HTC One M9: Australian Review

While last year's HTC One M8 was the strongest One model we'd ever seen, the new M9 leaves so much to be desired.

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What Is It?

Specifications
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Screen: 5-inch, 1080p, 441ppi
  • Memory: 32GB, expandable to 128GB (microSD)
  • Camera: 20.7-megapixel rear-facing, 4-megapixel front-facing with Ultrapixel technology
  • Connectivity: 4G (700MHz, 2800MHz), Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

HTC's latest flagship: a shot at the most premium smartphone ever made that normal people can buy.

Under the hood you get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810: an octa-core processor featuring a quad-core 2GHz processor and a quad-core 1.5GHz processor sandwiched together. You also get 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and an expandable slot that can take a 128GB card.

On top there’s a 5-inch, full HD 1080p screen and new BoomSound speakers which are certified by the folks at Dolby.

It also supports the 700MHz and 2800MHz bands in Australia, meaning you're going to get all the sweet Optus 4G and Telstra 4GX you can handle up in your grill.

Pricing

Outright, the HTC One M9 will cost you $1099.

If that's too steep for you, Telstra, Optus, Virgin and Vodafone will carry it subsidised on plans instead.

Telstra will sell the One M9 on its $70 Mobile Accelerate plan which includes $700 of calls, and MMS, unlimited SMS and 1.5GB of data. The device itself will cost you an extra $12 per month on a 24-month contract, making the total cost $82 per month.

Telstra will carry the Gunmetal Grey colour as an exclusive, and customers who pre-order via Telstra's website will get a bonus Pair of Monster DNA on-ear headphones worth $229.

Vodafone is a few bucks cheaper for month, offering the One M9 on its $70 Red Plan, which includes infinite standard national calls and texts per month, 300 minutes of international calls per month, 3GB of data and bonuses like free six month subscriptions to either Spotify Premium, The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age. The phone will cost you an extra $10 per month on a 24-month contract, bringing the total per month cost up to $80.

Optus will carry the One M9 on its $80 My Plan Plus, which includes unlimited minutes of calls, unlimited standard national SMS and MMS and 5GB of data. The phone will cost you an extra $3 per month on a 24-month contract, meaning you'll be paying $83 per month.

Virgin has the cheapest deal for the HTC One M9. It has the One M9 on its $60 plan includes $700 of calls, texts and MMS, as well as 2GB of included data. The phone will cost you an extra $13 per month, but that still only brings it to $73 per month on a 24-month contract.

Interestingly, if you're dead keen on buying it outright, you should do it through a carrier. Optus and Telstra are both carrying the device for less than the manufacturer's recommended retail price. Like $200 less. Get on it.

What's Good?

Alright, I'll give it to the HTC One M9: it's still one of the best looking phones ever. Despite the fact that we've already seen It's not the best looking, but you'd be hard pressed to find something that looks and feels as premium as the One M9 does in the Android landscape. That's something HTC has always done well, and it's a well defended title for the latest flagship.

When designing the new One, HTC got into a mood room full of expensive jewellery and fineries to inspire themselves. See, they want this thing to be like a Bvlgari timepiece or a Tiffany ring.


As a result, the device takes a massive amount of time to produce from a manufacturing standpoint. Every piece of the device touches a human hand before it's integrated into the unit. It takes 70 steps to build one and 300 machine minutes are spent getting the thing just right.

Thanks to its patience, HTC has been able to create something gorgeous. The unibody design now features a dual-tone colour scheme, which is great if you can't decide between silver and gold. The backplate also features a new hairline brush finish with a scratch-resistant coating to keep it shiny.

The new scratch-resistant coating on the One M9's shiny exterior will definitely pay for itself over time. It was absent from the One M8 which was a massive shame. It was a beautiful phone before I put it in my backpack. Now it looks like I got drunk and took to it with an engraving machine.

That coating is also handy from a physical usability perspective: the old model was notoriously slippery in the hand. The combo of a new finish and a new metal band on the side means it's grippier than ever.

The design of the One M9 is reminiscent of the One M8. To be honest, a lot of work has gone into making this thing look exactly the same, but that's a good thing. It's a more refined piece of kit and not just some dingy plastic gadget.

Despite all that new metal and craftsmanship, the One M9 is three grams lighter than the older model, weighing in at 157g. Good work, you lot.

While there's a familiar yet prettier face staring back at you on the surface, there's more grunt than ever under the hood. Upgraded specs is always a plus, you do get a fair bit over last year's model and even more over the One M7.

Inside you get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810: an octa-core processor featuring a quad-core 2GHz processor and a quad-core 1.5GHz processor sandwiched together. You also get 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and an expandable slot that can take a 128GB card.

HTC will win a lot of fans for maintaining a microSD card slot, as Samsung refugees flee the platform in search of better storage capabilities.

You also get a dazzlingly bright and colourful 5-inch, 1920x1080 (1080p) screen with 441 pixels per inch, and new BoomSound speakers which are certified by the folks at Dolby.

Another welcome return to form is the speaker array on the One M9. Boomsound is back, baby, and it's better than ever.

The One M8 was the phone to beat when it came to sound, so it's only right that the One M9 inherit the crown. The sound is louder, richer and deeper than ever before, so much so that you can kick that stupid, tiny Bluetooth speaker off the picnic rug and just use the device itself for music on the go.

Speaking of sound, there's also a software tweak in there that lets you throw your music to any DLNA-connected speaker in the house, which is a great feature.


There's also a 2840mAh battery keeping everything ticking, and despite the fact that it's packing a thirsty octa-core processor, the usable life held up well.

The standby time is easily four days, while the use time is about a day and a half before you'll need to scramble for a charge. Again, that's despite the fact this thing has a beautiful 1080p panel and a massive, power-hungry processor at its heart. Well played, HTC.

Given the fact that it's well specced and very, very well put together, you'd think it would be the logical successor to one of 2014's best phones, right? Well, that's where you'd be wrong. When the proverbial rubber hits the road, everything starts to go a bit sideways.

What's Bad?

The One M9 comes fully-loaded with HTC's latest attempt at an Android skin: Sense 7 with Blinkfeed.

Both work together to feed your mind, body and soul, according to HTC (sigh). Blinkfeed will feed your mind with news, your body with restaurant recommendations at mealtimes and your soul by connecting you to your friends better.

That's a great idea in theory, but these so-called Mealtime Bundles of news, social interactions and restaurant recommendations just fail to materialise. Plus, the device never really knows when you're going to be eating, so these recommendations might come in too late (if at all) to be helpful.

Sense 7 also includes a contextual widget that pushes apps it thinks you'll use (or could benefit from if they aren't already installed) in different scenarios. The widget has apps for Home, Work and Out, and they're all pretty much the same faire: a wild guess at apps you can use at different times based on how they're grouped and genred in the Play Store.

It's weird because the contextual widget sort of solves a problem it created itself. I already know the apps I want to use, and for years we've been choosing the apps, folders and drawers we want to have on our home screens. It's fighting learned behaviour, which is always a recipe for a bad experience.

Blinkfeed is still one of the redeeming features here, but the scroll intervals are far too annoying to make it something you could use everyday. A simple swipe means that Blinkfeed blitzes by panels you might have wanted to read. Plus, the dock is persistent on the Blinkfeed screen, which means you sacrifice precious viewing space for icons you already know where to find should you need them.

Sense 7 isn't so much a disaster as it is just a bit crappy. There's really no point for it now that Android 5.0 is so goddamn good. I mean I know HTC isn't making a Nexus phone here, but aren't we all grown up enough to know when our experience is being augmented these days? Skins made sense (get it?) when Android left a bit to be desired, but after the runaway success of the Nexus program, everyone knows when they're getting a fragmented Android experience, and to me it's annoying.

There are issues elsewhere, too.

In a vain attempt to get itself off the megapixel merry-go round, HTC tried to sell in the Ultrapixel camera to users with last year's One M8. It was a bold strategy that got everyone talking about how to do better low light photos, but a four-megapixel sensor could only do so much at zoom.

HTC has jumped back into the megapixel fracas and bolted a 20-megapixel sensor onto the M9 as a rear-facing unit and moved the Ultrapixel business to the selfie-side. So has it worked? Well, kind of.

The colour reproduction is fantastic and the images really pop on that 1080p panel. But the new camera is still bested by its competition. Worse still, images aren't leaps and bounds ahead of the M8's photos like they probably should be.

Take a look at a few photo samples.

Click to enlarge...

HTC One M9





HTC One M8





iPhone 6 Plus





Click here to pixel-peep full-size images.

Editor's Note: We'll update these comparisons with images from the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge tomorrow morning when the review embargo lifts.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Camera Showdown: HTC vs Apple vs Samsung vs Motorola vs Nokia

Photos out of the One M9's camera pack in a little too much contrast and are just that little bit oversaturated too. There's also a weird yellow tone to the Auto White Balance functionality that makes every image look warmer than it should.

What's worse is that HTC still can't figure out how to get the phone to take a decent photo in high sunlight conditions. The image is either too dark to compensate for the light or so bright that it washes out detail in the sky. The HDR functionality of something like an iPhone 6 runs rings around the One M9, and Apple's latest phone is now over six months old.

Thankfully, HTC's Eye Experience camera suite is still a pleasure to use. There are a lot of smarts in there that boggle the mind. It's like getting Photoshop pre-installed on your device.

We've got a massive camera showdown you can check out over here if you want to see more image comparisons.

Ultimately, the One M9's camera isn't all we'd hoped for.

The rest of the One M9 leaves a little to be desired, too. Not because it's bad, as such. It just feels too much like last year's model. To the uninformed, it looks like HTC has slapped a bigger metal band around the edge, called it "premium" (which it did last year) and stuck its hand out for 1100 more of your hard-earned dollars.

I mean, under the hood it's a little more complicated than that and it's really about HTC "reinventing luxury" when it comes to phones, but we're moving away from the flagship market and into the luxury market where you really do pay more for less. Ever been to a fancy restaurant, ordered an expensive meal and got a tiny serving? That's the HTC One M9.

I've said before that new flagship phones are meant for people who buy phones every 24 months, and that to upgrade every year will leave you disappointed and somewhat poorer in pocket. This is proof of the rule. This phone is aimed squarely at the One M7 users who fell in love with the original device two years ago like we did.

But if you're a One M7 owner looking to upgrade to a shiny new HTC phone, may I make the following suggestions:

Should You Buy It?

HTC One M9
75

Price: $1099

Like
  • Most premium smartphone ever.
  • Amazing speakers.
  • Great battery life.
Don't Like
  • Expensive.
  • Too similar to last year's model.
  • Disappointing camera.

Honestly? Probably not.

It's not that the One M9 isn't a good phone: it really is. It's a tweaked model that fixes a lot of the stuff we were annoyed about on the One M8. It's just that...I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone spend $1100 on the One M9 when you can buy last year's device for literally half that price.

No kidding: it's $550 on Yatango right now ($600 if you want gold, mind you).

During the review period for the One M9, I went back to the One M8 to see if it held up as a flagship smartphone. For the most part, it does. It's still just as fast, just as sexy and almost as capable as the One M9.

You miss out on octa-core power and a pretty sizeable camera upgrade, but is that really worth spending double the money you need to? I say no.

You're good, HTC One M9, but you're still bested by your older brother.