Overview
Introduction
Design
Display
Hardware
Software and apps
Camera
Audio and video
Performance
Battery life
Conclusion
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HTC One M9+ Review

A feature packed flagship that disappoints
By Abhijeet Mishra on 2015-09-30
Key Features
  • 5.2-inch Quad HD display
  • Octa-core MediaTek Helio X10
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 2,840mAh battery
What we like
  • Premium design
  • Excellent display
  • Good audio quality
  • Accurate fingerprint sensor
What we don't like
  • Disappointing performance
  • Not-so-powerful chipset
  • Average primary camera
  • Unimpressive battery life
  • Jittery 4K video playback
7.5
Our Score
Introduction

HTC chose not to launch its main flagship smartphone, the HTC One M9, in India, instead opting to release the One M9 Plus. Ironically, the M9 Plus is a more feature-packed variant, packing a fingerprint sensor, dual rear cameras, and a slightly larger display with double the resolution of the One M9. But the One M9 Plus makes an important change - it swaps the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU of the M9 with a less powerful MediaTek chip.

The HTC One M9 Plus is priced the same as competing 2015 flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4, and on paper, has all the specifications to match them. But how does the handset compare in actual usage? Read on to find out. 

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Introduction

Design
8

The HTC One M9 Plus follows HTC's tradition of using a lot of metal in the device's construction, giving it a premium feel. However, there are signs that the M9 Plus didn't receive the same design love as HTC's actual flagships. The biggest of these signs is the fact that the front and back of the device aren'ta single block of metal - the back of the phone wraps around half of the phone's sides, making it look like it has a case on the back. Furthermore, the edges on the back are a bit rough - this gives the user good grip but also reduces the elegant feel which HTC uses as a point on its marketing material.

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Design1

The M9 Plus is the first HTC smartphone to feature a fingerprint scanner on the front. Like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Apple iPhone, the M9 Plus uses a touch-based sensor, though it requires slight pressure before it detects a fingerprint, and while accurate, its position at the very bottom of the phone makes it a tad uncomfortable in every usage. The sensor also works as a home button, but for actual navigation the phone comes with software keys that are part of the main display.

These include the back, home and multitasking keys from left to right, and below the screen lie the HTC logo, the fingerprint sensor, and one of the BoomSound loudspeaker grilles. Above the display is the other BoomSound loudspeaker grille, a couple of sensors and the front-facing UltraPixel camera. The right edge of the phone houses the microSD cards slot, volume buttons, and the power button, in that order. All the hard keys are made of metal, with the power button having a textured pattern that makes it easier for the user to detect. 

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Design2

The left edge's sole resident is a slot for a nano SIM card, and the back has the 20MP primary camera, a dual-tone LED flash on its left, and the secondary depth-sensing 2.1MP camera. The entire top side of the device acts as an infrared blaster. At the bottom, you get a microUSB port and the 3.5 mm headphone jack.

The M9 Plus just doesn't feel as exquisitely built as HTC's previous flagships, despite its metallic body. The phone also uses a somewhat ugly two-tone colour; it's also slightly heavy at 168 grams and not so thin at 9.61 mm, and overall, the design is a mixed bag.

Display
9

Smartphone displays have reached a point where every top-of-the-line smartphone offers a viewing experience that's as good as it can be, and HTC has been at the forefront of display technology for some time now. Needless to say, the M9 Plus' 5.2-inch LCD display is excellent, with true-to-life colours and sufficiently deep blacks. Thanks to the Quad HD (2560x1440 pixels) resolution, everything is incredibly sharp, and the touch experience is extremely smooth.

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Display1

The viewing angles are pretty great as well, and the only issue we came across was the display's sunlight legibility. The screen is too reflective, making it hard to discern what is on the screen under direct sunlight (there were times when we could see more of ourselves in the display than its actual content.) Other than that, the viewing experience is right up there with the best smartphones in the market.

The One M9 Plus comes with support for gestures for unlocking the phone and performing various other functions. You can wake the phone up with a double tap on the screen, unlock it and go to the homscreen directly by swiping up on the screen after picking the phone off a table, or launch the camera app by tilting the phone into landscape position and pressing the volume down button. Swiping left or right on the screen when it is off gets you access to lockscreen widgets and the Blinkfeed (more of it in the software section), and swiping down fires up voice dialling. The screen also has a glove mode that increases its sensitivity so you can operate it with a glove on, which can come in handy in really cold weather conditions.

Hardware
8

The One M9 Plus features a 5.2-inch Super LCD3 display with a resolution of 2560x1440 (Quad HD), and is powered by an octa-core Mediatek MT6795T (Helio X10) chipset. The chipset includes eight 64-bit Cortex-A53 processor cores clocked at 2.2GHz (all of which can be active at the same time) and a PowerVR 6200 GPU, a combination that is not as high-end as the processors used in other flagship smartphones in 2015. There is 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage with support for expandable storage (up to 128GB) and USB OTG. 

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Hardware

The camera on the back is a 20-megapixel sensor that has a secondary sensor in a setup that HTC calls Duo Camera, while the front-facing shooter is an UltraPixel (4-megapixel) sensor. In terms of connectivity, the phone supports all the major protocols, including Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4 and 5 GHz), Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC, and 4G LTE. The battery is a 2,840 mAh unit and is non-removable (and so is the back of the device.) An infrared LED (for controlling televisions and set-top boxes) rounds up the list of notable hardware.

The phone's box contents are standard fare. You get a microUSB cable, a charger, and a set of earphones. A pin is included for accessing the microSD and SIM slots, along with a slew of documents including a warranty card and a guide with instructions for adding a SIM card and an explanation of some important features of the device.

Software and apps
9

The HTC One M9+ runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with the company's Sense 7 UX on top, which is one of the nicest custom Android overlays. Everything, from the homescreen icons to the app interfaces is sleek, modern and pleasing to look at. Android Lollipop brings several new design elements to the operating system, and HTC does a good job of mixing them with its own design sensibilities.

In terms of features, HTC adds quite a few things to Android, and most of it is quite useful. BlinkFeed is excellent for anyone who has used news aggregating apps like Flipboard, as it brings everything from the social and online world (based on your interests and feeds) to the homescreen itself. Themes support is another useful feature - you can download third-party themes from the themes store to customize the look and feel of the software, or just select from the many themes HTC puts on the device by default. You can also personalize the placement of the home, back and multitasking keys, and add another key as a shortcut to a function of your choosing.

Then there is the Zoe app, which lets you make a slideshow of sorts of your photos and lets you add music to the same. There's a Kid Mode feature for restricting access to device functions so you can hand it over to a kid (or an adult you don't trust) without worrying about them accessing things you don't want them to. A file manager, voice recorder and other such apps - which don't come preloaded on stock Android - are included as well.

Camera
6

The 20-megapixel rear camera on the M9 Plus is, frankly, a disappointment. Despite the high-resolution sensor, the phone only managed to churn out mediocre images that had noticeable noise and compression. The Xperia Z series from Sony, which uses a 20.7-megapixel camera, can capture images that have a lot of detail, but HTC fails to come close to even the Xperia Z1 from 2013. Nighttime photos come out worse than those taken in ample light, and the phone also had issues focusing on close-up objects, making it a poor choice for those that love taking macro shots.

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Camsample1

The secondary Duo Camera sensor on the back is used for storing depth information with every photo, which allows you to change the object of focus on a photo and blur the rest. Thanks to the dedicated sensor, this works very well, with a near-perfect blurring out of the things you don't want to focus on. However, this is a function you will probably use very rarely, so it doesn't exactly make up for the shortcomings of the primary camera.

HTC ONE M9 PLUS- Camsample2

Video recording is unimpressive as well, with the lack of hardware-based optical image stabilization resulting in noticeable shake when the camera panned too quickly, though details and color reproduction were sufficient. The phone can record 4K videos, but you would be better off sticking to 1080p videos as 4K videos mostly serve to increase the file size rather than affect the overall video output.

Thankfully, the UltraPixel camera on the front is pretty good. HTC's UltraPixel technology uses a larger pixel size to capture more light, and this works great for selfies and is something we would like to see on more smartphones. Details are plentiful for a front-facing camera, though it does have the tendency to capture more light than you would need at times. 

HTC ONE M9 PLUS - Camsample3

The camera app provides advanced controls that can be used for customizing various settings, such as exposure, shutter speed and ISO values, so advanced users can get better results than the automatic shooting mode can offer. Using the app is quite simple, and switching between the front and back cameras can be done by simply swiping in from the edges of the display.

All things considered, the imaging experience on the One M9 Plus is severely lacking. Cameras on considerably cheaper devices work much better, and for photography buffs, devices like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4 are a much better buy in the same price range.

Audio and video
8

Thanks to the high-quality display, browsing, watching videos and playing games is an enjoyable experience on the One M9 Plus. The stereo BoomSound speakers are also a big reason why watching media on the phone is great. Each speaker has a dedicated amplifier underneath and produces impressive sound, similar to  other HTC smartphones that have these speakers. The treble is a bit on the higher side, but the speakers still manage to produce deep enough beats. The phone offers two different sound modes for the loudspeaker - Music and Theater. The Music mode puts focus on the vocals, while the Theater mode distributes sound evenly to produce a surround-sound like effect with the built-in Dolby Audio support.

Audio quality is great on the provided earphones as well. The earphones can get deafeningly loud, and in contrast to the loudspeakers, put more focus on bass. The Dolby Audio setting is off for the earphones by default, though you can toggle it from the persistent notification that shows up in the notifications menu when audio is playing on the device. 

Android supports the playback of most major video formats, and for those it doesn't, users can download third-party apps like MX Player. The M9 Plus doesn't have a dedicated video player, so any videos you have on your phone will have to be accessed from the gallery app. As for the Music app, HTC's offering is pretty nice, with a simple to use interface and all the features you would expect, such as lyrics support, visualizations, and playlist management. You don't get an equalizer, but Dolby Audio/BoomSound make up for that omission.

Performance
5

HTC has been at the top of its game in recent times when it comes to performance on both mid-range and high-end phones, but the M9 Plus is a disappointment in this regard, as the phone can be rather laggy from time to time. This is no doubt a result of the combination of the high-resolution display and the not-so-powerful chipset - a processor with Cortex-A53 cores and a mid-range GPU simply aren't enough to drive a Quad HD display.

From stutters in app opening animations to lags in the camera app when opening the gallery, the One M9+ constantly reminds you that it is not a flagship smartphone, despite the premium build and the equally premium price tag. The phone switches between running smoothly and suddenly stuttering through general navigation through the interface. It also gets noticeably hot,  not to the point of being uncomfortable, but the heating up is frequent enough to stand out like a sore thumb.

HTC ONE M9 PLUS- Performance

Gaming is affected as well, with graphics-intensive titles like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5 failing to offer smooth frame rates. Basic games run fine, but with a near-Rs. 50,000 price tag at the time of launch, the M9 Plus' performance issues are rather unforgivable, especially when compared to competing smartphones like the Galaxy S6, LG G4, or even the affordable ZenFone 2. 

Call quality is excellent, though the earpiece volume is rather low, and it doesn't help that the earpiece doesn't seem to produce sound from its center and therefore requires you to play around with its placement next to your ear. The BoomSound speakers, while offering excellent sound as far as quality is concerned, can't get very loud. You would be better off being in a quiet room if you want to take full advantage of the speakers' otherwise quality output.

Battery life
7

The battery life on the HTC One M9 Plus is what you would call slightly better than average, with the high-resolution display no doubt taking its toll once again (the regular HTC One M9 has the same battery capacity but a more efficient processor and lower display resolution.) On most days the phone had no issues lasting till late evening, but this was mostly with light usage that included some browsing, WhatsApp, Facebook, and phone calls. With slightly heavier usage that included a bit of gaming and constant use of the screen, the battery would need a top-up by 5 o'clock in the evening. 

Like most high-end smartphones today, the HTC One M9 Plus comes with power saving features that help extend battery life. There is a basic power saving mode that limits CPU performance, decreases screen brightness and turns off data connections when the screen is off, and it helps in getting an hour or so of additional usage time. There is also an Extreme Power Saving Mode feature - turning this on disables all but the most basic phone functions and also turns off the internet when the screen is inactive. You can only make calls, send text messages, and access the mail, calendar and calculator apps. Since most of the smartphone functions get disabled, Extreme Power Saving Mode is great at saving battery, with only 2 to 3 percent of charge lost overnight. 

However, battery life is nothing more than sufficient if you don't take the power saving modes into account. It doesn't help that the phone takes a lot of time to reach 100 percent charge - it doesn't support quick charging nor does it come with wireless charging built-in, which means the One M9 Plus isn't the device you should be looking at if battery life is an important feature for you.

Conclusion

The HTC One M9 Plus is priced at Rs. 49,900 in India. For the money HTC is asking you to part with, this phone is a letdown. The design is premium, the display looks great, and the BoomSound speakers deliver high-quality sound, but the M9 Plus fails to really impress in any other aspect. Performance issues are probably the biggest deal-breaker, followed by the mediocre rear camera and the not-so-impressive battery life. The fingerprint sensor and Duo Camera are nice add-ons, but they don't do much to negate the fact that the HTC One M9 Plus is not worth your hard-earned cash. 

Unless a premium design, high-resolution display and great audio quality are your only requirements, you can choose from numerous alternatives in the same price range - the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4 are both top-of-the-line devices with very few faults, and so are last year’s Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4 are good options as well. They might not be true flagships but both of them offer a high-end experience while costing half of what you would have to pay for the HTC One M9 Plus.

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