My first Android smartphone was an HTC smartphone. At the time I was fed up with the limitations Apple was crushing the iPhone with, and as I was having fun with Linux and generally messing around with software, I wanted some freedom. So I moved away from an iPhone 3GS to an HTC Desire, which was basically the Nexus One in HTC’s livery. Back in 2010, Android wasn’t the operating system it is now and the landscape was different, with Samsung just getting started with the original Galaxy S while Sony and LG were still figuring out the whole smartphone thing properly. I loved the HTC Desire, I put all sorts of ROMs on it, I enjoyed the soft-touch back to it and even after I switched to a Nexus S to get on the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich train, I still lusted over devices like the Sensation XE and I moved back to HTC with the One X. Aside from some of the worst battery life I have ever experienced on a smartphone, the One X was a good-looking piece of hardware, the screen was great, it looked great and it took pretty great photos. Sadly, I can no longer talk about HTC with the enthusiasm and excitement as I once did, and this is upsetting.
For me, HTC was a brand that didn’t always pull their weight when it came to software updates or battery life, but offered great build quality and thoughtful software enhancements. The HTC One M7 was an excellent device, and I reviewed it some years ago now. I couldn’t stop recommending it to people; my girlfriend still has hers and a number of my friends were hooked on it at the time. In my mind, it blew the Galaxy S4 out of the water, it was just a better phone. It felt better, it sounded better and the software was reasonable and not overwrought with annoying excess. Then the HTC One M8 came along; another great device. While it didn’t change the HTC One formula, it refined one of the best devices from 2013 and made it ever better, again giving Samsung – and everyone else, for that matter – a run for their money.
The HTC One M9 however fell flat, and made me question where the HTC I loved had gone. Now, there’s nothing to say the M9 is a bad phone, I had a number of test devices float past my desk and it still looks great and feels lovely in hand. It still has some of the best speakers found in any smartphone, too. That’s about all I can say about the M9 however, the camera is “good”, the software is familiar and dare I say it, almost tired and as for that excellent build quality, it’s let down by a design that almost feels lazy, at least compared to the efforts by Samsung this year.
Decisions like creating the HTC One M9+ for the Asian market shortly after the M9 launch, then bringing it to Europe months later, make me wonder what HTC are doing. The M9+ is what the M9 should have been when it launched. Forget about the MediaTek processor, the M9+ is just a better device. It competes, the M9 doesn’t. With a Quad HD display, unique camera features and a fingerprint sensor, the M9+ is a device you can recommend to someone looking for one of the best smartphones they can buy. Why this wasn’t the original M9 I can’t understand, but I’m sure there’s a genuine reason behind it.
I can’t pretend to sit behind a desk at HTC, but it seems to me like the company has lost its way, and aren’t quite sure of how to get back on the straight and narrow. Releases like another wave of Desire devices that are not only confusingly named, but offer little in the way of upgrades compared to a previous batch is the sort of move we expect of HTC circa 2012, not the leaner, more efficient HTC the company has supposedly become.
I don’t want this to come across as a negative piece of the sake of it. I have no vendetta against HTC, I just want to know where the good HTC, the HTC that made Samsung devices look like cheap pieces of plastic has gone. In a market where big players like LG and Sony are recycling older designs, HTC needed to bring out something fresh, not follow suit. HTC was there at the beginning, they were leaders, and it would be fantastic if HTC could lead again.