TECH
01/03/2015 10:48 GMT | Updated 01/03/2015 10:59 GMT

HTC One M9 Hands-On Review: Choosing Evolution Over Revolution

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The HTC One M9 is not the drastic makeover that some were expecting. In fact you'll need to look closer to distinguish any real difference between the M9 and the M8.

The differences are there however, and in the true spirit of evolution, the M9 looks set to be a measured, refined update that isn't afraid to make tough decisions if it means you're going to end up with a better phone.

Pick it up and immediately you'll wonder whether you've picked up the right phone, indeed at our briefing we made the inexcusable mistake of grabbing what we thought was an M9 only to discover it was last year's model. Having quickly moved to the other side of the room suitably red-faced it becomes clear that on closer inspection, the changes are there if you look for them.

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While the M9 is thicker, the difference is barely noticeable. What's more apparent however is how comfortable the phone is to hold. All of HTC's phones are great to hold and while there's the inherent risk of them getting warm, it doesn't appear to be the case with the M9, of course we'll have to do a full review to find out.

With a 5-inch Full-HD display it looks as though HTC is bowing out of the race to create the world's highest-resolution smartphone. If we're honest that's fine by us, we've reached the stage where it's almost impossible to define individual pixels and so we'd rather have a high-quality panel over one that's simply throwing big numbers at us.

htc one m9

The M9 appears to fulfil those requirements by making up for its lack of pixels with colour quality. It's bright too, as you can see from the pictures the screen comfortably outshone London's fairly meagre attempts to shake off the winter.

The hardware has been upgraded as well so the M9 will use Snapdragon's latest 810 processor while 3GB RAM should mean any multi-tasking can be handled with ease.

As with screen resolutions, flagship smartphones have now reached a stage where it becomes almost impossible to gauge speed through simple use alone. If you're a 'power user' then you'll need to wait for the full review because thanks to the level of customer expectations now there isn't a flagship smartphone out there that doesn't feel quick.

Audio has been given an upgrade, so while the BoomSound speakers remain, HTC has found not one, but two replacements for its Beats Audio partnership.

Dolby Digital is now included as standard which means you'll be getting enhanced audio through the now more powerful speakers. Dolby's also handling the audio internally as well so everything you play will get the same treatment. From our short time with the phone the speakers do sound noticeably louder and HTC has cleared done much to improve the range that they can produce. Whether or not you'll use them to replace a portable speaker remains to be seen.

This rather fittingly brings us onto the next point which is HTC's new partnership with Harman Kardon. This includes a portable speaker that has been specifically designed for the HTC One M9. It's not the first time a company has gone for outside help, indeed Nokia used Monster to create an exclusive range of headphones to match their smartphones.

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One of the biggest updates that HTC has made is the introduction of Sense 7, the company's skinned UI for Android. Sense 7 takes HTC's minimalistic interface and opens it up to complete customisation. A newly added theme generator gives you complete control over the colours, icons and wallpapers. HTC will be providing a library of pre-set themes you can download or you can choose your own picture and the phone will match the colours and style.

It sounds like a gimmick and indeed it is right up until you use it. As someone who's notoriously changing their phone around all the time the theme generator seems like a genuinely useful feature. While you can't change the design of the phone you can change pretty much everything else.

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Another potentially useful feature for Sense 7 is the addition of location-based apps. This widget knows where you live (it's not creepy, honest), so it'll adjust your apps dependent on where you are. It knows where work is, where your sports clubs are so every time you enter that zone it'll change the apps to the ones you need. It's a genuinely useful feature for the ever-increasing crowd of people who are turning their personal phones into their work phones.

Finally HTC has upped the camera both on the front and the rear. The 20MP camera on the back now includes a larger lens for wider more panoramic photos. The UI seems as simple as it ever was while the speed of the camera seems to be excellent. Unfortunately HTC informed us that the software wasn't final build so anything more than that we can't impart.

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Conclusion:

The HTC M9 isn't the huge trumpet heralding upgrade you might have expected. It's a carefully measured update to what was already an excellent phone. Sony is a master at this and it now appears as though HTC can join that group. Our first impressions are very positive. No it doesn't look drastically new, but then why should it, the M8 was an excellent phone.

Of course where the M9 could falter is in the day-to-day running. The M8 did have an occasional habit of getting quite hot, while the UI quickly became quite dull. Here's hoping the company has addressed both of these issues.

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