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Hands On With The HTC M9 – Evolution Or Revolution?

The release of HTC’s M9 is perhaps the company’s most significant launch since the M7 – a device that for many represented the very pinnacle of the premium smartphones market. Since then Samsung has delivered some all-metal beauties of its own and Apple made a significant generational leap with iPhone 6 and 6+, so everyone was hoping that HTC would do something special to get itself back in front.

First impressions are that it hasn’t. The now familiar dual-speaker array still runs the design, which in some ways may be holding it back because there are no immediate stand-out new features such as a fingerprint scanner or waterproofing. It has ditched the UltraPixel experiment though – or at least in terms of the main camera. Now you’ll find a beefy 20MP number at the rear, though the front-facer still uses Ultrapixel technology with 4MP resolution, which certainly seems like a sensible switch.

Elsewhere the M9 offers some pretty impressive core architecture with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 64-bit processor and a whopping 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a microSD slot for expansion with a 2840mAh battery.  The 5” display is stuck at 1920×1080 but does boast a sharp 441ppi and there’s fast-charging here courtesy of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0.

It’s a little early for full reviews but plenty of people have been getting their hands on the new M9, so let’s see if it has enough to keep HTC on the consumer’s radar.

Speaking of which, TechRadar sums things up quite well from the off by describing it as “a great phone if you’re upgrading from two years ago the concern here certainly seems to be that there’s not enough of an upgrade from the impressive M8. It lauds the beautiful design that needs to be seen up close to be truly appreciated.

“It needs to be felt. To speak about it, or even show it in pictures, doesn’t really do justice to the premium finish in the hand, to the well-balanced design, to the way everything feels weighty and solid.”

The power button has been moved to the side below the volume controls, which is slightly frustrating as they are all the same size and shape so it can be difficult to tell them apart by feel, and the familiar black band containing the HTC logo is still present but feels like it unnecessarily adds to the bulk of the phone. The display is impressive without being outstanding, with a colour temperature that’s a little on the cool side, and it points out that avoiding an upgrade to QHD resolution will do favours for the battery life. Elsewhere the high specs contribute to a pleasant user experience as:

“everything [is] feeling a little snappier again compared to the mode from last year. It’s clean, fast and apps are almost infallible in opening and closing”.

The “upgrade” to Dolby powered Boomsound  over Beats doesn’t appear to be particularly noticeable, but the important thing is that it’s not any worse, and it concludes by saying that as an upgrade from the M7 it’s great – “night and day better” in fact, but not quite the leap forward we’ve seen in the past.

Forbes continues on a similar line and describes the M9 as a “beautiful, basic upgrade” and points out that HTC has responded to questions about the design with this:

“I would describe it much like the Porsche. When you’ve got a design that works incredibly well – that’s timeless and classic – you don’t want to chuck out all that experience you’ve gained from before and start afresh”.

Fair enough. There’s obviously plenty to like about the design and here again it’s described as “one of the best looking smartphones I’ve ever held” and importantly is also very nice to use. Sense 7 brings some nifty improvements such as the ability to be contextually aware and deliver a more intuitive user experience.

“It senses when you’re at home, work or on a night out and appropriately changes the apps on the home screen”

Learning and refining based on your habits over time. Recommendations pop up depending on where you are – train times when arriving at a train station for example, and the new theme generator can use a picture you’ve taken to generate a theme based on the colours in the image.

It is also impressed by the new Dolby integration and describes it as “louder and better than the M8, with the addition of more clarity, base and a more 3D sound” and has positive things to say about the battery life (in lieu of a proper test) due to the increased capacity and power-saving features of Android 5.2 and Sense 7. Forbes concludes by saying that while not a significant upgrade, the M9 takes the important step of ensuring that it’s at least bang up to date with today’s market.

If there’s one area that’s been a point of contention for HTC it’s been the camera and rather notorious “Ultrapixel experiment”. Having distanced itself from this with the M9 and considering this is a major feature for many users we thought we’d have a look at what CNet had to say in its dedicated day and a half test of the snapper.  The switch to megapixels for the rear camera may be welcomed, but does mean it’s not quite as unique, removing, for example, “the Duo camera, which took innovative (but not always great) two-level focus photos” . More concerning than this is that CNet says “it just isn’t that good”. It’s described as a step down from the iPhone 6 Plus – photos can be grainy and struggle a bit in low light environments, the auto-focus is a little slow and though it is capable of taking some very good images, is ultimately a bit disappointing. Close-up shots fair better if you fiddle with the settings and it’s capable of 4K video recording, which is neat, and this is generally handled well. Where it does score some points, ironically, is with the front-facing Ultrapixel camera.

“It’s wide-angle, has great light sensitivity, is super-crisp, and is generally one of the best front cams I’ve seen. It’s better than the iPhone 6 Plus’ FaceTime front camera, easily.”

The only slight downside is that there’s more distortion at times due to the wider-angle but the benefits of fitting more into the shot outweigh this considerably.

htc-m9-silver-side

So the HTC M9 is certainly evolution rather than revolution, but fans of the original should still find plenty to like, even if M8 owners might find it a bit more difficult to justify an upgrade. The official price SIM-Free is £579 and on contract you’re looking at around £40 a month if you don’t want to pay much up front for the handset.

Visit HTC to find out more.