HTC’s beefier M9 for China leaks with sharper screen and fingerprint reader

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

HTC One M9 (Unlocked).

HTC’s One series set the bench high for premium smartphones, matching exquisite build quality with eye-catching innovations and a superbly elegant version of Google’s Android software.The next major phone from the Taiwanese company is the HTC One M9, a premium device intended to rival the iPhone and Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S6 phone.

The life-cycle of a smartphone is now being measured in single years. 12 months is all the time the major brands are willing to let one generation of device be seen as the flagship phone they produce. While other companies were chasing high-pixel counts for their cameras HTC chose a fewer-but-better approach with its Ultrapixels – four million of these bigger pixels designed to work better in low light. Rivals created phones with glass or plastic backs but HTC created a phone with an all-metal jacket and still managed to get the signal through the case. Evolution rather than revolution tends to be the attitude – every two years things can get a little more drastic. 2015 for HTC is one of these incremental years; it’s what Apple fans would call an “S” year; there won’t be a bold new iPhone, but rather the tweaked 4S, 5S or 5C. (Martyn Landi/PA) HTC are doing something similar – the One M8 that launched this time last year was bold, beautifully designed, and came with fantastic speakers.

And where some Android software looks cartoonish or unattractive, HTC’s exceptional software team routinely create an interface as classy as the hardware around it. 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. All of this is still true of the M9, with HTC adding that their aim with this year’s One was to combine the best parts of its two forebears – the M8 and M7 – in order to get everything right this time.

That’s dovetailed with a reduction in different units released: In 2011, HTC flooded the market with no fewer than 20 handsets ranging from the squat HTC Wildfire S to the comparatively sleek Rezound. A bold statement, and one that would be quite a feat if they can carry it off… Take the M9 out of the box and hold it for the first time and there are two instant, strong emotions: familiarity and a dash of expectation. At a time when many smartphones are indistinguishable one from another (big oblong screen, increasingly thin profile, flat back, er, that’s it), HTC’s are unmistakable thanks to that metal rear that’s gently curved and subtly textured. 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.

The M9 looks very similar to the M8 – and this is a very good thing: the M8 was a great-looking smartphone, and the M9 probably now replaces it as the best looking phone running Android. There are several colour variants but the silver and gold one has a discreet gold frame curling round from the back and a matte metal piece that connects it to the screen. Let’s see what critics are saying (all emphasis ours). • “I’ve been trying to shake the feeling that I’ve seen this all before, that I’ve acted out this scenario already. It’s also available in all gold or gunmetal grey, so it can come down to a matter of taste. (Martyn Landi/PA) Elsewhere in design there have been two other big changes for better and worse. What it isn’t—design-wise—is new, exciting or meaningfully different.” — Darren Orf, Gizmodo • “While you’d expect the move to a higher megapixel count to equate to a much better experience than found in the M8, we are sad to say this isn’t the case.

While wallpapers and app folders have long given users a degree of expression when it comes to personalisation, things have been taken up a gear on the M9. If only the images themselves were any good.” — Brandon Russell, TechnoBuffalo • “Just like the M8, the M9 is easily one of the best Android smartphones out there, and just like the M8, it’s still not one of the most exciting – it is totally competent, however.” — Ben Woods, The Next Web You can make that screen look different from others thanks to a feature built into the HTC Sense software to generate new themes (wallpaper, sounds, fonts, shortcut icons and more).

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. 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. These skins are quite all-encompassing so make sure you know what’s where before you switch to them: it’s momentarily confusing before you settle in to your new phone world. 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. It’s surprising how much time you’ll find yourself spending on this. (Screenshot) Sense 7′s presence is further extended by the homescreen, which automatically updates depending on your location – it pushes productivity apps when you’re at work, for example, and your entertainment apps while at home.

The new octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor under the hood means that you never have to wait for apps to open or start up, and you really notice the snappiness of it. 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. It’s a 20.7-megapixel camera – since a phone’s photographic capabilities are so important these days it’s not surprising HTC wanted to have a sensor that’s a contender. It is sometimes the little things you notice that can make the biggest difference, and the way notifications stay on the lock screen, even if you unlock your phone but don’t address them, is great for productivity. iPhone users will know that this doesn’t happen on iOS, and though tidy on many occasions, can lead you to forgetting to reply to messages. Low light is key to smartphones because, though it’s great to take great photos of brightly sunlit holiday destinations, most photos are probably still impromptu portraits in bars and restaurants where atmospheric lighting doesn’t help things.

For a phone that did everything else so well, this was the stumbling block, and HTC said they would change that this year. (Martyn Landi/PA) In terms of the front-facing self-titled “selfie” camera, this has been achieved. And the front camera – called selfies in the camera software – delivers good shots, especially compared to many smartphones with much lower-resolution, non-Ultrapixel sensors. 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. It feels like a handy mind-reader, though many will feel it’s just as useful to know where things are because they’re exactly where you left them, thank you very much.

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. Battery life is good though you won’t find the M9 sailing through a second day’s use, which is a shame as other manufacturers, most notably Sony, are working hard to add life between charges.

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.

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. So HTC replaced the main camera with a 20-megapixel Toshiba (HTC had formerly said Sony, and corrected itself) sensor, and flipped the “Ultrapixel” 4-megapixel camera to the front. 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. 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.

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