HTC One M9 Review – An Underwhelming Phone In The Same Beautiful Casing

For the past couple years, HTC has dominated the Android market when it came to design and build quality. When you’re bringing a unibody aluminum build and a great design to a market crowded with plastic, plastic, and more plastic, it’s tough not to be known for outstanding build quality. However the competition has been stepping up their game in big ways since the release of the first HTC One. With several areas to improve and competition that’s better then ever before, does the HTC One M9 stand up and prove to be the phone you should buy in 2015?

Specs

  • 5.0” Inch 1920×1080 IPS Display
  • Snapdragon 810 Processor
  • Adreno 430 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB Storage (microSD expandable)
  • 20MP Rear Camera
  • 4MP UltraPixel Front Camera
  • 2,840 mAh Battery (non-removable)

Hardware & Design

It’s hardly an argument, even at this point, HTC has the best built Android phone in the game right now. Competitors like Motorola and shockingly Samsung have made major strides towards matching HTC’s build quality, but they still don’t beat it. The aluminum uni-body chassis of the HTC One M9 looks just as good as ever, but this year it feels better in the hand and has some nice touches when it comes to color.

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The body has a similar brushed metal look to it just like the M8 of yesteryear, but this time it’s much more refined and provides a shocking amount of grip. The phone is still a bit slick, but as long as you have a little moisture on your hands (yes that includes your hand’s natural oil) you should have no issues keeping grip with the M9.



As design goes, HTC didn’t change much from the M8. The phone looks extremely similar on the back, and couldn’t be more identical on the front. That’s not exactly a bad thing, I mean, don’t fix what’s not broken right? However I do wish that HTC had taken a different route this time. Instead of making minor refinements to last year, change things up. That’s something HTC needed to do this year to keep up, and instead they choose to “play it safe” it’s probably the worst move they could have made. Don’t get me wrong, the M9 looks absolutely gorgeous, but it’s so similar to last year, most customers won’t be able to tell the difference through a commercial or in the store.

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One thing I did enjoy about the design of the M9 was the dual-color. Rather than just one simple color on the back, front, and sides, you get to mix things up a bit by having (at least in my case), silver in the back and one the front, and a nice gold around the side. Now, I have never, ever, been a fan of gold smartphones, but the gold accents on the M9 are very pleasing to my eyes. It really complements the phone’s design.

Software & Performance

HTC’s Sense skin has been the favorite of many for a long time. It’s a clean and very light skin over Android with a handful of great features. Combined with Android 5.0 Lollipop, it does prove to bring an extremely speedy experience that continues far after taking it out of the box.

That said, the design of Sense doesn’t compliment Android Lollipop very well. Personally I think Sense fits in well in previous versions of Android such as Jelly Bean and KitKat, but in a world of Material Design, it’s time for Sense to get an overhaul. Yes, of course it works and it works well, but it could be so much better than it is right now.

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There are a couple things I have to give HTC a lot of credit for however. First of all, the recents menu. In previous versions of their skin you only had the choice to use their grid layout which in my opinion, was not very pleasurable to use by any means. In Sense 7 however you can use either that layout, or the stock version which is the cards layout. That’s something I found incredible to include and I was extremely happy to see it added to the device.

As performance goes, the Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM provide far more than enough power to get through everyday use and hardcore gaming. The interface itself is very smooth and a pleasure to use. Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room (by the way he’s behind you). Overheating. This was largely exaggerated. The HTC One M9 does tend to overheat just a bit, but not much more than other phones. Outdoor use in the summer definitely won’t be kind to the phone, but it’s nothing really to worry about. If you are a heavy gamer, yes, it’s probably going to overheat. However if you’re just a regular user, I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

One of the highlights of Sense 7 is the addition of a theming engine. It’s not the most extensive out there, but it definitely adds some fun to the user experience. The engine adds a custom theme in everything including the wallpapers, icons, navigation keys, accent colors, and more. It’s a very nice theming engine with plenty of awesome themes to choose from. The M9 can even create a basic theme based on the wallpaper you choose.

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Display

When it comes to the display, HTC choose to completely avoid the trend of larger, super high resolution screens by throwing a 5” 1080p display on the M9. In fact, this is essentially the same display as the M8. It’s got great viewing angles, looks very nice in almost every setting, and it’s proof that pixels aren’t everything.

Speakers

It’s no lie, the speakers on HTC’s phone have been their highlight since the HTC One M7. Nothing’s changed since then. The HTC One M9 retains the same amazing audio quality enhanced even further by the front facing location. The speakers are quite simply the best on a smartphone today. They have plenty of volume, clear, crisp audio, and the sound is far richer than any other phone on the market.

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 Battery Life

Like the Galaxy S6 before it, the HTC One M9 doesn’t bring much in the way of endurance. Battery life is fairly poor on the M9. It’s not totally horrible as it does power me through a day, but it’s not anything impressive either. I can’t say I ever had the phone die on me during a day of use and I didn’t even have to resort to HTC’s power saving modes to accomplish that.

Camera

The HTC One M9 has a lot going for it, but one of those things is definitely not the camera. After two years of not-so-ultra-pixels, HTC finally gave a mainstream camera chance. Rather than a pathetic 4MP on it’s successors, the HTC One M9 packs a 20MP sensor. As great as that looks on paper, let’s put it this way, this camera is pretty terrible.

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Once in a while you’ll get a decent shot, particularly if the light is good, but a dim setting or a shot taken too quickly will result in something you’ll just end up deleting. Processing for the images is also not great as revealed when you zoom in on shots. Here’s a gallery of shots taken on the M9.

However the camera is very fun to use. There are dozens of fun features, although they are mostly gimmicky and I didn’t find myself wanting to use them.

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Final Thoughts

When it comes down to it, the HTC One M9 isn’t a bad phone. However out of the three flagships that have been launched in 2015, I’d have to say that his entry is the least exciting of all. There’s really not a single thing that grabs your attention. It has a great build and great speakers, but it had the same thing last year. While Samsung is grabbing headlines with it’s new build and LG with their mind-blowing camera, HTC is basically reusing the same phone as last year, and they are going to regret it.