The HTC One (M8) didn’t earn our smartphone of the year honors in 2014, but it came darn close and impressed us throughout the year with its sleek metal build, stellar performance, and distinctive styling.
Unsurprisingly, the HTC One M9 (no more brackets) is nearly ready to take its place as HTC’s top flagship, although what is surprising is just how similar the new device seems compared to its predecessor. It’s uncanny, really, but there’s obviously more to it than just a new name.
Between the better back camera, new processor, and slightly refined build, we can come up with many reasons – seven, to be exact – why an upgrade might be on your radar in the coming weeks. But being practical, we also have three reasons why you may reconsider such a swift bump to the next generation this time around.
1. All about that camera
If there was one major complaint about the HTC One (M8), it was easily the back camera. Yes, the UltraPixel tech is interesting, and it can be fun to go back and tweak the focus of your photos. But that’s a neat party trick we want to pull out here and there, not something we’d like in place of a fantastic everyday shooter.
Luckily, the M9 makes the smart call to put a more traditional 20-megapixel camera on the back, so we can snap potentially excellent photos throughout our daily travels. No longer must image quality be compromised for a gimmicky addition. And now you can shoot 4K video as well, assuming you have something to watch it on.
2. Better in the hand
HTC has proven itself a serious player with its industrial design for this line, and the HTC One (M8) was pretty fantastic: weighty, polished, and distinctive. The M9 looks really, really similar at a glance. Incredibly so. To the untrained eye, they might as well be the same phone.
But they’re not, of course. You won’t discover that solely through what you see, but rather what you feel during daily use. More angled edges make the M9 easier to hold, with differently-textured side buttons for easier use when you’re not actually staring at the phone.
3. Looks nice too
We imagine the two-tone silver and gold aesthetic of the primary model won’t appeal to everyone, but when it comes to making an eye-catching tweak over the (M8)’s already impeccable styling, it definitely does the trick. The other colours similarly stand out in a serious way.
And while nearly identical to the last model, the M9’s refined edges and rounded back combine to create a phone that looks like it’s been fussed over to an absurd degree. Which is a very good thing for you, of course.
4. More power
The HTC One (M8) was the most powerful phone we’d ever tested when we put it through its paces early last year. It’s no longer the top of the pack today, but it’s still one heck of a speedy, high-performance smartphone. And the M9 is even better.
It comes equipped with an octa-core, 64-bit processor – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 – augmented by 3GB RAM. In other words, you should have no trouble enjoying glossy games and media, as well as zipping through apps and menus with ease.
5. Enhanced speakers
Already love the dual, front-facing Boomsound speakers on the (M8)? Luckily, HTC hasn’t walked away from that winning design. In fact, the speakers on the M9 actually go a step further and implement Dolby surround audio for immersive soundscapes. That might sound a bit excessive for a smartphone, but we bet you’ll enjoy the difference when you compare it to other flagships.
6. Sense 7.0 is included
From what we’ve seen thus far, HTC’s Sense 7.0 skin – found atop Android 5.0 Lollipop, of course – looks like a nice upgrade over the previous version. Key among the upgrades are contextual updates and notifications in BlinkFeed based on location and time of day.
Additionally, it can automatically change its colour scheme to match your backdrop of choice, making for a more harmonious UI experience without significant hassle. Sense is the rare Android skin that has actually added to the core Android experience in recent past entries, so we’d say Sense 7.0 has a good chance of being worthwhile.
7. UltraPixel’s up front
Maybe you loved HTC’s UltraPixel back camera from the (M8) and don’t want to see it gone for good. Fair enough. You’re in the minority there, but it’s not all bad news.
Now the focus-shifting camera has been moved to the front of the HTC One M9, allowing for next-level selfies. And if the UltraPixel won’t do the trick, then might we suggest the HTC Desire Eye? (But seriously, don’t buy a phone just for a selfie camera.)
Well, that’s seven reasons why you might want to upgrade to the HTC One M9. How about three reasons not to?
1. The screen hasn’t changed
It’s difficult not to feel a little disappointed about HTC’s decision to stand pat with the One M9’s 1080p display – the same seen on last year’s model. Yes, it was a great screen then, and we’d wager it’ll still be a great screen now. After all, at 441ppi, it still ought to be excellent for pretty much anything you’ll want to show on it.
But on a device defined largely by incremental upgrades, we’re surprised that HTC didn’t take the opportunity to make a bigger splash with the screen. And with Samsung’s Galaxy S6 taking the 2K plunge, the lack of advancement seems even more obvious.
2. It looks nearly identical
Buying a new flagship smartphone is no small expense for the average consumer, so you want something new and flashy that really stands out – right? The HTC One M9 looks super refined and sleek, but let’s face it: it looks just like the (M8).
It’s a small knock against a phone that by all expectations should be a real winner, and we fully understand the notion of not messing with success. But buying a phone that looks so similar to last year’s might take a bit of the wind out of your sails when it comes time to plunk down the funds.
3. The competition might be stronger
This may be the bigger problem than HTC’s decision to stick with the familiar aesthetic. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 has the sharper screen, not to mention that eye-catching new build, and seems to host its own litany of small improvements (and built-in wireless charging).
And the LG G4 is surely just around the corner, along with who knows what else. Last autumn’s Moto X and iPhone 6 remain compelling considerations, as well.
Is the HTC One M9 built to be the must-have flagship for the next year? We’ll find out very soon, as we hope to have ample time with the handset before its 31 March release – but current (M8) owners certainly have some serious thinking to do before then.