HTC One M9 review: Much hyped, but a disappointing update

Price when reviewed

Camera quality and sample images

Look more closely at the HTC One M9 and you may spy one more external change. Where last year’s M8 had a pair of cameras on the rear – one 4-megapixel shooter for the images, and another for capturing depth-of-field data for image refocusing – the M9 has just the one. It’s now a 20-megapixel unit, which is also capable of capturing 4K video.

HTC One M9 review: Much hyped, but a disappointing update

The camera is fronted with a piece of tough sapphire glass, has an aperture of f/2.2 and it’s accompanied by HTC’s dual-LED, dual-colour Duo Flash. In some respects, it’s an upgrade on last year’s One M8, but in others it’s a downgrade. Unlike Samsung, Apple and LG’s flagship smartphones, the HTC One M9’s camera lacks phase-detect autofocus, which means it hunts around a bit more for focus than its rivals do. It also doesn’t have optical image stabilisation (OIS).

HTC One M9 - 20MP rear camera

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, image quality really ought to be a lot better than it is. In daylight, detail is lost through over-processing and over-compression; despite the 20-megapixel sensor, it delivers less detail than the 16-megapixel camera in the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. In low light,  there’s all sorts of trouble, with shots coming out blurry more often than not, and over-compression striking to rob photographs of precious detail.

HTC One M9 - camera sample

HTC One M9 review - camera sample in bright light

Examining the EXIF data on my test shots shows that, essentially, the M9 prefers low shutter speeds to fast ISO settings when the flash is turned off. In good light this isn’t a problem, but as soon as the light dims, the M9 drops the shutter speed to unsuitable levels (oddly it commonly drops to 1/14sec); the result is loads of blur and totally unusable photographs.

Indeed, independent tests carried out by DxO, the company behind the excellent DxO Optics Pro image processing software, delivered similarly damning results. In its laboratory tests of the HTC One M9’s camera, it found its photo and video output were no better than those produced by the three-year-old iPhone 4S, and equal to last year’s HTC One M8. Its overall DxOMark Mobile score of 69 puts it a long way behind the top-scoring Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which gained 86 in the same set of tests.

It’s a shame, because I like the simplified, revamped camera software. It does a great job of putting advanced controls at your fingertips in manual mode, making it easy to adjust white balance, shutter speed, exposure compensation and focus, while leaving the camera in automatic mode keeps things simple and straightforward. The front-facing camera is pretty good, too. It’s basically the main rear camera from last year’s M8, with a resolution of 4 megapixels, and selfies look largely crisp and well balanced.

HTC One M9 specifications

Samsung Galaxy S6 specifications

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge specifications

ProcessorOctacore (quad 2GHz and quad 1.5GHz), Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoCOctacore (quad 2.1GHz and quad 1.5GHz), Samsung Exynos SoCOctacore (quad 2.1GHz and quad 1.5GHz), Samsung Exynos SoC
Screen size5in5.1in5.1in
Screen resolution1,080 x 1,920, 441ppi (Gorilla Glass 4)1,440 x 2560, 576ppi (Gorilla Glass 4)1,440 x 2560, 576ppi (Gorilla Glass 4)
Screen typeSuper LCD3 (IPS)Super AMOLEDSuper AMOLED
Front camera4MP5MP5MP
Rear camera20.7MP (f/2.2)16MP (f/1.9, phase detect autofocus, OIS)16MP (f/1.9, phase detect autofocus, OIS)
FlashDual LEDDual LEDDual LED
Storage32GB64/128GB (UFS 2 flash)32/64/128GB (UFS 2 flash)
Memory card slot (supplied)MicroSDNoNo
Wi-Fi802.11ac802.11ac (2x2 MIMO)802.11ac (2x2 MIMO)
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1, A2DP, apt-XBluetooth 4.1 LE, A2DP, apt-X, ANT+Bluetooth 4.1 LE, A2DP, apt-X, ANT+
Wireless data4G4G, Cat6 (300Mbits/sec download, 50Mbits/sec upload)4G, Cat6 (300Mbits/sec download, 50Mbits/sec upload)
Size (WDH)70 x 9.6 x 145mm71 x 6.8 x 143mm70 x 7 x 142mm
Operating systemAndroid 5 Lollipop with Sense 7Android 5 Lollipop
Battery size2,840mAh2,550mAh2,600mAh

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