Living with the HTC One M9: fast and furious (week 2)
posted by Victor H.
May 22, 2015, 7:16 AM
The HTC One M9 might not look like an all-new device: it retains the visual style of the previous two HTC One flagships with a stylish unibody aluminum that nestles in the hand nicely with that subtle curve on the back of the phone. However, that lack of significant novelty in visual style is deceptive: the phone is new and exciting in subtle ways that I'm eager to explore. In this 4-week series, I'd be exploring the hidden avenues of the HTC One M9, as I use the phone as my daily driver.
After focusing my attention on the HTC One M9 display quality in the first week, this second week of living with the phone as a daily driver, I focus on the interface with all its little quirks. The other question that bothered me is whether that always talked-about Android lag is present on the One M9, or whether that's just another myth that just keeps on spinning on the interwebs.
It's often the little things that make a big difference when they start piling up. One such little convenience that HTC offers is a look at the current weather conditions right from the lockscreen, along with the time and date. This is such a no-brainer that it's hard to explain why most other Android phone makers don't offer such a feature on the lockscreen. Yes, you can use lockscreen widgets to get such a functionality, but not everybody knows how to do it, and it is just a waste of time setting up something that is useful to practically everyone. I also love the attention to detail, as you can see that HTC has used well-looking fonts and overall such small touches are tastefully well done in HTC Sense 7.0. The other convenience that we love having on the One M9 is the upwards swipe gesture to unlock phone, which works very well and feels very natural. Ah, if we could also have double tap to lock the phone, as we have on LG phones!
Once you unlock the phone, there are a few things that catch the attention: the first one is the new contextual widget that shows your most used apps depending on your location: it shows different apps at work, at home, and when you are out and about. It is an interesting touch and you can resize it to fit more apps, but for me, it was more confusing rather than helpful as just as I was used to finding an app in one place, when I returned back from work, I would instinctively tap on that space (muscle memory!), only to start another app.
It's such a shame that Android still does not have an actually useful Quick Search function! Even though I am not using the iPhone on a regular basis, I miss sorely the instantaneous Spotlight Search that allows me to just type the name of the app and launch it right away. Android's Quick Search on HTC Sense, on the other hand, would return web searches first, and the apps only after them, but you have to scroll down and it just feels like a huge waste of time. Stock Android has this very nice interface for Quick Searches, as it shows you app results separated from search and instantly accessible, but for some weird reason HTC has decided not to adopt this neat layout.
As we've started with the rant, there are other things that feel wrong in Sense 7.0: searching contacts for instance. Most of the time, I call my favorite contacts, a list of a few people that I contact most often, but occasionally, I need to call someone I talk to less often. Naturally, the phone dialer is usually set on the Favorites tab, so I just use the search button on top to search for that contact... only to get no results. The reason is that HTC has decided that the search option in the Favorites tab only searches through your favorite contacts. This, however, makes no sense: most people would have only a few Favorite contacts, and it's only logical for the search to work across the whole list of contacts, but it doesn't - you need to switch to the contacts tab in order to perform such a search. Yes, it's nit-picking, and yes, those are tiny details, but they do matter.
The Play Store and search icons in the app drawer are a nice touch
On a more positive note, we love that HTC has added a Play Store icon in the app drawer. The Play Store is the one I keep on wondering where to place on my home screen - sometimes I use it a lot and I feel it deserves to be right in my home panel, but once I've downloaded all I need, I tend to not visit the Play Store at all. And since there is no actually useful Universal Search, it is those small decisions that bother me. Having it neatly in the app drawer is something I got used to quickly and that freed me from having to decide where to place it. Also, unlike the search for contacts, the app search in the app drawer is fast and very useful. Now, if only we could have the same option available from the home screen and not only the app drawer!
While using the phone daily, I have grown even more appreciative of the brilliant sound blasting from the front-facing speakers (since I'm that guy that falls in bi-weekly productivity holes when you just NEED to watch an hour or so of epic fail videos on YouTube on his phone, and sound does matter). However, the same issue that has bothered me in the original HTC One, persists here: volume is disturbingly, scaringly, distressingly loud at even the lowest settings. Sometimes the phone would ring, and it would just scare people around with the suddenly blasting out loud melody. I wish it had a volume setting that would reduce the volume to a more reasonable level at the lowest levels.
Then, the HTC One M9 has this weird issue with voice commands: the voice recognition service would start randomly just as the phone is quietly relaxing alongside on a table. It would just pick up some random table talk and decide that it's a wake-up call for it to intervene in a dinner conversation. It happened more than once, and more than twice, and that's not something that has ever happened to me on any other phone.
With all these little annoyances, though, the HTC One M9 is blazing fast.
And yes, it does have that typical Android lag you keep on hearing about. And maybe lag is not the right word, it's rather a stutter that is there everytime when you start an app. It's a split second moment in time that is not a deal-breaker, but once you start noticing it, you cannot UN-notice it. Time freezes in that split-second moment, and I start counting the milli-seconds using some sort of a subsconscious calculator I seem to have built in. In comparison, the iPhone simply does not have such a stutter. Yes, it can lag, but its lag is different - a dropped frame here and there, but it does not have this extremely short, split-second stutter that Android on the One M9 has.
The thing is that even with this split-second stutter, HTC Sense is wicked fast. Snap, snap, snap - everything is made to start up as fast as possible. While other skins would add animations to smooth out transitions, HTC just goes for speed, and that's a great thing.
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