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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.

The M9's all-aluminum exterior gives it a classy, luxurious look -- and a premium feel to match. The smooth metal is a pleasure to run your fingers over and feel against your hand, and the phone's gently curved back makes it fit naturally into your palm (unlike the flat nature of glass-backed devices, which look nice but are never terribly ergonomic). HTC calls it a "jewelry-grade" material, and it really does seem precious.

The phone's power button, meanwhile, has moved from its top edge -- where it was always awkwardly out of reach on previous One models -- to the device's right side, which should be a far more user-friendly location.

Note that I said "should be." The issue is that the One's power button now sits directly beneath the volume buttons -- and since all three buttons are roughly the same size and shape, it's tough to tell which is which by touch alone. (The power button does have a slight texture to it, but it's not pronounced enough to be immediately obvious.) The buttons are also frustratingly recessed into the device, which makes it tricky to find them with your fingers.

After several days, I've been able to more or less get used to the setup and remember where each button resides, but it's still anything but ideal -- such a simple thing to get wrong on an otherwise artfully designed device. On the plus side, HTC has built some gestures into the phone that can help you get around having to use the power button much of the time: You can double-tap the screen to turn it on, for instance (though not to turn it off, unless you're on the lock screen), or swipe up on the screen to power it up and unlock it in one fell swoop.

Speaking of the screen, the One M9 has a 5-in. 1080p LCD panel that looks great indoors and out, with sharp detail, rich colors and ample brightness. It's an excellent demonstration of the fact that, for most practical purposes, Quad HD resolution on a screen this size really isn't necessary and doesn't add anything to the user experience.

One thing the M9 has that does add to the user experience is its superb set of front-facing stereo speakers, known as BoomSound. The dual speakers sound loud, crisp and full, and make the experience of watching videos or listening to music on the device a noticeable cut above the rest.

It's worth noting that along with the One's top-notch hardware comes a new "Uh Oh" protection plan that entitles you to one free full phone replacement if you get any screen cracks or water damage within your first year of ownership. HTC will also swap your phone out once during that same period if you decide to switch carriers -- and if you don't take advantage of either of those offers, the company will give you a $100 credit toward the purchase of a future HTC One phone if you want it down the road.

 

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