HTC was one of Android's earliest supporters. When the Dream launched in 2009, little did HTC likely know that its fortunes would skyrocket in the few years after, along with its share of the smartphone market. Not long after, though, those fortunes began to wane - with the launch of the original One series (One X, S, V), HTC's first attempt to rebrand its smartphone design image began.

The One X was, and I still think is, a beautiful phone. While the Tegra version was lamentable, the Qualcomm-powered variants received generally wide praise. The next year, One M7 launched. It, too, was very good-looking, and while the Ultrapixel camera was controversial, the phone debuted to very positive reviews. Then, last year, the M8 happened. With some significant but generally subtle design tweaks, the excellent Boomsound speakers, a good 1080p LCD, and a quick Snapdragon 801, the M8 wasn't a huge upgrade over the M7, but it had its redeeming qualities. At the time, though, many of us wondered: had HTC started to run out of ideas?

With the M9, that's now a real, pertinent question. On paper, a bigger battery should mean more time off the charger. It doesn't. On paper, a 20MP camera should finally bring the One M9 in line with its other flagship competitors. It doesn't. A Snapdragon 810 should bring considerable speed gains over the year-old 801 in the M8. It doesn't. On paper, a new version of Sense should mean a real facelift for the software with exciting new features. For the most part, it doesn't.

The One is the phone only HTC could build, except then they built it again. And again. And now I'm left wondering: is there a real reason to buy this thing?

The Good

Still metal The One M9 still feels like a premium phone with premium materials, even if some of the small design changes are, to my eyes, less than great.
A respectable 1080p LCD While the M9's screen isn't going to win any awards for best-in-a-smartphone, it's not bad by any means, and still seems like a pretty good 1080p LCD. I applaud HTC for not giving into the 2K pressure.
Boomsound is still good Well, it is.
Not slow The M9 is perfectly quick in most ways, and does not appear to suffer from any of the major performance jank I found on the only other Snapdragon 810 device to date, the G Flex 2.

The Not So Good

Not any faster The M9 doesn't feel appreciably quicker than the phone it replaces, and sometimes can be slower (such as when multitasking). This doesn't speak well of the Snapdragon 810, which is already under fire for issues.
A mediocre 20 megapixels HTC finally ditched the 4MP Ultrapixel rear camera this year, but its replacement is one of the most mediocre cameras I've used on a high-end smartphone, with long focus times, unreliable auto-focus, lackluster night performance, and iffy HDR.
Buttons only a mother could love The new volume and power buttons on the One M9 are so recessed and closely positioned that I'm constantly hitting one when I mean to hit another. This can be legitimately maddening.
Battery life is subpar I was honestly surprised at just how mediocre the M9's battery life was day-to-day, especially when on the strong T-Mobile network in my area. I would struggle through a day away from home on this phone.

Hardware

Design and build quality

Look at an HTC One M8. Now look at the M9. And that's 90% of our work today.

The phones are so similar that the M9 is best described by what doesn't make it look like the M8, as opposed to what it looks like independent of its predecessor. So let's go piece by piece.

The greatest physical change to the phone is, for all intents and purposes, the area where the frame meets the display glass and speaker grilles. Instead of a chamfered, polished edge, there is a "stepped" break in the metal frame that goes straight up and is cut at a 90-degree angle. HTC says they did this because of complaints that the M8 was too slippery, and that the "stepped" effect helps it dig into your hand a little better for maximum grippability. Frankly, I think they did it because chamfering is more expensive. I don't really notice a difference when holding the phone, and it is still quite slippery (HTC's expensive new finishing process also doesn't seem to help, despite what they claim).

DSC07472

Pictured: edge concerns. I personally think the M8's chamfer looks a bit nicer.

Anyway, the change also meant discarding the One M8's plastic speaker grilles (really, they are glued-on plastic - I didn't know, either) and instead building them into the metal around the display glass. This is one of the few design changes on the M9 that I actually like.

To make up for the lack of a shiny chamfer around the edges of the phone, HTC has given the front-facing camera a polished metallic ring, and it looks really weird. I don't know why they did it, but they did, and it just seems unnecessarily fussy. The enlarged sensor cluster window also isn't doing the M9 any favors visually.

DSC07450

Along the edges, HTC's buttons have all migrated to the right side of the phone to create what is likely the biggest button identification clusterfuck on any smartphone I have ever used. I do not use that word lightly. I have no idea how such close placement on such crappy, extremely recessed buttons made it past usability testing. It just stinks. While you can double tap or slide up to wake the phone, HTC's solution has never felt as quick or easy as ambient display to me (far and away the best easy-on display tech of all), and you're still not going to be able to avoid those truly awful volume buttons. A recurring theme for HTC, it would seem. They should stop doing that.

DSC07454

My dark gray version doesn't have the two-tone gold/silver thing going on, so it looks a bit more muted and (I think) tasteful than its shinier sibling. Around the back, the only difference worth highlighting is the camera module, which now sticks out slightly from the frame, and is square. Subjectively, I find it kind of an eyesore, preferring the slicker recessed look on the M8's duo camera (irrespective of duo camera's actual merits, which were precisely zero). I really have no idea why the rear camera module has to be that... visible - the phone would look so much cleaner with an iPhone-sized circle, but I'm guessing it has something to do with convincing consumers that this is a "serious" camera for "serious" photography, because it is big, and big things are very serious.

DSC07506

HTC has retained the microUSB and 3.5mm port arrangement from the M8 to the chagrin of OCD sufferers everywhere (really, can an off-center USB port be part of your "brand"?), and while generally harmless, are bound to stir up the opinions of many people on the internet as things of this nature always do. The black plastic antenna window for the GPS / IR up top is still present, and still gives the phone kind of a space-age accent, though it's a little more angular and less refined-looking than the one on the M8.

DSC07491

Antenna windows to the soul

So, here's the thing: I really liked the look of the One M8 when I reviewed it last year. The One M9 does have some positive changes (aforementioned speaker grilles now being metal, reduced height of the HTC logo black-bar), but almost every other physical design change, for me, comes down on the slightly-to-moderately-negative side of the board. The camera hump, the stepped metal instead of a chamfered edge, the ugly little chrome accent on the front-facing camera, and the new buttons (especially the buttons) - they all get an "oh, well, why did they... do that?" kind of response from me.

DSC07442

Does it make the M9 hard to like as an object? Not particularly, but it does make it less likeable than the phone that preceded it, which is always going to amplify the impact of such changes. And it makes flaws carried over from the original more noticeable. The HTC "black bar," while it allegedly has to be there for display controller guts, makes the phone quite tall. So do the Boomsound speakers, which require small resonance chambers to produce mid-range and bass. The all-metal design is still really slippery. The phone itself doesn't look especially different from the One M7 of two years ago, and all claims about "timeless design" aside, that does make it feel less special to me.

But, a lot of this is subjective, and I realize that. So, if you liked the One M8's design and build quality, you'll like the One M9's aside from the aforementioned hardware buttons, which are objectively bad. Everything else really is a quibble, but when you're talking about design, nothing is truly trivial, so that's why I nitpick here - because this section is literally about nitpicking. Don't tar and feather me, please.

DSC07493

As to the actual quality of the phone, I wouldn't say it's substantially better or worse than the M8. The M8 is a solid-feeling device, and the M9 feels quite solid as well, and that is because they are both encased in very hard aluminum chassis. The thing is, between those new hardware buttons - which are just plain not good - the camera hump, and the strange stepped metal around the edges of the phone, the M9 ends up feeling almost paradoxically less nice than the M8.

Also, let's not go out of our way to necessarily confuse "solid metal" with "actual quality construction" - last year, iFixIt gave the HTC One M8 a horrendous repairability score of 1/10 (an iPhone 6, by the way, gets a 7/10) because it is essentially an un-disassemble-able screwless mess of evil. This year, HTC has added a couple external screws, but the glued-in internals like the battery and display still require heat gun coaxing in order to remove, and there's still a whole mess of tape, ribbons, and easily damaged copper foil shielding in there. (Samsung's Galaxy S6, by the way, requires similar coaxing, though appears substantially less complex overall.)

Display

The M9 and M8 have fairly similar 1080p LCDs. The main difference between the two seems to be tuning - the M8's display looks much more saturated and bold than the M9's, which appears to have been tuned much cooler than its predecessor. The maximum brightness seems almost exactly the same, the viewing angles are nearly identical, and outdoor visibility has them in a dead heat. The minimum brightness setting on the M9 is appreciably lower, though not by a lot, so there is that.

DSC07513

It's not a bad screen, by any means, but it's basically similar in most ways to the one HTC has been shipping since the M7. It's a good, solid, 1080p LCD... that pretty much any manufacturer can buy these days if they so choose for a fairly reasonably price. It's not that I'm saying HTC should opt for a 2K (QHD) panel, or that they have to go AMOLED to stay relevant, but there's little denying that competitors like Samsung and Apple have surpassed HTC in the display game, and that it didn't exactly happen recently. HTC is at the mercy of suppliers while Samsung, Apple, and LG develop their own panel designs and get the pick of the litter if they don't. And meanwhile, budget OEMs like OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Huawei are sourcing panels of a similar if not better quality while selling phones that are much less expensive.

DSC07465

HTC wasn't keen to talk up the screen on the One M8 last year, and they were similarly reluctant to do so on the One M9 this year. While I have absolutely no problem with the M9's 1080p resolution, Samsung is clearly leading the industry in smartphone displays right now. The latest Super AMOLED panels have superior minimum and maximum brightness, insanely good color reproduction (when set to the right display mode), and surprisingly good outdoor visibility thanks to their excellent contrast. The One M9's display has OK color reproduction (pinks get a weird magenta-purply thing going on, greens are definitely a bit hot, whites and grays too cool), decent brightness, and pretty good viewing angles. If you're looking for the cream of the crop when it comes to display quality, unfortunately, it's just not here.

That said, I still prefer the M9's panel to LG's G3 or even my own Nexus 6 (ugh yellow). While it falls short of the Note 4 or, if I'm honest, even the Galaxy S5 (... or even the Note 3), it's still a decent screen and I don't think it's going to upset anybody. Also, I do commend HTC for sticking it out at 1080p when it makes sense to do so - whereas other manufacturers are pushing 2K mostly because they can.

Battery life

"Unsettlingly mediocre" is how I would describe it. The One M9 has given me range anxiety I haven't really experienced since, well, the Nexus 6, and even then that's only on some days with that phone. Even HTC's data sleeping doesn't seem to be working right, with my phone showing many wake states during the middle of the night when emails come through. Previously, on the M7 and M8, sync would basically stop between the hours of 11PM and 7AM unless you actually turned on the display, which was a huge battery saver if you forgot to plug in your phone overnight.

On the M9, I'm just not happy with the battery life as it is right now. I don't know if that's to do with the Snapdragon 810, poorly optimized software, or just plain bad luck, but it's not fantastic. It could be worse, but if I was taking this thing on the road every day to and from work without a charge until I got home, I'd probably be buying an external battery pretty quickly. It's just not where it should be.

Sense also doesn't allow you to see the amount of screen-on time in the OS's power usage UI, so you can't really get a good feel for what amount of screen-time your usage habits will allow for. Even when loitering on Wi-Fi in my apartment (which yes, does decrease power consumption), the idle battery life just does not seem very good. The only other phone with Snapdragon 810 that I've used is the G Flex 2 and, despite having 160mAh more capacity than the One M9, it too fell flat fairly quickly.

While the unpredictability has settled out some since I received the phone last week, I'm still not happy with how the M9 stacks up here. The moment the solution to a battery life problem becomes "turn on power-saving feature X," you've lost me. I'm not interested in compromising the experience simply to extend the amount of time I have to keep a phone off the microUSB teat, unless I urgently need to preserve that remaining juice. If there was one area where HTC could really put a thorn in the side of Samsung, LG, or Motorola (barring the Maxx), it would be in class-leading battery life, but the One M9 sadly fails to deliver anything of interest here, and frankly falls slightly below the bar I'd expect of a flagship handset. This is definitely a step back from the M8, which I found had pretty great battery life overall.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

HTC came to bat with 32GB of storage standard on both the M7 and M8 here in the US, and that was a significant plus for consumers burned by the 16GB-only Galaxy S4 and S5 here in America. But now that the S6 ships with 32GB minimum and LG isn't letting its flagships fly with less than that amount, either, HTC's advantage here is a bit diminished. A microSD card slot is a plus with Samsung seemingly having forsaken expandable storage at the flagship level, but only to those who would utilize it to begin with.

Sense 7 weighs heavily on that 32GB, too, which is a real shame - this T-Mobile One M9 ships with less than 20GB available out of the box. Let me rephrase that: if HTC shipped a 16GB One M9, you would have 4GB of space to work with. This is just bad bloat management. The Galaxy S6 ships with 23GB (depending on carrier) available, and last year's bloat-tastic 16GB S5 even managed a little over 10GB.

Certainly, around 20GB of space is going to be enough for most people, but that doesn't excuse the lackadaisical attitude HTC has approached the bloat problem with - it smacks of apathy, or worse, incompetence. Compared to a T-Mobile One M8 running Lollipop, the One M9 is shipping with nearly 2.5GB less user-available storage, and for what? Things most of us will never use?

Wireless performance on my One M9 review unit has been entirely respectable, I've experienced no issues with mobile data or Wi-Fi. Bluetooth has given me one problem, though it's somewhat rare - my Wear device (a G Watch R) occasionally loses sync with the phone, an issue I've decidedly not had with the five-plus other devices I've paired it with. It hasn't happened in the last day or so, though, so perhaps Google corrected something on its end.

Call quality is phone-like. I haven't tested HD voice on the M9, but I'm going to guess it sounds like HD voice on pretty much any phone: much, much better than regular phone call quality.

Audio and speakers

HTC's Boomsound speakers have some new Dolby tuning this year, but honestly, my ears can barely hear the difference. The One M8 had a great set of front-facing speakers for a phone, and the M9 still has those same great speakers that actually produce a semblance of mid-range, something you don't get on any other smartphone that I know of. The hardware, according to HTC, is the same - and the sound supports that. The M8 and M9 sounds basically identical.

Headphone audio presented no problems, and is still the same high quality that I've come to expect of Qualcomm's top-tier Snapdragon chipsets to date.

Camera

HTC's new camera is a bit of a mess on the One M9. After two-plus years pushing the 4MP Ultrapixel sensor, it's unfortunately clear that HTC is having trouble handling the somewhat odd 20MP Toshiba sensor it's using for the one M9, as opposed to the much more industry-standard Sony IMX sensors used in pretty much every other high-end smartphone.

It does not seem to have been a good idea to do this.

IMAG0036

You see, HTC apparently has decided that, despite no longer having a 4MP image sensor in its flagship phone, that it still wants to process 20MP images like they have 4MP of resolution. What I mean by that is, the processing seems optimized heavily for viewing on small displays. Fine detail is most charitably described as "present," while image noise and processing is brutally aggressive, especially in low light.

IMAG0037

This is not a very tight crop, trust me.

The cropped image above is representative of the two problems I had with the M9 in low light. First, the focus never, ever seems right. You always have to tell it where to focus, wait for it to do so (which takes far longer than it should), and then wait for the capture, which also takes annoyingly long as the camera then tries to focus again. Once you get a picture, sweet jesus, there is going to be brutal processing noise and artifacting in anything but daylight. The launch time for the camera is also lamentable, at anywhere from 1-4 seconds depending on how the phone is feeling, I guess.

IMAG0032

During the day, performance isn't outright bad, but the images I captured were never particularly impressive in detail, clarity, or color reproduction (most were quite bland). This is the most mediocre camera fitted to a high-end smartphone in the last year, I think - it is simply not in possession of any real redeeming qualities.

IMAG0014

Even in direct sunlight on a clear day, the sky still has processing noise. HTC is also lightyears behind Google and Samsung in terms of HDR performance, a mode which I found basically useless on the M9 for all the hilariously false contrast it forces into an image.

IMAG0003

Still, this is a notably better camera than the One M8's, because it actually has fine detail, whereas the M8's Ultrapixel had what I would describe as coarse detail at best. When you're coming from a camera as difficult to defend as the duo setup, though, it's hard not to improve in at least some ways. The One M8 also had the single worst HDR mode of any smartphone camera I have used in years, so even the M9's weirdo HDR processing looks better than that of its predecessor, shown below.

IMAG0005

The camera itself adds no real new features aside from 4K video, loses HDR video mode, and does not have optical image stabilization. All in all, HTC has delivered a camera that wouldn't stack up particularly well to 2014's flagships, let alone 2015's. This is not a high point for a company that claims to be deeply invested in the imaging experience on its smartphones. Some of the M9's camera issues can likely be resolved in software, but for now, it simply doesn't meet the bar I think we'd expect a 2015 flagship to.

Here are some additional sample photos.

Software

Performance

Without a doubt, the most controversial section of any One M9 review you will read is the one in which device performance is discussed. Having been extensively involving myself in the Snapdragon 810 drama of late, I'd like to begin this section with some questions and answers that I think will help serve as a primer to this discussion.

  • Does Snapdragon 810 overheat in the HTC One M9? It's a loaded question. If you run benchmarks like Geekbench 3 ad nauseam without any cooldown periods between runs, then yes, the One M9 will get very, very, very hot. The highest temperature I observed with a true IR camera was 118F (nearly 48C), which is hot enough that no, you don't want to hold the phone (not dangerous, just uncomfortable). No plastic bags, no bright lights, just my desk in my apartment and Geekbench 3 over and over and over. No other phone I've tested gets that hot, the maximum I saw was 110F... on another Snapdragon 810 phone.
  • But it still works, so that's not overheating, right? Technically, yes. An "overheat" state is one that implies the device must cool lest imminent damage occur to it. In that sense, no, the M9 does not appear to overheat - I never got a message from the phone saying it needed to turn off or anything to manage the temperature. Granted, a modern CPU can operate at upwards of 80C without risking damage, so "overheating" is an exceptionally relative term here. Smartphones go into "overheat" states to prevent damage to the battery and display, not the processor.
  • Does this happen in regular usage? The M9 will get pretty toasty when the cellular radio is very active (lots of DL/UL) and the phone isn't sleeping, or GPS is running with navigation. And it gets hot more quickly than I'd anecdotally expect. But no, it doesn't get crazy hot in anything but benchmarks.
  • So you're saying it doesn't matter? No. Because the reason it gets so hot in benchmarks is because it's not throttling the CPU almost at all, instead letting the phone get hot so that high scores can be achieved repeatedly during testing.
  • So it throttles? Absolutely. While Snapdragon 810 is unofficially rated at 2.0GHz (note that Qualcomm never published a clock speed for 810) for its high-speed A57 quad-core cluster, you'll never see it get over 1.5-1.6GHz in regular usage for more than sub-second bursts, and even, then, probably not over 1.8GHz. The same behavior can be observed on LG's G Flex 2, which also uses the 810.
  • Does this matter? Yes. Compared to the Snapdragon 801 and 805, which throttle much less often in regular usage, the Snapdragon 810 is far more likely to compromise performance under such usage, meaning the experience it provides frankly doesn't seem appreciably better than those chips and, in some applications, may actually be worse.

Is the One M9 a slow phone? No. But it's not really even appreciable quicker than the One M8, and in some cases, I actually noticed it to be slower (app switching, for example). And yes, Snapdragon 810 will beat 805 and 801 in benchmarks - HTC has ensured the processor will not throttle during benchmarking, so the scores will tell you what you'd expect for a chip that's a year newer than the one which preceded it. Benchmarks, of course, are not reality.

So, why go with the 810 at all? Why not stick it out with 805, which has proven itself a solid, reliable chip even on high-resolution smartphones?

The simple answer is marketing, and it's the same story I hear from every OEM I talk to about chipsets. Consumers want to know they're getting the latest and greatest, and even if most people don't know squat about what a processor or chipset is or what they do, there's a big enough group of buyers (especially online and in emerging markets) to matter that having the latest Qualcomm part is paramount to competing. HTC chose Snapdragon 810 not because it is "the best" chipset available from a performance standpoint, they chose it because it is "the best" chipset available from a marketing perspective. That is the slightly sad reality of the situation, and that's why Peter Chou got on stage at MWC to be Qualcomm's PR puppet.

And what else can they do? There was no other option: shipping with 805 would have had them laughed out of the room by internet spec geeks, and there is no other viable alternative to Snapdragon 810 yet. Intel has no high-end LTE SoC, there's no chance Samsung would give HTC a crack at the latest Exynos, and NVIDIA is a non-option in phones. Mediatek doesn't compete well in the LTE space right now, either, and that's Qualcomm's real stranglehold on partners: radio technology.

HTC, like LG with the G Flex 2, basically had a choice of shipping with a newer, compromised chip, or shipping with an older, proven chip. In a market with obsessive 1-year refresh cycles and constant specification warring, the older chip was never a realistic business option. This isn't HTC's fault - only as much as they can be faulted for sticking it out with the single viable high-end LTE chipmaker on the market. So, blame Qualcomm, blame ARM, and certainly blame specification hypebeasters, but HTC really is just a victim of a rare product portfolio miss here, and one that has Qualcomm noticeably shaken up.

To HTC's credit, I haven't noticed any truly unusual lag or stuttering on the One M9, which for the most part appears to perform fine in most situations. It's just not any noticeably faster or smoother than the phone and chip it replaces, and at this point, it's incumbent upon Qualcomm to show that 810 isn't compromised in practice, because the relevant data points we have for real-world devices to date show that it is. Even Qualcomm's marketing makes it clear something's wrong - they haven't published an advertised clock speed for Snapdragon 810 (yet they have for 800, 801, and 805), and it's because they can't advertise one, since the real clock speed is basically dependent on how ballsy and willing to compromise battery life (and cycle longevity, because heat) the OEM is.

So, if you want a basic rundown of the One M9's performance, here it is: it's pretty fast. It's not noticeably faster than the One M8, and it's sometimes a bit slower, which wouldn't be in and of itself quite so bad if the battery life hadn't also taken a real hit. For what it's worth, it does not feel as slow and janky as the 810-powered G Flex 2, which appears to have significantly more aggressive throttling policies, so there is that.

Sense 7

Have you used Sense 6 on Lollipop? Great! You've basically used Sense 7. The changes between the sixth and seventh iterations of HTC's proprietary skin are few and far between. For example, the notification bar has slightly less vertical height. Yes, that is how nitpicky we need to get to really highlight changes.

Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-06-47 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-07-01 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-07-08

The Sense clock widget is new. There's a new widget called Sense Home that... really isn't that interesting (it's a glorified folder widget). There is now a vaguely Holo-esque tab interface for switching between pages on stock HTC apps, which looks different-y. BlinkFeed has restaurant suggestions now.

Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-08-45

Pictured: the biggest UI design change in Sense 7.

Oh, they changed the multitasking interface back to the old Sense style, too. You see, when the One M8 got its Lollipop update, HTC tossed in a very slight tweak of the stock Android 5.0 multitasking UI. On the M9, they decided they didn't like that anymore and went to the grid-layout and added pagination to it. And, of course, they added back a button to clear all recent apps, because people do this, ostensibly for the placebo relief it provides.

The one headlining new feature of Sense 7 is the theming engine, which allows you to apply your own or community-created themes to your device. HTC's definition of theme can be a bit generous depending on your expectations, though it's still significantly more than really any other OEM gives you. You can choose wallpaper, icon pack (including a texture overlay), color palette (also including texture), sounds, and font. There's a theme store to download them from (same as the Dot View store), or you can create your own and publish it.

Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-07-53 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-08-07 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-08-20

This is definitely nice for those people who like to theme their device to a mild to moderate degree (I am personally not among them), and it's not something the other major device OEMs are offering. I will say the one issue I had is with theme discovery - it's hard to really search the theme store in a meaningful way unless all you really want are the promoted and popular themes.

The other customization tweak HTC has added, though not original, is for the layout of the navigation buttons. You can add new buttons like turn off screen, auto-rotate, a notification toggle, or hide nav bar. You can also change the order of the buttons. You just get the buttons HTC gives you, though, there isn't any kind of option to brew-your-own button.

Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-07-13 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-07-32 Screenshot_2015-03-30-13-11-09

Other than that? HTC's added some new options in its photo editor, an app called Cloudex that basically just puts your cloud photos in the Gallery app, and... I can't really think of anyone else. The promised camera store, by the way, currently has a whole three options in it, and the purported "pro" mode that would allow RAW capture is not yet present.

Most of the changes in Sense 7 seem superficial, aside from the theme engine, and even the superficial changes can come off as tweaking for the sake of tweaking. Like the new tab navigation style in HTC's stock apps - it just seems like it was changed because they needed some way to differentiate the new software from the old software. It doesn't serve any kind of cohesive purpose. Meanwhile, Google's Material Design initiative is still nowhere to be found in Sense, with HTC's likely retort being that Sense is a "full-package" software identity that it does not want to cobrand into something Googly. And yet the more and more 3rd party apps adopt at least some material elements, the more and more out of place HTC's software will look. I predict we'll see them come around a bit with Sense 8.

Conclusion

The HTC One M9 is problematic. It's not a bad phone, but it's also not a great one, and it doesn't feel so much better than last year's device that an upgrade would be even remotely necessary for current One M8 owners. Even One M7 owners aren't missing a whole lot here, and that's slightly unsettling. The display is the same if not observably worse in certain respects, the Boomsound speakers are the same, the battery life isn't any better (worse, actually), and there are no major new hardware features to speak of. Sense 7 offers little aside from its theming engine, and while that's certainly a fun addition, it doesn't really strike me as a big value-add. The camera does offer you a little crop breathing room now, but as high-end smartphone cameras go, the One M9's is totally unremarkable, and in some cases a bit disappointing.

So, that leaves us with things like the Dot View case, HTC's Uh-Oh protection, and the company's Android OS update track record for selling points. While they're all certainly benefits, are they going to be enough to get the interest of anyone but those people who are already HTC fans? That's kind of my problem here: I see no special appeal for the One M9 among users of non-HTC phones. The M9 brings nothing truly compelling to the table that the M7 and M8 before it did not, and neither of those devices were runaway sales successes.

With Samsung having given us a play-by-play Extreme Makeover: Smartphone Edition on its Galaxy S6, the One M9 provides a counterpoint of, "Hey, things are still pretty good over here, don't fix what ain't broken!" The problem for HTC is that, from a business perspective, things are broken. HTC's ever-decreasing market share and recent CEO shakeup make it obvious the Taiwanese OEM is not able to bring in significant numbers of new customers, or more importantly, pull them away from other brands.

Perhaps a mid-year refresh or high-end Note competitor with a fresh new look will reinvigorate HTC in the premium phone space, but as things stand now, it feels like we're in a holding phase, just waiting for something to happen.

DSC07464