I’ve long been an Android user, so I’ve been able to experience the rise and fall of this remarkable platform throughout the years. I’ve also been an iOS user, and as such my knowledge of each is pretty fair and balanced. Although my main smartphone was for a long time the Nexus 5, I switched over to the iPhone 5S about four months ago. Now, iOS is great, but when the HTC One M9 was available for preorder, I leapt at the chance and switched yet again.
Specifically, the HTC One M9 Developer Edition (Gunmetal Gray), which comes with the bootloader already unlocked. Aside from that feature there is no difference than the regular M9, but since it didn’t cost more I decided to save myself a step. Before we dive into the ins and outs of the device, I want to point out that I didn’t use any type of benchmark software, because that’s not how the average consumer uses their phone.
Let’s start with the first thing you notice – the 5 inch LCD Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen. Coming in at 1920×1080 pixels (441 ppi), it’s a standard HD screen. Colors are crisp, details are sharp, and watching 1080p YouTube videos is fantastic. Of course, the upside is that a lower quality screen isn’t as taxing on the battery, although I use that phrase sparingly; in my opinion 1080p is not low quality. If you happen to drop the phone and crack the screen, HTC offers a free UH OH Protection plan, which means you can trade the damaged M9 in for a new phone, just once. If you don’t use the trade-in, HTC will give you $100 off of your next HTC One phone.
The battery is 2,840mAh and boasts 25 hours of talk time and 391 hours of standby time. I’m a heavy phone user, needing to be on it most of the day, so my typical charge lasts anywhere from 6-7 hours, and that’s in the special Power Save mode. Certainly not great, but with me it’s to be expected. The M9 is capable of Rapid Charge 2.0, but it doesn’t come with one of those chargers out of the box; you need to buy it separately. Besides Power Save mode, there is an Extreme Power Save mode you can use in an emergency.
The body is mostly metal with a plastic insert on the top where the antennae are. To me the back feels very plasticky, but it’s lightweight and durable. It’s a slippery beast, so don’t start wildly gesticulating while holding the phone. Your color choices are Gunmetal Gray, Amber Gold, Silver/Rose Gold, or Gold/Pink. I recommend a case or a vinyl skin for the back.
On one side is a NanoSIM slot, the other side has a microSD slot, with the volume and power buttons. Unlike the M8, the volume buttons are separate; it’s not a rocker. The power button is the exact same size as the volume buttons, so it can be a little tricky figuring out which is which when blindly pressing. Despite that, the power button is a comfortable height, and you don’t need to stretch to press it.
A nice hidden feature is the ability to double-tap on the screen to wake the phone up. If the phone is in sleep mode and you swipe up your thumb, the phone will wake up and automatically go to the home screen if a password isn’t set, and the lock screen if a password is set.
The guts of the phone are great. The M9 has a blistering 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor – split between a quad-core 2.0GHz CPU and a quad-core 1.5GHz CPU. The chipset is supported by 3GB of DDR4 RAM. I’m sure you’ve heard reports of the M9 heating up so hot it can “cook an egg”. I hope I can reassure you by saying it doesn’t get hot. It does warm up when playing graphically-intense games or binge watching Netflix, but what phone doesn’t? It’s definitely not enough to scorch the skin.
The phone comes in two storage options: 32GB and 64GB. Regardless of which model you choose, the HTC One M9 comes with free 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years, which is a nice perk.
The phone includes microSDXC support for removable storage up to 128GB in size. HTC claims it can support microSD cards up to 2TB, which may be true, but those aren’t even on the market yet. The biggest you can get is 200GB.
As for the speakers, music lovers will drool over the two BoomSound front speakers upgraded with Dolby filtering. There are two sound modes – Theater Mode and Music Mode. For audiophiles, the phone has the BoomSound Connect app which lets you play media through external speakers via Qualcomm AllPlay. In the top speaker, near the right side, there is a tiny indicator light that appears in one of the speaker holes. The phone also comes with a pair of HTC headphones, and they sound great. The bass and even sub bass are represented nicely. The buds are small in size, so they won’t stick out too far from your ears.
I generally dislike manufacturer skins so I can’t say too much about Sense. The latest version, Sense 7, is stripped down more so than previous versions. Thankfully the M9 runs Lollipop, with Android 5.0.2 out of the box, with an upgrade to 5.1 later, and the flat elements and bright colors of Material Design shines through. The phone comes with the usual bloatware; apps like HTC Dot View, HTC Car, FM Radio, etc. If you’re like me, just put an alternative launcher like Google’s own Now Launcher or Nova.
The camera is the biggest reason I opted for the M9. As a photographer, what drew my eye was the capability for RAW editing, but this feature isn’t actually on the phone yet, and it’s unknown when HTC will enable it via software update. The rear camera is 20MP, and although many say megapixels aren’t everything, more has never hurt anyone. With f/2.2 aperture, it’s not great in low light situations, with colors coming out looking muddy and blurred together like a cartoon, but snap photos on a sunny day or in a brightly lit studio and the photos come out looking sharp and vivid. In video mode you’ll be able to shoot 4K videos, but the maximum length is six minutes.
On the front is a 4MP Ultrapixel camera, which was last year’s rear camera on the M8. It’s not that impressive but it works well in low light, due to the larger size of the pixels. For unedited examples of what these cameras are capable of, check me out on Instagram – @orrandrew91.
The camera software comes in eight shooting modes: Auto, Night, HDR, Manual, Portrait, Landscape, Text, and Macro. Every time you close the app and re-launch it, the mode resets to Auto, which can be annoying to reset it to the mode you want each time. There are also six camera types to use: Selfie, Camera, Panorama, Bokeh, Photo Booth, and Split Capture, which captures images from both cameras simultaneously.
Bokeh is a type of photography where some parts of a photo are out of focus, similar to the Selective Blur tool you can use in post processing. Photo Booth takes four selfies and stitches them together into a four by four collage, with about three seconds in between shots so you have enough time to make different faces. Panorama is just as you’d expect, and comes in a horizontal sweep and a 360 Photo Sphere-esque mode. With Split Capture you control how much of each camera gets the majority in the shot, with an on-screen slider.
I was impressed with the horizontal panorama, the photo-stitching was near perfect to me, but the 360 panorama was terrible; details were smudged together and there was ghosting throughout the image. Since I took both panoramas on a cloudy day, the photos were very underexposed, although the level of clarity were still impressive.
Recently, HTC sent out a software update to the HTC One M9 to improve the camera. I haven’t been able to update yet so I don’t know how much it has improved. My experiences have been with the original factory condition app, so keep that in mind if you view my work.
The HTC One M9 is a premium phone, which is reflected in the price. The unlocked 32GB will set you back $650. On a contract it will be around $250, available on all major carriers.
Overall, this an average phone, and a small incremental update from the HTC One M8. There are no mind-blowing features here, but the M9 is a capable phone that works well in most situations. If you’re a mobile gamer, then the M9 will tackle most games just fine with the fast CPU and large amount of RAM. With BoomSound speakers the phone is of course great for audiophiles and Netflix-bingers. For the mobile photographers, you may end up disappointed like I was, but I’ve heard the Samsung Galaxy S6 has an excellent camera.