Past two generations of HTC One have been fantastic. First, we have the glorious HTC One M7 with one of the most beautiful designs of Android. Then came the HTC One M8, which improved everything the M7 had. And then we have this—this is the new HTC One M9. You’ve probably been looking at this phone, asking yourself: “Do I want this thing?” It looks sick, it’s shiny, sexy and new. After weeks of using the HTC One M9 and as my primary device, I’m ready to give you my full review. So let’s not waste any time and get straight to it.
You and I have heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And that is exactly what sums up the HTC One M9 but not 100%. The HTC One M9 is a very minimal departure from the HTC One M8. In all, it’s only 1mm narrower, 1mm shorter than the outgoing device but it’s a hair bit thicker. It has the same display, which is a 5-inch 1920 x 1080p IPS LCD 3 display. And I commend HTC for not upping the resolution of Quad HD because honestly, there’s really no need for that. Plus, I love the original HTC One M8 display last year and I ranked it to be of my top displays of 2014. It’s accurate in color reproduction, crisp, has well over 400ppi, and the viewing angles were absolutely great.
BoomSound also returns this year with even more loud stereo speakers. And this is absolutely the best sounding smartphone around this year and it’s really incredible to see that there’s real improvements with every HTC One. But the M9 also looks exactly the same as the M8 with the only external differences being the dual-tone bands around some of the models and the movement of the lock switch to the right side of the device. But things do change from there.
On the inside, we find a completely different device. It’s packed with a Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor with a 2GHz quad-core chip alongside a 1.5GHz quad-core chip. All of that has made it to 3GB of RAM and the latest Adreno 430 GPU. This makes for an incredibly powerful device. The camera has also been reworked, to leaving UltraPixels only for the front-facing camera and just incorporating a 20MP sensor on the rear camera shooter. And lastly for hardware improvements, the battery has been bumped up to a 2840mAh battery; larger than the outgoing M8 and also HTC has added a microSD card slot for external expansion of the storage.
The software has also seen some significant changes. Now it’s running Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with the latest iteration Sense 7, which really improves on a few key things but doesn’t really change the overall experience of Sense from Sense 6. HTC Sense has really evolved into a great skin and Sense 7 is even better than ever. Sense happens to be one of my favorite skins around and this year, with all the new color schemes and modifications to the themes, I actually use a lot more Sense features like BlinkFeed. Usually, I turn those things off but BlinkFeed has been pretty darn nice to have for things like News. I definitely love all the bits of Android Lollipop that have been added to Sense 7, including the notifications on the Lock Screen. It definitely complements Sense in a very good way.
Now one interesting addition to Sense 7 this year is the option to have either a grid view or card view of multitasking. A huge piece to Sense this year is the customization I was talking about earlier. HTC now gives you the option to completely customize the way your device looks with different backgrounds and your phone will also change the color scheme to best match the dominant color in that background. You can also manually edit these themes or create your own complete custom theme with complete custom icons for your applications. It also helps that HTC has a dedicated place to download all of these that you can design, build and upload it to the network for others to download. It’s a pretty neat idea and one that makes this device very different from the rest of the pack.
But now let’s take a look at the performance of the HTC One M9. Overall, this is a monster device and it’s been performing like a champ since the first day I turned it on. I mean, these things are flagship and by now most people know how to make these devices run smooth. Sense and Lollipop both run beautifully with the Snapdragon 810 chip, multitasking is a breeze, intense gaming or 1080p videos are very easy as well. But they do cost the HTC One M9 to get slightly warm.
Now I know what you’re thinking, the rumors about the HTC One M9 getting really hot are true. But in no way did I feel this phone was too hot to handle. Other phones tend to get warm from both sides, inside from the processor and GPU unit and also the battery and the screen; and the outside because your hand gives off heat and aluminum is a very good conductor. So it’s pretty common for a metal phone to heat up during usage. Other than that slight hiccup, the phone has really performed very beautifully—one of the best experiences of Android Lollipop so far.
Now let’s switch gears to battery life. HTC did increase the size of their battery this year but the processor also grew in hunger for energy. Overall, I would say it’s an even amount of battery life to the HTC One M8. I basically average around 4 hours of screen on-time with moderate usage. I’m not impressed by it but I’m also not disappointed because that’s a very average number.
Now onto the camera. HTC really wanted to overhaul their camera after many complaints over the low megapixel count and poor quality of the M8. Well, HTC did, or at least that’s what they thought they did. The M9 has a 20MP Toshiba sensor, which is very strange. It shoots 20MP photos and finally does 4K UHD video. And if you watched my camera review, I gave this thing a pretty poor rating. But since then, HTC has pushed over some pre-released software to my review unit that was supposed to improve the overall photos and video but then again, I am sad to report, they look no different to me. The photos look fine on a phone and on social media but when you put them up on your computer, the amount of grain and the amount of artifacts are really scary to look at. It’s extremely sad when you compare the HTC One M9 when you compare phones like the iPhone 6, the Galaxy Note 4, the S6, and even the LG G3. All of these phones can take much, much better photos and videos than the One M9 and every single one of those cameras have a lower megapixel count.
Plus, HTC did not bring back Optical Image Stabilization back from the HTC One M7. But I won’t hold that against them because 4K video was absolutely dreadful on the M9. I first hoped this was a software issue but now I’m getting a sneaking suspicion that this is completely hardware-related and it’s very unfixable at this point.
So this is where I draw my line on the sand. As I said in the beginning, people have used “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” phrase to describe this phone and I completely agree to it except for the camera. It’s completely broken and they need to fix this thing in order to survive as a contender in this flagship smartphone space. Samsung has got their camera nailed at this point and they’ll continue to walk over phones like the M9 because they’re simply better devices to use every day and the camera is a huge part of smartphone users’ everyday life. They love taking photos and we want our photos to look good.
But overall, the HTC One M9 is a great device. It’s fast, powerful, and it decent battery life. But the Achilles heel is the camera and how disappointing it is. But in my opinion, if you own an HTC One M8, I really can’t recommend for you to upgrade. It’s a different story if you’re still using the One M7 or coming from a completely different platform. But to me, there’s just not enough there for me to say definitively that this is a fantastic smartphone and that you should buy it no matter what phone you have.
I really want to hear what your thoughts are on this—whether you have an HTC One M9 or a prospective buyer or just an avid tech fan. So make sure to leave your comments down below.