And yet, if anyone asked me why they should pick this phone over its competitors — namely the Samsung Galaxy S6, which comes out on the same day — I'd be at a loss for words. In fact, even if you asked me if this was a necessary upgrade from last year's model, I'd ask what else was going on in your budget before answering.
Which isn't to say that there isn't a lot to praise about the One M9 — even if that praise is a little bit faint. Those who like the HTC One M8 will find a lot to love, including an improved camera, the same great front-facing speakers and elegant construction. HTC's definitely decided not to change a winning formula here, and has even added some polish. The company's changed small, thoughtful things such as the position of the power button — now on the side rather than on the top — to make it easier to hit the button when gripping the 5-inch device with one hand.
It performs just fine in the course of regular use, though it can lag on occasion when photo-editing or showing high-quality video — surprising, given its powerful Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM. Battery life is also strong, with the phone getting through a full day's use on a single charge and even stretching another half-day in the course of my testing. (Some reports have noted that the M9 runs a bit hot; that's not a problem I experienced in my week with the phone.)
HTC has also made some tweaks to the phone's camera, giving it a 20 MP sensor that performs well, though is still a bit fuzzy in low light. You can also take a picture with two cameras at once, and blend your two shots. Overall, though, it should fit the needs of most users. The phone also comes pre-packed with HTC photo-editing software, which lets you drop in cool effects on your pictures, such as the ability to add in a kaleidoscope effect.
If you buy this phone, you will like it. But here's the thing: There's no feature that screams "Buy this phone!" And that's a problem for HTC, and for consumers who are looking for a specific reason to buy this phone over its competitors.
It doesn't have a fingerprint reader, or come linked to any useful services such as those for payment, for music or for extra cloud storage. (Though it does come with a promise for a one-time replacement if you drop the phone, called "Uh-Oh Protection.") It doesn't have built-in waterproofing or even a gimmicky feature like a built-in game control pad.
Basically it's a good phone, maybe even a great one, that just doesn't stand out from the pack. That makes it hard to recommend it to any specific audience — particularly one already mostly locked into Apple or Samsung's universe.