Wednesday, 01 April 2015 15:48

HTC M9 – review

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HTC has produced a worthy successor to its M8 – is it enough to propel stellar sales? No.

First the elephant in the room – Samsung’s S6 and S6 Edge will suck the oxygen out of HTC’s sales (sails too). It simply cannot compete with Samsung’s street cred and marketing budget.

I am a great HCT supporter – have been since it started making smartphones for O2 in the early 2000s. In those days, we called them a PDA (personal digital assistant) and frankly, the aim was to have a hand held PC (using Windows Mobile) with phone, and later internet capabilities.

HTC - founded in 1997 - entered the Android ‘cess pool’ in 2009. Since then its market share has declined considerably – it is no longer in the top five Android smartphone makers nor is it any longer one of the most valuable brands in the world.

Most IT magazines rate Samsung S6/Edge, Apple iPhone 6/Plus, Sony Z3, Motorola (Lenovo), LG G3/4 and Lumia 930/1020/1520 ahead of the M9 as the top flagship offerings in 2015.

Sorry if the background is a little off-putting but it actually shows that HTC has a lot at stake with this new model – relevance for starters.

So to the HTC One M9

Looks

There is no doubt that it is a premium design. The review unit has an interesting dual tone rose gold and silver (aluminium) edge/back. It is also available in other ‘colours’ - Gunmetal Grey, Amber/Gold, and Gold/Pink. Initial impressions are that it is ‘pretty’ but it is also a lot larger and heavier than the new S6 (Right in photo).

The phone continues the characteristic M7/M8 rear ‘curve’. I am not a fan of the curved back – when typing on a flat surface the phone wiggles. I definitely do not like two volume buttons (instead of a rocker). It has large bezels to incorporate dual front speakers and a wasted HTC logo bar as well.

It is a big phone – 144.6x69.7x9.61mm and 157g – only three grams lighter than the M8 and 30g heavier than the S6 Edge.

SIM

Nano like the iPhone.

Interface – Sense 7

If you have used an M8 then it i no optical image stabilisationntinuous use.are specs dont ts ne is not bad but its not really up to the Samsung S6/Edge eithers more of the same. It has a thing called BlinkFeed that will locate restaurants nearby based on Foursquare and Yelp – disable it quickly.

HTC allows custom layout of the navigation buttons. You can add new buttons like turn off screen, auto-rotate, a notification toggle, or hide navigation bay bar. You can also change the order of the buttons. Why? All it does is add to the bloatware and slow the phone down.

This is all overlaid on Android Lollipop 5.0.2 – there is less need for Sense 7 here. In fact, I would not be surprised if there is not a major call to HTC to offer this handset as pure Android.

Screen

5”, 1080p, 441ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Its colours seem muted, cooler, and its very hard to compete with the Samsung S6 AMOLED screen. Serviceable without being excellent.

Processor

Qualcomm, Snapdragon 810, 64-bit – Octacore (big/little) 4 x 2GHz and 4 x 1.5GHz cores. It feels fast enough for most uses.

Other reviews have mentioned how hot the unit gets. After a day of use sitting mostly in my pocket it was no more or less hot than other flagship phone. But after several minutes of GPS use it was uncomfortably hot.

HTC have issued firmware updates that throttle the speed back so you may have a V8 under the bonnet but it is not delivering more than a V6 at best – except when it detects and runs popular benchmark software.

In GeekBench it delivers 3761 compared to the S6 at 4916 – higher is better. There is not one processor test where the M9 comes within cooee of the S6.

Memory

3GB RAM and 32GB flash with microSD support up to 2TB. The OS leave less than 20GB free before you start loading apps (compared to the S6 with 23GB left)

Camera

It has a 20MP, f2.2, 10:7 ratio, rear camera using a Toshiba sensor and dual LED/tone flash. The rear camera is disappointing. Long focus time, erratic auto-focus, poor HDR, no optical image stabilisation, luminance noise, and poor low light performance make it second rate – not flagship quality. Its OK in good light.

Front camera is an HTC UltraPixel – sorry that is marketing jargon for lower 4MP and larger pixels that allegedly work better in low light.

Sound

HTC BoomSound is supposed to deliver Dolby 5.1 sound with true left and right channel separation (if used in landscape mode) – again more marketing hype as the dual front facing speakers are too close to really make a difference. Sound quality however is good but not as loud as other handsets.

Battery

2840mAh and up to 25 hours talk time - if you get 24 hours use you would be lucky. It is not user replaceable. While the endurance rating is 65 hours, I think owners will need to carry a spare USB battery charger at all times. HTC have battery saving apps but these reduce functionality. Geekbench testing got less than 5 hours continuous use.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

It supports Wi-Fi AC dual band and Bluetooth 4.1. It seemed to be very stable and that is probably more due to the Qualcomm chipset. It has USB 2.0 and MHL output.

Conclusion

I had great hopes – I like HTC and I feel bad about giving this a less than stellar review. The phone is not bad but it is not really up to the Samsung S6/Edge either – yet it costs about the same. I used an M8 last year and was underwhelmed – this is not a leap forward and uses a similar design.

The smartphone market is a race to the death – come up with better designs or die. I do not expect a flagship to reinvent the smartphone every year – refinements are OK. There is no significant new feature or design feature in the M9 - its hardware specs do not deliver in comparison to the S6.

Would I buy it?

HTC owners used to be a loyal lot (me included) – they may still be. But HTC now commands less than 2% of the Android market.

The M9 delivers quality and distinct looks but without the Samsung or Apple’s marketing resources it has become a niche player that needs to concentrate on offering the best – not a me too product.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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