HTC has just announced the HTC One M9, the next generation of the HTC One Series, at the beautiful Sant Jordi Club just south of Barcelona, kicking off Mobile World Congress 2015.
We’ve spent some time with the HTC One M9 around Barcelona – check it out
The HTC One M9 (note the lack of brackets this year) is the latest evolution of HTC’s metal unibody design, first introduced on the HTC One M7 and continued on 2014’s One M8. For fans of the metallic HTC One series, this means the M9 is still made of a single piece of machined aluminium.
HTC has updated the design with a new twist, offering a new dual-tone effect available in Silver/Rose Gold, as well as Single tone Gunmetal Grey and All Gold – as well as a limited edition dual-tone Gold/Pink option depending on market. The dual-tone effect consists of smoothly polished sides, and a brushed aluminium rear.
The M9 is a unique and handsome evolution on the HTC One design, taking design cues from high-end jewellery and watch craftsmen. It’s more a bespoke piece of craftsmanship than an easily replaceable handset. This craftsmanship has seen HTC increase the manufacturing time from a relatively fast 150 minutes for the M7 up to 300 minutes – including hand finishing on the polished sides and brushed aluminium rear – for the M9. The phone is also protected by a scratch resistant finish.
The design of the handset is the key feature and there’s close attention has been paid to certain aspects – for example, the volume rocker is now two buttons so you’ll get better feedback when pressing them, and the power button is textured so you really know when you’ve hit the key. The textured power button is a touch we saw HTC introduce on a new phones in 2014, and it’s good to see it make it’s way to 2015’s flagship along with a move to a more familiar position on the right side of the phone.
The phone has a slight lip on the edge, which makes it both easier to grip and gives the appearance of having narrower bezels and being smaller overall when viewed face-on.
Even with a great-looking handset, specs are important. HTC’s packed impressive specs into their One phones for a few years now and the M9 doesn’t disappoint. Decisions over each component are well-reasoned, and some people will be extremely pleased by them.
It starts with the choice of a lower resolution 5.0” Full HD (1080p) display, instead of the super high resolution QHD screens that competitors are going for. While it might be a controversial choice for some, the decision to go with FHD was a carefully considered process, and HTC says they just couldn’t see the benefit of going with a QHD screen and just not seeing it. The lower resolution screen gives significantly better battery life, and in the long-run that’s got to be more important than pixel density.
The M9 is powered by a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor – it’s fast and responsive, and HTC says it shows no signs of overheating despite what other manufacturers say. There’s 3GB of RAM on-board and 32GB of on-board storage, as well as a microSD card slot to increase capacity. There will be 64GB models in some markets, but at this stage only a 32GB model looks likely to reach Australia.
With the M9, HTC has brought the Boom back to their BoomSound speakers, now powered by Dolby Audio – and it’s really good. BoomSound delivers powerful and clear sound through those gorgeous front facing speakers, it also delivers an amplified sound experience through headphones. Through use of Dolby’s audio technologies, the M9 also offers 5.1 channel Dolby Surround sound simulation,.
HTC has rethought their imaging direction on the One M9, with some interesting changes made to the hardware. Firstly, they’ve moved the Ultra-Pixel camera to the front where it’s favoured for being able to take great selfies in low-light – it takes a pretty decent shot, but has some issues with contrast in brighter environments which we hope will be fixed in software.
The rear camera though is where HTC has really changed their tune, finally rejoining the specs game with a 20.2MP 1/2.3 BSI sensor with AF, some 70% larger than last years 1/3.0 model. The camera has an f/2.2 aperture and a 27.8mm Wide-angle lens and a new feature: sapphire coating, to stop any potential scratches. It also supports 4K HD video recording.
The camera takes an impressive shot, but it lacks hardware Optical Image Stabilisation. HTC’s built OIS into the software, and to a large extent it works. Quality is impressive, though you still get some noise when you zoom in but alongside point and shoot cameras, the M9’s camera is good.
As part of their multi-media experience, HTC is bringing HTC Connect to the One M9 with support for a three-finger swipe gesture to initiate connection to compatible TVs and external speakers from leading manuafacturers such as Harman Kardon. HTC Connect uses a variety of standards, including Qualcomm’s AllPlay smart Media Platform, as well as good old DLNA – at this time however Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Chromecast Audio isn’t supported.
Qualcomms AllPlay is a smart media platform which lets mutliple smartphones share a speaker which lends itself to a party environment whereby guests can build a playlist to share.
Sense Seven is the keystone of the HTC One M9. It’s their Android 5.0 Lollipop build, and it’s based on Android 5.0.2. Last year’s HTC One M8 was one of the fastest, smoothest and best-designed OEM-customised versions of Android, and that trend looks set to continue. Sense Seven is responsive, the animations aren’t over the top and HTC has adopted a few tweaks to make the underlying OS more configurable and personalised.
With the success of a number of contextual and location based launchers, HTC has included this functionality without resorting to a full change to the launcher. The HTC Home widget will greet you each day on your front screen, offering you relevant applications based on your location.
The widget knows Home, Work and Out as far as locations go, with a small amount of setup required to get you going in each space. Once it’s actually in motion though, it’s very, very cool. You’ll automatically see new applications surfaced as you use them, and your most-used apps will appear like magic. Of course if you really want to have a specific app appear, you can pin it to the widget at all locations.
The Home Widget also has two folders: Downloads and Recommended. Downloads is a simple yet basic concept to place all your most recently downloaded apps into a folder automatically – no more finding them strewn randomly across panels – while the Recommended folder suggests apps for you to try. There’s no information on how suggestions are arrived at, though – it’s run by a third party and it does show some really useful suggestions.
Like a number of other brands, HTC has seen that there is a market for custom theming of handsets and they’ve jumped in with both feet, with the announcement of HTC Theme.
HTC Theme is very much your traditional theme store, offering pre-built themes which give you system-wide themes consisting of Wallpapers, Icons, Fonts and Ringtones. The themes themselves are fairly light-weight and most are around a 3-5MB download depending on what’s included.
The themes do touch on the iconic HTC Clock widget, but at this point in time there seems to be no other customisable widgets.
HTC intends to give Theme developers the opportunity to monetise their themes in the future, but at this stage they’re all free and there’s some really nice choices available. There are third-party partnerships with Disney, UEFA and Under Armour to supply Themes in the near future as well.
To help developers there’s a web-based theme engine where you can customise and develop your own theme and upload it to the store – you can even use Photoshop-based templates to create them through the HTC Theme developer website.
HTC’s Theme concept isn’t just about crafting themes over a long period of time. They’ve decided to make theming easy. There’s a tool built into HTC Theme, presented in the photo gallery, which will offer you a theme based on colour profiles from any picture – including the one you just snapped.
It’ll grab dominant colours and apply them as backgrounds in folders and as highlights on icons, and will generally give you a consistent overall theme throughout your OS. You’re presented with a number of options like different icon sets and fonts, which you can swipe through to build the most visually appealing for your own tastes. If you create a theme others like, you can share it with them.
Part of the personalisation options on Sense Seven – though not part of the Theme engine – is the ability to customise your soft keys with different options such as re-ordering them, as well as adding an extra key for Quick Settings or Screen Off. It’s just one of the ways that HTC is letting you take control of your experience.
HTC has built a great camera experience with Sense Seven with a revamped gallery app which provides top level access to improved photo editing tools. The HTC One M9 will also bring with it the HTC EYE experience and access to HTC Zoe as well for sharing your pictures socially.
At a base level, you can just add filters to your photos before sharing or even just storing them. But if you dig a little further there are options to add a new range of photo effects including Double Exposure, Photo Shapes (Shapes you can put on top of pics that offer some alpha and texture effects), and Prismatic effects.
There’ll also be some new camera modes – including an option to shoot RAW in DNG format – to download in the future.
The M9 also sees the introduction of HTC’s One Gallery. One Gallery brings together your pictures from Flickr, Dropbox, Facebook and Google Drive and presents them all as thumbnail images – you can download the full image if you want to view it. HTC has included this initial array of photo storage services, but says they’re open to expanding their partners in the future.
Blinkfeed makes a return in Sense Seven and offers more content and language options and local editions, as well as a few new tricks up its sleeve.
One of the biggest new features is the ‘Morning Bundle’ which will wake you up with a selection of content from your favourite sites, your calendar and more. Bundles get you going in the morning without having to trawl through feeds for the gold.
Blinkfeed also now includes suggestions for eating out. Using data from services like Yelp and Foursquare, it’ll offer you suggestions for nearby places to eat based on the time of day. You’ll simply see a notification on your lockscreen and you can accept it, or swipe at it to look at other suggestions.
If Blinkfeed’s still not your cup of tea, you can remove it from the Home Panels. It’s a panel in and of itself, so removing it means you have one less panel to swipe through. If you haven’t used Blinkfeed in a while though, then it’s definitely time to revisit it – Blinkfeed started feeding scarily relevant content to me with no initial setup – Avengers Age of Ultron stories? Yes Please!
There will be accessories. That’s the good news. The great news is that they should be available at launch. HTC will offer a range of shells and more Dot View cases. The Dot View Case 2 will have a number of software tie-ins which will expand on the functions introduced in the original case. Design wise the new Dot View Cases will now be offered in a see through back to allow you to see through to the phone.
As well as these cases, HTC has looked to the more active market and will launch a ruggedised case. The ruggedised case is a two part system which makes the M9 dust- water- and shock-proof – say hello, Tough Mudders! The case has ports on the bottom to allow for connections to 3.5mm headphones and the microUSB port without removing the case.
Also on offer is a high-end earphone accessory, featuring magnetic earbuds and a flattened cable for easy storage. There are volume controls on the cable and it’ll also be available at launch.
There’s always a number of questions around new flagship launches – when will you be able to get your hands on a HTC One M9? How much will it cost? We’ve got some good news!
Firstly, HTC says Australia will be included in the first wave of the HTC One M9 global launch so we should be getting it at around the same time as other places in the world (and before some) – around mid-March. On pricing, we’re told it’ll be in line with the M8’s price, so we’re looking at something around the $899 mark.
We’ll have more information closer to launch – HTC says they’re planning an Australian launch in the next few weeks.
Daniel travelled to Barcelona as a guest of HTC