HTC One M9: The good, the bad and the ugly

When reading this review it is important to keep in mind that I’ve been spoilt by the seamless nature of the integration between the iPhone 6S and iMac/MacBook Pro so it might come off sounding a little harsh but it is being written from the perspective where Apple has set a high standard and any alternatives that are to step into the place off the iPhone has to rise to meet that standard set. I gave the HTC One M9 a try both using custom domain hosting through the Google App’s as well as creating a Gmail account that the average Joe Sixpack would be using if they went out to purchase an Android phone (I didn’t bother using another email service provider given it would require me to then setup another Google account for the Google services so it is easier to just have everything in the one place). To make the experience pleasant I bought a nice cover for the phone along with extra storage (128GB MicroSD card) along with investigating how I could make the experience as close to what I could achieve with OS X and iPhone 6S.

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 In terms of synchronising the bookmarks and passwords to the cloud required moving to Chrome from Safari which unfortunately means having to deal with Chrome and all its problematic quirks from its memory hogging, it’s high CPU utilising nature and propensity to lock up OS X (when I mean ‘lock up’ I can still move the mouse but I cannot interact with the UI then suddenly it’ll come back to life most of the time) but unfortunately it is one of the sacrifices you have to make if you want the full experience – swallow Chrome warts and all or find that none of the bookmarks and passwords aren’t sync’ed (you can use HTC Sync Manager but that requires you to manually synchronise but that doesn’t do passwords unfortunately). When it comes to being able to answer the phone or text message you need to pick up a copy of ‘HandsFree 2’ which takes advantage of bluetooth rather than the combination of bluetooth and wifi which means you have to pair your phone to your computer before answering/making telephone calls or sending/receiving text messages. This is one of the things you have to be prepared to do when you do migrate away from the ecosystem of Apple – as part of the cost relating to the purchase of an iPhone includes the many features that you would otherwise have to be pay separately if you want a similar experience.

In regards to synchronisation I have a basic rule of thumb, “cables rule”, hence I always prefer going for a direct cable connection from my phone to the computer rather than buggering around with trying to get wireless synchronisation to work not to mention that once it does work there is a performance and battery life penalty involved with such a setup. There are three options that I tried:

1) HTC Sync Manager

2) Android File Transfer

3) SyncMate

The HTC Sync Manager suddenly stopped working with El Capitan (HTC Sync Manager version 3.1.72) but it suddenly started working in a later release (HTC Sync Manager version 3.1.77) but the detection of the phone was excruciatingly slow and buggy at best where at times it’ll be detected whilst other times it it would try and try then suddenly give up with nothing found. This is one of the things I complain about regularly when it comes to Android phones – the crappy state of software and it isn’t just something that affects OS X users but also impacts Windows users as well. I’ve used HTC Sync Manager on Windows and Kies from Samsung on Windows and the experience is just as lousy. I could understand the Android vendors treating OS X customers as an after thought given the low percentage of marketshare and most Apple users probably going to use an iPhone anyway but it is pretty unforgivable for them to put such a half assed effort into support Windows given that it is the primarily platform that most people will be using and more importantly something most people expect to ‘just work’ out of the box – iTunes for all its faults has never been this bad.

I then moved onto SyncMate which works once you, through trial and error rather than documentation, enable XML sharing from the iTunes library but be prepared for UI lag if you have a big library that needs to be read then once read and music selected the synchronisation isn’t wholly reliable as I found on several occasions where the synchronisation would come up with an error. Lets assume that it did work – that still requires money out of pocket for something that one expects to done by the vendor itself rather than having to rely on third parties to provide basic reliable functionality.

Now onto Android File Transfer – a bare basic MTP file manager where you drag and drop your files to where you want which is reliable in every situation I used it but the downside is that you have to manually keep track of files, create directories when you want to copy just a specific album. The other problem faced is that with the HFS+ file system used on OS X you can use characters such as ? and ! in the file name and it’ll still work but in the Android world you cannot copy files with those characters in the file name hence I had to go through all my music collection with Kid3 to rename files that had the characters that were incompatible. Where as iTunes handles those things on the fly, in the Android world there isn an implicit assumption that you won’t have those characters in the name name of your music.

When it comes to Android itself, it is a fine operating system but once again it has its downsides – Google is pushing as much of the Android components into the store as they can but even still end users suffer from a mixture of either getting left high and dry with no updates or when updates arrive they’re either buggy or woefully behind the time. When it comes to the HTC Android experience it is better than most – the Sense 7 UI adds a nice look and feel without being bloated an heavy along with HTC sticking to providing new applications more more functionality rather than the habit of Samsung who simply duplicate what Google has to offer for ‘reasons’ – those reasons boggle the mind because having fiddled with the latest Samsung flag ship phones I have to ask why they’re even there in the first place. The other benefit to moving components into the Play Store also means that HTC can do regular out of cycle updates for their various components which will hopefully allow them to be more responsive to end users needs without having to deal with the maze and bureaucracy that is the carrier approve process.

When it comes to the applications, they just simply aren’t as refined as the iOS counterparts whether it is the ASB banking application, Reddit applications are a hit and miss etc. with very few of the applications I use taking advantage of the material design language so the feel isn’t as smooth or refined. For some people that isn’t a major issue but for me I find that it is one of those signs whether the developer actually cares not just about the big features but also the small minute details that, when added up, contribute to either a position or negative experience. This is one of the main reasons I’m consistently drawn to iOS and OS X – the look and feel as well as the attention to detail with inconsistencies being treated as bugs where as in the Windows world you’re told, “suck it up and accept the fact that the UI is a mishmash clusterfuck of various generations of UI kits”.

When it comes to the early reviews there was a lot of negatively due in part to two factors, the first being the over hype before the release thus getting many fans over excited then when delivered they some how felt robbed by the hype not being delivered (ignoring the fact that HTC never made any promises – it was all unsubstantiated leaks). Second, the problem was that the software when launched was immature resulting in less than stellar results when it came to taking photos – some of it was just over the top whining by those who wanted a camera with a smartphone attached whilst they ignore that it is a smartphone with a camera attached but some of it was genuine. The problems have been addressed and if you were to purchase the HTC One M9 today then you’ll find that the experience is still one of the best Android smartphones on the market other than the Nexus 6P that was launched just recently.

After all that, what is my conclusion? if I wasn’t in the iCloud ecosystem and using a Windows computer then I’d be sticking with the HTC One M9 especially now that Windows 10 has better email, contacts and calendaring integration with Gmail but as a Mac user the problems that exist within the Google ecosystem are there. Chrome is a battery hogging buggy nightmare, the lack of integration requiring third party software to get similar functionality then add on top of that not getting a great experience when it comes to synchronising music with the phone. If the Nexus 6P didn’t exist then I’d suggest getting the HTC One M9 but that being said there is some value with Sense along with allowing HTC to test and tweak Android which acts as an extra layer of testing after Google which provides you with the ease of mind. I won’t give it a score but compared to Samsung, the HTC One M9 is definitely the better Android phone and if you’re wanting a non-Nexus one then the HTC One M9 would be the perfect match.

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