HTC One M9 review: Iconic metal dual tone design with focus on personalization

HTC One devices are easily distinguishable from other smartphones, which is a bit unique in our black slab world. Matthew spent another week with the One M9 and gives it an almost perfect 10.

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Earlier this month I had a chance to spend 24 hours with the HTC One M9. Now after more than a week with a production unit, it's clear HTC has another winner on its hands.

One concern I had with the early HTC One M9 unit was the camera and move to a more standard 20 megapixel lens. HTC worked on the software since I first tested out the M9 and my new photo comparison has it performing similarly to the iPhone 6 Plus and Sony Xperia Z3.

Beyond the camera performance, the HTC One M9 improves on the One iconic design and is an Android phone that easily slides into your pocket without any worries of bending or breaking, especially when US customers have worry-free coverage.

HTC One M9 Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core CPU
  • Display: 5 inch 1080p LCD
  • RAM: 3GB DDR4
  • Storage: 32GB with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: Front facing UltraPixel and rear 20 megapixel with sapphire glass lens cover
  • Speakers: HTC BoomSound front facing stereo speakers with Dolby Audio
  • Battery: 2,840 mAh with Quick Charging support
  • Dimensions: 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61 mm and 157 grams

The HTC One M9 has all the latest and greatest specifications, including storage expansion through a microSD card. Five inches is a great size for holding and pocketing the phone and with the One M9 being slightly shorter and a bit narrower than the One M8, it is even more comfortable to use.

Hardware

The HTC One M8 slid out of my hand numerous times and was never able to capture the best smartphone ever title I awarded previously to the HTC One M7. HTC's design improvements, notably the ridge around the edges and flatter back, give the HTC One M9 a much better feel in the hand than the One M8.

While I am not much of a gold phone guy, it is going to be tough for me to decide between the dual tone gold and silver or black and gray HTC One M9 when T-Mobile launches its model. The dual tone finish is unique and extremely well done. The gold edges are subtle and add just a splash of color without being gaudy.

Since I am so used to pressing the top button on HTC One devices, it took me a few days to get used to the side button. It's a bit low for me when I hold the One M9 in my right hand, but just about perfect for my middle finger when I hold the M9 in my left hand, which I do much more often than my right. You can always turn on the phone's display by double tapping on the screen.

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The front facing stereo speakers sound fantastic and with the new Dolby Audio support you can toggle between music and theater mode for slightly different sound. In comparison with my iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone turns out higher volume. However, with a bottom facing orientation and single speaker, the quality doesn't come close to what HTC can do with its stereo front facing design.

The evaluation unit is an international model so I was unable to experience LTE on a US network. Thus, none of the US-based reviews can comment on battery life at this time. Look to reviews in Europe for battery performance feedback. On US 3G networks it performed very well, but I look forward to testing a US model to see how it matches the amazing battery life of the iPhone 6 Plus, Sony Xperia Z3, and BlackBerry Passport.

The HTC One Duo camera found on the HTC One M7 and M8 was unique and offers some creative functions. Family and friends enjoyed when I shared photos from these phones and I was hoping to see the same strategy with an improved UltraPixel rear camera on the One M9. HTC went with a more typical 20 megapixel rear camera. Unfortunately, OIS was not included.

Earlier I posted an first look camera comparison and am very pleased to see further improvements in the camera software after just two weeks.

You can view a few comparison photos and other shots taken with the HTC One M9 in my embedded gallery. If you want to see the full resolution original photos, please browse through this Flickr album and decide for yourself. I took photos with the iPhone 6 Plus, Sony Xperia Z3, HTC One M8, and HTC One M9. I thought the HTC One M8 was an acceptable camera, but after comparing it with these other phones it was clearly in last place.

My wife and I both judged each photo and came away with scores nearly equal for the HTC One M9, Sony Xperia Z3, and iPhone 6 Plus. The M9 offers truer colors than the iPhone 6 Plus with more capability for zooming in, obvious since it has more megapixels. In a couple of the landscape shots, the One M9 was a bit dark and I think there are still some more tweaks HTC can make to the processing software.

The front facing UltraPixel camera performed well at capturing me and my friends. I think this is the perfect application for this HTC camera technology.

Pros Cons
Rock solid and attractive design, fit, and finish No optical image stabilization
Great sounding front facing BoomSound speakers No water resistant rating
Sharp 1080p 5 inch LCD display
microSD expansion card slot
20 megapixel rear facing camera and front-facing UltraPixel camera

Software

HTC Sense has always been my favorite Android user interface and HTC offers a couple of improvements in the area of personalization with HTC Sense 7.

Sense Home is a widget that is loaded by default on the first home screen panel. It provides your most used apps based on your location with defaults for home, out, and work setup out of the box. You can customize locations to make the phone work better for you, such as a music and fitness app focused widget for the gym.

After more than a week, I find that Sense Home now does well at providing what I want to see in these three locations. You can always remove this widget and go with what you like on the home screen panels, but I encourage you to at least give it a try.

I did not like the recommended apps folder at all and removed it after seeing poor recommendations. You can remove/hide this folder and the downloaded apps folder from the Sense Home widget if you like. One aspect of the HTC One M9 is that HTC gives you full control over the experience, including whether or not you want to use the BlinkFeed panel.

There is also support for lock screen meal notifications, but I never saw them appear and would toggle them off anyway since I don't eat out that often anyway.

Another personalization feature is custom themes. It is easy to download, create, or modify a device theme with wallpaper, HTC Dot View wallpaper, colors, icons, sounds, and fonts. I particularly like the easy creation of themes from your own photos.

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HTC also improved the Dot View case experience, but I don't have an HTC One M9 version to test. I also do not have BoomSound Connect compatible speakers to test out this new feature.

One of my favorite improvements is the ability to customize the navigation buttons. You can have up to four buttons positioned along the bottom and with the HTC One M9 length adding the notifications button to the bottom will change the way you interact with the display and will keep you from having to reach up high.

HTC offers just enough customization to help improve the user experience without overwhelming people with a vast number of settings and other miscellaneous apps and utilities. I think the balance is just about perfect.

Pricing and availability

US carriers have not yet announced pricing and availability for the HTC One M9, but indications are that pricing will be the same as what we see with the current HTC One M8.

Hopefully we will see the HTC One M9 launch in the US in the next couple of weeks. It launched in Taiwan last week. The T-Mobile launch page shows the dual tone gold and silver model so I imagine carriers may have limited color selections, as they always tend to do.

Conclusion

HTC continues to improve its iconic One design line and the One M9 is its best. HTC listened to customer feedback on the One M7 and One M8 with the M9 better in every aspect, from hardware to software.

If you like the HTC One aluminum design, then you will like what HTC offers in the One M9. The One M9 feels great in your hand, offers a competitive camera experience, has excellent value-added software, lets you easily personalize your phone, is very fast and responsive, and extremely capable.

The only thing I don't like about the new HTC One M9 is that I cannot yet buy one on T-Mobile. Actually, I am a bit disappointed that there is no OIS support for the rear camera.

Contributor's rating: 9.5 out of 10

*Note that the images in the gallery below are presented without captions. For the comparison photos, you will find the M9 in the upper left, Sony Xperia Z3 in upper right, HTC One M8 in lower left, and Apple iPhone 6 Plus in the lower right. For the photo with two images, the M9 is above the 6 Plus. Check out the camera data shown at the bottom of my Flickr album for details when looking at those images.


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