HTC One M9 Review
Details are emphasized more with this new camera, but low lighting performance is just laughable.
Ever since the announcement of the original HTC One (the M7), HTC has gone on to praise the advantages of the “UltraPixel” camera. Rather than jumping the trend of going with higher megapixel count cameras, they’ve instead chosen to stick with the 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera. And with last year’s M8, they’ve brought in a second camera lens to complete its “Duo Camera” system – one that glorified the “bokeh,” or out of focus effect.
To its credit, the effect, when used properly, enabled the M8 to produce some slick looking shots. Although, it still lacked in one key area – detail. For those looking to crop photos, its inability to capture the same level of detail as some other formidable cameras makes it less versatile. Well, it seems as though HTC heard the complaints and acted accordingly for the M9. Armed with a number crunching 20-megapixel auto-focus camera, it’s a considerable jump over its predecessor. Interestingly enough, the UltraPixel camera lives on – though, it’s now been made as the front-facing camera.
Launching the camera app, it’s a familiar layout that doesn’t deviate from what we’ve seen in the M8. Adhering to both novice and enthusiasts, the camera interface is rich in shooting modes and manual controls to appease the latter – while also being simple in its automatic mode. Switching between the modes can be done by swiping down on the interface. Its more notable modes include photo booth, split capture, selfie, panorama, and bokeh.
Let’s start off with the good: detail has been drastically improved over its predecessor. Our arguments and qualms about the M8’s lack of detail are no longer a concern, as the M8’s 20-megapixel camera, without question, captures a ton more to enable us flexibility to crop images post shot without too much loss in quality. Colors, however, appear to be slightly subdued in comparison to the M8, almost to the point of being washed out at times. Despite that, we can assure you that the M9 is capable of taking some incredible looking photos outdoors – just as long as lighting is plentiful, naturally.
Additionally, we also can’t complain about its bokeh and HDR shots either. With the former, the process takes longer to accomplish than on the M8, but that soft out-of-focus look to the background is profound – giving focus to the subject in the foreground. Paying special attention to its HDR snapshots, however, the results seem to be more of a mixed bag. As a rule of thumb, HDR is meant to combine various exposures for a balanced look, but the M9’s HDR shots appear more artificial. Yes, under exposed sections are brightened up to compete against the more neutral exposure of the scenery. In doing this, images favor a hazier looking composition.
Still shot quality is pretty favorable under ideal shooting conditions, but using the M9 for low light photography is totally something else. Sadly, this is arguably the biggest disappointment to the phone. First and foremost, sharp detail is out the door, replaced instead by smudgy looking shots that have difficulty in handling dynamic range. Essentially, brighter areas appear over-exposed. Now, the HDR mode is supposed to tone things down for a more neutral appearance, but the unexpected consequence is that the M9 is more prone to blurring – due to the longer snapshot time for image processing. Yes, the flash is there for the occasion, but photos appear to be a bit more devoid of color.
If selfies are your forte, you’ll be especially pleased by the results from the new UltraPixel front-facing camera of the M9. In comparison to the M8, the M9’s front-facing snapper delivers sharper looking photos – allowing details to blossom more so than those of its predecessor.
Most phones don’t falter when it comes to taking outdoor shots where lighting is ample, that’s just the reality of things. However, as much as many of them excel in that area, a lot generally crumble under low light. The HTC One M9 falls into that category. Sure, we applaud HTC on finally bringing on a camera that solved the detail deficiency of the M8’s camera, but its performance isn’t well-rounded enough to compete against devices like the iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in low light. In fact, it’s a smudgy mess that’ll make you think twice of trying to snag a shot. There’s always next year, right?
This year’s upgraded camera gives the M9 the ability to now record video in 4K resolution, in addition to the usual 1080p. Between the two modes, it’s a no-brainer decision to stick with 4K, just because the results are sharper looking. In comparison, its 1080p video quality is a nightmarish composition that’s light on the details, but heavy on the softer tones. In any event, audio recording is pretty clear and distinct for the most part, and its exposure adjustment is pretty good too, but the camera’s constant focus adjustment can sometimes be bothersome.
Matching its still image quality, the M9’s video recording performance is best reserved for situations when lighting is abundant. Other occasions, low lighting in particular, the M9 frustratingly can’t deliver anything tangible to the table. Noise, ungodly poor detail, and heavy artifacting demolish any hope in making it suitable.
Not only are there a ton of cool photo editing tools at our disposal, but the addition of Dolby Audio Surround helps to solidify its stature of being multimedia centric.
When it comes to the picture gallery, HTC offers a myriad of editing tools at our disposal to give images both a professional and artistic touch. Artistic elements are achieved by using the shapes, photo shapes, and prismatic effects – while things like the double exposure effect adds that professional grade touch by combining two photos together. There are some fun modes as well, like face fusion, which takes two portrait shots and mixes them together.
In true HTC fashion, Zoes are compiled automatically while viewing the gallery, but further enhancements and adjustments can be made later on. Grouping content is based on time and location, so that these Zoe clips are cleverly delightful in capturing the moment. Not everyone will have the time to invest in manually piecing a Zoe together, but it’s pleasant that the M9 can compile some fantastic ones on its own.
By now, it’s no surprise that the Google Play Music app is there for all of our music listening needs. As an alternative, the Sense music player continues to be present in the M9. Honestly, it’s a well thought-out, design conscious music player. HTC’s meticulous attention to presentation is apparent with its music player, as it continues to be one of the more visually attentive ones out there – evident by the visualizer option that’s available, which happens to also display lyrics simultaneously.
Back for another show, the M9 features the timeless classic of bearing dual-front firing speakers with HTC BoomSound. Technically, this year’s pair is slightly at a lower volume output of 72.8 dB, but it’s still rich in tone and deserving of our attention. Not only does it sound robust, but there’s a commanding presence when it emits audio. A new addition to the experience, Dolby Audio Surround, offers greater sound fidelity when it’s placed into music mode.
However, its usefulness and presence is felt most when watching videos, since theater mode adds a layer of depth to the audio experience. Hardly a shocker, the M9 is the perfect thing for the video watching experience – thanks in part to how audio is projected toward us, while all sorts of high-def videos come to life on its gorgeous screen.