Preview: HTC One M9

The all new HTC One M9, ladies and gentleman…

M8 and M9 Front

I had to double check I’d captioned that correctly. The word ‘subtle’ comes to mind when we compare the M8 and M9.

I’m not complaining though, well not yet. Since the M7 debuted in 2013, the HTC One series has been renowned for it’s innovative design and premium build quality. It’s understandable HTC feel they don’t need to completely overhaul and refresh their smartphone design – It still works (even if it is a bit fat at 9.6mm thick and weighing 157g).


The HTC One M8 is still considered one of the best smartphones on the market, superior to both the Galaxy S5 and LG G3 in design and user experience, respectively – but it’s not perfect. First introduced in the M7, HTC valiantly continued it’s war against the ‘more megapixels = better camera‘ approach that many companies (I’m looking at you Sony) took, offering us a unique 4 UltraPixel rear camera which would bring brighter, less noisy images and excel in low-light conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well and nor did the gimmicky duo-camera on the M8.

Finally though, with the announcement of the One M9, we are rid of the much maligned UltraPixel camera (it’s now the front ‘selfie‘ camera). Instead a big, fat 20.7 megapixel rear snapper (seemingly HTC has surrendered in the war of the megapixels) sits in it’s place, now offering up to 4K video recording but still no optical image stabilisation!

This is good; this is progress. HTC know they have a fantastic looking device, but have listened to the criticism of the camera and finally done something about it. It’s a shame that it still doesn’t appear to be very good.

The lovely people at the Verge have put the camera through it’s paces (with non-final software I should say) and early reports indicate it suffers terribly from low-light noise, muted colours and is overall pretty disappointing.

The only other issue many people had with the One series were the bezels – and they haven’t gone anywhere.

M9 Bezel


I love the ‘BoomSound‘ speakers (now utilising Dolby 5.1 software), but next to a big black bar featuring nothing but the HTC logo (I presume it houses sensors inside, we’ve seen a similar issue on the Moto 360 Smartwatch) and on-screen software buttons give a three-tier bezel effect which makes the device a lot taller than many feel it should be and a below average screen-to-body ratio of 68.4% (although this is less important on a 5″ device). It’s a purely cosmetic complaint – but given how little else they have changed in terms of design in a year since the M8, it’s a shame they couldn’t find a way around this.

Other than the camera, the biggest changes are found under the hood. Now sporting a top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset and 3GB of RAM, the M9 should have no problem handling the most demanding applications and intensive multitasking. Although early reports claim Samsung’s new Exynos 7420 processor (featuring in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge) does beat the M9 in synthetic benchmarks – I can say with confidence there will be no significant difference in speed during normal, real-world use. Moreover, HTC’s new Sense 7 UI continues to produce a silky smooth user experience (something Samsung occasionally still struggles with).

Speaking of the new Sense 7 UI, sitting on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop it comes armed with a few new nifty features. Most notably – themes!

sense 7 themes


A new app called ‘Themes’ allows you to change how significant parts of the UI look. It can be as simple as choosing a photo or image you like and it will glean the major colour tones which it then uses across the device (think buttons, notifications, app drawer colours etc.).

It’s a neat idea, essentially extending the ‘tone’ of your wallpaper throughout the device. The other main feature is called ‘Sense Home’. It organises your home screen apps according to your geo-location, allowing you to preset different app icons to show when you are in different places – such as when you are at home, at work or at the pub!

I’m not totally convinced on how useful this will be, it seems like a pain to manually set locations and choose which apps you want to show. I suppose it could be useful when I get to the office, my social media and game apps are replaced with er.. productive ones. Beyond that – I’m not sure, but we’ll see!

The last thing to mention is the display. I would have preferred to have be talking about this as an exciting new feature, not telling you it remains the same 5″ 1080p IPS LCD display we’ve seen on both the M7 and M8 (although now protected by Gorilla Glass 4).

s6 m9

This is raises an interesting issue though. Lots of you will praise HTC for sticking with a Full HD display and not kowtowing to the marketing department who want to shout about a shiny new QHD (1440p) display – others will be jealous of the similarly sized Galaxy S6. It’s still up for debate what impact a QHD screen has on battery performance, but maintaining (a still excellent) 441ppi is a sensible decision in many peoples books.

No official pricing or availability have been announced for the HTC One M9 – but it’s likely they’ll want to launch it as close to the Galaxy S6’s April 10th release as possible.

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