After months of rumors and speculation, the HTC One M9 is finally here.
Then again, you might not have realized it unless you were paying very close attention. HTC says that the design of the M9 is a mashup of the best aspects of the M7 and the M8, and although that may be the case, it has resulted in a phone so familiar that you might mistake it for last year’s model.
Here’s the catch: last year’s model is still one of the best Android smartphones on the market.
If you’re upgrading from an M8 to an M9, the first thing you’ll notice is the updated user interface. Sense 7 isn’t a complete overhaul of the HTC UI, but it’s cleaner and integrates well with Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Sense 7 is also packed with new features. One of HTC’s primary goals when designing the new software was to make customization as painless as possible. This is clear from the moment you wake the phone up as HTC has included contextual local content on the lock screen that you can interact with.
One of the major new additions to the lock screen is Yelp integration — at around noon, you’ll see mealtime recommendations for nearby restaurants. Don’t like what you see? Keeping swiping for more without ever having to unlock your phone and open the app.
Once you do unlock your phone, you’ll be greeted to the new adaptive home screen, a feature HTC is calling SenseHome. If you decide to leave SenseHome on, your M9 will automatically shuffle the apps on your home screen based on your location. If you’re at work, your productivity apps like email clients and document readers will appear. At home, you might see games and weather apps.
SenseHome will only pull from the apps you already have installed, but it will learn which apps you use most frequently, tailoring its suggestions more appropriately the longer you use it. You can pin apps permanently for certain locations, create folders of apps (in case SenseHome isn’t big enough for you) and if you don’t like SenseHome, you can just remove it altogether.
The cherry on top for fans of customization is the new Theme Store. Not only can you download themes and follow designers whose themes you prefer, but you can make your own as well. There’s even a web-based theme maker that will make it easy for amateurs to personalize their phones without ever downloading any software.
As for the hardware, it’s a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to notable improvements over last year’s model. The most disappointing exclusion is that of a Quad HD display. Instead, HTC fans will be stuck with Full HD 1080p, but the company was adamant that any higher resolution on a 5-inch display would be a waste.
On the other hand, the One M9 absolutely flies on its upgraded Snapdragon 810 processor, even with all the new features present in Sense 7. And with its 2,840 mAh battery, you’ll be able to explore all the phone’s new features to your heart’s content without worrying about it dying on you.
Sticking with the positive additions, mobile photographers will be happy to hear that the Ultrapixel is finally dead… at least on the main camera. HTC has replaced its iconic Duo Lens with a standard 20-megapixel camera, and although we’ve lost the neat depth sensor, we’ve gained a more competent camera overall.
HTC has also included software to back up the new camera. Once you’ve taken a refreshingly crisp 20-megapixel photo, you’ll be able to perfect it straight from the phone with what seems to be a surprisingly useful one-touch editing suite. I only had a few minutes to toy with it, but it fits in well with HTC’s theme of simple customization.
There are other minor changes that won’t stand out at first, but will make for a better user experience when handling the device. The shape of the M9 will look all but identical to the M8 from a distance, but with its sharper edges, it’s much easier to grip than its predecessor.
HTC has also relocated the power button to the side of the phone, which doesn’t sound like much on paper, but makes all the difference in the world when you’re trying to quickly turn off the display and put the phone back in your pocket.
The HTC One M9 will launch in March in the U.S., and it will be available from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular, as well as from popular retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon.
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Complete HTC One M9 specs can be found here.