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HTC has designed the best Android smartphone out there

The quality of the One M9 may be high, but are the improvements good enough to warrant an upgrade?

Image: TheJournal.ie

Rating: 8.5/10

Verdict: Again, HTC has created one of the best Android phones out there, but those expecting major improvements from the M8 will be left disappointed.

THIS IS A CASE of third time’s a charm for HTC. Not in the sense of getting a phone right – the One M7 and M8 were great devices – but with the competition more intense than ever and the margins tighter, it’s important for it to set a clear intention.

When images of the M9 leaked last month, most people were disappointed over how similar it was to the M8. But it’s not looks that matter (although it certainly helps), it’s what you can do with it that counts. And the M9 certainly lives up to expectations.

Look and feel

The One M9 continues the same design principles that the M7 and M8 followed, but with a few subtle refinements. It’s a little bit smaller than the M8, but the two-tone metal design gives it an elegant look and feels natural to hold.

This is helped by the slightly curved back, which allows the phone to nestle comfortably in your hand. The camera juts out ever so slightly, but the way the backing is curved means you won’t notice this.

Both screen size and display resolution remain unchanged at 5-inches and 1080 x 1920 pixels respectively. This may disappoint some people, but it means the device isn’t as power hungry, which helps since battery capacity hasn’t improved much.

HTC Gif 2 Source: TheJournal.ie

One thing to note for those not familiar with HTC is that the volume and power buttons are located slightly lower on the side than usual, making space for a micro SD slot at the top right-hand side. It’s likely you’ll hit one of the volume button accidentally when waking your phone, but there are touch gestures to get around this.

Hardware

Like any update, the M9′s specs are improved, with a few noticeable changes. For one, the M8′s CPU, a quad-core 2.3 GHz, has been replaced with a two quad-core CPUs (1.5GHZ, and 2GHz), it has 3GB of RAM (a jump from 2GB) and the minimum amount of storage provided is 32GB.

What this means is it has more than enough to satisfy power-hungry apps, and enough space to save them.

Bottom 2 Source: TheJournal.ie

The greatest improvement is to the rear camera. Instead of using a dual 4MP camera like the M8, HTC replaced it with a 20.7MP camera which is a major improvement over what went before. While usual dual cameras was a nice idea to add depth, it meant photo quality was below standard.

Yet while the specs have improved, the problem is the sensors powering them. Under the right conditions, you can take some great photos, but the camera has problems with low-light situations.

It has issues getting the brightness right in these situations, and this could become more apparent if Sony and Samsung’s claims about low-light photography live up to their promise.

HTC has designed the best Android smartphone out there
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  • HTC One M9 - Camera

  • HTC One M9 - Camera

  • HTC One M9 - Camera

  • HTC One M9 - Camera

  • HTC One M9 - Camera

  • HTC One M9 - Camera

Another small improvement has been made to battery life. The M8′s battery was small for a high-end smartphone (2,600 mAh), and HTC has increased it slightly by giving the M9 a 2,840 mAh battery.

It’s a little disappointing considering how most high-end devices go for at least 3,000 mAh capacity, but to its credit, it does keep up with demanding tasks, and it will last you for a day and a half through normal use.

The real strength of the M9 is when you’re using it for games, music and video/TV. Special mention must go to the speaker setup which can be configured to either a music or theatre set up. Taking its cues from the M8, their positioning at the front is deliberate and they’re impressively loud for a smartphone.

They’re not going to replace a good pair of speakers, but you’ll certainly notice the difference when you’re watching shows in Theatre Mode.

Although when using it for these purposes, there is one problem that crops up: overheating. All smartphones heat up when used for prolonged periods, that’s a given, but the M9′s temperatures can soar quickly when you really push it to its limits. Not to dangerous levels, but enough to make you feel concerned the first time around.

(Update: We’ve been informed by HTC that the software running in our unit wasn’t the final version and future updates have fixed both the low-lighting camera and overheating problems.)

House of Cards Source: TheJournal.ie

Software

Thanks to its partnership with Google in developing the Nexus 9, HTC had more time than others to get to know Android Lollipop and it really shows.

Material Design, the aesthetic Google is pushing with all of its services including Lollipop, really complements the M9. Icons are large and bright, each feature and option is clear, and you’re really only two/three taps away from whatever you’re looking for. It’s clean and pleasing to both look at and navigate.

HTC GIF 4 Source: TheJournal.ie

The most interesting changes come from the home page, which now features a home screen widget called Sense Home. Either by selecting it or entering in your home and work locations, it will present you with apps you use in these areas. It will guess at first but the more you use certain apps (Netflix at home, for example), the better it gets.

This may seem superficial, but there is a logic behind it. One of the biggest problems is trying to fit and organise apps onto your home screen. A context sensitive option saves you from having to pick and choose.

HTC Gif 1 Source: TheJournal.ie

Although it needs a bit of work. You only have six slots to play around with, two are dedicated to recent and suggested downloads, and the latter’s suggestions can vary significantly.

In our case, it mostly suggested games when in work mode, despite such downloads happening at home instead of suggesting more productive apps, even after prolonged use.

You can remove it if necessary, but its usefulness will depend on how much you cycle between apps in different situations.

The other change is gestures which operate when the phone is asleep. You can’t customise the gestures or what they activate, but they’re kept simple and they’re easy to remember. Double tapping lights up the screen, swiping up unlocks, and so on.

The double tap gesture is useful if you’re using Dot View (a protective case which lets you glance at certain notifications), but it’s there for convenience instead of serving a major purpose.

HTC Gif 3 Source: TheJournal.ie

Should you buy it?

Those who already own the M8 won’t have much of a reason to change. There are some nice new features, but really it’s an upgrade instead of a complete overhaul.

Yet, the M8 was a great device and any major changes would have more jarring than improving on what went before it. This was a case of further refining a great product and really, that’s all that needed to be done.

It has a long battle ahead of it considering other competitors will be releasing smartphones soon, but the M9 is a fantastic smartphone that’s both savvy and regular users will love.

Although its reputation as the best Android phone out there could be under threat when Samsung’s S6 and S6 Edge arrive next month.

HTC back Source: TheJournal.ie

Pros
- Design is still at the top of its class.
- Great hardware and software.
- HTC Sense is more streamlined.
- Small upgrades like context apps and gestures add to the experience.

Cons
- Camera still needs work.
- Is prone to overheating when you push it to its limits.
- Overall changes are minor compared to the M8.

The HTC One M9 will cost  €699-€749 (SIM Free) and can be pre-ordered in Vodafone, Three and Carphone Warehouse. It will be released on 31st March.

Read: Why there are no Apple Stores in the Republic – and probably won’t be for a while >

Read: Bring these Irish animation stamps to life with your smartphone >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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