If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that at the beginning of April I was fortunate enough to be offered a chance to spend some time with the brand new HTC One M9 handset.
I knew little about the phone beforehand, which meant I didn’t have any prevailing opinions about it. I also haven’t had an HTC phone for about three years so I was very intrigued to see what their latest flagship model offered.
From the moment it arrived you could tell it was a high end product. Other manufacturer handsets I’ve had come in rectangular boxes finished in a matt cardboard, nice enough, but with HTC though you get a lovely textured finish to the box. Nothing flashy, but enough to catch my eye.
Inside you get the handset plus the usual accessories: charger/USB cable, headphones, quick start guide, instruction manual, and sim card access tool.
The first thing that I noticed about the phone itself was the dual tone all metal body.
This immediately gives the feeling of a luxury product (especially compared to the plastic Samsung Galaxy handsets) and reinforces the high end nature. With a background in product design I’m always impressed by beautiful design and manufacturing, and the M9 excels here. Excellent build quality is something that HTC are becoming synonymous with and this handset definitely delivers.
The rear side of the handset is gently curved so that it sits more naturally in your hand and, despite being larger all round that my Sony Z3, it actually doesn’t feel it.
The ergonomically designed nature of it lends itself to a very comfortable and slimline hold and doesn’t feel square or “boxy” like some phones can be.
The handset is also noticeably lightweight, especially for one with a metal casing.
You expect weight savings when plastic is used, but HTC have designed this in such a way that you can have quality materials without compromise.
Three were kind enough to provide me with a sim card and I spent a week putting the M9 through it’s paces and testing as many features on it as I could, as well as trying to get “typical” use out of it too. I say that because it’s all very well having some incredible features on a phone (and many nowadays do) but if you rarely use them it makes them a bit redundant.
The sim card port is accessed with this little tool
The M9 measures 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61 mm and weighs in at a tidy 157g (the iPhone 6 Plus weighs 172g and the Samsung Galaxy 6 138g for comparison) and offers a 5inch SLCF3 HD (1920x1080p) display at a pixel density of 440ppi. It has 3GB RAM and uses Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 810 (4x 2.0 GHz and 4x 1.5 GHz) which is definitely high-end performance.
The scratch resistant coating on the two tone gunmetal grey finish kept it looking stunning even when regularly travelling in my pocket alongside keys and loose coins.
Having assessed the physical attributes of the phone I turned on the NFC and used Android Beam to transfer over my contacts from my existing handset and I was good to go.
Pretty good cameras are a given in mobile phones nowadays. The camera in my Sony Z3 is as good as my point and shoot camera (gathering dust on the shelf at home), so a good baseline to see how the M9 stacked up.
On the face of it the HTC has a superbly specified camera: 20.7 megapixel dual LED flash on the rear and a 4 megapixel front facing. Overall the camera was really rather good, with the exception of sometimes blowing out the highlights and use in low light (see below).
The rich colours of the M9 (left) versus the Sony Z3 (right)
The main camera immediately gave me sharp images and rich colours with the settings all left on auto. Delving into the HTC Eye menu offers you a range of photo modes, from Photo Booth and Panoramic, to the ever-popular Selfie mode.
Bokeh mode (left) and Selfie mode (right)
Split screen mode – main camera split with front facing camera (left) and Photo Booth mode – not particularly intuitive to use (right)
Panoramic mode (click to view large)
The only downside with the camera is the lack of optical image stabilisation, which, in bright daylight isn’t necessarily a problem, but becomes more obvious in low light.
Indoor photo with low light levels
You may have read mixed reviews on the camera, but a recent software patch seems to have resolved most, if not all, by the time they have made it out into the public.
The video option is where it gets interesting. You can record in the usual high definition 1080p but 4K resolution is also offered as an option. Granted most monitors and TVs still aren’t 4k-ready yet but the difference is visible even when compressed to YouTube!
Apologies for the shaky video – the slightly larger handset than I currently own didn’t fit in my bike mount so had to hold it in my hand over the bumps on the trail!
So you can really see the difference I tried a comparison of the 4K video (once the auto focus kicks in!) on the HTC One M9 versus standard HD on the Sony Z3.
Although visually superior, do bear in mind that 4K video is fairly memory-hungry. The short 20second clip above consumes just over 100mb of space.
It wasn’t long before I was downloading tracks from Play Music to test the speakers.
Although they are improving, in general mobile speakers and headphones aren’t great. They’ll do for sitting on the train, but not much more.
However, the HTC stands out here using their partnership with Dolby Audio to offer BoomSound in Theatre mode and Music mode with impressively crisp sounds (even when turned right up) and deep bass in both the headphones and the dual front facing speakers. That probably has something to do with the 5.1 surround sound specification with built in amplifiers!
My only gripe with the physical state of the phone is the location of the power/lock key. To be blunt, it is all wrong.
At first glance halfway down the right hand side seems logical enough, but in practise it doesn’t work. It is the same size and shape as the volume keys and positioned far too close to them to easily differentiate.
Spot the power button…
On more than one occasion I pressed it accidentally or pressed the volume key when searching for it. Fortunately you can set a double tap on the screen to wake the phone up and so I soon resorted to this tactic.
Also, a slightly curious point that the charger socket was off centre. There didn’t seem to a reason for this but I soon got used to it after initially missing the port a couple of times.
The handset is running Android 5.0 Lollipop and it is superb. Easily the best version of Android yet. Combine this with HTC Sense 7 and you have a fantastic setup that runs smoothly, is very user-friendly, works well, and looks great.
As part of Sense you also have an auto-update home screen. At first I thought it was a but unnecessary, but it actually turned out to be quite useful.
Using your location it seamlessly transitions your home screen icon layout depending on where you are (Home/Work/Out). I’d go from my home screen showing the usual social media and messaging at home, to my calendar and email when I arrived at the office. Nice!
Crucial to any phone’s performance and longevity is the battery. The M9’s battery life is quoted at 2840mAh which, to be honest, doesn’t mean a lot to me.
In real terms that meant I was averaging about 36hours from a single charge even with fairly heavy usage and deliberately running graphics-heavy games for long periods to test the performance.
The last 10% of battery life did seem to drain faster than the initial 90% (which did catch me out once!) but anything in excess of 24hours is pretty good nowadays – if you only need to charge your phone every other day then that’s a win for me.
I gave Car Mode a go on a short journey over Easter. Easy to setup, easy to use and the Sat Nav view got me to my destination. You can’t ask any more than that. The only negative was the location of the lock key (again!) as my in-car cradle holds the handset horizontally and kept locking the screen!
The noise cancellng microphone worked perfectly well on calls as expected, even along the road side with heavy traffic. This should be a given on mobile phones, if you fail here you probably need to revisit your phone design!
The Scribble app also worked rather well. Rather than drafting messages or notes I used the voice record function on Scribble to record my comments and blog notes when using the handset all week.
This isn’t a comparison review, it’s just an independent review of the standalone handset. But to give the phone size some context here it is alongside the iPhone 6 Plus and Sony Z3 (the only other phones I had to hand).
The HTC doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or finger print recognition compared to other brand flagship handsets, but actually, for me anyway, these sorts of features are a bit of a gimmick. Yes they are nice features but actually how much do you use them? I know the idea of them caters towards people increasingly combining fitness with social media, but I do a fair amount of exercise and Garmin looks after all my GPS and HR needs. A large phone is quite a way away from replacing them and so the lack of these features is definitely not a dealbreaker for me.
Overall this is an excellent phone and, for the most part, anyone that gets it won’t be disappointed. I think the niggling issues I had, like the power key, would be overcome once you became more familiar with the phone.
If you select the M9 you are looking at impressive build quality, great screen and audio features, a good camera, and good battery life all running on a brilliant version of Android. Enjoy!
If you’ve got the new M9 then let me know what you think in the comments below, or if you’re thinking about one and have any questions then let know.
For more information visit the Three site here.