There is no denying that Taiwan handset maker HTC nailed down a great design with last year's One M8, so it did not come as a surprise that HTC decided to stick with it for its successor this year, the One M9.
The signature metal frame has been retained, this time with a two-tone chassis on select models, giving them a luxurious look and feel.
HTC Singapore says it will release only the gun-metal grey and dual-tone silver and rose gold models here, not the gold, or the dual-tone gold and pink ones.
Still, great looks only go so far, and someone clearly forgot to check fully under the hood of the M9.
On paper, the M9 is a souped-up M8. Button placements have been streamlined and now all appear on the right edge of the device. The overall design is not flat like the Apple iPhone though, and the rear is slightly curved.
The rear camera, a source of major complaints on the M8, gets a massive upgrade to 20.7MP, complete with scratch-resistant sapphire crystal panel over the lens.
The battery cannot be swopped by users, but HTC did put in a microSD card slot, to augment the 32GB of internal storage.
The duo camera lens of the M8 has been removed, and the M8's 4MP Ultra Pixel camera has been moved to the front in the M9.
The device is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip and has an octa-core processor, which means it matches the 64-bit architecture of Google's Android Lollipop operating system.
But, in reality, the M9 has a bit of catching up to do with its rivals' current flagship devices.
Where it is behind, most notably, is in the M9's camera. Clearly, megapixel count is not everything.
In daylight shots, the M9 holds its own against the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus, though the colours are not as vibrant as those of shots taken with the Galaxy S6.
And this becomes very apparent when photos are compared on the phones itself.
This might have something to do with the QHD (quad high-definition) screen on the Galaxy S6. The M9 uses only a full HD display here.
The benefits of an ultra-sharp QHD screen on a small display are still debatable. But a side-by-side comparison of screen resolution and display prowess definitely puts the HTC phone at a disadvantage.
Indoor shots really reflect badly on the M9. When I snapped a shot of a roasted suckling pig, the crackling, shiny oily skin came off looking like a blotchy mass. It looked as if the dish had emerged from a chiller and not an oven.
Because HTC opted to omit an optical image stabiliser from the M9, it is all but impossible to cover up the camera shake that inevitably finds its way into pictures.
Moreover, HDR, which stitches together successive shots to form a single balanced image, was slow.
On the iPhone, Galaxy S6 and even on the production unit of LG's upcoming G4, HDR was almost instantaneous, and multiple shots could be snapped continuously, with HDR mode turned on.
On the M9, there is a two- to three-second image-processing delay after the shutter button is pressed and before the camera mode comes back on.
The HTC Sense 7 interface looks and runs fine, and does not seem like a huge departure from earlier versions, which is actually a good thing. Many Android makers are realising that what users want is simplicity in an operating system, without resource-hungry software marring the experience.
With the M9, it seems as if HTC was set on improving the M8, but forgot that it had to innovate alongside its competitors.
Despite its looks and improvements, the M9's features fail to justify its $1,008 price tag, especially with the increasing number of well-made Android handsets in the market.
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, (1.5 GHz quad-core, 2 GHz quad-core)
Screen: 5-inch, 1,080 x 1,920 pixels (441 ppi pixel density)
Operating System: Android 5.0 (Lollipop), HTC Sense 7
Camera: (Rear) 20.7MP, 5,376 x 3,752 pixels, autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash, (Front) 4MP, 1,080p@30fps, HDR
Memory: 32GB (expandable microSD up to 128GB) 3GB RAM
Battery: 2,840 mAh
Value for money 2/5
Battery life 3/5
This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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