HTC One M9 Review: Almost Perfect

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Android Lollipop Problems On HTC One M8 Include Battery Drain, Reboots, And Freezing Apps.

Everyone, including myself, questioned why HTC had released a near identical smartphone to its predecessor in 2015. The HTC One M9 is getting underwhelming reviews from most outlets, but the Taiwanese company might be planning to launch a higher end One M9 Plus in the next few months.While HTC is getting the spotlight for its flagship One M9, some users are reporting problems arising in HTC One M8, M9’s predecessor, after the update to Android 5.0 Lollipop.

HTC sent us an unlocked, international One M9 with non-final software that doesn’t map exactly to the phone being sold in the U.S. (Any other “review” coming out today will have the same issue, as we’re all waiting for carrier units.) So we’re not rating this phone, but providing an extended preview. The 5.2-inch display makes it rather small for a “plus” smartphone, considering the Galaxy Note features a 5.7-inch display and the iPhone 6 Plus features a 5.5-inch display. From the excellent music playback, premium design and exclusive apps – HTC wants to automate your daily routine and further integrate itself into it. It’s a solid, all-metal phone at 5.69 by 2.74 by 0.38 inches (HWD) and 5.5 ounces, with a 5-inch, 1080p LCD on the front and Volume and Power buttons on the side. Within the first year of ownership, HTC will replace your phone once if it has a cracked screen, water damage, or if you’re trying to switch carriers.

We hope that it would not have all these issues, as the phone looks to compete with the likes of Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6, which is set to release in April too. When you’ve got a design that works incredibly well – that’s timeless and classic – you don’t want to chuck out all that experience you’ve gained from before and start afresh”, said HTC’s director of commercialisation product management, Graham Wheeler. That last bit is important because each of the four U.S. carriers has its own model of the phone, which may not be compatible with all of the other carriers’ models. It’s true, there wasn’t much to improve on the M8 in terms of design, so a radical change might’ve been a dangerous and unnecessary gamble when the original formula already worked so well.

The memory card slot is essentially another SIM card slot on the other side of the device, and it worked just fine with our 64GB SanDisk Extreme card in testing. HTC has doubled down on its Sense 7 skin this year, with a range of setup and theming experiences that extend the company’s tasteful physical design into the virtual world. Two non-techie friends of mine who briefly played with it, wanted to buy it based on its design entirely and repeatedly ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ when twirling it around in their hands.

I don’t know how that translates into real-world, global, sales, but clearly the design is a major factor for people with a partial interest in technology. HTC is fortunately bringing back its DotView case to tackle this, with new functions like the ability to play games through the case’s dotview matrix.

It’s also releasing a transparent case so you can enjoy the premium design without damaging it, however seeing the phone through a plastic shield just isn’t the same as holding cold hard metal in your hand. I’m also happy to see the return of expandable storage, especially since long-time supporter of the micro SD, Samsung, has now dropped it in the S6. You’re most likely to look at it when you’re waiting around somewhere for a few minutes; I found it a bit frustrating because I didn’t have LTE (as I’ll explain below).

It includes the Cloudex cloud-storage software, HTC’s Zoe video-sharing app, Zoodles Kid Mode parental controls, and the Scribble drawing-notebook app, to point out a few you might want to replace. This is all aided by the fact that the M9 supports 24-bit high-res audio (CD quality), so if you’re using a streaming service that supports high-quality sound (Tidal for example) then you can fully experience the best of BoomSound, but even just Spotify’s 320kbps streaming (known as ‘extreme quality’) is excellent. It had excellent results on integer and floating-point math measures, but dragged a bit on graphics compared with more arcane processors like Apple’s A8 and Nvidia’s K1. Those processors aren’t widely available in Android devices, though, and the Snapdragon 810, for better or for worse, is the fastest mainstream Android processor available right now.

Both pre-production versions of the LG G Flex 2 and the One M9 occasionally had overheating issues, and both sets of problems were fixed with software updates. Some may question the extra bezel space needed to include the top and bottom speakers, but, for me, they suit the phone’s overall style and the extra size is a welcome trade-off for the extra functionality. The models HTC sent to reviewers lack both the 1700MHz 3G band and all American LTE bands, which means it underperforms on both AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks. Short clips on social media become theatre productions and any music that you play accidentally (because you’re headphones aren’t plugged in properly) will entertain strangers miles away. Samsung dropped Qualcomm for its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge because it reportedly overheated in testing, and a recent M9 benchmark leak showed erratic results with a big heat issue.

Compared directly with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, low-light photos taken with the HTC M9 have more pixels, but they’re darker and blurrier, with less saturated colors and much more visible artifacting. Outdoors, the Note 4 (and an iPhone 6) had much better-balanced exposure, whereas the M9 tended to throw darker areas into deep shadow unless I manually adjusted the exposure. I can’t really explain the erratic results, but the final scores are what you’d expect from the new 810 chip – the previous scores are a mystery.

The main video camera records at up to 4K resolution, and has a 1080p60 mode. 1080p video captured with the main camera had a perfectly good frame rate of 30 frames per second, but image stabilization was not in evidence, with very wobbly footage. The front-facing camera only captured 1080p video at an unacceptable 12 fps in a standalone video, although it had no problem with 24 fps in split-screen mode.

It’s not at Samsung’s crazy super AMOLED level yet, but it’s a lot brighter than the M8, which I found frustratingly dark – especially in bright light. The One M8 was already the best-looking Android phone on the market, with terrific front-facing speakers, attractive themes, and an unfortunate camera.

The M8’s camera was praised for its duo-camera setup that took (almost) professional-looking background defocus shots and its UltraPixel technology. Because the M8’s ultra pixel technology, which lets in 300% more light according to HTC, meant pictures on a bright day would come out over exposed. The result is that in bright conditions, pictures fully capture the quality of the image without over-exposure and that washed out look that sometimes dogged the M8. I was fortunate enough to test this on the only sunny day we’ve had in London in months and, as you can see from the images below, they came out well. What did impress me is the dual-tone flash that emits a softer, saffron coloured light to give a more natural illumination rather than a hard, bright white light which can wash out faces and objects.

The second camera that captured depth information has been replaced by software in the form of a downloadable effect called “Brokeh”, which provides an identical de-fcous effect. I asked HTC why the duo-camera had been removed and I was told that it’s “incredibly difficult” to have a 20MP duo-lens camera setup, and that HTC had managed to reproduce the same effect with software. I will say, though, before my review unit was hauled off by HTC for an urgent update, some images were coming out very blurry, even with the steadiest of hands. And the rather disturbing face fusion which blends two faces together, which did a scarily accurate job of blending mine and my girlfriend’s face (I’ll spare you the terror).

What I did like was the elements feature which adds a nice animation to your pictures to make it seem as if you’re being showered with confetti or bubbles. Anecdotally, when Zoe prompted me to find friends on Zoe in my contact list, a search turned-up with zilch and the message “you’re the first of your friends to use Zoe”. I’m not sure if the M9 has a shorter life than its predecessor (I’ll explore that further in a future M8 Vs M9 article) but the M9’s battery didn’t last as long as I’d expect from a 2015 device, or even perhaps from a 2014 device.

If you’re used to getting more than a day out of your device like with, say, the Sony Xperia Z3, then the M9 will be a sharp reminder of the dark days of the 8pm power-up. You still need to go through the rigmarole of pairing a bluetooth device and then selecting which device to send the content to, which requires a few more taps than just swiping up.

I did think it was funny that I expressed my concern at these “gimmicks” at the M9 preview weeks ago, because they rarely work in practice as well as they do in demo. Pictures are searchable by name or description, but that requires you to tag them with a name or description (“pictures of me” or “holiday in France” for example). You can select themes from the store within the app – some are paid and some are free – and then it will change icons, background and colour schemes once installed. The rumours around overheating problems proved to be a red herring, but I was concerned about the erratic benchmarking results.But, with arguably the most important aspect – battery life – HTC failed.

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