HTC One M8 is one of my favourite Android phones from 2014 and I really had high expectation for its successor. Finally, HTC is ready to show the world its flagship for 2015, the HTC One M9. The announcement turns out to be quite unsurprising, due to the fact that almost everything has been leaked before the event and the phone itself is lackluster, at least in my opinion.

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The Outside

Like the two previous ‘One’s, the industrial design is the highlight on the new HTC One M9. HTC took the best part of the two predecessors and merge them. So what we get is a new phone with a very similar appearance. The aluminium unibody of the One M9 has a dual-tone metal with different finishing: the curved back with brushed hairline finish and the mirror-polished side. It is amazing that HTC can anodize two different colours and provide two kinds of finishes to the same piece of metal. It comes in gold/silver, gold, gunmetal grey and pink/gold This is something unseen and I really like this.

htc one m9 back

While the metal chassis is catching all the eyeballs, there are smaller improvements worth noting here. The power button has been moved from the top to the right hand side, so that it is easier to be reached. It has a different texture so that you can differentiate it with the volume buttons above it without looking. The phone is also less slippery than the One M8.

However, the design is still imperfect. The bezels of this phone are quite thick by today’s standard. The space taken by the front-facing BoomSound speaker is forgivable, but the black bar with the HTC logo is still present after so much complaints sounded during the launch of the One M8. Last year, HTC said that the black bar is necessary to leave space for components inside the phone. Its presence on the One M9 makes the display off-center and it shows that there is no progress at all even after one year.

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Speaking of the BoomSound speaker, it is still the best speaker you can find on any smartphones. HTC One M9 takes it to the next level by supporting Dolby 5.1 surround sound effect. HTC also adds a new feature called HTC BoomSound Connect which allows the One M9 to steam the audio to one or many compatible home stereo devices.

HTC has stuck with the 5″ 1080p Super LCD display. While there is zero improvement over the One M8 on the display department, I am actually happy with HTC’s decision on not choosing the QHD display. The display on One M8 is gorgeous and the 441 ppi is more than enough. Personally, I don’t think I can see the difference Full HD and QHD display at this size. With no enhancement on viewing experience, I am fine with the decision so that battery life will not take a toll. However, as everyone is looking for higher resolution, it might be difficult for HTC to convince people that the lower resolution is actually better for them.

The Inside

Powering the device is the all new 64 bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810. The quad 2.0 GHz + quad 1.5GHz configuration aims to strike balance between performance and power consumption. Mated with 3GB of RAM, this next generation CPU will be sufficient to carry you through anything. Performance is probably the last thing you have to worry about this phone. HTC increases the battery capacity to 2,840mAh and I am expecting respectably longer battery life than its predecessor.

htc one m9 spec

HTC One M9 will be running Sense 7 out of the box. In the seventh iteration of its custom software, HTC has added a theme creator for users to personalise their phone. The accent colours for the theme will be generated from the picture chosen and changes can be applied to the wallpaper, icons and more. A home-screen widget is a collection of applications that is suggested based on the usage behaviour and location. Location based recommendation such as places for lunch now can be shown on BlinkFeed.

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The quality  of the camera on the HTC One M8 left a lot to be desired. The 4MP Ultrapixel camera, on the other hand, does not live up to the promises in terms of picture quality. The low megapixel count will be enough for social media, but it leaves no room for cropping in post editing. 4K video is not possible too. While the Duo Camera setup might be gimmicky, at least it does not stand in your way in taking good photos. In fact, it helps to speed up the focusing.

This year, HTC decides to take away the Duo Camera and shift the Ultrapixel camera to the front. This ensures the quality of selfies, even in low light condition. The main camera has been changed to a 20MP shooter. The lens actually protudes out of the body a little. Given that the phone is not thin and optical image stabilisation is not included, the presence of the hump is questionable. Fortunately, sapphire glass is used and it is very unlikely to be scrated.

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The changes made means that all previous work is undone and we highly doubt that the imaging algorithm for the new sensor will match the One M9’s flagship status. With no Duo Camera, OIS and a new software, the quality might take a dip even though the resolution receives a bump. However, this painful step is necessary for HTC in my opinion. Letting go the self-brew technology is not an easy decision to make and one step backwards today will leave more space for improvement in the future.

First Impression

HTC One M8 had received upgrades over the One M7 on almost all aspects and it comes with some new features such as Duo Camera, Motion Launch and microSD card support. Naturally the One M8 was a much better phone if compared to the One M7. Looking at the One M9, I start to wonder where have the new features been?

htc one m9 launch

A faster processor, more RAM and bigger battery is the basic things expected on the new version of any devices. HTC is doing all these and just stop there. The changes made on the camera might not bring significant improvement, at least in this iteration and the new software features are minor, if not insignificant. The classy, elegant design is still one of the best, but is it better than the One M8 remains debatable. HTC is just packing what the customers needs, but fails to provide anything that will amaze us. If we were to buy a phone that works, there are a lot of mid-rangers and flagships from cheaper brands that can be considered. We are spending more money on flagship devices for the additional value that comes along them, but it seems that HTC One M9 is lacking any standout feature. Looking at the position of HTC in the smartphone market, this might not be enough to improve the situation.

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Nevertheless, HTC One M9 is still a good phone. It is handsome and it can provide solid user experience to anyone. However, it can’t help to look pale in front of the competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. The success of the One M7 and One M8 has brought up the expectation level for the One M9. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to the hype and it is haunted by the success of its predecessor.