Review: HTC One M9

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HTC One M9 (10)

 

Earth has made its way around the sun since the launch of the M8 from HTC. The M8 was one of the best designed phones released to the market. Its curves, polish and just awesome feel were what made it one of the most beautiful phones available. A year goes by and we now have the HTC One M9, which offers a similar design with updated specs. Let’s get right into this review and take a look at the specs for the HTC One M9.

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop with HTC Sense 7 UI
  • 5″ 1920 x 1080 display with 441pi with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset: 2 GHz quad-core Cortex-A57 and 1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53 processor
  • Adreno 430 GPU
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 20MP AF camera with a 1/2.3″ BSI sensor and 27.8mm f/2.2 lens, dual-LED flash, 2160p@30fps video capture
  • 4MP fixed-focus UltraPixel front-facing camera with BSI sensor and 26.8mm f/2.0 lens, HDR, 1080p video recording
  • 32GB of built-in memory, microSD card slot
  • LTE Cat.6, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz), GPS/GLONASS, NFC, IR port, Bluetooth 4.1, FM radio, microUSB 2.0 port, MHL, USB host
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated microphone
  • Front-facing stereo speakers with BoomSound and Dolby Audio
  • 2,840mAh battery
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 support

Sadly we can see the display hasn’t changed in spec at all. The internal chipset and camera have been swapped out for newer units. All in all we’re not seeing much in terms of an upgrade over the previous device, but let’s take a closer look at the device itself and see the new design.

The HTC One M9

HTC One M9 (2)

HTC One M9 (6) HTC One M9 (5)

HTC One M9 (11)

HTC One M9 (8) HTC One M9 (7)

HTC One M9 (1)

HTC One M9 (9)

Not much of the design has changed since last year. We still have the same unibody curved shape. The sides of the device feature a flatter shape compared to the M8. This is clearly done to add a little more grip to the side of the device and prevent it from slipping out of the users hands, which was sometimes possible with the M8.

The lack of the depth camera is also another change on the back. We now have a single camera sensor with Dual-tone led flash next to it. Pretty much every other aspect is the same. So, If it ain’t broke!

UI

HTC’s Sense UI is still present and strong with the M9. The overall interface includes some deep customization with great theme abilities. Let’s dive right in and take a look at the UI.

HTC One M9 UI (1) Screenshot_2015-04-14-14-38-44 HTC One M9 UI (10) HTC One M9 UI (2)

Most of the layout is still the same, but HTC are now including some custom widgets. The home screen houses a section that displays a different set of apps depending on what option you pick – Home, Work, or Out. The idea is to make it a little easier to access the apps you use most in different environments.

HTC One M9 UI (7) HTC One M9 UI (4) HTC One M9 UI (3)  HTC One M9 UI (11)

The dialer, app drawer, and settings are pretty straight forward and haven’t changed since the M8 or previous devices. Navigation is straight forward and easy to use. HTC’s UI is a solid experience, but being Android, users can always swap out the home launcher with a a more robust third party one.

Themes

HTC One M9 UI (12) HTC One M9 UI (9) HTC One M9 UI (8) HTC One M9 UI (13)

The included support for themes adds a massive amount of customization. We have seen themes on Android phones before, but the level of change that these themes can implement is impressive. Not only does the app drawer change along with the theme, but so does the dialer, keyboard and more. We’re very impressed by this addition and think  people will have great fun trying out new themes, or even putting together their own.

Camera UI

HTC One M9 Camera UI (1) HTC One M9 Camera UI (2)

The camera app is extremely easy to use. Swiping up and down will change the mode.

HTC One M9 Camera UI (4) HTC One M9 Camera UI (3)

The camera app also includes a decent amount of settings on the bottom of the screen. Giving the user access to ISO and Exposure levels. You can also change the scene selection mode and white balance as well. Overall the camera app was a pleasure to use and we got use to it pretty quickly.

Photos

Below are photos taken using normal settings and then again with HDR activated. HDR is a feature that adds balance to a shot by combining multiple shots with different exposure levels.

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (1) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (1)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (2) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (2)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (3) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (3)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (5) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (4)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (6) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (5)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (7) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (6)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (8) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (7)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (9) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (8)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (10) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (9)

HTC One M9 Photo Normal (11) HTC One M9 Photo HDR (10)

HTC clearly made the right choice by moving to a higher megapixel sensor instead of the previous Ultra-pixel sensor. While we had great admiration for the idea of going in a different direction with phone cameras – nothing can replace the quality of a high end camera sensor with lots of pixels.

Full Size Images

Videos

The included camera supports 1080p, 1080p@60fps and 4K recording. Below are all three settings to give you an idea of what the quality is like for each.

1080p

1080p@60fps

4K

Again, we can clearly see the new sensor is giving us a much better level of quality compared to One M8 and M7.

Benchmarks

The performance aspect of smartphones haven’t really changed in the past while, we’re dealing with super smooth and insanely high performance devices and nothing has changed with the HTC One M9. Inside we have the Snapdragon 810 chipset which uses a big.LITTLE architecture. Below are some scores from the most popular benchmarks available.

3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited 23302
Antutu 5 46039
Antutu 5 64bit 50955
Geekbench 3 Single-Core 862
Geekbench 3 Multi-Core 3521
Vellamo Metal 2125
Vellamo Multicore 1991
Vellamo Browser (Chrome) 3064

The numbers are pretty solid. The straight up core speed is slightly slower than before. Android is running as smooth as ever and we didn’t experience any lag or jitters.

Gameplay

Gameplay is an important factor in today’s smartphones. We always put together a recording of gameplay done on the phone. Below is that said video. The games demoed are Dead Trigger 2, GTA San Andreas, and Modern Combat 5.

Smooth as butter shall we say. Gaming on the HTC One M9 had zero issues, as expected.

Battery Performance

The One M9 battery has increased by 120mAh, but the main treat is the Snapdragon 810 chipset which includes a big.LITTLE architecture. A benefit here is having lesser and more efficient quad-core CPU to use when the phone isn’t doing anything too demanding. The second quad core CPU is clocked at higher speeds, but can be used along side the slower processor. We’re hoping this gives us an a decent battery life.

Phone Calls20-30 Minutes
Text message/Chat/EmailsThroughout the day(checking) and 20-30 sent
Photos10-20
Video recording20-30 Minutes
Internet browsingThroughout the day(around 30-40 minutes total)
Gaming30 Minutes
YouTube/Netflix30-40 Minutes
ConnectivityWiFi and 3G; mostly 3G
Screen Brightness50-percent

Our usage is aimed at covering all of the typical tasks in a given day. This way we can truly form an opinion on every aspect of the devices usage. After the period of testing we had just over 35-percent battery left. This is up from the HTC One M9 and overall an impressive number. Doing more or less of a specific task will have a better or worse impact on battery life, but we can easily see this be a complete full day device with heavy usage or two days with medium usage.

Conclusion

HTC have been getting more and more popular with each new flagship since the launch of the M7. The first flagship that put HTC on the map as one of the titan designers in the market. They stepped their game up even further with the launch of the M8.

Their latest M9 is here and it’s conclusion time. HTC’s latest flagship offers some decent upgrades over the M8 including the latest from Qualcomm, a better camera and slightly adjusted design. Below is a breakdown of the Design, Display, Camera, Performance, and then Overall.

Design

We’re pleased to see HTC sticking closely with the design of the M8. The main changes are mostly the flatter sides, which make for an easier grip. The complete curve on the M8 was beautiful, but lacked a decent grip and made for a slippy device.

The M9 overall design is again mostly the same as what we seen before on the M8. Considering the M8 was one of the best designed phones on the market, it’s hard to fault the M9. The better handling is a great addition, but more importantly doesn’t worsen the design. While not much different than its predecessor, the HTC M9 is their latest king and offers one of the nicest designs yet.

Display

HTC haven’t changed anything with regards to the display inside the HTC One M9. We’re still rocking the same 1080p resolution and SLCD3 Panel we have seen the past two years. The screen quality is pretty solid, but the lack of any update of the predecessor has the device feeling somewhat lacking in terms of overall quality compared to the competition. The brightness levels and colors are all excellent, but no different than last years device. It would have been nice to see a better display this time around, since the competition are putting out better and better displays each year. HTC have some catching up to do.

Camera

Probably the biggest upgrade within the entire device. HTC have removed the Dual-Pixel Ultra-Pixel camera and have went for a more traditional 20.7MP camera sensor. Sadly we don’t have OIS support, but the quality was fantastic. This is a clear upgrade over the HTC One M8’s camera, which lacked a real benefit of the One M7 – much like the display still does. Both pictures and videos are around the same level of quality we have seen from the competition. Although not in every case. The lack of OIS is a significant drawback since we’re getting use to it becoming the standard now, and it really does show in most videos. We were pleased with the overall quality and think HTC made the right choice, but OIS would have been even better.

While we don’t normally talk about the front facing cameras, we find in this case it was important to mention the fact that HTC included an Ultra-Pixel sensor on the front of the device. Probably something most will overlook, but the extra pixel size increased the low light performance significantly enough to warrant this mention. We’re really impressed with their decision to use the UltraPixel camera on the front of the device and boost its low light performance for those all important selfie shots.

Performance

The Snapdragon 810 chipset offers a big.LITTLE architecture with an Octa-core processor. The big set is clocked at 2GHz with the little clocked at 1.5GHZ. While benchmarks are similar to last years M8, we did see a much needed increase in battery performance due to the more efficient use of lower clocked CPU’s that use less power. Thankfully nothing affected the overall smoothness of the OS and everything ran like butter. We’re also running a 64-bit chipset now, which provided a boost in performance where possible. Overall performance in terms of CPU/GPU is similar to last year, if not slightly better; but battery life takes great advantage of the new internals.

Overall

The overall opinion of the M9 is sort of mixed. We liked pretty much every aspect of it, but mostly because we liked those same things in the M8 from last year and again from the M7 the year before. The design hasn’t changed much, but is improved, however the display hasn’t really changed at all. The real differences with the M9 are with the included chipset and camera, while the latter is an important factor with any smartphone, the internal chipset at worst offers a slight increase in performance, and at best a bump in battery life. Great for a new device, but enough to warrant an upgrade?

We’re definitely fans of the HTC One M9, but it must be said that HTC haven’t really changed much over the previous device to warrant anyone jumping from the M8. That being said, it’s clear that HTC didn’t really have much to change considering how good the M8 already was and still is. A better display and OIS would have been great. Unless your looking for a better camera, than anyone rocking an M8 should hold off, however anyone on the M7 will get a decent upgrade to the new hardware. The new chipset and camera sensor aren’t the most impressive things on the market, but put together with the fantastic design, you still have yourself an amazing smartphone.

The One M9 is definitely HTC’s best device yet. It may not offer the upgrade over the M8 most were hoping for, but none the less offers great performance across the board in one of the nicest and most beautiful crafted phones available.

Geektech.ie Gold Award

A big thanks to HTC and the Keogh Partnership for sending out the HTC One M9 for review.

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