• Paul Fingleton

HTC One M9 - First Impressions

At the launch event in Dublin last night we were given limited hands-on time with the HTC One M9 and our first impressions are positive, with a few caveats.

Once you temper expecations that this phone is going to be dramatically different to the hugely successful M8 model from last year, you get to understand that evolution can be a good thing.

At initial glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking the HTC One M9 with it's predecessor, with only the protruding camera unit and the dual-tone adonised finished on the sample unit the only real giveaway that there is any difference at all.

However, when you hold both the 2014 and 2015 model in your hand you can see where the refinement has taken place.

Remarkably, HTC have bucked the trend of 'bigger is better' that has grasped the Smartphone market of late. The HTC One M9 shaves a millimeter here and a gram there to come in smaller than it's predecessor and overall the weight feels more balanced across the device.

The coating on the back of the handset and the slightly more angled edge of the unit sits more comfortably in the hand and reduces the fear of it constantly slipping from your grasp.

The HTC One is still considerably taller than it's peers in the flagship smartphone market, thanks in part to the forward facing BoomSound speakers that are an iconic part of the HTC One design. HTC have thankfully moved the unlock button from the top of the unit to the side, making it much easier to unlock your phone without having to resort to manual gymnastics.

Understanding that the easiest place to provide quick access to frequent functions is at the bottom of the screen, HTC provide options for users to add a fourth soft key to the bottom of the phone.

Returning to those BoomSound speakers, this year HTC have teamed up with Dolby to provide Digital 5.1 surround sound through these speakers or through your headset. However, in our demo environment the loud background music playing easily swamped any audio or video that we tried to play through the handset.

Likewise, the upgraded rear camera - a 20.7 Megapixel unit, replacing the 4 Megapixel 'Ultra Pixel' camera from the HTC One M8 - could not be accurately be tested in the dark conditions of the demo area. Results varied greatly and without longer time with the unit it would be unfair to judge the device - especially when the varying results could be the result of unfamiliarity with the device and the limited time with it.

HTC have a 'Pro' Camera app that will be available this summer that will allow users to tinker more with the settings when taking pictures and also feature a RAW file output option.

The 'Ultra Pixel' camera from last years model has been repurposed this year as the forward facing camera and this, we can thoroughly agree, is a welcome improvement over the 5 Megapixel camera last year. In the darkened room, the Ultra Pixel camera handled the low light conditions excellently and even could quickly and easily touch up photos taken - two must-have features, given that most selfies are likely to be taken under less than stellar lighting conditions.

Overall, the HTC One M9 feels like a master craftsman tinkering with a design with which he is already happy. The result is a solid smartphone, and if you are in the market for a new smartphone it is worth a look. If you bought last year's HTC One M8, I am not sure you will be wowed by the M9 - but this may be the equivalent of an S-series iPhone. Sit this year out and see what 2016 brings.

For the rest of us: It's looking like a very solid handset. We will hold off on final judgment until we have had the chance to take a more detailed look at the handset ourselves.

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