold on Silver, and Gold on Gold. Read on to find out about the HTC One M9’s screen.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut

A. Mir

March 1, 2015, 4:12 pm

The raised camera on the back will make it obligatory to have the phone in a case or a bumper which just makes its footprint even bigger. HTC uses plastic as cover for the lens/sensor instead of real glass (WTF HTC?!) - well, that's what they've done before and I'm sure it's the case on my One M7.

I also wish they would get rid of those thick bezels on the top and bottom to make the phone's footprint more compact without sacrificing screen size.

Oberoth

March 1, 2015, 7:25 pm

The beauty of HTC for me is that they seem to listen to their customers:

So they have listened to your comments A. Mir and this camera has sapphire glass to protect the lens from scratches.

They have kept the front speakers which people love, they have kept the screen resolution to sane levels of fullHD but they have added things the customers were screaming for like microSD slot and a high mega-pixel camera.

I am going to thank HTC for this and giving them my money for this 2 year contract.

shnatiw

March 1, 2015, 8:41 pm

HTC has turned out a solid rather than outstanding flagship smartphone. Let down in just two key areas. Screen and Camera. It should have had a QHD screen, and OIS. The fact that is doesn't will cost sales. LG has proved that its possible to include a QHD screen that doesn't drain your battery. And both LG, Sony, and Samsung have embraced OIS in their camera modules. Mind you, having outdated screen and camera technology hasn't hurt iPhone sales...

shnatiw

March 1, 2015, 10:14 pm

LG G3 proved you can have a QHD screen and over a days battery life. And that was with an older generation Snapdragon. The 810 would have been even more frugal. Also have not read anywhere that M9 has OIS sensors built into camera module. What it likely has is some kind of digital stabilization software like iphone 6. Better than nothing...but not as good as the real thing. IMHO

shnatiw

March 1, 2015, 10:50 pm

Well I follow a lot of the tech sites like cnet, engadget, tech radar, etc, and have not read anything that suggests that the M9 has proper OIS. And it is something that would be mentioned because it is a significant feature for any smartphone. Maybe I am missing something? And I agree with you that the difference between HD and QHD on a smartphone screen is small. I have used a friend's G3 and my own S5. I can see a difference. And if I was paying for a flagship smartphone, I would want/expect the latest technology. Especially if all the claims regarding power efficiency and battery management regarding the 810 are true. I am sure that Qualcomm designed the 810 with QHD in mind and not HD. Future proofing? My original point was that a lot of people feel the same. Are HTC really sticking with a HD screen because of greater battery life, or because they are cheaper than QHD screens, which means more profit? Also, later this year or early next, we will probably see 4K screens in flagship phones. Will HTC switch to QHD and be a generation behind or are they waiting for 4K? I guess in a couple of weeks when we see benchmark comparisons between the S6 and M9 we will know. And then we will also have the Z4 to contend with. Again IMHO.

Oberoth

March 1, 2015, 10:54 pm

My post wasn't that clear, i meant to say customers were screaming for a microSD slot form the M7 and they brought it on the m8, HTC seems to listen to what people want.

Unless the S6 camera is something truly unbelievable and the 128GB version is a reasonable price, less than £50 premium as you buy 128GB microSD card for £50 and this will give me 158GB on the M9 then HTC is getting my money!

MikeL

March 1, 2015, 11:07 pm

if you had the M8 or one of last year's flagship phones, would the specs on this make you want to upgrade to this?

andyvan

March 2, 2015, 2:21 am

There is no OIS. There were some rumours before the launch, turned out to be false. Personally, I think it's a huge mistake not having it.

CJ

March 2, 2015, 12:42 pm

The M9 has a scratch-proof sapphire lens cover.

Simon

March 2, 2015, 4:57 pm

not
at least with this price point

Chief

March 21, 2015, 6:08 pm

I am on a 12 month contract. Had the M7 and the M8. At first I wasnt going to upgrade but having used the M9 in my local phone store, I have to say I am excited and going to make the upgrade to the M9.

The M7 was the best phone ive ever had, the M9 is like a combination of the two. HTC seems to have hit the sweetspot here.

robertkoa

March 22, 2015, 12:50 am

Good question.

I like the speakers and build and how HTC has pushed other Manufacturers to improve the Volume and quality of their speakers....

I like smaller phones but would consider a larger phone to get good audio and great Camera.

Initially there was hype about the HTC 9 Camera " but now Reviewers are saying " wait for revised software "a bad sign IMO.

I hope HTC gets it right and can rival S6 or Iphone 6 Camera- apparently not that easy- but they can all get the Sony Sensors IMX 240 in S6 and Note 4 or even IMX 230 Sony .

Some like the Verge said Camera is a disappointment - hope they are wrong.

Bad Marketing to have 2 mediocre Cameras in a row on Flagships.

danielfrisbee

March 23, 2015, 2:56 am

if the m7 was the best phone you ever had why did you buy a bunch of other phones? I thought that model was nicer than the newer one.

mothergoose85

March 23, 2015, 4:40 pm

Andy, the issue regarding battery life - do you think this will improve with software updates? And I guess the same sort of question for the camera as well.

I've got to be honest, if it wasn't for the boom sound speakers I'd be going with the S6 after two years with my M7...but I use them A LOT and realised I'd miss them if I didn't have them at all. I just wish the phone...looked a bit nicer (or at least there was a gunmetal and silver combo).

John

March 24, 2015, 6:11 am

I must be lucky, finally getting rid of my GS3, bit of a no brainer for me - must have sd card support- and to get everything else with HTC one m9 - just can't wait forget plastic and glass

Dave_Moshi

March 25, 2015, 10:54 am

I'm so torn. I was extremely excited about this phone, currently have a galaxy s3 (and I never ever want another Samsung phone).. I love the m9's design, the speakers, sense 7 etc. But I'm worried about the camera and especially the battery life. What do you guys think? I could also wait, any upcoming phones in the same "premium" range? Thanks for the help.

TerryB

March 27, 2015, 1:18 pm

Not really, MikeL. But then, at approaching 70, I'm not the target audience that must have the latest all singing, all dancing model, of whatever it is.

I switched from plastic Samsung SII 1900 which I got when it came out, and got the lovely One M8 last June. So you may imagine it was like chalk and cheese. I liked its overall performance and the clean user interface, a big change from the Samsung's bloatware, and the sound is excellent for a mobile phone. My M8 gives me all I need.

Perhaps I may get an M12, if I'm still around. :D)

TerryB

March 27, 2015, 1:40 pm

Dave,
With smartphone cameras you are going to either rely on your own judgment after testing one, or read reviews. It seems that smartphones are going the same way as digital cameras did in believing that the more pixels the better, without taking sensor size, and therefore pixel pitch, into the equation. Using a higher count of smaller pixels for a given sensor area does give an increase in resolution but at the expense of digital noise in lower light levels. (This is why in the M8, HTC went down the route of fewer, but larger pixels. It works as regards noise, i.e. a cleaner image, but resolution suffers.)

Checking HTC's site, they don't quote the sensor size, but I guess it will be small, and as the focal length of the lens is only stated in equivalent 35mm camera terms, it isn't possible doing a little math to work it out. Anticipate it being quite noisy, as will be other high megapixel smartphones, in low light.

Dave_Moshi

March 27, 2015, 5:50 pm

Hm yeah I guess you're right, I'm also wondering how much of it could be software-based. Post-processing and such, because they improved the quality drastically since the first unveiling on march 1st. Same goes for the battery life, could these be software fixes? HTC seems like a company that really puts an effort into their products and also supporting them.

Other than that, do you have any suggestions for other phones in a similar range? I just really dig the design of the One M9 as well.

David

TerryB

March 27, 2015, 6:52 pm

Unfortunately, Dave, I'm not knowledgeable about competing brands. I started with Google's first Android phone, upgrades to the Nexus and S then switched to Samsung, which at the time seemed like a good idea. The M8 is what I would call my first true high-end phone.

Being far more knowledgeable about digital photography, I'd guess that there wouldn't be much leeway for improvement in the imaging properties of the M9, UNLESS HTC hasn't fully utilised its capabilities from day 1 and there is some headroom for improvement. Yes, software can improve image processing to give you a better jpeg image file, but the imaging properties that the sensor the camera comes with is fixed at the time of production. So there may be software upgrades to get the best out of the sensor, but you can't improve on the sensor itself. This is why I'd caution against reliance on software only to significantly alter or improve the camera. At the margin, yes, but not significantly.

Software can reduce the impact of digital noise in an image (and even change how the image looks) but as with most things in life, there is a trade-off, and this trade off with noise reduction is a smearing of fine image detail. To be fair, you would unlikely see this on the phone's screen, and these smeary images would still look fine on social media sites, but if you were to examine them at 100% on a pc monitor it would be obvious just how much fine detail has been lost.

You can see the effect of noise if your phone allows you to manually set the ISO speed. Most phones in auto ISO set it as low as possible to avoid the very noise issue I'm talking about here. But if you can increase it manually and try setting high limits like 800 or even 1600 ISO and see how nasty your pics look, especially indoors, even with flash. Then see how much worse the image looks if you can also set different levels of noise reduction. You may find you have settings of weak, normal, or high. It may come as a surprise just how poor cameras, even in high end phones can be when pushed to high ISO settings.

Let me end with one observation. I've gone back to your post and it is clear that the M9 hits the spot on most things, and you'd clearly like it. Now if I were to suggest that another phone had a marginally better camera, but didn't match the M9 (which in any case has a more than acceptable camera) in the three areas you list, how much of a pull would that other phone be?

Dave, it doesn't matter which high end phone you end up with, there will always be a feature on another that will be slightly better. If you haven't come across the word "synergy" look it up. This is what the M8 is for me, and it could be the M9 for you.

Dave_Moshi

March 28, 2015, 12:51 pm

I guess you're right, I'm getting my M9 in two days and I really hope I'll just love it. Synergy indeed would be what I need. Thanks for your responses man!

TerryB

March 28, 2015, 2:14 pm

No probs. I'd like to hear what you think about the M9 when you've had a chance to try it all out.

Dave_Moshi

March 30, 2015, 7:56 am

Today is the day! Will let you know after trying it out for a bit.

John

April 3, 2015, 1:43 am

So Dave any update, like you I am moving from S3, really can't see we could lose. No more plastic, and not glass which will be a problem - plus we still keep sd card. Sounds like a no brainer to me.

a b

April 3, 2015, 4:28 am

samesies. moving from S3 with same concerns about camera and battery life. but this is the first review i've seen with actual real world tests/data. if moderate use gets you through the entire day with only using 50% battery, and if you can watch video for 10 hours straight, then that definitely kicks *** compared to the S3's battery power. i can't even have my S3 turned on, NOT using it, and last all day.

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