HTC One (M9) review: The weakest One in the trilogy

Is HTC still trying to make the best phone in the world?

HTC One (M9)
  • HTC One (M9)
  • HTC One (M9)
  • HTC One (M9)
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Ultrapixel front camera
  • BoomSound speakers
  • Powerful processing hardware

Cons

  • Poor rear camera
  • Battery life
  • Expensive

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 1,099.00 (AUD)

A year on and HTC’s software continues to mature. Sense 7 is uncluttered and intelligible. The BlinkFeed news aggregator returns and it’s more streamlined than ever. New additions include the ability to tailor themes and a widget that lists popular application shortcuts based on whether you are out, at work or at home. These small touches make HTC’s version of Android individualistic without bogging the software down.

Missing is a market leading feature

HTC’s custom Sense 7 overlay coats the latest Google mobile operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop. Consistent design and a strong range of multimedia applications — particularly the gallery, the music- and video players — help the operating system feel as though it was built from the ground up.

Missing is a market leading feature. HTC’s Sense TV, an application the combined an electronic program guide with the smartphone’s IR remote, is no longer present. In its place is the application in which Sense TV was based on, called Peel Smart Remote, and although it will still command home entertainment set ups, the fact HTC hasn’t bothered making it thematically consistent reveals it is no longer running that extra mile.

The real test of the M9’s software is not in how it feels when the phone is popped out of its box, but rather in how often and how quickly HTC can release software updates. The company’s history inspires confidence in delivering updates and after sales support.

The gallery, music interface and an overview of battery performance
The gallery, music interface and an overview of battery performance

HTC's BlinkFeed news aggregator, along with its Theme interface
HTC's BlinkFeed news aggregator, along with its Theme interface

Separating the M9 apart from its predecessor is its processing hardware. Inside is a 64-bit Snapdragon 810 chipset. It has an octa-core CPU, which combines a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU with a 2GHz quad-core CPU, and it alternates between the two depending on the intensity of a task. The smartphone has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, and if you can find one, it’ll take a 2TB microSD card.

The battery underwhelmed in performance, especially when it is compared to the One (M8)

All of this puts the M9 at the forefront of the flagship pack, alongside Samsung’s upcoming S6. It is visibly quicker out of the box, with the Sense software gliding effortlessly from one page to the next. The smartphone will alternate between multiple applications without problem and it takes intensive applications in its stride. Playing Real Racing 3 on the smartphone, a game 833 megabytes in size, was characterised by a fluid frame rate and crisp graphics, and it was accompanied by the voluminous BoomSound speakers.

Connectivity is another strong point for the M9. HTC claims the smartphone supports three times as many LTE bands as its predecessor. Joining 4G is dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC and Bluetooth 4.1.

Built into the body of the One (M9) is a large 2840 milliamp battery. The battery underwhelmed in performance, especially when it is compared to that featured in the One (M8). We would describe our usage of the smartphone as intermediate. We made calls, sent texts, emailed took photos, played music, surfed the web and made use of various social networks. Gaming and GPS usage during testing was light.

Good Gear Guide found the battery in the HTC One (M9) would last 18 hours on average before needing to be charged. This is an ordinary result for a flagship and it disappoints when it is compared to the older One (M8), which would hold charge for a day and still have a quarter battery left.

Charging the battery takes time too. Rivals are kitting smartphones with fast charge features. Replenishing the battery in the HTC One (M9) from flat to full takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Conclusion

Compromises plague the One (M9). The rear camera works well in a limited range of lighting conditions, the battery life has regressed, less pride has been taken with the software and the design is less inspired.

Older One flagships evoked an emotive response when held in the hand; they felt special. Holding the M9 no longer feels like an engineering feat, but rather the by-product of engineers partnering with accountants.

A lack of innovation hampers the smartphone. No all-new features were introduced in the M9. We fear HTC has fallen from the front of the pack to somewhere in the middle.

Making matters worse is the price. HTC is selling the One (M9) for $1099 — that’s $200 more than the older M8. It’s a high price to pay for any smartphone, let alone this one.

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Read more on these topics: Android, htc, One, Lollipop, M9, Sense 7
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