Hands-on with the HTC One M9

Days leading up to HTC's Utopia in Progress event in Barcelona saw rumour mills working overtime with specifications and images of their new flagship smartphone leaked over the internet. So it wasn't so much of a surprise when HTC showed us their latest mobile smartphone since we were already more or less familiar with how it looked.

As much as the leaks have stripped the mystery behind the new flagship product's outward appearance, we were still pleasantly glad that the real product lived up to the hype. Even more so when we finally held it in our hands, with the sturdy metallic feel of the smartphone exuding HTC's luxurious design DNA that we've grown to expect since the HTC One M7.

The hardware

The new HTC One M9 comes in four choices of colour, with its most unique design sporting a two-tone look with golden anodization lining the sides of a hairline brushed metallic silver chassis, while gunmetal grey and gold are the other two single-tone colors available for those who want a more familiar appearance. HTC will also release a dual-tone gold and pink version, likely targeted at the ladies. According to HTC, the new brushed aluminium chassis has taken them years to perfect, with its current chassis design requiring up to 300 minutes to manufacture - twice the amount required to manufacture the M7's chassis.

The smartphone is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor running at 2GHz clock speed. It comes with up to 3GB of RAM and runs the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop 64-bit operating system. The phone comes with 32GB of built-in memory with a microSD slot for memory expansion of up to 128GB. It supports a nano SIM card and will operate with the latest LTE Cat 6 network. Screen is 5-inches wide with a full HD resolution that gives it a total screen density of up to 443ppi.

The phone's front camera has also been upgraded to HTC's Ultra Pixel f/2.0, 26.8mm camera that promises to give selfies an added boost in clarity and low-light performance. The rear camera on the HTC One M9 now comes with a 20MP, f/2.2, 27.8mm camera that features sapphire cover lens that protects it from scratches. The camera will also support shooting in 4K resolution as well as RAW. Unfortunately, it won't feature OIS (optical image stabilization) like most other flagship smartphones out there.

In the audio department, HTC's BoomSound front firing speakers in the M9 have now been enhanced with Dolby Surround audio. Simulating 5.1-channel Dolby Surround sound, the HTC One M9 will double up as your portable entertainment centre. It will also support Dolby Surround when listening via headphones.

In terms of weight, the new HTC One M9 weighs about 157g, relatively light considering its full metal chassis. It also comes with a slightly larger 2840mAh battery, approximately 240mAh more than the previous HTC One M8.

The software

Wrapped around the operating system is HTC's Sense 7 UI software that sports several improvements over its previous iteration (Sense 6).

In the home screen, one would immediately notice a slight change in how it displays the apps, categorizing the apps and grouping them under several scenarios, namely Work, Home and Out. These apps appear dynamically in the home screen, with the apps listed based on your usage pattern. HTC believes that the intelligent app suggestion featured in the new Sense 7 will help consumers use the smartphone in a much more intuitive manner.

Also new is a Downloads folder found in the home screen that collects all newly downloaded apps in one single location. This helps keep the home screen clutter-free instead of randomly populating the home screen with app icons. Located beside the downloads folder, you'll find a new suggestions button that lets you discover apps easily with recommendations based on your app usage pattern.

The familiar Blinkfeed is still retained in Sense 7 and it now comes with an added feature that gives contextual recommendations. With this, useful information will appear at the right time, such as suggesting places to eat based on your location.

Personalization continues to be an important part of the new HTC One M9 experience with new thematic customisation. Similar to Xiaomi, you can now download themes to customise the phone's colour scheme, icons, sounds and fonts. It goes even as far as providing tools within the phone and on the web to allow users to build their own themes and share them. HTC indicated that their themes download centre might allow creative users to post and sell their creations in the future.

The new HTC One M9 will be available from mid-March. It will also come with several new accessories including a Dot View II case, clear cases with various colors, active case for waterproofing the phone and an active earphone. Unfortunately, pricing information of the HTC One M9 is not yet available and will be made known upon availability. However, we were told that there won't be any price difference between the duo-tone and single-tone versions.

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