Smartphone makers have time and again hit a wall trying to improve on a very successful model. So, HTC had its job cut out trying to figure out the improvements for the predecessor- HTC One M8, the most stylish smartphone in many people’s books.
The HTC One M9 lives up to the expectations and in a way suggests innovation is possible under pressure. Designed to look unmistakably like a member of the HTC One family, the phone tries to bring the best out of metal, a raw material smartphone makers don’t play around with much.
The phone also rings in a new version of HTC’s Sense UI with a lot of focus on curation. While HTC has dropped the dual camera for design considerations, it has pushed the rear camera to 20MP with a larger sensor.
Specs: 5.0 inch, Full HD 1080p display | Android 5.0 (Lollipop) with HTC Sense 7 | Qualcomm SnapdragonTM 810 octa-core CPU ( 4 x 2GHz + 4 x 1.5GHz) with 64-bit processing | 32GB internal storage expandable up to 128GB | 3GB RAM | 4G LTE |Nano SIM | Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz), HTC Connect, DLNA, HDMI MHL 3.0, micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port, NFC | HTC BoomSound with Dolby Audio | 20MP with sapphire cover f/2.2, 27.8mm lens, 4K video recording, HTC UltraPixel front camera | 2840mAh battery
The HTC One M9 draws heavily from the experience and expertise of high-end watchmakers when it comes to using metal. HTC is now introducing a dual finish metal uni-body design with a single-part front bezel and better assembly quality. Hold the phone for a minute and you will feel the premium touch that has been incorporated by design. So the phone has a jewellery grade hairline finish, scratch resistant coating and a distinct ridge to avoid slips, a common problem with the M8.
The volume rockers have been separated to ensure better usability and stability. But the buttons too have a brushed feel that is very HTC. The phone weighs around 158 grams, but is not heavy in any way. It will be available in three finishes — the gold on silverhero version, a gun metal grey and an all gold which will be limited to certain markets. HTC claims the phone’s design takes 70 steps and 300 production minutes, at the end of which only 5 per cent of the raw material survives.
The phone will offer an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and will be compatible with LTE category 6 standards and TDD for India. One of the biggest hardware improvements will be the rear camera which will now sport a 20MP sensor with Sapphire lens. HTC’s Ultrapixel technology will now power the front camera and offer better selfies in low light. The sensor is larger than the M8. Leveraging on the its Boom Sound dual speaker abilities, the HTC One M9 will now feature surround sound powered by Dolby.
The M9 will usher in HTC’s latest Sense UI version, the Sense 7. Though packed with new features, Sense 7 will stand out for making better use of the lock screen to push much more than notifications. The company is tying up with partners like Yelp to offer restaurant contextual suggestions based on where the user is. There will also be an aggregator built into the screen giving a morning news digest for users.
This urge to curate flows into the new Sense Home, where the phone will start recommending apps based on what the user is doing. For now the recommendations widget, which takes up half the screen, can suggest apps for work, home and out. Users will be able to pin apps that they want to stay, while others apps here will start appearing based on usage patterns.
HTC has also removed the Google Play Store by default for adding new apps to the homescreen by pushing new apps into a downloads folder. The company claimed it is working with a third party partner to push app suggestions.
Sense 7 also brings in richer, deeper customisations for everything from icons and fonts, while ushering in a new HTC Themes community for creators. One interesting feature is that the phone can now create multiple themes based on any photograph. This photo-based theme feature will pick dominant colours in the photo to suggest themes. Users will also be able to customise navigation buttons, even add a fourth one if needed.
The camera app too undergoes drastic changes, and there will be separate Editor app, which will also be accessible from the Gallery. While there are lots of new filters users will also be able to add prismatic effects, animations as well as shape masking and blending to make their photographs more interesting. There will be RAW photo capture, but as an additional download.
Another new feature will be the three-finger gesture to send music to wireless speakers supporting many standards including some new ones. Plus, there is a new One Gallery app that will pull images from all top photo locations like Facebook, Google Drive, Dropbox and Flickr.
Yes, the M9 will take over the mantle of being the most stylish smartphone in the world. See the phone and you will wonder why more companies are not looking at metal, at least for their premium phones. The Sense 7 UI is easier to use and yes curation is a good way to make lief easy for users. The camera, at least in the first impression, did not seem to be better than that of the M8. However, we used a pre-release version of the software and there will be improvements in the final product. It is still among the best Android cameras. The phone did seem to heat up a bit, but we have come to expect that from top-end Qualcomm processors. Overall, this will be among the best options for those looking to buy a premium Android phone. HTC has surely nailed the features that the aspirational market is looking for. And this phone sure has enough to take on the likes of the new Samsung Galaxy S6.
The writer was in Barcelona on the invitation of HTC India.