What exactly have HTC added on this new iteration?
The HTC One M9 is a crucial phone for the Taiwanese manufacturer. The One M8 and original One were fantastic handsets, arguably better than their Samsung and Apple counterparts. The competition has caught up, though. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have sold by the bucket-load and Samsung appears to have put its flimsy-design woes to rest with the glass and metal Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.
How does the One M9 compare? HTC has opted for evolution rather than revolution this time. The design closely resembles its last phone and the screen is almost the same. A new camera, processor and larger battery provide the bulk of the hardware changes, while HTC’s version of Android has had a facelift with Sense 7.
This all leads to a great phone that still has some areas of improvement. The rear camera doesn’t live up to its promise, and neither does the One M9’s battery life. And that really is surprising.
However, this is still one of the best phones you can get and it just goes to show how far HTC has come in the last few years that we hold its products to such lofty standards.
Think about the HTC One M9 like an S version of an iPhone. It shares the same basic design and screen as the One M8, but some minor tweaks differentiate it from last year’s model.
The first, and most evident, is the new two-tone design. Where the back of the previous One curved round to the screen, the M9 has a ridge that connects the front to the back. It looks as if the front of the phone has been shoehorned into the rear, the benefit being that HTC has managed to remove the thin plastic edge between the screen and frame.
It’s a fussier design and one that’s highlighted by the fact that the front metal is a goldish-silver (in this case), while the edge is gold. Turn the phone around and it changes again to – this time to a more traditional silver finish. Not all colours are as glitzy. The gunmetal grey version is dark and broody instead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HTC has steered clear of the 2K bandwagon and stuck with a 1080p (Full HD) screen for the One M9. It’s almost identical to the one sported by its predecessor, albeit with thinner bezels.
2K screens have twice the resolution of Full HD. This means that text and images are sharper. But does this make a difference on a 5-inch screen? Not enough to matter. The human eye can only see so much and you need to try very hard to spot a pixel on the HTC One M9. A pixel density of 441ppi makes it far sharper than the 326ppi Retina display on the iPhone 6, a display that’s good in its own right.
In other words, not being 2K isn’t a problem. We’ll take the power savings a lower resolution screen offers over a negligible increase in sharpness.
If there is an improvement we’d have liked to see made it’s a move from LCD technology to AMOLED – a screen tech that Samsung seems to have mastered. That said, HTC’s Super LCD3 display provides decent contrast and black levels. Watching a movie on the 5-inch screen looks great, with dark scenes looking deep and convincing, and you won’t notice any backlight bleed unless you whack up brightness to 100 and are viewing in a dark room.
Brightness and viewing angles are respectable, too. We kept the phone at full blast on a sunny day out in Leeds (which does sometimes happen) and had no problems. We could see the screen well enough while checking Google Maps or reading texts, but we would like the option to go a little brighter.
More of an issue is the screen’s reflectivity. This hasn’t changed much from the HTC One M8 and means you will find yourself angling the phone to reduce glare when the sun’s out. It’s not a huge problem, and certainly not one isolated to the One M9.
The M9’s screen is great. It doesn’t match up to the LG G3 or Galaxy S6 in terms sheer pixel count, but you won’t feel short-changed. It’s just as good as the 5.5-inch 1080p display on the iPhone 6 Plus and few people complain about that one.
It’s not until you hear a decent pair of speakers on a phone that you realise quite how worthwhile they are. Watching a film with all the detail of the background music available and actors sounding like themselves is a luxury rarely had on the go.
The One M9 keeps with tradition by including front-facing stereo speakers with a built-in amp, and Dolby Audio that betters its predecessors and blows away the competition.
The front-facing speakers offer decent stereo separation when compared to speakers on other phones. That’s not what’s most impressive, though. The HTC One M9 provides great depth and surprising mid-range detail for such a small device. It makes the speakers on the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 sound rubbish.
As you might expect with such small speakers low-end is lacking so if you like bass-heavy music your best bet is to plug in a good pair of headphones. The amp and Dolby Audio extends the 3.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll be treated to some great sound.
Top volume reaches decent levels, enough to enjoy some tracks in a bedroom or other small spaces. It’s the perfect phone when you want a little music to brighten up a sunny afternoon in the park, or a late night camping.
You won’t find better speakers on any other phone.