HTC announced its new flagship Android smartphone, the HTC One M9, at the annual Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain on Sunday.
You might think it’s boring — the HTC One M9 doesn’t do things radically differently to its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. This could be one of the best all-around phones of 2015.
If you’re not aware of the One range, think of it as Android’s equivalent to the iPhone. Made of metal and sporting design aesthetics that Apple would be proud of, the HTC One M9 looks almost identical to its predecessor, the HTC One M8.
That previous HTC flagship phone had a few drawbacks, though. The most glaring was the rear Duo camera that felt like a bit of a gimmick. It just didn’t provide the level of performance HTC promised, especially when compared to Samsung, LG or Apple’s finest. That aside, it was a solid phone, with a great 5-inch screen, ergonomic design and outstanding battery life.
HTC has kept everything that was good about the One M8, improved the Boomsound speakers to provide a surround sound-like effect, and fixed the rear camera. It’s not a revolutionary handset, but the hour or so we had with it left us with a very good impression indeed.
The HTC One M9's rear camera now has a more traditional 20-megapixel sensor, which should provide much more detail than the previous 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera, which sacrificed the sheer number of pixels in favor of making each pixel larger to capture better shots in low light. HTC hasn’t given up on that idea entirely — the Ultrapixel camera has shifted to the front of the phone, perfect for party selfies in dark bars and clubs.
The One Gallery app now pulls together all the photos you have from Facebook, old phones, Flickr and more into, unsurprisingly, one gallery on your phone.
The M9 packs a Snapdragon 810 processor, one of the fastest mobile processors we’ve ever tested. This is a high-performance phone. The experience was butter smooth when flicking through menus, and quick when opening apps. The model I had in my hands was a pre-production sample, though, so there’s plenty of testing to be done before we know exactly how well it performs. Suffice to say, just like the best phones on the market right now, it will be plenty fast for the majority of people.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the HTC One M9 is its operating system. Its foundation is the latest version of Android – 5.0 Lollipop – but it's been heavily customized with what HTC calls Sense UI (user interface). More often than not, the UI skins that manufacturers place on phones are more hassle than they’re worth. Not so with Sense. It looks smart, it's easily customizable and, crucially, provides a smooth and coherent experience.
The M9's Sense 7 is HTC's latest version of the software. It comes with Blinkfeed, a service that aggregates all your news and social media updates in one place. That’s been around for a while. What’s new is Themes, an app that customizes the look and feel of the M9 from the lock screen all the way to the fonts. Have a favorite picture? Themes can examine it, pick the colours, and design a phone UI to match – all in just a few seconds. It worked really well in our tests.
A feature that might prove more irritating than useful is Sense Home. This adapts your homescreen to an experience that’s tailored to your location. Want to use the HTC One M9 as an IR remote to control your home theater setup? The app will pop up as soon as you walk through your front door. We'll have to wait and see to find out if this is more confusing than helpful. Thankfully, you'll be able to permanently pin your most important apps where you want them so they won’t move around.
It’s easy to like the HTC One M9 right off the bat. It does what a good phone needs to do, and with aplomb. If you want to be critical, you might say that HTC has played it safe. But that’s no bad thing – “innovative” features are often of questionable value. Innovative or not, the One M9 could be the best all-around phone we’ve ever seen.
Will it be enough to tempt Apple fans away from their beloved iPhones or damage the prospects of the Samsung Galaxy S6, also about to be revealed at Mobile World Congress? We'll need to test it further to figure that out.
The HTC One M9 will be available in the U.S. on all major carriers in early Spring. HTC will sell an unlocked version directly through its website.