2015 Flagship 1: HTC One M9

Tue Mar 24, 2015


The HTC One M9 is the first flagship of 2015, and it’s a beauty. By retaining the same curved aluminum shell and two front-facing speakers as last year’s M8, HTC is making a bold statement: We don’t need to improve on an already impeccable design. And for the most part, they’re right - if going on looks alone, there’s no doubt that this is a premium phone.

The internals, however, have been upgraded with the following specs:

Operating system: Android 5.0.2 w/ Sense 7.0

Display: 5-inch 1920×1080 pixel SuperLCD 3 panel, 441 pixels per inch

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, 64-bit, octa core

Memory: 3GB RAM / 32GB internal storage (expandable via microSD)

Rear camera: 20.7MP rear camera sensor, F2.2 lens

Front-facing camera: 4MP front-facing UltraPixel sensor, F2.0 fixed-focus lens

Battery: 2,840mAh non-removable battery, Fast Charge support

Size: 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.6mm

Weight: 157 grams

The reviews are saying that this phone screams - and it should; Eight cores, good god, that’s more processing power than my quad-core iMac. I knew the day would come when smartphones out-spec my computer, but it still blows my mind. There were reports of the Snapdragon 810 overheating when running certain benchmarks, but it looks like they fixed that with a software update.

With a decent battery life and a gorgeous screen, this phone seems like a solid contender for my hard-earned dollars. Except, that it isn’t. The camera. Oh HTC, you messed up the camera again. Here is a sampling from various reviews:

Engadget: “Main camera is lackluster”

PhoneArena: “Details are emphasized more with this new camera, but low lighting performance is just laughable.”

GSMarena: “20MP main camera produces first-rate images with a wide dynamic range, accurate colors and correct exposure, although on the noisy side”

Android Authority: “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”

Android Central: “If you want to have the best smartphone, you have to have solid hardware, software and camera quality. HTC’s still struggling some with the latter.”

Techno Buffalo: “The good news is that the M9 captures photos very quickly, letting you capture fast-moving action without missing a beat. HTC’s cameras have always been fast, and you’ll continue to get that same instant experience here. Using modes like HDR and Bokeh will add processing time, but otherwise you should expect to capture a rambunctious child without issue.

If only the images themselves were any good. This is easily the most disappointing part of the M9, continuing a kind of problematic trend that started with the M7.”

The Verge: “Smartphones aren’t just phones anymore, they are increasingly the only cameras that people own or use. People often pick a phone based solely on how well it takes pictures and the phone’s camera can make or break the device. In the case of the M9 (and the M8 before it), it breaks it.”

Mobile Syrup: “The M9 can, and does, take some great photos, but it’s not quite at the point where I can point at a subject on Auto mode and reliably obtain a great result.”

Some people simply won’t care about a bad camera, and so the M9 may be the perfect phone for them. But I’m hoping for a great camera than can capture pictures of fast-moving kids and for impromptu shots while out and about. I don’t want to have to fiddle with manual settings, because by the time I’ve set it up, then the moment will have gone. In 2015, I absolutely expect a really great convergence device that will replace my point-and-shoot.

I love HTC’s design - I really appreciate the design of my HTC One S: sleek, rounded corners, and an aluminum shell treated with a process called microarc oxidation, leaving it as hard as ceramic. The M9 has a similarly amazing design and with Lollipop and Sense 7, a seemingly great user experience. But such a serious stumble on image quality can’t be forgiven. Unfortunately, it looks like my next phone won’t be another HTC phone.

The next flagship I’ll be considering will be the Samsung Galaxy S6. Coming in the next month or so.

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