The HTC One M9 is nearly identical to its predecessor, the HTC One M8. It features nearly the same design with updated internals, but leaves us wanting more. The Snapdragon 810 is throttled so it doesn't overheat and the camera quality is sub-par.
- Display and Sound
HTC has been touted as one of the best smartphone manufacturers in the past few years due to their willingness to package their device within an aluminum chassis. While they were one of the first Android OEMs to embrace the ‘premium’ mantra, they aren’t alone anymore. While many, including myself, thought HTC was going to radically redesign their One M9 to stay on top, HTC decided to refine its latest flagship.
The One M9 builds off a strong showing of its predecessor, the One M8, by improving where the latter lacked. The M9 boasts a bigger battery, bigger camera, and re-positioned buttons, some of the areas where the M8 was criticized. Amid the changes previously mentioned comes one of the top processors on the market to round out the device. Let’s get right into the review.
You’ll find it here and you’ll find it elsewhere. The HTC One M9 stands out from the Android crowd, but apparently is indistinguishable to HTC themselves. Of course I’m referencing HTC’s marketing screw up, but I digress. I personally love HTC’s design, as it is definitely one of the best looking, even more so with the new colors. I got my hands on the Gunmetal Grey variant and I am far from disappointed.
At first glance when the phone is facing up, it takes even an experienced Android user a few moments to decide whether or not they are looking an One M8 or One M9. The easiest way to decipher is by looking for the power button placement or see how large the sensor adjacent to the front-facing camera is. While the M9 may look very similar to its 2014 predecessor, it is slightly smaller, coming in at 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.6 mm rather than 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm. The M9 is a tad thicker however, due to the increased battery size.
HTC definitely knows their branding and it’s probably a good thing they stuck with their design language. Just like the iPhone does with their phones, HTC sticks with what works and what people know. The One M9 is as identifiable as it has ever been, so it’s probably a good move by the Taiwanese company.
On the front of the device, the first thing you notice is HTC’s highly-acclaimed dual front-facing BoomSound speakers, which sounds as good as ever. Just above the bottom speaker is the trademarked black bar that all One M devices feature. While some are disappointed that HTC didn’t ax the bar for the M9, you have to remember the display drivers have to go somewhere. I’m sure that they could have found a way to make it work, but they stuck to their guns on this design.
The only thing that has really changed on the front of the device would be the sensor at the top to the left of the camera. It has received quite the size increase. Other than that, the front-facing camera and top speaker grill all reside in the same locations as before. Sometimes change is good, sometimes it isn’t. It is worth noting that the front of the device does seem a little more solid than the One M8. I had issues with my top speaker grill on my old One M8 getting separated from the chassis of the phone, but then again, so did others.
Subtle changes on the front lead to subtle changes elsewhere on the device. On the bottom, you still get the same offset microUSB charging port with the headphone jack directly to the right. The top of the device is home to the IR blaster since the power button has been moved from the top right to the side of the device. The left side of the device is bare, aside from the nano SIM card slot.
While I am totally in favor of HTC moving the power button from the top of the device to the side, I wish they would have made it easier to differentiate between the volume buttons and the power button. The volume buttons stay in the same spot on the right side, but is now joined by the power button just below it. Now, there are three nearly identical buttons all in a row, with only a slight difference in texture. With how close HTC made the buttons to the chassis, it is very hard to feel a difference, and it doesn’t help that they aren’t very tactile. They suffer from the same issues the first Nexus 9 devices had, so hopefully HTC will update the buttons later with the One M9.
On the back of the device, the major difference is the square-circle camera lens all by its lonesome. HTC did not include a duo camera on this device. I never really used the duo camera on One M8 to its full potential, but it would have been a nice addition to the 20 megapixel rear shooter. For some reason, they decided to put it on the One M9 Plus, but we all know that isn’t coming to the United States or Europe. Aside from the camera change, the back is nearly the same as the One M8, but it is still a great design. The One M9 has a slightly different feel than the One M8, which in my opinion makes it much more grip-able. Metal phones are great, but they sure are slippery, so it’s good to see HTC try and add some grip to it. It is still one of the most ergonomic Android devices on the market.
Display and Sound
The display on the One M9 definitely follows inline with the design of the device. The M9 features the same 5 inch full HD display that comes with 441 ppi. HTC didn’t want to make the jump to QHD on their main flaghship yet, and I honestly appreciate that. Not only is the screen size the same, it still sports a Super LCD 3 display, just like the One M8.
This is one move that I don’t agree with. You would think that since HTC decided to stick with 1080p, they would update the display panel. While the Super LCD 3 display was praised on the One M8, that is not the case in 2015. HTC is clearly lagging behind Samsung and LG. I would like to see how the One M9 Plus display stacks up against the competition, because that is clearly going to be the future display on the One M10.
The One M9’s display may not be as vivid as a the competitions panels, but it still decent, respectable display. It may not boast the highest ppi and still isn’t AMOLED, but color is nicely replicated and the device can get pretty bright. The M9 can also get pretty dim, but it isn’t anything to write home about. It does have good viewing angles though, so I’ll give it that.
As far as the BoomSound speakers go, they sound just as good as before. HTC brought dual front-facing speakers to the world and we will never look back. I will always prefer front facing speakers over any other placement, no matter how loud they are. The speakers may not be as loud as before, but they seem just as crisp. A lot of smartphone speakers seem crackly at high volumes, but the One M9 can handle full volume.
Dolby doesn’t add very much to the package and neither does the “Theater Mode” option. No matter if I am listening to music or watching videos, I tend to stick with the “Music Mode”. Theater Mode seems as if it just increases the treble and drowns out the mids, which is not a good thing.
This the category that we have long been waiting for when it was first announced that the Snapdragon 810 processor was suffering from overheating issues. While most of the phone has stayed the same, the chipset is where HTC was expected to jump forward and fully embrace 64-bit compatible Android. Unfortunately for them, that comes with using Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 810, which contains four cores clocked at 2.0 GHz and four cores clocked at 1.6 GHz. This definitely sounds better than it performs.
Now, you can’t really pick on HTC for the lackluster performance of the S810, but it is truly the worst blow to the whole package. Even though the Snapdragon 810 is backed by the 3 GB of the latest LPDDR4 RAM, the CPU is clearly throttled for heating issues, and it is definitely noticeable. There is clearly lag throughout the Sense 7.0 OS, mainly when switching between apps using the recent app switcher.
On the AnTuTu Benchmark, my One M9 scored just over 52,000, which may sound good at first, but it just barely beat out my Nexus 6. That Nexus 6 sports the 32-bit Snapdragon 805 processor and it scored upwards of 51,000. It is really sad, because Qualcomm really dropped their ball on the processor, and HTC suffers from it. It was probably too late to change over to MediaTek without delaying the release of the One M9.
On top of it all, the One M9 is running Android Lollipop version 5.0.2 with the expected 5.1 update on the way in the future. Due to the throttling of the CPU, it isn’t as seamless is it should or could be, but it is still a good experience. HTC’s Sense 7.0 is heavily laid on top of the stock Android experience, as HTC employs their own style of animations and recent apps menu that was seen previously on the One M8. I don’t know why they wouldn’t switch over to the new animations, but it almost seems slower. The good news is you can change the recent app menu to the card stock as seen on stock Android.
The One M9 does show many hints of Android Lollipop, but it isn’t fully there yet.
The hope is that maybe HTC will tweak the performance more so in the future with updates, as they did to cool down the overheating madness. They didn’t to rush out that update to get the device ready for the market, so I wouldn’t doubt it if they are working on a better performing update.
I’m going to update this portion of the review later once my One M9 receives the update. No sense in reviewing an unfinished product. It is supposed to be released around April 17th for T-Mobile, so check back then.
The battery category is something that you would think the One M9 would excel at. Not only does the M9 feature the same 1080p display as its predecessor, but it features a larger 2,840 mAh battery compared to 2,600 mAh of the M8. The display might not be as hungry as QHD devices, but the processor sure is.
For the most part, I was able to get around 2-3 hours of screen on time in around a 12-15 hour day. I would end up with anywhere from 5% at the worst and 30% at best. This is clearly not very good, but it seems hit or miss. The Snapdragon 810 is definitely eating up a good chunk of the battery because the display sure isn’t the culprit. While my battery life isn’t the worst, I definitely expected better so I did some research on the internet. I found others getting upwards of 5 hours of screen on time, whereas others were in my time range. I am going to do a factory reset and hope for some better life, so I’ll return after that.
HTC does brag about their quick-charging, as the Snapdragon 810 supports quick-charging 2.0, but for whatever reason, HTC didn’t include a quick charger in the box. When hooked up to my Nexus 6 or Galaxy S6 edge charger, the device juices faster than both of the devices I previously mentioned. It’s a shame that most will not experience this feature due to HTC’s decision.
The HTC One M9 definitely shows off a different side of Android that embraces a metal unibody which gives a premium feel and design. HTC stuck to their guns on their design language, but it still brings one of the best looking and most ergonomic devices to the market. While the exterior of the device is refined, HTC still brings much of the same to the table. Even though it does boast better internals, it doesn’t live up to the hype, but still outperforms device of yesteryear.
The M9 is only a slight incremental upgrade to the M8, so look at it as a One M8s. It features the same design, display, and speaker experience, so unless you can’t live without the latest and greatest, I’d hold off on updating. If you are coming from the One M7, the One M9 is definitely worth the upgrade as it boasts a 20.7 megapixel camera, up from the 4 UltraPixel camera of the past.
I still hoped HTC would redesign their device from the ground up, much like Samsung did with the Galaxy S6, but I must say I am not disappointed.