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HTC One M9 review

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HTC has officially announced the successor to its flagship One M8 smartphone, the One M9 – with no rumoured ‘plus’ version in sight. Instead, the One M9 is very much a refinement of its all-metal predecessor, as it shares an almost identical design and has the same 5in 1,920×1,080 display.

However, HTC’s made a number of ergonomic adjustments to the One M9, as it’s now far more angular around the edges. This makes a pleasant change from the One M8’s smooth, rounded chassis, and the distinct lip round the edge of the screen makes it much easier to grip and hold securely – unlike the One M8 which constantly felt like we were about to drop it.

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^ Apart from the different colours, you could almost mistake the One M9 (left) for the One M8 (right)

DESIGN

HTC’s also added a dash of colour into the phone’s frame, taking inspiration from luxury watches and fine jewellery. It’s a similar idea to what we’ve seen from the company’s Desire Eye, which had an additional band of colour infused directly into the phone’s soft-touch chassis rather than incorporate a separate band that would break up the handset’s continuous unibody design. Here, the same effect has been applied to the One M9, only with metal instead of plastic.

It’s a subtle effect, but one that really adds a touch of class to the handset, making it look and feel even more like a premium handset compared to last year’s model. We went hands on with the silver and gold version, but there’ll be two other models to choose from once it launches on the 31st March – a gunmetal version with mirrored grey sidewalls, and a gold version with mirrored polished gold sidewalls.

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^ It’s only when you look a little closer that you can see the One M9’s more angular design

Other small flourishes include a machined finish on the power button much like the Nexus 6 and 2nd Gen Moto X and a sapphire glass camera lens. Naturally, the back has a scratch resistant coating, but you’ll also be able to buy cases for it as well, including a new DotView case with various see-through variants so you can still see the phone’s metal chassis and an IPX68-rated waterproof one.

PERFORMANCE

The One M9 has also received all the necessary specification bumps we’d expect from a 2015 flagship device. As the rumours correctly predicted, the One M9 will have an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM, so it should have plenty of power to keep up with the latest devices. It will also have 32GB of onboard storage which can be expanded up to 128GB via microSD card, and users will get 100GB of free Google Drive storage space as well. Meanwhile, its 2,840mAh battery should provide plenty of longevity throughout the day.

CAMERA

Admittedly, a lot of the One M9’s new features are fairly minor upgrades, but thankfully HTC’s put a lot more effort into improving the phone’s camera capabilities. While the One M8’s 4-megapixel Ultrapixel sensor felt slightly lacking compared to the rest of the competition’s 16-megapixel sensors, the One M9 will have a massive 20-megapixel rear sensor and dual LED flash, bringing it more up to speed with its flagship rivals.

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^ The One M9 has a 20-megapixel rear sensor and HTC’s 4-megapixel ‘UltraPixel’ camera (as seen on the back of the One M8) on the front

While we weren’t able to test the camera during our time with the phone (the camera software is still being tweaked as we type), HTC did say that it will make use of its brand-new auto-exposure algorithm to help improve its low-light capabilities. By supposedly ‘mimicking the human eye’, the camera will be able to bring both light and dark areas of your photos into focus, helping to reduce the number of blinding white patches when you take photos indoors with a window in the background, for instance. As for the front-facing camera, this will use the same 4-megapixel ‘UltraPixel’ sensor found on the back of the One M8. This will also use HTC’s auto-exposure feature, which should make it better for low-light selfies.

SOUND

Naturally, the One M9 comes with HTC’s dual front-facing Boomsound speakers, but these now support Dolby Audio and can play 24-bit encoded tracks. According to HTC, the One M9 should be able to deliver a 5.1 surround sound experience both with and without headphones, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it can truly deliver on its entertainment promises once we get the phone in for a full review.

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^ Various cases will be available for the One M9, but now you don’t have to hide its metallic chassis from view

One of the M9’s more interesting audio features is the ability to cast or steam individual tracks to nearby Bluetooth speakers straight from your phone with a simple three-finger swipe gesture. HTC said it’s been working with Harmon Kardon’s BlackFire protocol as well as Qualcomm’s All-Share feature, so you can have multiple tracks playing on different speakers in different rooms, or queue up different tracks into a makeshift playlist. The same idea applies to images and videos over DLNA and Miracast as well, so you’ll be able to view your phone’s content on different displays should you feel the need to show off your latest holiday snaps on your TV, for example.

SENSE 7 & ANDROID 5.0 LOLLIPOP

Arguably, the One M9’s biggest improvement is HTC’s new Sense 7 interface, which has been completely revamped to take advantage of Android 5.0 Lollipop. The One M9 will be the first HTC phone to use Sense 7, with the vast majority of HTC’s 2015 line-up to follow in the coming months.

It’s a far more personal Android skin that any of HTC’s previous interfaces, as its brand-new Theme Generator will revamp the entire handset right down to your phone’s app icons, sounds, fonts and caller ID logo. A handful of themes will come pre-installed (with more available to download from HTC’s Theme Store), but you can also use pictures from your own gallery to help define the look of your handset.

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^ The default home theme for Sense 7 has a much cleaner, more modern design than HTC’s Sense 6 UI, but it can now be customised to your liking depending on what picture you choose as your main wallpaper (see below)

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It works by analysing the colours present in your chosen wallpaper and will then suggest various different tones and colour schemes you can use as the basis for your home screen, Blinkfeed and even the settings menu. It’s a great touch, but you can always tweak things individually if you don’t like what you see. It worked extremely well when we tried it out for ourselves, as even a shot of a largely green hedge gave us plenty of different options to choose from, so you don’t need to have anything particularly colourful or busy to get the perfect personalised look.

Sense Home is another new feature that learns about which apps you use most in certain locations and then promotes those apps to the front home screen when you need them. For instance, if you’re at home and you frequently use an IR remote app to control your TV with your phone, that app will automatically appear on the front page without you needing to search for it or flick to another home screen or folder. Then, when you leave to go to the office, it will disappear, having been replaced by something more useful, such as your mail applications. Likewise, if you’re near a station, Sense Home might suggest a train timetable app. You can still pin apps to the home screen so they don’t disappear no matter what, but it should certainly help reduce the amount of app clutter clogging up your various home screens.

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^ When creating your theme, you’ll be presented with various different colour schemes that run throughout HTC’s version of Android 5.0 Lollipop

Sense Home also bleeds into Blinkfeed as well. For instance, if you’ve taken pictures at a certain location and then return there at a later date, Blinkfeed will fish them out of your gallery and display them to remind you of your previous visit. Admittedly, this isn’t quite as useful as its app launcher capabilities, but HTC also mentioned that Blinkfeed would be able to suggest restaurant reviews if you’re out at lunch time, for example, so you can get a better idea of your surroundings if you’re visiting a new city and need a bite to eat. Equally, you’ll also be able to enable the lock screen to show images of nearby locations, which you’ll then be able to tap to find out more about them.

CONCLUSION

Taken together, Sense 7 looks as though it’s going to be a vast improvement on Sense 6, and we can’t wait to try out some of these new features for ourselves once we get our hands on a final review sample. While the One M9 itself isn’t quite as an exciting or innovative handset as its predecessor, there’s no denying it’s still one of the best-looking handsets out there and Sense 7 should make it easier to use and generally feel a little smarter when you’re out and about. We’ll bring you our final verdict in the next couple of weeks.

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