Camera

A new, 20-megapixel camera replaces the ‘UltraPixel’ cam on the back of the One M9, but it is just decent, not great. On a positive note, the selfie cam is one of the best we’ve seen. The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, has one of the finest main phone cameras, but selfies on it don’t look that great.

The HTC One M9 features a 20-megapixel main camera that comes to replace the UltraPixel main cam used in the original One and One M8. UltraPixel, however, has not disappeared completely: it’s moved to the front to capture good selfies in various lighting conditions. The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, sports an 8-megapixel cam with optical image stabilization (the M9 does not have OIS), and a humble, 1.2-megapixel selfie shooter.

Looking at the technical details, HTC has opted to use a large, 1/2.4” Toshiba T4KA7 BSI sensor. With its 20-megapixel resolution, the effect is the totally opposite of UltraPixel and if we had to use HTC’s market lingo, we’d call the M9’s new main shooter a ‘MicroPixel’ camera as pixel size stands at the fairly low 1.1 micron. The iPhone 6 Plus, in comparison, has a larger, 1.5 micron pixels, but its overall sensor size is smaller than the one on the M9. It’s also interesting to note that M9 images are captured with an atypical 10:7 aspect ratio, a mid-point between the iPhone-like 4:3 aspect ratio and the typical for Samsung’s latest phones, widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The One M9 sports an f/2.2 aperture lens with a 27.8mm focal distance, while the iPhone 6 Plus has an identical aperture of f/2.2, but a slightly less wide, 29mm lens.



Looking at the camera app, HTC has not changed much from the original M8 and that’s a good thing as you get quick access to manual controls and overall everything is fairly straightforward. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus lacks such manual controls, but its simplistic camera app has crucial control over exposure, and makes it easy to switch between various shooting modes.

When it comes to image quality, the HTC One M9 does fine, but can’t ‘wow’ us. The 20-megapixel camera captures good detail outdoors (addressing one of the biggest downsides of the M8), but it lacks a bit in sharpness as everything tends to be on the soft side. Colors are mostly fine, but on some occasions they are thrown off by the circumstances (often towards colder tonalities). The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, might not be so rich on fine detail, but it is much more consistent with colors (they are a bit overblown, though).

With scarcer light - shooting indoors or at night - the image quality on the One M9 deteriorates noticeably: images often come out blurry, color consistency is poor when you peek in (with various artifacts), and the phone mistakenly turns on auto-HDR (we suggest you turn off the auto-HDR option for this reason). The iPhone 6 Plus with its optical image stabilization is one of the best low-light smartphone shooters: images come out very sharp with very little effort, and colors are handled nicely.

Both phones come with dual-tone LED flash, and they perform differently when flash is required: the M9 picks higher ISOs and its flash appears to be much stronger, lighting everything very evenly, while the iPhone 6 Plus tends to go with lower ISOs with the flash lighting up the center but not the edges of an image. Take a look at the image samples to see for yourself - we tend to prefer the images from the results with the M9.

As good as the iPhone’s main camera is, the front, selfie shooter has a disappointingly low, 1.2-megapixel resolution. In this era of prevalent selfies, such low level of detail is a disappointment. The selfie cam also captures images with overblown colors that make faces get that unnatural almost carrot-orange look. The One M9’s UltraPixel front camera, on the other hand, is nothing short of superb: just look at the great level of detail that it captures and the fine quality of the images.


Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
HTC One M9 3.75
No data
No data
No data
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 1.93
2.1
435
293


In terms of video, the iPhone 6 Plus records at up to 1080p at 60 frames per second (fps), while the HTC One M9 is now capable of recording 4K videos at 30 fps, as well as 1080p at either 60 fps or 30 fps. We prefer the 4K recordings for their much higher detail, but the One M9 video recording disappoints with slow auto-focusing with a weird, ‘jumpy’ effect, and the lack of stabilization makes recordings appear very shaky. The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, with its good OIS and extremely fast auto-focus manages to capture an overall better-quality videos. Sound recording on both is fine.



Multimedia

HTC Sense adds even more media tricks with double exposure, Zoes, and other photo effects, as well as an improved BoomSound dual front speakers. The iPhone 6 Plus might not have all those fancy effects built in, but it does well in areas that matter.

The new TouchWiz on the One M9 shines with its rich new media functionalities: HTC paid close attention to the gallery app on the M9 and all its various image-editing option, allowing for neat effects like double exposure as well as other, manual adjustments to the exposure and colors of a picture. The iPhone 6 Plus leaves the fancy effects for third-party apps, but when it comes to manual adjustments to images it allows all the flexibility of the One M9 in a very straightforward and user-friendly interface.


HTC has kept the neat Zoe highlight reels feature where you automatically get a short movie of all your recent photos and videos. You’d need a third-party app on the iPhone to achieve a similar effect.

It is music, however, where the One M9 truly shines with its BoomSound dual front-firing speakers. Technically, the speakers are a bit quieter than the ones on the M8 (at 72.8dB on the M9), but you get the same rich sound with depth to the lower tones that is practically missing on the single speaker on the iPhone 6 Plus. Dolby Audio Surround adds more spatial volume to the sound that should contribute to movie watching on your phone (without you needing to connect headphones or external speakers) and with the front firing speakers, watching YouTube videos on the phone is really a very pleasing experience. It’s hard to judge the real-world difference that Dolby Audio in particular makes - it is noticeable - but maybe not all that dramatic as the heavy brand name might suggest.


HTC is also including high-quality audio amps in the One M9, contributing for great music quality when you connect headphones/speakers. The iPhone 6 Plus also does very well in that regard with high quality audio output.

Headphones output power (Volts) Higher is better
HTC One M9 1.022
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 1.014
Loudspeaker loudness (dB) Higher is better
HTC One M9 72.8
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 71.6


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