HTC One M9 initial impressions

The internet is raging. After seeing some stunning renders based off of leaked images posted by evleaks, almost everyone was let down by HTC when they finally saw the HTC One M9 unveiled at MWC 2015. There's no getting around how similar the M9 looks like the M8, prompting many to call it the M8s as a reference to Apple's now famous "s" iPhones which use the exact same body as the previous year's model. The M9 is definitely an evolutionary upgrade over the M8. It's the third generation of the reborn One brand that started with the M7 two years ago. So is it really that bad for the M9 to look so similar to the M8? Are the hardware and software improvements enough to justify making a brand new phone using the same design? After watching several videos and reading a few reports, here are my initial impressions of the HTC One M9.

The good

The same award winning design
The One M8 won quite a few awards last year, including the best designed smartphone award at the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards. The design of the phone played a major role in those awards, so it's a good thing that HTC is bringing the much loved design back with some modifications to the M9. Quite a few journalists who have handled the device say it merges the looks of the M7 with the ergonomics of the M8. It has a slightly more grippy back with some sharp edges to make handling the device easier than the M8, and it is also a hair shorter, narrower and lighter than the M8. After receiving so many plaudits for the M7 and M8 design, it's completely understandable why HTC decided to stick with it for the M9.

Better BoomSound
Ever since the M7 introduced BoomSound to the world, there hasn't been anything better. It got the ball rolling and we've seen phones from Sony and Motorola (including the Nexus 6) include front facing speakers as well. The M9 is pushing it even further with Dolby Audio on board, so it's safe to say the M9 will continue this great streak HTC has of providing some of the best audio on any smartphone.

Customisable on-screen buttons
Last year HTC made the switch to software navigation buttons, dumping the capacitive buttons that have been on their phones previously. And this year they are making better use of those on-screen buttons by allowing users to customise the arrangement, and even add a fourth button if they want. LG have been doing this for a while now, and it has long been a staple of custom ROMs. It's great that HTC is now offering this feature in the M9 as well.
Navigation buttons can now be customised by the user. Image

A more traditional camera
If there was one weak link in the M7 and the M8, it was the camera. It took good enough photos sure, but the whole UltraPixel gamble just didn't pay off. HTC is going back to basics with the M9, and incorporated a more traditional 20MP sensor on the back, moving the UltraPixel camera to the front, something to please selfie lovers. The secondary Duo Camera is also gone. Hopefully, this new camera will be better than what was previously on the M8.
No more Duo Camera-Ultrapixel combo here. Image

1080p display
I know some of you might be confused by this. At a time when flagships are sporting 2K displays, why would a 1080p display be a good thing? But if you ask me, HTC made a great decision to stick with a 1080p display. For two reasons. First, the display is still 5". With over 2 million pixels in a 5" display, with 441 pixels per inch, how can anyone say this is a low-res display? Cramming even more pixels into a display of that size would be pretty much pointless. Any added "sharpness" would be at the expense of battery life, which leads to the second reason. The M9 has a newer (probably more power efficient) processor, and a larger battery than the M8. That should in theory give the M9 improved battery life over its predecessor, and a 1080p display will further boost any improvements. A 1080p display that can improve battery life is much better than a "sharper" 2K display that would definitely lead to higher battery consumption.

The bad

The same award winning design
I have similar thoughts about the design of the M9 as I did with the Sony Xperia Z2. The great design is a double edged sword. On one hand, it's a much loved design that has won many plaudits. On the other, we've all seen it before. And while it's not really a problem to me, many enthusiasts do see this as a negative.

That black bar
I had the exact same problem with the One M8 last year. I completely understand why it's there, and I'm willing to tolerate it because of BoomSound, but I would be much happier if it wasn't there.

No wireless charging or OIS
The One M9 does come with a larger battery than the M8, and it does support Quick Charge technology, but I would have loved if it came with wireless charging. After using it on my Nexus 5, I've grown accustomed to not plugging my phone in to charge. And lack of OIS is another downer. Megapixels are fine, but OIS would have been better.

After two generations of excellent craftsmanship, 
what's wrong with a better third generation? Image

The biggest problem many people have with the M9 is that it looks almost exactly like the M8. Which is true, not going to deny that. But you know who else recycles phone designs? Pretty much everyone. Apple even uses the exact same design every two years. Nobody else does that. The M9 does look like the M8, but it's not without modifications and enhancements. The M8 was a favourite among reviewers last year, with the major weak spots being the camera and the slipperiness of the device. Both have (hopefully) been fixed with the M9. We can't expect every successive device to be drastically different from the previous version. Nobody does that, not even money bags like Apple or Samsung. People who own the M8 might not be tempted to upgrade to the M9, but that's perfectly fine. We now live in a time where flagship devices can easily remain relevant for a couple of years, and there's almost no reason to upgrade each year. Some people may not be happy with the M9, even calling it the M8s. But you know what, that's not such a bad thing. The M9 is a refined and improved version of the M8, and considering how it keeps many of the M8's best qualities and attempts to fix the problems it had, I don't see any reason why the M9 can't be one of the best phones of the year.

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