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printed October 17, 2017
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Review: HTC One M9

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Media

There are a healthy number of media apps on board, and you can expect to see more on carrier-branded versions of the M9.

First up are the standard Google Play apps, which work together with the Play Store for purchasing and consuming content such as music, movies, TV shows, books, and magazines. These apps have all been updated with Material Design in recent months and HTC didn't do anything to change them. The M9 has the stock YouTube app on board, too.

HTC stuck its own MP3 player on the M9, which is best used for sideloaded content or music stored on a memory card. This app works well and I like it. The Sense 7 design language is simple and elegant. This is one of the apps that will change appearance if you alter the theme. It's accompanied by an FM radio.

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Music Player  

The Peel app (replaces HTC Sense TV) is a nice addition to the M9. Together with the IR port, you can access your cable provider's content guide, and you can control your TV, receiver, and cable box. It took me about 60 seconds to get the app up and running. It supports up to five rooms and multiple pieces of equipment per room. I like that it will offer push notifications when your favorite shows come on. You can even sync it with social media accounts.

Peel  

Last, HTC added its HTC Connect tool to the M9, which makes it a snap to connect the phone to your TV, receiver, wireless speakers, and other A/V gear, via DLNA and other standard streaming protocols. The UI is dead-simple to learn and it works flawlessly.

HTC Connect  

Camera

The M9's camera app is almost a direct carry-over from the M8's camera app. HTC made a few tweaks here and there, but the basic appearance and functionality of the app are about the same. You can open the app from the lock screen, or by assigning one of the volume keys to open it with a long press. I prefer the latter. It opens quickly.

The basic viewfinder lumps most of the important controls along the right edge of the screen. These include separate shutter buttons for the camera and video camera, a button to switch between the different shooting modes, and access to the gallery. The camera has a control button for the flash in the upper-left corner, and a slide-out control strip is accessible from the bottom-left corner.

The M9 ships with three main shooting modes: normal, selfie, and panorama. These are self-explanatory. In addition to the dedicated camera mode switcher, you can jump between the modes quickly by swiping your finger up or down on the screen (rather similar to the iOS camera). You can download and install several other shooting modes, such as Bokeh Effect, if you want to. Like the M8, you can also create your own camera profile (custom settings) and save it as one of the top-level shooting modes.

The slide-out strip offers extensive control over the camera's settings, such as ISO, exposure, and white balance. You may also select from several different scenes, such as night, HDR, portrait, landscape, macro, and so on. When you choose any of these, a secondary control strip appears for making the selected adjustments. Last, there's a button to access the full settings menu, which lets you set aspect ratio, "make-up level" (software-controlled beautification), review duration, sounds, etc. This control strip works, but I wish HDR was pulled out and given its own icon in the viewfinder. It takes three taps to turn HDR on, which is two too many in my book.

The phone excels at point-and-shoot style photography. It's a breeze to pull the M9 out of your pocket, launch the camera, and easily capture what's around you. On the other hand, those who like more creative control have access to at least a smattering of extra features that are a few more finger taps away.

Camera  

Photos

HTC (finally) got rid of the Ultrapixel sensor that adorned the M7 and M8 and equipped the M9 with a 20-megapixel Toshiba sensor. Even though it dramatically pumped up the number of pixels, HTC's image-processing still falls far short of the competition. Picture quality is all over the map. It goes to show you that megapixels aren't everything, not by a long shot. Daytime photos will turn out well, for the most part, but low-light imaging is practically useless. Sharp focus was inconsistent, as was exposure, and white balance. Darker images are rife with grain and noise. I thought a lot of photos also fell rather flat and felt lifeless. The M9 is certainly capable of capturing great images, but the ratio of good-to-bad is tipped way too far in the wrong direction.

The camera's mediocre performance tells me something is broken in HTC's camera department. This is the third flagship that has suffered from poor camera behavior at launch, which is simply inexcusable. Apple, LG, Microsoft, and Samsung all offer phones with far superior cameras. Given HTC's strong focus (pun intended) on providing a quality imaging experience, its failure here leaves me rather dumbstruck.

The selfie camera uses the Ultrapixel sensor and has 4 megapixels. It features a wide-angle lens and can squeeze quite a bit into the frame. It is far more consistent than the main camera and did much better it low-light situations.

Photos  

Video

The One M9 records video up to 4K (Ultra HD) resolution. You'll be best served by sticking to regular old 1080p resolution for most of your video-capturing needs. The video camera does a better job than the camera at capturing accurate exposure, focus, and white balance. It struggles in dark settings, but most video cameras do. You can get away with using the M9 for capturing those everyday moments that demand to be recorded, but I'd use dedicated video equipment for important events.

Gallery

There are a handful of ways to manage photos on the M9. Google's Photos app is present and accounted for. It may be the best option if you value automatic backups of all your shots to Google's servers, and it offers a decent set of editing features, too.

HTC's own gallery app has been updated for Sense 7 and is easier to use than previous generations. I like how it handles photos, which can be viewed in a wide variety of ways (timeline, grid, events, year). You can sort photos via date, location, and tags, and the gallery keeps screenshots and downloads in their own spot. The editing functions are crazy.

The photo editor presents four options at the bottom of the screen: delete, Zoe, themes, and Fx Editor. The Zoe tool — which also exists on the phone as a stand-alone app — lets you create multimedia clips manually or automatically. The Themes tool is really just an incredible set of filters (think Instagram). The Fx Editor is where you'll find all the real fun stuff. It handles the basics, such as crop, rotate, and red-eye reduction, but also offers frames, and a variety of effects. The effects veer into the artistic with double exposures, odd shapes, and prismatic arrangements. You can even merge two different faces. The Fx Editor is more fun than functional, but a little fun never hurts.

Gallery  

Bluetooth

Like most of this year's flagship phones, the M9 includes Bluetooth 4.1 and support for advanced profiles like aptX. The device paired easily with headphones, computers, speakers, and smartwatches. Phone calls sent to my car's hands-free system were loud and clear. The M9 offers high-quality, high-volume music playback thanks to the BoomSound speakers, but if you want something with a bit more juice, you can pair it with a Bluetooth speaker. Thanks to the aptX profile, the M9 sounded fantastic through my favorite portable speaker. The M9 doesn't have any Bluetooth performance problems.

Browser

The M9 includes Google's Chrome browser, and that's fine with me. The browser worked perfectly, even with just 3G data. The fast processor, pretty screen, and quick wireless radios combined to produce flawless mobile browsing. Web sites loaded in a blink, even under poor coverage conditions. Chrome itself is a fine browser in that it syncs bookmarks and open tabs with your desktop version of Chrome, and offers advanced tools such as private browsing.

Browser  

Clock

HTC has always done a good job with the clock and the M9 is no different in that respect. The lock screen always offers the time in a white digital clock at the top, no matter the theme or wallpaper. Some of the themes have thicker fonts that are easier to read, but they're all legible from an arm's length away. I do wish the clock were easier to see when outdoors.

GPS

Google Maps is all you'll ever really need to get around town and it runs really well on the M9. The M9 renders maps quickly and accurately thanks to the good GPS radio on board. I'd say accuracy was as good as 10 feet at times, but never worse than about 50 feet. I was pleased with the phone's ability to route me from home to a parking garage in TriBeCa and avoid some nasty construction along the way. The M9 is an excellent navigation tool.

Maps  

HTC Apps

HTC has a number of small, helpful apps aboard the M9 that are worth discussing in brief. For example, there's an HTC's Setup app, which will walk you through the process of setting up the phone for the first time. It works hand-in-hand with HTC's Backup app, which lets you backup the contents of your device and restore your device from those backups.

There's an app called HTC Club that provides "insider" information about all things HTC. For example, it pulls down content from HTC's official blogs and HTC's official marketing outlets.

The Dot View case gets its own app, which lets people select from different themes and display styles if they have a Dot View case. HTC also gave the One M9 a "Kids Mode" that locks down certain functions and prevents kids from messing up the device. Most of these apps are simple and straight-forward to use. I didn't hit any roadblocks when testing them out.

HTC Apps  

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