Android Smartphone Review: The HTC One M9

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Regular readers will remember that I am a fan of both the original HTC One M7 and the 2014 flagship, the HTC One M8. Neither device was perfect but both offered a great Android smartphone experience. And so it is time to sit down with the 2015 One model, the HTC One M9, and see where HTC have improved upon the existing device.

I am going to start with first impressions, because here the One M9 looks and feels very similar to the M8. The M9 is marginally shorter than the M8 but you need to have the two devices back to back to be able to tell any difference. Otherwise, the main difference between the two devices is that the M9 has a strange outer lip around the edge, which make the device much, much easier to grip compared with the smooth, rounded edge of the HTC One M8.

As far as specifications go, in most respects HTC have improved the M9 over the M8. There's a newer, more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 3 GB of RAM compared with 2 GB, a 20.7MP rear camera to replace the MP UltraPixel unit of the M8, and a slightly larger battery too. Both devices feature a 5.0-inch, 1080p resolution LCD and as far as I can tell, these screens are very similar, although with the M9 HTC have allowed the software to dim the screen further than the M8. Both devices have HTC's BoomSound dual front speakers, which are as loud as the M8 but manage to sound further apart thanks to some Qualcomm cleverness behind the scenes. The M9 comes with 32 GB of onboard storage as standard (the M8 came with 16 GB as standard) plus a MicroSD card slot.

The M9 ships with HTC Sense 7 and the M8 still has Sense 6, but at the time of writing both devices were using Android 5.0 Lollipop. There are definitely differences between Sense 6 and Sense 7; typically, where you might see a toggle with Sense 6, you see an option with Sense 7. The One M8 will be receiving Sense 7 at some point over the summer of 2015 and at the time of writing, this is scheduled to start from August.

In use, here the M9 is exactly what we would expect. It's powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, which uses up to eight processor cores depending on the task. If you work the One M9 hard you can definitely feel the chassis warm up! In normal use, the One is pleasingly fast with a definite snap about it when moving between applications. When the device heats up, you can sometimes feel it slowing down as the processor underclocks itself but even with HTC's “Power saving” mode enabled, the M9 is still pleasingly responsive.

In terms of signal and call quality, I had no issues with the M9 on a voice call and the network switched up and down from 3G to LTE with very little hesitation. Given how good the M7 and M8 sounded, I did not expect any problems here and I'm glad the M9 delivered. Data transfer speeds were also good. Some people were disappointed that the M9's screen was no better than the M8, but there was nothing wrong with the M8's display and using ever sharper screens is not such a big benefit.

During my time with the M9 and afterwards, HTC released two software updates designed to improve the camera quality. I am one of those people who have moderate expectations of a smartphone camera and whilst it's cute that the M9 has a 20.7MP sensor and some cleverness to take good quality pictures, it won't replace my branded bridge camera. I had no problems with the quality of the images that the M9 took although the M8 was noticeably better at darker pictures, thanks I'm sure to HTC's “UltraPixel” technology, which gave the camera sensor much larger than normal pixels so as to capture more light.

One difference I noticed with the M9 is in the battery life respect, where the device suffers from a more extreme version of the M8. When idle, the M9 can sip even less battery compared with the M8 but unfortunately, when worked hard the M9 can use battery very, very quickly indeed. Used a my primary handset, so this means I handled a few calls, plenty of Hangouts messages, some Gmail and the occasional Hangouts voice call, I could see a day to a charge with no problem. Two days felt hit and miss; when I tried this, I was reaching for the charger as I arrived home on the second day with a few hours to go until bedtime.

To conclude, the M9 is not the most exciting flagship refresh of 2015. HTC did not have so much to change, either, and sometimes sticking broadly with what you have is sensible. There are deep changes between the M8 and M9, but the devices look and feel very similar to handle. It is not such a glamorous flagship device, but if you like the former One devices, you are almost certain to love the HTC One M9. Recommended.

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