HTC One M9: The evolution of a flagship smartphone

HTC's new One M9 is no ground-breaker, but like its M8 and M7 predecessors is a well designed and well engineered smartphone.

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The HTC One M9. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet
The unveiling of HTC's new flagship One M9 smartphone sees the company emerging from a period of financial uncertainty. The latest (Q4 2014) quarterly results show year-on-year revenue up 12 percent at NT$47.9 billion (US$1.44bn), with net profit after tax of NT$0.5 billion (US$15m). "HTC finished the year with a third consecutive quarter of profitability, and is well-positioned to build on that solid platform in the year ahead by ensuring our portfolio is highly targeted and our message clearly communicated," said CEO Peter Chou in a 6 February statement. Today's One M9 announcement at Mobile World Congress -- widely leaked, as usual -- is the company's first major portfolio-expansion and message-communication opportunity of 2015.

HTC's recent flagship smartphones have been consistently well received -- ZDNet gave Editors' Choice awards to both the 2013 One M7 and the 2014 One M8, for example. So, without pre-empting any hands-on reviews, the prospects for the M9 must be good -- especially if it can make it to market ahead of rival 2015 flagship handsets from the likes of Samsung, LG and Sony.

Apple-like design and engineering

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The One M9's 20-megapixel rear camera is protected by extra-tough sapphire glass. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet
The hallmarks of the HTC One range are a marriage of quality engineering and thoughtful design that bear comparison with Apple at its best. The M7 stood out for its aluminium chassis and angular look, which the M8 built on by adding a more ergonomic curved back and wrapping the metal around the sides and bottom of the handset. With the M9, HTC has taken design inspiration from the world of jewellery, adding a subtle colour accent to the sides -- albeit at the cost of extra manufacturing complexity (it now takes 70 steps to create the shell, according to the company). Colour variants for the two-tone M9 are Gold-on-Silver, Gunmetal Grey-on-Grey and Gold-on-Gold.

Other defining characteristics of the HTC One family include excellent audio quality (under the BoomSound name), Android additions in the shape of HTC Sense (home screen, widgets, apps) and BlinkFeed (a news aggregator), and enlarged-pixel (UltraPixel) cameras that deliver superior low-light performance -- augmented in the One M8 with the Duo Camera system, where a second sensor detects depth-of-field information.

Key developments in the M9 include: enhanced personalisation options via HTC Themes and a new Theme Generator; a location-aware Sense Home feature that reconfigures the home screen and suggests associated apps depending on whether you're at work, home or in transit; the addition of '5.1-esque' Dolby Audio to the already-excellent BoomSound audio subsystem, along with the ability to select between available Bluetooth speakers via a 'swipe-up' gesture in HTC Connect; a revamped camera arrangement with a front-facing 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera and a 20-megapixel main camera (with digital rather than optical image stabilisation that was a feature of both the M8 and M7), plus a Dynamic Exposure algorithm for enhanced detail in multiple exposure points in an image, and a One Gallery feature that synchronises searchable thumbnails of your pictures from multiple sources -- Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, Flickr, for example -- into a single location.

The rest of the M9 specification is updated to leading-edge 2015 standard, of course. Here are the highlights, with the M7 and M8 included for comparison:


HTC One M7

HTC One M8

HTC One M9

Announced

19 February 2013

25 March 2014

1 March 2015

HTC share price

$282

$152.50

$153

Dimensions

137.4x68.2x9.3mm

146.4x70.6x9.35mm

144.6x69.7x9.61mm

Weight

143g

160g

157g

Display

4.7 inches, Full HD 1080p (468ppi)

5.0 inches, Full HD 1080p (441ppi)

5.0 inches, Full HD 1080p (441ppi)

Screen protection

Gorilla Glass 2

Gorilla Glass 3

Gorilla Glass 4

SoC

Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (quad-core, 32-bit)

Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (quad-core, 32-bit)

Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (octa-core, 64-bit)

GPU

Adreno 320

Adreno 330

Adreno 440

OS

Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)

Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)

Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop)

OS add-ons

HTC Sense 5.0, HTC BlinkFeed

HTC Sense 6.0, HTC BlinkFeed

HTC Sense 7.0, HTC BlinkFeed

RAM

2GB 2GB 3GB

Internal storage

32/64GB

16/32GB

32GB

Storage expansion

none

Micro-SD (up to 128GB)

Micro-SD (up to 128GB)

SIM card type

Micro-SIM

Nano-SIM

Nano-SIM

Networks




2/2/5G (GSM/GPRS/EDGE)

850/900/1800/1900MHz

850/900/1800/1900MHz

850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G (UMTS/HSPA)

850/900/1900/2100MHz with HSPA+

850/900/1900/2100MHz with HSPA+

850/900/1900/2100MHz with HSPA+

4G (LTE)

800/900/1800/2600MHz

800/900/1800/2600MHz

FDD bands 1,3,5,7,8,20,28; TDD bands 38, 40, 41

GPS

internal GPS antenna + GLONASS

internal GPS antenna + GLONASS

internal GPS antenna + GLONASS

Sensors

accelerometer, proximity, ambient light, gyro, compass

accelerometer, proximity, ambient light, gyro, compass, barometer

accelerometer, proximity, ambient light, gyro, compass, Sensor Hub

Main camera

4Mpixel UltraPixel sensor, HTC ImageChip 2, optical image stabilisation

4Mpixel UltraPixel sensor, HTC ImageChip 2, optical image stabilisation, secondary 2Mpixel camera captures depth information (Duo Camera)

20Mpixels, HTC Image Chip 2, digital image stabilisation, Dynamic Exposure, sapphire glass lens protection

Flash

5-level LED (Smart Flash)

dual LED (dual tone)

dual LED (dual tone)

Front camera

2.1Mpixels

5Mpixels

4Mpixel UltraPixel sensor with Dynamic Exposure

Audio

HTC BoomSound: dual front stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers, Beats Audio, Sense Voice

HTC BoomSound: dual front stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers, Sense Voice

HTC BoomSound dual front stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers, Dolby Audio, Sense Voice

Wireless connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi (2.4 & 5GHz), NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, DLNA, HTC Connect, infrared 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi (2.4 & 5GHz), NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, DLNA, HTC Connect, infrared 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi (2.4 & 5GHz), NFC, Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX, DLNA, HTC Connect, infrared
Other connections

Micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL) for USB or HDMI connection, 3.5 mm stereo audio jack

Micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL) for USB or HDMI connection, 3.5 mm stereo audio jack

Micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL) for USB or HDMI connection, 3.5 mm stereo audio jack

Battery

Li-polymer (non-removeable), 2,300mAh; up to 18h talk time (3G); up to 500h standby time (3G)

Li-polymer (non-removeable), 2,600mAh; up to 20h talk time (3G); up to 496h standby time (3G)

Li-polymer (non-removeable), 2,840mAh; up to 27h talk time (3G); up to 402h standby time (3G)

For more detail and reactions, see Matthew Miller's news and hands-on articles on the HTC One M9. As Miller notes, there's no wireless charging on the One series, and unlike Samsung's and Sony's flagship phones, there's no water-resistance -- although personal experience with an M8 confirms that it can recover after a night left accidentally outdoors in the rain. If you don't want to take the risk, there's a ruggedised case that provides IP68-level protection.

Outlook

From what we've seen so far, the HTC One M9 looks likely to continue the success of its predecessors. Certainly owners of the One M7 who were uncertain about the M8's 4-megapixel Duo Camera should find the 20-megapixel M9 more to their liking. HTC's new 64-bit Snapdragon 810-powered flagship will also deliver a speed boost: results already posted on the Geekbench 3 results browser suggest improvements of around 22 percent on single-core performance and 35 percent on multi-core performance over the 32-bit Snapdragon 801-powered One M8. However, if it's performance you're after, look out for Samsung's Galaxy S6, likely to be powered by the company's own 64-bit octa-core Exynos 7420 processor: leaked Geekbench 3 benchmarks for this handset have shown it beating Snapdragon 810 devices by some distance. The Galaxy S6 range is expected to be unveiled at another 1 March MWC event: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked.

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