After plentiful leaks in the past few weeks, HTC has today confirmed its new flagship smartphone at a press launch in Barcelona, ahead of the Mobile World Congress tradeshow which kicks off tomorrow.
The new handset, the HTC One M9, follows last year’s well-reviewed HTC One M8, and the original HTC One (M7). It will go on sale starting from mid March in Asia-Pacific.
There’s no radical redesign or huge software changes in HTC’s recipe for the M9. But given how well received the prior devices in the range have been — and HTC’s reduced resources as it works towards a turnaround in its business fortunes — it’s a strategy that makes sense.
This flagship is about a leaner HTC staying the course and trying to build momentum with a pared back portfolio that has room to shine. You won’t find any fancy new sensor hardware packed into the One M9. Rather HTC is focusing its efforts on beefing up core performance, and on tweaks to the camera and audio.
“We understand your smartphone is a statement of taste and personal style which keeps beautiful design at the forefront of our philosophy,” said HTC CEO Peter Chou, announcing the phone on stage, and talking up the dual-tone metal finish.
“The HTC One M9 is our third generation of iconic design. While people say M8 is the most beautiful smartphone on the market we didn’t stop there. We challenged ourselves to aim higher. We were so inspired by the premium watch. And we worked so hard the whole year creating this brand new silver and gold finish that has never been in the market before. We really polished this and add this beautiful hairlines,” he added.
Also today the company took the wraps off its first wearable — called the Grip — which is a collaboration with fitness gear brand Under Armour. The fitness band is being initially targeted at the U.S. market.
HTC One M9
Specs wise, the new HTC flagship smartphone has:
- 5 Inch 1080p HD display
- Qualcomm 810 processor
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB on board storage (expandable via SD card)
- 4MP ultrapixel front-facing camera
- 20MP rear camera
- 100GB of Dropbox storage free for two years
HTC is not straying far in its established premium handset look and feel with the M9. In recent years, the One range’s clean, metallic lines have helped it stand out against more plastic-y Android rivals. And with metal-clad phones now pushing into Samsung’s and Xiaomi’s ranges HTC has no reason to change course here.
The main aesthetic difference between the M9 and its predecessors is a subtle two-tone effect, with the edges of the new device picked out in a different metallic tone than the back. The power button has also been moved from the top to the side.
There is also a brushed lines texture effect on the back, contrasting with high polished sides.The metal has a scratch resistant coating. HTC said it is taking inspiration from high end jewelry, such as luxury watches, for its design choices with the M9.
There are three color options for the M9: gold (edges) on silver; gunmetal grey on grey; and gold on gold. The version pictured in this article is the gold-edged silver device.
Although the 5 inch display is the same as the M8’s pane HTC has also managed to marginally shrink the footprint of the M9, so it’s slightly smaller than the M8 (below left).
Another major upgrade is to the camera hardware: the M9 has a beefed up rear lens, with a 20MP lens, toughed with sapphire glass, that can record video in 4K. The dual physical lenses of the M8 have also been consolidated into a single, more square-shaped rear lens, with the depth-based photo post-processing which the M8’s dual lens set-up allowed now being achieved entirely with software on the M9 (and its larger single sensor).
Meanwhile HTC has moved the main camera that was on the rear of the M8 to the front of the M9 — touting a better selfie snapping experience, thanks to improved low light performance. Other camera tweaks include dynamic exposure improvements — which HTC says gives more detail in multiple exposure points in a single picture.
HTC’s now trademark front-facing BoomSound speakers haven’t gone anywhere. But they’ve been augmented with the addition of Dolby Audio — for a “much richer, rounder, more surround experience”. (The Dolby processing also applies if you’re listening via headphones.)
Sense 7 brings more personalization
The M9 runs the latest version of HTC’s Sense Android skin, Sense 7, which includes its Blinkfeed news and social feeds aggregator sitting a swipe away from the homescreen.
While Blinkfeed has had the ability to tailor the content you see to your location for a while now, such as pushing nearby restaurant reviews, Sense 7 includes some new contextual elements. So you’ll also see the apps that are displayed on the M9’s homescreen change based on your usage and location.
For instance, you might see your train timetable app appear when you’re near your local railway station. Or the calendar app when you’re at work. Users can still override algorithmic customization if they wish to pin certain apps in place, but the idea is to help people get to their apps when they are most useful.
There’s also a homescreen folder containing contextual suggestions for new apps that might be worth checking out, again based on factors such as location, time of day, and also other apps you’re downloading — so more related content.
Another software tweak in Sense 7 is also focused on increasing the personalization of the device, with a range of new themes available for download — and an option to create your own, based on a photo or image of your choosing. Themes are intended to bleed out across the whole device in a range of ways — changing multiple aspects of the design such as the clock, icons, textures, music and fonts, not just the background image.
Another software addition HTC flags up is a new gallery feature which lets users synchronize thumbnails of any pictures they have stored elsewhere — in Dropbox, Google Drive, Flickr and Facebook — to the phone to help them locate where a particular shot is stored.
Dot View II
On the accessories side, HTC is keeping its fun Dot View case in play with the M9. Dot View debuted on the M8 and shows retro-style notifications through a matrix of small holes in a plastic screen cover.
As well as notifications, and lockscreen patterns, there are retro games for Dot View, like brick breaker.
The company has also now come up with some clear-backed versions of the Dot View case so M9 owners don’t have to conceal the device’s metallic back.
In a briefing with journalists HTC said it now has “two strong product lines in the market” — referring also to its mid-tier Desire range (which includes a selfie-focused phone, the Desire Eye), and the premium One line up.
Critics may complain the M9 lacks any new ‘wow’ factor. But it’s a solid smartphone with a premium feel and HTC’s trademark thoughtful detailing.