An evolutionary design

No big changes for the HTC One M9, and that’s a good thing

HTC revealed its next flagship, the HTC One M9, at Mobile World Congress on Sunday. Take a close look: If you’re not careful, you might end up mistaking it for its predecessor, the HTC One M8.

It’s clear that the HTC One M9 is an evolutionary model. The two devices are essentially the same size. The spottable differences include the power/wake button, which has finally been moved to the right side of the handset, and the camera — instead of last year’s Duo camera setup with two lenses, the rear camera on the M9 only has a single lens focusing light on a new 20MP camera sensor that shoots video in 4K resolution.

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Of course, the HTC One M9 sports a few expected upgrades under its familiar facade. It has a similar 5-inch 1080p screen to its older sibling, but it’s sporting Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line mobile processor, the 64-bit capable Snapdragon 810. The front-facing camera gets a huge upgrade, too, taking HTC’s light-gobbling Ultrapixel tech and putting it on the other side of the device, which means it should be much better for selfies in the club. With the right charger, sold separately, the One M9 will support turbo charging, which can fill the battery up to 40 percent faster.

I was able to handle a pre-production unit briefly and I found the ergonomics of the HTC One M9 singificantly improved. The metallic rear surface has a grippier texture, and the slightly less curved body alleviated my main issue with the HTC One M8, which is that it always felt like it was slipping out of my hands. The wake button moved to the side helps, too as it’s easier to reach. Front-facing BoomSound speakers are in evidence too, and they can simulate Dolby surround sound.

HTC has also spent time on its Sense 7 skin and its own apps. The HTC One M9 will ship with Google Android 5.0 installed, and HTC has done a great job updating its look — it’s unique among Android phones, but still distinctly Lollipop. If you don’t like it, HTC is offering a theming app for the first time, which allows you to tweak icons and accent colors, as well as download themes other users made available online. At this time, all the themes are free, but HTC might include a way to charge for them in the future, if sports teams and other corporations with lots of fans make them.

There’s also a slick Android app called HTC Connect on the HTC One M9, which promises to be able to bring up a list of every wireless speaker your phone can beam music to, whether they’re connected by Miracast, Bluetooth, Qualcomm AllPlay or DNLA standards. It can also bridge two speakers into a stereo setup, too. I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but if it works as billed, I could see it being very handy.

Other software tweaks that could be less useful include a lockscreen app that serves nearby restaurant suggestions from Yelp. HTC’s also updated its Zoe social networking app, which will soon be available on iOS.

It’s interesting to look at the differences between Samsung’s approach with its Galaxy S6 and what HTC has done with the One M9. Whereas Samsung went back to the drawing board — curved screens, fewer apps, its own processor — HTC decided to simply iterate its already well-reviewed device and work on its software chops.

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3 Responses to “No big changes for the HTC One M9, and that’s a good thing”

  1. Madlyb

    I am glad they addressed the grip issue. My M8 was the first phone I have ever damaged and I knew I would within 5 minutes of holding it. The larger size, curves and smooth finish were just a recipe for disaster. I still pull my M7 out every now and then and admire how ergonomic it was more my hand.

    I have mixed feelings about them dropping the Ultrapixel for the main camera, it was a great low light shooter, but it sucked for everything else. Shame they couldn’t figure out how to increase the resolution of the Ultrapixel unit. I am super glad that the Duo Focus crap is gone. I thought it would be a cool concept, but in reality it was a gimmick that I quickly grew tired of.

    I am super disappointed that they did little to update the style, especially when the rest of the industry, even Samsung, has started moving into this space. This may be their biggest mistake.

  2. Hard to imagine how it won’t flop, was nice 2 years ago, last year it was bulky and now worse. Plus people got bored of the same look for all their phones, the screen is not appropriate for 2015 (cost cutting gone too far), other SoCs will be faster and has nothing that makes it stand out besides the expired design (not so much the design, the design itself is fine, the bulk is the problem).
    Unless that VR headset is 200$ and actually launches soon, HTC will likely sell itself in 6 to 12 months

  3. Mike Cerm

    The original one was easily the best looking phones of 2013. This year, it’s one of the most boring designs around. It’s a metal Moto X with a big black bar of wasted space on the front. Despite all the love from the tech press, I don’t know anyone who bought a One M8. Maybe the camera on this one will be a game-changer, but if it didn’t sell well last year, I can’t imagine a phone that looks exactly the same will set the world on fire.