HTC One M9 review: A gorgeous Android phone for 2015

Competition in the smartphone market is tough at both ends of the price range, so can HTC take on the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 with the HTC One M9? Here's our full and in-depth HTC One M9 review. Updated on 21/4/15 so you can watch our full video review above. Also see Best smartphones 2015 and Best Android phones 2015. Updated: 18 January 2016 with audio tests.

Announced at MWC 2015, the HTC One M9 is the Taiwanese firm's flagship smartphone for 2015. It was announced on the same day as the Samsung Galaxy S6 which is one of its main rivals - at least until LG and Sony unveil their new premium handsets.

HTC One M9 review: UK release date and price

The HTC One M9 hit the shops 31 March 2015 with an official price of £579 (it can now be found for under £400 on Amazon). That made it £20 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S6, which was launched on 10 April at £599 (also found under £400 on Amazon). Unusually the iPhone 6 was a cheaper option as it starts at £539 (can now be found for £449 on Amazon) - but the entry level Apple phone has just 16 GB of storage. (Also see: HTC One M9 UK release date, price and specs and Where to buy the HTC One M9 and best deals.

The HTC's price is acceptable, but more than was the HTC One M8 when it launched at £550. With the M9 being a similar phone, as we'll explain, the older generation looks like a bit of a bargain at the £350 mark saving you more than £200 – it could well drop even further once the M9 goes on sale. It's similar to the situation with the LG G2 and the LG G3 - if you're happy to not have the latest handset, there are bargains to be had. More here: HTC One M9 vs HTC One M8 comparison.

HTC One M9 review price

If you don't think you can afford the HTC One M9, the firm does normally offer a mini version (read our HTC One Mini 2 review) but there's no sign of it yet. Don't worry because HTC didn't announce them together last year. For now we'll have to focus on the full-size phone. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

The Galaxy S6 is, of course, the HTC's main competitor but watch out over the coming months for the LG G4 and Sony Xperia Z4 which will both want to upset the party. For more on this see: HTC One M9 vs Samsung Galaxy S6.

HTC One M9 review: Design and build

As you can see from our photos, HTC hasn't altered the design of the M9 much compared to the M8 or even the original HTC One. It's more a case of design evolution which the company likens to that of the Porche 911. Also see: HTC One M8 vs HTC One M9.

It might be easy to criticise HTC for having another similar looking smartphone but we can hardly blame it considering how nice the previous two generations are. If you look close enough, there are some changes, though.

HTC One M9 review design

The HTC One M9 is made from a similar metal block to that of the M8 and uses the same curved shape and hairline finish while using angular features from the HTC One M7 (the original HTC One). The firm tells us the process takes 70 steps to complete.

New features in the design include a scratch-resistant coating, machine drilled buttons and a sapphire glass lens on the rear camera. The power button is now on the side instead of the top which we think is a much better place for it and it has a textured finish so you can feel the difference next to the smooth volume buttons. It's still easy to get confused between them, though and the volume buttons might have been better placed on the left. Motion Gestures mean the power button isn't needed half as much, though – see software, below.

Colour options are similar but HTC has employed a new two-tone look with the back and sides getting contrasting adonisation. In our photos you can see the rear cover has a silver finish while the sides are gold. If this model doesn't float your boat then there will also be 'gold on gold' and 'gun metal grey on grey'.

HTC One M9 review: Hands-on with HTC's best ever smartphone. The One M9 is absolutely gorgeous, with good sound and a fantastic camera

All in all the HTC One M9 is a very desirable smartphone when held in the hand – easily one of the most desirable. It fits nicely and like the M8, is one of the only phones on the market to compete with the iPhone on build quality. It screams of craftsmanship but the stepped design might not be to everyone's taste as at certain angles it looks like a case.

We were hoping for a thinner and lighter design and although HTC tells us the device is slightly lighter than its predecessor we weighed them both at 158 g, it's also marginally thicker at 9.7 mm compared to 9.6 mm. It's 10.4 mm where the camera slightly sticks out.

HTC's original Dot View case was a winner and there's a new version for the M9. It's a pretty similar affair and you can customise what is shown through the tiny holes in the front cover. The big difference is a clear back which partly wraps round the side so you can still admire the metal chassis. There's nothing worse than buying a gorgeously made product then hiding it behind a case.

HTC One M9 review: Hardware and specs

HTC has decided to stick with a 5in screen for the M9 and has also kept the resolution at Full HD (1080 x 1920). There's no upgrade here so it might seem lower grade than Quad HD devices such as the LG G3 but HTC tells us the higher resolution isn't needed on a display this size and would mean a sacrifice in the battery department.

HTC One M9 review screen

5in is a solid size which is neither too big, nor too small but we can't help but feel disappointed that HTC has done nothing here to upgrade. We've seen Quad HD on the LG G3 and now the Samsung Galaxy S6 and it's simply better. The M9's screen looks good but the aforementioned rivals look incredible.  

There are some other things which remain the same too, such as 32 GB of internal storage (around 21 GB available) and a microSD card slot capable of accepting up to 128 GB cards. There is a 64 GB model but this has not been confirmed for the UK market.

Wireless setup remains strong with 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, NFC and an IR blaster. The One M9 also supports 4G LTE networks via the nano-SIM slot if you have the right tariff. If you were hoping for any new features like a fingerprint scanner or heart rate monitor then it's bad news. What HTC has done instead is focus on improving existing hardware in the audio and photo departments.

While the above remains the same compared to the M8, there are some hardware improvements.

Memory has been boosted by 50 percent to 3 GB and there's a new processor in the form of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 which is both octa-core and 64-bit (quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57). It comes with the Adreno 430 GPU and we really can't fault the performance. It's really only the camera app which doesn't open instantly.

This is the first phone with a Snapdragon 810 processor we've benchmarked in the lab and the results are impressive. It's got the best Geekbench 3 score we've ever seen and matches the iPhone 6 on graphics. The SunSpider web browsing score isn't as good as the M8 but we've not has any problems in this area from a user perspective. We'll add the Galaxy S6 into this table once we've had it in the lab.

 

Geekbench 3

GFXBench T-Rex

GFXBench Manhattan

SunSpider

HTC One M9

3778

50 fps

24 fps

867 ms

HTC One M8

2761

30 fps

12 fps

583 ms

iPhone 6

2794

49 fps

26 fps

351 ms

Samsung Galaxy S6

4438

30 fps

14 fps

462 ms

Also see: what's the fastest smartphone 2015.

The BoomSound front facing stereo speakers are still a key feature and HTC has added support for High-Res 24-bit audio putting the phone on a parr with Sony's top-end smartphones and tablets. It has also added Dolby Audio. Once again the built-in speakers sound amazing offering the best experience you'll find on a smartphone. Now you can annoy people on the bus with even better sound.

HTC One M9 review: Hands-on with HTC's best ever smartphone. The One M9 is absolutely gorgeous, with good sound and a fantastic camera

A new audio feature is called HTC Connect and means a simple three finger swipe will send the audio to a connected speaker – a reverse gesture will bring it back. We tested this out with the Harmon/Kardon One (above) will be exclusively bundled with the M9 and it worked first time although with a slight delay.

With BlackFire technology and some more speakers you'll also be able to have a multi-room setup playing different tunes in different rooms or the same one on everything. Other M9 users will be able to hook into the system and queue their own tracks.

HTC One M9 review: Audio

Speaker Quality

Its dual front facing stereo speakers come with BoomSound enabled by default, a feature developed alongside Dolby Audio. We achieved better sound quality when used in 'Music Mode' versus 'Theater Mode', but your preferences might vary depending on what you’re listening to. Its speaker design means it’s perfect for watching content on your phone, as the sound is directed towards you. We found the phone to be reasonably loud, but in comparison to similarly designed phones with front-facing speakers, such as the Google Nexus 6P and Marshall London, we found it to be drastically lower in volume and awarded it a 7.5/10 rating. Read Next: Best Sounding Phones of 2016.

Regarding its speaker sound quality we found its bass reproduction to be decent, with a good sub-bass extension and a controlled, albeit weak mid-bass slam. We found its mids to be a little pushed back, whilst its highs to be well extended and provide a good sparkle to the speakers’ overall sound signature.

It should be noted that when used at maximum volume and held in-hand, we noticed slight vibrations through the phone’s metal body.

Internal Sound Quality

The phone uses the Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810 chipset, which houses Qualcomm’s WCD9330 Audio Codec this is what we presume the phone is using to reproduce its internal sound. We tested the phone at 75-80% volume, which was at the higher-end of the scale, in comparison to other smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 that reproduced the same loudness but at 55-60% volume. Read our in-depth smartphone sound comparison: Best Sounding Phones of 2016.

Its overall sound quality was well presented, with its good mid-bass reproduction and decent sub-bass extension. Its mids and highs are well presented, where the highs extend well and provide a great sparkle to the speakers’ sound signature. Despite having two speakers, we found the soundstage somewhat lacking a little width and depth, which lent itself a slightly duller sound.

HTC One M9 review: Cameras

As you've probably noticed from the photos, the HTC One M9 no longer has the Duo Camera setup consisting of two camera lenses. Instead, HTC has gone for a 20 Mp rear camera with the same dual-LED flash. This is the biggest hardware change compared to the M8 and confirms HTC has given up on the refocussing element.

HTC One M9 review cameras

We like the stylish and easy to use camera app which has various modes. There's Camera, Selfie and Panorama but you can add more like Bokeh and Split Capture. With 20 Mp on offer, there's plenty of detail and we found the camera accurate at auto focussing and shooting quickly. The M9 does crop to 16:9 by default though, so you'll need to head into the settings to get all those available pixels.

HTC One M9 camera test

Camera test un-cropped sensor

HTC One M9 camera test HDR

Camera test un-cropped sensor with HDR

HTC One M9 camera test Bokeh

Camera test cropped with Bohek lens

You can shoot in a regular mode, but quickly switch to others such as HDR, Night and Macro. If you're feeling a little more adventurous, you can enter manual mode and start fiddling with the white balance, ISO, shutter speed and even focus. It's displayed on the screen in bars like the Lumia 1020. The move from UltraPixel to simply more pixels does mean the M9 isn't as good in low-light compared to its predecessor.

On the video side it can now record video in up to 4K resolution and uses a 'dynamic exposure algorithm' to mimic the human eye, we're told. Default is Full HD, though and to rival the iPhone there's a Slow motion mode which can do up to 120 fps.  

HTC hasn't completely given up on the UltraPixel (which lets in more light) as the front camera on the M9 is the rear camera from the M8. Whether or not it was good on the back of the last generation, it makes for a good selfie camera on the M9 with a crisp and detailed image which works well in low light.

To go with the new hardware is a software feature called One Gallery which we haven't been able to try out but will in theory bring all your photos together from the likes of Dropbox, Flickr, Google Drive and Facebook into one place.

HTC One M9 review: Battery life

HTC increased the battery size from the original HTC One to the One M8 and has done so again with the new One M9. It's now 2840 mAh compared to 2600 mAh which is a slightly smaller jump from last time around and the battery is still non-removable which is the same across most flagship smartphones.

Despite the larger capacity, we’ve found the battery life to be no different to the HTC One M8. With an average usage pattern, the M9 lasted us a couple of days before needing to be charged. That's still a good effort with many phones only managing just one day.

There's no wireless charging which is a shame but HTC still offers its Extreme power saving mode which put the M9 into a basic mode (although not greyscale like similar features on rival phones), allowing access to a small selection of simple functions like phone and messages.

HTC One M9 review: Software

As you would expect, the HTC One M9 runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop which is the latest version. However, HTC doesn't leave it as is so puts its own skin or user interface over the top. The M9 introduces Sense 7.0 which means you get HTC's style including icons and apps but there are also some new features.

HTC largely does things its own way with BlinkFeed to the left of the main homescreen, a grid view recent apps menu and a vertically scrolling app menu. However, the stock dropdown notification bar is in use (with some HTC style added) and the good news is that you can customise which quick settings you want – thanks, HTC.

HTC One M9 review software Sense 7

Luckily you can tweak the way you want to use the phone so the BlinkFeed panel can be removed, you can opt for the stock Lollipop card system for recent apps and although you can't make the app menu scroll horizontal you rearrange around, hide them and adjust the grid size.

Talking of customisation, this is the main emphasis of Sense 7.0 so there's a new Themes app where you can download various user interface themes. However, you can edit details yourself such as icon styles and fonts (see above). The software will also generate a theme for you based on a photo which is pretty cool.

HTC One M9 review software Sense 7 themes

Motion Launch Gestures are still part of Sense and mean you can do handy things like double tap the screen to turn it on and off. Up, down, left and right swipes will unlock, turn on voice dialling, launch the widget panel and open BlinkFeed respectively – all with the screen off.

We've already mentioned HTC Connect and One Gallery in relation to audio and photo but another new feature is called HTC Sense Home – it's not an app but the launcher with HTC now uses. The software is location aware so you can use a different lock- and homescreens depending on where you are.

HTC One M9 review: Hands-on with HTC's best ever smartphone. The One M9 is absolutely gorgeous, with good sound and a fantastic camera

For example, when at work you'll get icons for your email and calendar and these will automatically get replaced with a remote control app and Facebook when you get home. You can select what you want for each layout but suggestions will be made based on your habits. We've only been using it for a few days but it's already pretty handy, although the suggestions can be annoying.

Read next: Best new smartphones coming in 2015.

HTC One M9: Specs

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop with Sense 7.0
  • 5in Full HD screen (1080x1920)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 64-bit, octa-core
  • 3 GB RAM
  • 32 GB storage, microSD card slot (up to 128 GB), 100 GB Dropbox cloud storage
  • 20 Mp rear camera
  • 4 Mp UltraPixel front camera
  • dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX
  • Infrared transmitter
  • GPS
  • non-removable 2840 mAh battery
  • 70x145x9.7 mm
  • 158 g
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop with Sense 7.0
  • 5in Full HD screen (1080x1920)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 64-bit, octa-core
  • 3 GB RAM
  • 32 GB storage, microSD card slot (up to 128 GB), 100 GB Dropbox cloud storage
  • 20 Mp rear camera
  • 4 Mp UltraPixel front camera
  • dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX
  • Infrared transmitter
  • GPS
  • non-removable 2840 mAh battery
  • 70x145x9.7 mm
  • 158 g

OUR VERDICT

The HTC One M9 is a genuinely desirable smartphone with the best design and build available in Android land, even with Samsung upping the ante. It's good to see the powerful Snapdragon 810 and more memory, however, some key hardware remains the same meaning M8 users are unlikely to be tempted to upgrade – and the old model is now an attractive buy at around £350. The fact the Galaxy S6 costs the same yet has more impressive specs is bad news for HTC.

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