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HTC One M9 deep-dive review: Third time's (almost) the charm

JR Raphael | April 9, 2015
HTC's latest luxurious smartphone isn't a radical upgrade, but it offers subtle refinements that bring it closer to perfection.

htc one m9

When you start with something exceptional, subtle refinements can go a long way.

That seems to be HTC's philosophy with its One line of flagship phones. From the first One (M7) device to last year's One (M8), the company kept the same critically praised foundation and introduced numerous iterative enhancements. And now, that same tactic is in play once again with this year's One M9, which sees HTC sticking to its guns and working to fine-tune the phone ever closer to perfection.

The One M9 goes on sale at all the major U.S. carriers on April 10 (the same day Samsung's Galaxy S6 debuts -- coincidence?). It'll generally cost $200 on contract or $600 to $700 unlocked, either up front or spread out over a monthly payment plan. HTC is also selling an unlocked version of the phone directly for $649.

So what's the new One actually like to use -- and has HTC done enough to make it worth buying? After using it as my main phone for the past several days, here's what I've discovered.

Body and display
Let's get one thing out of the way first: Yes, the One M9 looks a lot like its predecessor. But aside from people who spend their time studying smartphones, who really cares?

It's easy to get caught up in the tech-blog bubble that tells us every new device needs to reinvent the wheel and introduce a dazzling new design. The truth, though, is that last year's One (M8) was a spectacularly well-designed phone that's held up remarkably well over time -- and while refining something that works may not excite pundits, it's not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to real-world usage.

I realized that quickly when I took my M9 review unit out of its box last month: Familiar as it may be, the new One shows a level of sophistication and attention to detail that few other electronics can match. This is one thoughtfully designed phone, and the changes from last year's flagship -- while undeniably subtle -- add up to make a meaningful difference in what the device is like to use.

To wit: The One M9 is a touch shorter and narrower than last year's M8, at 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.38 in. and 5.5 oz. Factor in a less slippery finish on its back and a newly added "lip" along its perimeter, and the phone is significantly more comfortable to hold than its predecessor. At last, the One no longer feels awkwardly tall or annoyingly slippery. The improvement is evident from the moment you pick up the new device.


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