In the run up to launch, last year’s HTC One (M8) leaked harder than the Titanic – post iceberg, but in grand fashion history has repeated itself with this year’s new golden boy: the HTC One M9. Putting rumours to rest here’s our official hands-on with the device.
The One (M8) like its predecessor was an award-winning smartphone in its own right and the foundation of its success came from its design. Whilst the original M7 was an all-metal body with hard edges, the M8 brought curved forms to the table. It fit nicely in the hand and looked great doing so, although admittedly that slick metal body did increase its risk of taking a tumble. With the One M9, HTC’s design team has met somewhere in the middle.
Fans of HTC’s previous flagships will be pleased to see that the bodywork of the M9 is nearly entirely metal. To steal Lexus’ tagline, the pursuit of perfection sees the chassis of each M9 undergo a 70-step CNC milling process, a few stages of which you can see in the photos further down in this piece. The finished article boasts a stronger jaw than the M8, but aside from straighter edges it isn’t a far departure at all, and that’s a good thing.
As was mentioned earlier, the poster child for the M9 campaign (the press imagery/video that was most widely leaked ahead of its launch) is a gold variant called ‘gold on silver’. The gold colouring is subtly anodised on the aluminium both front and back, whilst the chamfered edges of the device are then accented by silver. If you want something darker, there will also be a ‘gunmetal grey on grey’ version at launch and for those who love their bling, a ‘gold on gold’ model that replaces the polished silver of the unit we tested, with a deeper yellow gold.
Elsewhere on the body you’ll spot typical HTC DNA, with the speaker grilles topping and tailing the display and the antenna split lines embedded in the back panel. The IR blaster still dominates the top of the handset, but the power button has now become a machine drilled hardware key on the right side of the phone’s body. Functionality wise it feels more comfortable and convenient to operate quickly and makes for a tidier overall design.
The most notable alteration to the body of the M9 is the rear camera, and yes, that’s singular this time. The M8’s Duo Camera technology has been scrapped in place of a single 20-megapixel rear snapper and a true-tone dual LED flash. Whilst we couldn’t take any photo samples away with us, it’s a fast snapper that relies solely on DIS (digital image stabilisation) despite a large squared camera housing that would suggest otherwise.
Picture quality seemed on point from initial impressions and the software isn’t overbearing either, with a few modes out-the-box alongside the option to download more from within the camera UI itself. The biggest addition aside from a shedload more megapixels at your disposal is the inclusion of 4K video recording, something that last year’s flagship lacked, despite the fact that nearly every other top rival packed it.
It may not be on the back, but the M8’s main 4-UltraPixel camera lives on too, although it now occupies the front of HTC’s newest top dog. Those larger physical pixels should help ensure low-light selfies are more hit than miss over the competition and in a quick side by side comparison with the M8 and M9 it appears to pick up greater colour depth than its predecessor’s front-facer.
On the software side, the Lollipop-powered M9 boasts HTC’s new Sense 7 interface. It’s a subtle reworking of Sense 6, but like much of the hardware, for most people that was one element that didn’t need a lot of work. The apps drawer background can now take on a colour and being Lollipop the notifications and quick settings fall under a single pull-down panel, beyond that HTC has focused on greater personalisation.
The new Themes application will change the M9’s font and accent colours, iconography, widget designs and more with a single tap, the Theme Generator feature can pick complimentary elements based on photos you’ve taken or downloaded and should you wish to, you can upload and share any custom themes you create with other HTC Sense 7 users too.
A look at the home screen and alongside BlinkFeed, which is still a single swipe away, users have the option to employ a widget called Sense Home. Similarly to many third-party Android launchers, Sense Home displays a set of eight applications that change depending on your location or time of day. If you’re on your commute it might offer up a tub or bus times application, at home YouTube and Netflix will probably pop up, it’s a nice feature to have natively and depending on how smart it is, could prove useful for many prospective M9 users.
HTC’s also bolstered the accessories offerings with a new DotView case which lets you play accelerometer games like Brick Breaker whilst the cover is closed, clear-back hard cases so you can still admire the craftsmanship of the M9’s hairline pattern metal back and new dual driver headphone for when you don’t plan on using the new Dolby Audio-laden BoomSound speakers on the front.
Speaking of sound, HTC’s also continued its partnership with Harman Kardon, so a simple three-finger swipe gesture will let you fire audio over to a compatible speaker (a portable speaker will actually come bundled with some versions of the M9.
Once again HTC has created a flagship smartphone that’s design, both inside and out, is far more evolutionary than revolutionary. It’s a formula that won’t appeal to everybody, but the company knows that it’s created a strong contender in the M9, eliminating polarising aspects of the M8 like its camera and ensuring it packs the latest, beefiest hardware.
Check out the HTC announcement piece for a full spec rundown and stay tuned for more from Mobile World Congress and the HTC One M9.