HTC took the covers off its latest flagship smartphone — the One M9 — but after numerous, very accurate leaks, it’s hard to get really excited about the device especially when I expected a lot more from it, based on the hype created by HTC. In this case, while the build up towards the M9’s launch was impressive, the device itself didn’t really meet my expectations but before we go into that, let’s talk about what the One M9 brings to the table.
The most luxurious smartphone experience
HTC’s goal when designing the M9 was to create the brand’s most beautiful and powerful smartphone ever. At least that’s what they want you to feel and to a certain extent, the M9 meets that description — it is beautiful and it is powerful. The hairline brushed metal finish is gorgeous to look at and in your hands, the device feels like fine jewelry, like it belongs in a display cabinet at Tiffany. This is not by chance, HTC engineers cut no corners in making sure that the M9 is the most stylish and well-built smartphone you can get. Each HTC One M9 takes 300 minutes to make, going over a 70-step process.
If that’s not detailed enough, at the end of this process, each One M9 is then finished by hand to produce a fine, jewelry grade, scratch-resistant finish. This makes the M9 a joy to hold, and with its dual-tone silver and rose gold coloured finish, you will want to hold the phone all day long to show off just how exquisite it is. I know I would and that’s how special the HTC One M9 is to look at.
Yes, the One M9 looks like the One M8 looks like the One M7 but that’s not such a bad thing considering the HTC One series has always been among the more tastefully design smartphones out there, so why change a good thing? I’m willing to overlook the fact that the brand new One M9 looks virtually identical to the One M8 that was released a year a go but I can’t understand why the M9 is incredible and impressive in some aspects but so incremental and flawed in areas where it matters. I wished that the HTC engineers spent more time in cramming as much tech as possible into the M9 as they did with designing a beautiful phone.
A spec sheet that doesn’t impress
On paper, I’m not impressed with what the HTC One M9 has to offer and let me tell you why. The 5-inch display is only a 1080p unit pushing a pixel density of just 440ppi — that’s basically the same as the outgoing One M8. On the inside, you get a 64-bit Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor (4 cores x 2GHz + 4 cores x 1.5GHz). There’s 3GB of RAM and 32GB of on board storage, and there’s also a micro SD card slot that’s capable of taking cards up to 128GB in capacity. The specifications are current with what other brands are offering but it doesn’t better them, and for a device that’s supposed to beat all of them, the One M9 needs to pack much more. The problem is, the M9 doesn’t.
Where’s the wow factor?
You might think that the 20MP Sapphire lens rear camera is something you can shout home about and, to be honest, I thought so too. I wanted the camera to be the wow factor. The one thing that would convince me to recommend the phone to you. I was hoping that after a long line of beautiful phones with awful cameras, the HTC engineers would finally give the One series a camera that matches its beautiful design — I was wrong.
Despite the 20MP rear camera and a decently fast f/2.2 lens, the One M9 continues HTC’s tradition of woefully bad camera performance. While pictures in normal light look ok, the One M9 struggles in low light. The M9 struggles when taking pictures taken when the lights are dim or less than ideal. Images come out noisy with grainy details and washed out colours. The UltraPixel camera on the front is no better either. Considering how bad the camera is, it’s funny that the M9 is capable of shooting images in RAW and videos in 4K resolution.
So what’s better?
For one, the battery is slightly bigger — 2,840mAh in the One M9 over 2,600mAh in the One M8. I feel the BoomSound speakers are better too, now with Dolby Surround support giving you exceptional sound staging, quality and volume that is the best that you can get from a smartphone.
The One M9 is now a true world phone as well, with support for 21 LTE bands on both the FDD and TDD sides of the divide, you also get Cat 9 LTE for download speeds over 450Mbps and upload speeds upwards of 50Mbps and VoLTE should your network support it.
The HTC Sense UI has been improved as well but it not anything groundbreaking, just incremental updates here and there. You’ll notice these updates if you own the M9 but if your’re casually playing with the M9 in store thinking whether you should buy it over the competition, then the improved Sense UI feels just like the previous iteration. It’s nice and clean but nothing special.
Now in its seventh iteration, the Sense UI brings deep themes customisation allowing you to change almost every aspect of the look and feel of the UI. The UI can also adapt and customise themes for you based on the picture that you use as a wallpaper.
Another enhancement is HTC’s BlinkFeed app. BlinkFeed is now location aware and will present to you recommendations on places of interest, news and other relevant info depending on your location, but I wouldn’t call that feature special and it’s not like it’s nothing Google Now can’t do. You also get some updated effects and filters in the camera app and you can download more filters and effects, which is nice but , again, is not anything groundbreaking.
Where do I start with this? Comparing the One M9 with its direct competitors, the HTC flagship is decidedly bare bones. There’s no fingerprint sensor, no super hi-res display, no ultra-long battery life. It’s not water resistant, there’s no curvy, flexible screen as well. And while the latest Sense UI is the most refined ever, there’s really nothing special for you to show off to your friends the next time you head down to the mamak.
But hey, at least the M9 looks good right?
This is not the one you’re looking for
So at the end of the day, what do I think about the HTC One M9? I think its beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold but I also think for HTC to succeed, the One M9 need to be more than just good looking. A lot more.