The latest smartphone in HTC's One premium line is as flashy as ever, but competing phones offer better security and more productivity-boosting features. Still, the One M9 remains an enticing option for business users, thanks to its gorgeous, durable metal design and top-notch videoconferencing capabilities. But with heavy hitters like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 on the market, does the HTC One M9 do enough to stand out?
A good-looking smartphone won't exactly help you do your job, but the One M9's premium design is still one of the best reasons to own the phone. The all-aluminum case feels solid and durable, and the brushed-metal effect on the phone's back is as striking as ever. It's not the best-looking Android smartphone anymore — in my opinion, that title now goes to Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge — but the One M9 still looks like a phone that can justify its premium price.
My review unit came with a gold finish around the edges. It's subtle enough to lend the phone a little extra touch of class, without making the device look gaudy. The back of the One M9 comes in either silver (like my review unit) or gunmetal gray.
There's a trade-off for all that metal: The One M9 is pretty hefty for a 5-inch phone. At 5.5 ounces, it's noticeably heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S6 (4.8 ounces) and the iPhone 6 (4.55 ounces).
HTC wisely moved the phone's power button from the top of the phone in previous models to the side of the device on the One M9. I also like that the power button is located below the volume buttons, which makes it easy to reach.
What I'm not crazy about is the new tiered design of the phone's edges. You can see in this photo that it leaves an angular rim, which made the phone a bit less comfortable in my palm.
Business users might appreciate the inclusion of an SD card slot for expanding the phone's internal storage. That's a plus if you want to store lots of documents or files on your smartphone, and it's a feature you won't find on the Galaxy S6 or the iPhone 6.
A big smartphone screen gives you more space to work. But the bigger you go, the more a phone starts to feel unwieldy. That might be why HTC decided to buck the general smartphone trend of yearly size increases for its flagship smartphone. The HTC One M9 retains the midsize 5-inch screen of last year's model, as well as the same 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution.
As with the Galaxy S6 (which has a similarly sized 5.1-inch screen), I think the One M9 strikes a pretty good balance between screen space and portability. And although competing phones like the S6 and LG G4 offer higher-res screens, the One M9's display is more than sharp enough for daily business tasks like managing your email inbox.
Unfortunately, the One M9 lacks one of the best productivity features offered by the S6 and G4: split-screen multitasking. You can still view only one application at a time on HTC's phone.
One handy feature you won't find on many other Android phones is the ability to quickly turn on the display by picking up the device and double-tapping the screen, which is a nice way to glance at new alerts. Double-tapping again turns off the screen.
When it comes to using your smartphone for meeting remotely with clients or colleagues via video chat, the HTC One M9 is unbeatable. For starters, it has one of the best front-facing cameras on the market. HTC's UltraPixel shooter produces incredibly crisp and clear images with color accuracy so good it even beats the iPhone 6's selfie cam. Then, there are the large BoomSound speakers, located conspicuously above and below the display. Their audio is both louder and clearer than that of competing smartphones' speakers, and the speakers' location on the front of the device means you can prop up your phone to view the screen, without sacrificing audio quality.
Like Samsung devices, HTC's smartphones run on a customized version of the Android operating system. But HTC has a much lighter touch, tweaking the OS in a few meaningful ways but largely keeping the underlying Android 5.0 Lollipop interface intact.
If you're using an Android phone with an older operating system, you'll notice a few nice work-centric features in Lollipop. For example, it includes build-in wireless printing capabilities, new ways to view and act on incoming emails from the lock screen, and a new Priority Mode that gives you granular control over when you receive smartphone notifications. That feature comes in handy when you don't want to be interrupted by unimportant alerts during a business meeting.
One of the more interesting software features that HTC added is a location-based home screen. Once you set your home and work locations in the Settings menu, the phone can use its built-in GPS sensor to determine where you are and, based on your location, change which apps are displayed. For example, it might show you your calendar, work email, Notes app and LinkedIn when you're at work, and then switch to social media and entertainment apps at home.
Some users might prefer to manually set which apps are shown, but I think the One M9's location-aware home screen is useful. Of course, you can manually switch between app groups with a few taps, or turn off the feature altogether.
A good selection of productivity apps comes preinstalled on the One M9. You get Polaris Office 5, which is pretty good for editing and creating documents and spreadsheets on the go. You also get Google apps like Drive for backing up your documents and files to the cloud, and Hangouts for messaging and videoconferencing. Meanwhile, Scribble is nice for jotting down a few notes or creating a task list.
It's not the fastest smartphone on the market, but the One M9 is more than speedy enough for the average daily workload. In fact, it's equipped with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM, which makes it one of the most powerful smartphones currently available. Apps generally open and close quickly, and multitasking feels snappy.
The Galaxy S6 is quite a bit speedier, however. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the One M9 scored a very good 3,818. While that's well above average, the S6 trounced it, scoring 5,120. For basic productivity tasks, though, you won't notice much of a difference between the two phones.
The One M9 doesn't offer any extra security features beyond the basic ones that come standard with the Android operating system, like the ability to set a PIN or pattern to lock your device. That's a bummer, since both the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 offer excellent fingerprint scanners, which are easier to use and more secure than a password. The Galaxy S6 is also compatible with Samsung's Knox software, which separates your work apps from your personal apps, and also provides enterprise-level encryption for messaging.
Here's something you won't get with most other smartphones: HTC offers a free one-time replacement plan in case your phone gets damaged during the first 12 months you own it. That's right — HTC will give you a new One M9 if you crack the screen or drop the phone into a pool, with no questions asked. If you depend on your smartphone for work, that's a really nice perk.
Business users who need a smartphone that can last through a long workday — or a long business flight — should be reasonably satisfied with the One M9. It ran for 7 hours and 14 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That's not terrible, especially since many slim, powerful smartphones like the iPhone 6 (7:27) and the LG G4 (7:38) ran only a little longer in our tests. But the Galaxy S6 outlasted them all, with an above-average runtime of 8 hours and 32 minutes.
Samsung's Galaxy S6 offers a sharper display, better security and longer battery life than the One M9, though it lacks an SD card slot. It's our favorite overall business phone.
Apple's iPhone 6 has a smaller, 4.7-inch screen but offers better security features than the One M9.
LG's G4 has a larger, 5.5-inch screen and lets you swap out the battery — something the One M9's sealed design doesn't allow.
The HTC One M9 is an all-around excellent device. If you want a phone that performs well for video chats, the One M9 is it. Plus, it sports a beautiful design; a nice, bright display; and some nifty location-tracking features that can save you a bit of time here and there.
Still, most business users will get a better bang for their buck from another smartphone, even if you love the One M9's all-metal case. Phones like the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 offer better security features, better performance and better battery life. It's great for personal use, but if I were looking for a new work phone, I'd choose something else.