The next flagship for plucky underdog HTC is right around the corner, likely to be unveiled at an event during or prior to MWC on March 1. Expected to be called the HTC One (M9) – it has also been called the ‘Hima’ as a working title – it would follow on from its gorgeous predecessor the One (M8), and the One (M7) before it.
Photos have leaked of an apparent early version of the handset already. They came courtesy of French website NowhereElse, which has since removed them. The pics show a familiar design with the same beautiful brushed metal frame, front-facing BoomSound speakers and a few other interesting tid-bits such as a physically-accentuated front-facing camera and a garish, plastic bulge surrounding the one on the rear.
These notable changes fit in with other rumours that have suggested significant camera changes being brought in with the (M9), lending more authority to the leaked images.
It should be noted that the image above is from our One (M8) review, and is not one of the leaked (M9) pics.
HTC has been hesitant to embrace the big-screen movement that has been surging ahead almost wantonly in Android. In 2013 when Samsung upped its screen to 5 inches HTC held back to 4.7. Again in 2014 Samsung went up again to 5.2 inches, as did Sony, and LG went to a whopping 5.5 inches for its flagship. HTC held back to 5 inches for the One (M8), although it did bump it up to 5.2 inches in the illusive and niche-aimed HTC Desire Eye.
This year HTC is expected to follow a similar pattern with either a 5 inch or 5.2 inch display. 5.2 inches would seem likely, based on the current phone climate of bigger screens. The photo leaks also show a handset with noticeably thinner bezels than its predecessor, meaning that HTC could slot in a bigger screen with an only nominal increase to overall size.
Current rumours place it as a 1080p screen, which would be both a benefit and a drawback. 1080p is the new 720p, with 2K (2560 x 1440) taking the lead place thanks to the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4 in 2014. This larger resolution delivers around 75% more pixels and greater clarity. However, it is still contentious as to whether or not the pay-off is worth it.
2K screens are a large drain on battery for a benefit that can’t even be seen by users with anything less than perfect vision. Speaking as someone who has become accustomed to 2K, I can feel the difference when I take a step back to 1080p, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
The main problem HTC will have to face is with marketing, should it opt for the old HD tech. If by sacrificing 2K the One (M9) makes it to the 2-day battery life holy grail then it should be an easy sell.
The camera on the One M7 and One M8 weren’t amazing. HTC employed what it calls “Ultrapixel” technology, which is a fancy way of saying it intentionally reduced the number of Megapixels to 4 in order to allow for better low-light photography. This passed muster with the One (M7), but there was almost no upgrade when the (M8) came out, leaving it with a lacklustre shooter next to the likes of the Galaxy S5.
The rumoured 20MP camera on the (M9) is potentially a step too far in the wrong direction. 20MP is serious overkill in a smartphone camera. The best way to highlight this is with the 8MP shooters on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which are the best cameras on the market right now despite their ‘low’ resolution.
Even so, 20MP could still be a marked improvement over the (M8), which delivered great photos when viewed on a smartphone screen, but that were very blurry when blown up on a monitor.
As for that plastic bulge, that has to be an early design placeholder for something else. If HTC has taken one of the most attractive smartphone designs on the market and slapped a plastic bump on the back it would be nothing short of a tragedy.
We also have the question of the ‘Duo camera’ and its fate. The leaked images cut off the top of the phone, so there may or may not be a depth sensor lurking up there as a repeat from the (M8). We hope it isn’t. The depth sensor was a fun toy, but our interest quickly faded as its gimmicky nature became more apparent.
Ultrapixels aren’t dead; they’ve been moved to where they always belonged: the front-facing camera. The One (M8) had a very good 5MP sensor for its selfie cam, but we can see a smaller UP camera being just as good, if not better thanks to its low-light abilities.
Both the 20MP rear and UP front-facing camera rumours are very plausible. HTC needed to ditch its rear camera approach, but there’s no reason to let that UP name and R&D go to complete waste.
Under the hood
The hardware rumours are almost unanimous: a snapdragon 810 octa-core CPU (very powerful) backed up by 3GB of RAM (basically standard these days).
We’ll also see a new version of HTC’s Sense UI, which should be appropriately titled Sense 7. With any luck this will be even sleeker and more minimalist than its predecessor.
Despite the HTC Desire EYE debuting with impressive water resistance, we doubt the (M9) will boast similar survivability against liquids. If for no other reason than a water-resistant metal phone has never been done before, it feels unlikely that HTC would take this step.
Of course, there’s every chance that we could see an (M9) proudly sitting at the bottom of a plexiglass display container filled with water come March 1st. If we do, we’ll be the first ones smiling about it.
When can I get it?
The (M8) was unveiled on March 25 last year and was released ont he same day on the Verizon network in the US. It took about two weeks to make it to other markets, just narrowly beating the Samsung Galaxy S5 to shelves in more than one country.
By contrast the GS5 was unveiled at MWC (just like the M9 will be this year), and didn't hit many shelves until April.
In 2015, HTC could go either way. Last year's almost immediate release could indicate a similar tactic this time around. However, announcing its new flagship so long after Samsung had already unveiled the GS5 may have damaged HTC from a marketing perspective. That the Taiwanese company will be unveiling its flagship for 2015 right alongside its largest competitor could be a sign that it has adopted Samsung's timeline: announce early, release later.