Event Coverage

Hands-on with the HTC One M9+ (Update: Price & Availability!)

By Michael Low - 28 Apr 2015

Hands-on with the HTC One M9+

 

Overview

Ever since HTC unveiled its new flagship – the HTC One M9 – in Barcelona, fans from our part of the world have been clamoring for its distinctive full-metal unibody design, which marries smooth curved edges with an industry's first dual-tone finish. Rumors soon surfaced of a larger, more feature-packed version of the One M9, which then culminated in the existence of the China-exclusive HTC One M9+ – announced a little over one month after MWC 2015.

With two variants announced and no local release date in sight, we were understandably anxious to hear the official words from HTC Malaysia. After weeks of trepidation, it looks like the all-metal flagship smartphone will indeed be coming to Malaysia after all. The good news? HTC has opted to introduce the One M9+ in Malaysia. Here's what we know from our brief hands-on time with the device.

Design

Here's a close look at the new HTC One M9+, which sports a 5.2-inch WQHD (1,440 x 2,560) display. This model here is the two-tone Gold on Silver variant. The familiar dual speaker array makes a welcomed return with BoomSound and Dolby Audio Surround technology.

When looking at the One M9+ from the front, you'll find that it doesn't stray far from the now-iconic One design language. HTC sees themselves as craftsmen, refining their phones year by year to create the most luxurious smartphone possible by 'making ordinary materials extraordinary'. This time, the all-metal unibody features a dual-tone premium finish, complete with distinct metal edges and smooth curves that actually offer an excellent grip. The "jewelry-grade" hairline brushed finishing, which underwent several iterations, not only coated the One M9+ with scratch-resistant coating, but is also the result of more than 70 steps and 300 minutes of meticulous production. A necessary task given that the chassis needs to undergo two separate processes to achieve its two-tone unibody metal design.

Apart from the obvious size upgrade, the One M9+ is equipped with a 5.2-inch WQHD Super LCD 3 display, which equates to 1,440 x 2,560-pixel resolution for a total screen density of 564ppi. It's also protected by the latest Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The front-facing stereo speakers, known as HTC BoomSound, not only sport built-in amplifiers to enhance your listening experience, but also incorporated virtual 5.1-channel Dolby Audio Surround sound to sweeten the deal.

The Gold on Silver HTC One M9+ next to the Gunmetal Gray variant. The rear camera is now a 20MP Duo Camera with sapphire cover lens. The hairline brushed finishing on the rear chassis is the result of up to 300 minutes of machining, polishing and anodizing.

The 20MP (f/2.2, 27.8mm) Duo Camera found on the rear of the One M9+ is protected by a sapphire glass lens cover, with a secondary sensor above it to capture depth information from foreground and background objects to simulate the 'bokeh' effect found in DSLR and mirrorless cameras. The resulting image, however, will be saved in 4MP size. Switching to Hi-Res mode disables the depth sensor, allowing for full 20MP quality images. While it may not sport OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) like most flagship smartphones, the Duo Camera nevertheless feature 4K video recording.

The top front of the phone is reminiscent of the One M8, this time with an improved HTC UltraPixel front camera for better-looking selfies.

The front camera, on the other hand, is the improved UltraPixel (f/2.0, 26.8mm) camera to ensure brighter and clearer selfies, as well as reduced image noise in low-light situations. HTC's Dynamic Sensing Engine, which brings dynamic auto exposure and dynamic gamma to the camera sensor, helps deliver a more natural and balanced image.

A better look at the dual-tone metal finish, where the Gold on Silver styling is quite subtle. The nano SIM slot occupies the left-hand side of the One M9+.

Dimensions-wise, the One M9+ measures 150.9 x 71.9 x 9.6 mm. It weighs approximately 168g, which is just 11g more than the One M9. It's remarkable how HTC managed to maintain the overall thinness and lightness of these devices in spite of the full metal construction.

On the right side are the power button, a pair of volume buttons, and the microSDXC card slot.

On the bottom lies an off-centered Micro-USB 2.0 port and the 3.5mm stereo audio jack.

Features

HTC Sense 7's contextual Home Widget, which recommends apps for the three scenarios: Work, Home, and Out.

Out of the box, the One M9+ comes pre-installed with Android 5.0.2 Lollipop OS and HTC Sense 7 UI, the latter which carries significant enhancements over the One M8's Sense 6 interface. Some of the new features include the contextual Home Widget, location-aware BlinkFeed suggestions, customizable navigation controls, downloadable Themes, and more, which we have covered extensively here. An Android 5.1 update is planned, but no date has been announced.

Customize the look and feel of your HTC One M9+ from a growing selection of free themes.

Users can download a wide range of themes, including wallpaper images and icon packs, for free from the Themes app. The selections are sorted into categories, though you can always search by keywords to narrow the results further. You can customize an existing theme, or easily make your own by following the simple step-by-step instructions. If that's not enough, there's the Theme Maker Pro (accessible from themes.htc.com) for you to design each individual element to your liking. Your creations can then be published and shared with other HTC users.

   

HTC's new Music app is kept simple and uncluttered.

In addition to the Music app, there's HTC Connect to let you wirelessly connect and stream music from the One M9+ to compatible audio-visual devices via AllPlay (Qualcomm), Bluetooth 4.1, DLNA, and Miracast. They include A/V receivers and wireless speakers from harman/kardon, JBL, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Yamaha. Support for Apple's AirPlay and BlackFire standards will be added by the end of this year. Other connectivity options include built-in NFC, wireless-AC, and MHL 2.0.

The lower BoomSound speaker is split into half to accommodate the fingerprint scanner.  

One of the rumored specs of the One M9+ was a fingerprint scanner, and we can confirm that it's true. Positioned a little below the front HTC logo, the scanner relies on a multi-directional sensor to detect registered prints. Instead of swiping your finger in a single direction (like the One max), the One M9+ requires only a gentle touch from just about any angle to unlock the phone from sleep. Once activated, the scanner doubles as a Home button.

Registering your print is as easy as touching and lifting your finger from the sensor. It took about 4-5 times to complete the process.

Under Sense 7, BlinkFeed promises to deliver a more personalized experience with the addition of Mealtime Bundles, designed to pull up 'makan' suggestions on the lock screen. According to HTC, BlinkFeed now supports 37 languages, resulting in 57 localized editions and content partners such as Foursquare and Yelp. We will update this paragraph once we get the chance to test this feature extensively.

Performance

Back in mid-March, early rumors pegged the MediaTek 6795 as the processor that will be powering the One M9+. Well, the leaker got the MediaTek part right, as HTC has fitted the One M9+ with the Helio X10, a 64-bit octa-core mobile SoC featuring eight Cortex-A53 cores running at 2.2GHz. The One M9, on the other hand, is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, also a 64-bit octa-core SoC, but with four 2.0GHz Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 cores.

Was the decision to adopt MediaTek's solution influenced by off-the-wall rumors of overheating issues with the Snapdragon 810? After all, Samsung famously switched to its in-house Exynos 7 Octa 7420 SoC to power the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. We were told that HTC saw no significant differences in performance between the two SoCs, which led to the adoption of MediaTek"s cost-effective, yet fast-performing chip. Another reason for going with the Helio X10 is its LTE Cat 4 modem, as our local telcos currently do not operate on the latest LTE Cat 6 (LTE-A) standard used in the Snapdragon 810 chip.

The Helio X10, formally announced during MWC 2015, brings a slew of display and camera enhancements, such as 120Hz refresh rate, fast autofocus, and 480fps super slow-motion video recording. Whether or not the One M9+ takes advantage of them all, we can only hope to confirm once we have the unit in for review.

Certain in-game elements may appear smaller than intended on the One M9+'s WQHD display, such as Angry Birds here. 

In our brief hands-on time with the device, we found the UI to be smooth and snappy on the bright 5.2-inch WQHD display. At 564ppi, sharpness and details are spot-on, while the rich colors and 16:9 aspect ratio makes video viewing (particularly Full HD content) a pleasure. Games like Clash of ClansMonument Valley, and Star Wars: Commander scale beautifully on the native 1,440 x 2,560 resolution, but certain titles like Angry Birds ended up with overly small buttons. The front BoomSound speakers offer excellent loudness, and a good mix of clarity and bass during music and video playback. 

HTC plans to introduce more shooting modes via Google Play updates. RAW shooting is expected to be added in May next month.

Picture-taking is easy and fuss-free, thanks to the inclusion of HTC Eye Experience. Our test shots, which were mainly taken in well-lit situations, came out slightly warm in Auto White Balance mode. Having said that, focusing was swift and accurate under most conditions. Those who enjoy personalizing their photos further can do so with the built-in Photo Editor, which allows for creative effects like Double Exposure, Face Fusion, Prismatic, and more. There's also the One Gallery, which aims to organize your photos from Facebook, Picasa, Dropbox, and Flickr in one easy-to-access place. Instagram support is planned before the end of the year.

Touch Up options at a glance.

Yours truly with skin smoothening enabled. <br>f/2.0 at 3.50mm, 1/33s, ISO 250

Details are well-preserved. <br>f/2.2 at 4.73mm, 1/20s, ISO 250

Love it or leave it, the One M9+ is designed with a non-removable 2,840mAh battery, identical in capacity to the One M9. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S6 sports a 2,550mAh battery (also non-removable) with fast charge and built-in wireless charging capabilities – two features not present in the One M9+ (or most smartphones for that matter). According to the HTC representative, users can expect around 10 to 14 hours of battery life with average usage (e.g. social messaging, web browsing, light gaming).

Availability

Both the Dot View II and Active Case are constructed with a clear back design. After all, why hide the premium metal body of the One M9+?

Luckily, you won't have to wait long to get your hands on the new HTC One M9+ as it will be made available in early May with 3GB of RAM, 32GB onboard storage, 115GB worth of Google Drive storage, and a microSD card slot that supports up to 2TB of expandable storage. Two color variants: Gold on Silver and Gunmetal Gray will be available at launch, while Gold on Gold is expected to be introduced later this year.

Update (April 28, 7:00pm): The Gold on Silver and Gunmetal Gray HTC One M9+ will be available from April 30, 2015 onwards for a recommended retail price of RM2,599 (inclusive of GST).

To take advantage of BoomSound with Dolby Audio Surround, the One M9+ will be bundled with an "audiophile-grade" earphones, whereas the HTC Pro Studio earphones are sold separately. Just like what they did with the One M9, HTC will have the all-new Dot View II cases and Clear Case covers in an assortment of colors, along with the Active Case for waterproof protection and Active Earphones ready at launch.

There's one other nugget of information worth mentioning: HTC also plans to open up the Dot View APIs to third-party developers, which should result in interesting implementations apart from the standard app notifications.