In 2013 and 2014, HTC was the undisputed champion of Android smartphone design. With the One M7 and M8, HTC showed that Apple wasn't the only company that could take a slab of aluminum and craft it into one of the most gorgeous tech products ever made. Those two phones were masterpieces in the mobile world.
The M9 makes some slight improvements on that same design, and is still one of the most stunning pieces of kit available to smartphone shoppers (and, as you can see, it's also incredibly photogenic).
But the problem is the HTC One M9 only slightly iterated on last year's One M8 – which itself was only an iterative update to the One M7. The mobile world moves quickly, and while Samsung pushed its flagship forward by leaps and bounds this year, HTC only coasted forward a few inches.
Mobile devices keep getting lighter and thinner, with Apple and Samsung regularly pushing those boundaries with their never-ending game of one-upmanship – but HTC is sitting that one out. After handling recent flagships like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and the Galaxy S6, we find the M9's thickness and weight to be a little … last-gen. It feels bulky and heavy compared to all three of those phones.
Specifically, the M9 is 14 percent heavier and 41 percent thicker than the Galaxy S6.
The Galaxy S6 shows what Samsung's designers can do when they cut the chintzy plastic and go an a diet of all-premium materials. The phone has an aluminum frame sandwiched between two panes of Gorilla Glass 4, and it adds up to an all-around high-end feel that's at least on par with the M9.
The One M9 does, however, have an ace up its sleeve. HTC threw in a killer warranty that includes accidental damage coverage. Within the first year, if you break the One M9's screen, inflict water damage on it or even if you switch carriers, HTC will give you a one-time replacement.
A warranty isn't exactly a sexy selling feature, but the key here is that you can use the One M9 without a case. Finally, a company has addressed the greatest irony of the smartphone world: we're drawn to these beautiful, high-end designs, but then we feel compelled to hide them inside cases. With the M9 you can be a smartphone nudist without any worries (or at least until you've used your one replacement, you can).
The Galaxy S6 has one of the best displays right now in mobile, and while we don't have any big problems with the One M9's screen, put the two side by side and it's clear which one comes out ahead.
The GS6 has a 4 percent bigger screen, but it seems like a bigger difference because the One M9 reserves some space at the bottom of its display for virtual navigation buttons. The GS6 uses physical and capacitive buttons below its screen, so 100 percent of its 5.1-inch display is reserved for app content.
The GS6's Quad HD Super AMOLED screen is also 31 percent sharper (based on pixel density), with richer and, at least to our eyes, more accurate colors.
We think the Galaxy S6 has the better camera, at least in lower-lit settings. Here are a few unedited (but downscaled to 1,060 px. wide) samples, taken within seconds of each other on the two phones:
The banana shot, taken in a well-lit indoor setting, is the only one where we prefer the M9's quality (the GS6's shot looks artificially saturated). We'd call the outdoor landscape a draw (both look great), but once you get into the dimly-lit shots, the Galaxy S6 has a big advantage. The One M9's performance in the poorly-lit air canister shot is far behind, and its flash shot looks much more …"flashy" than the S6's does, with that yellowish/greenish hue cast over the scene.
The Galaxy S6's camera also launches faster and more easily: just double-tap its home button and you're good to go. Using this shortcut with the S6, we can go from locked phone to snapped pic in under two seconds. The same test on the M9 yields about a four-second time.
Smartphone speakers probably aren't something you think about when buying a new phone, but HTC's front-facing BoomSound speakers are worth taking note of. If you watch lots of video or listen to tunes without headphones, they could tip the scales in the M9's favor. These suckers are head and shoulders above just about every other smartphone speakers we've used.
On the other hand, if a fingerprint sensor or wireless charging is on your radar, then the Galaxy S6 has both. The One M9 has neither.
As far as performance goes, the GS6 scores around 15 percent faster in GeekBench 3's multi-core benchmark, but in regular experience the M9 feels just as fast. Both handsets will zip through just about anything you can throw at them, and should be able to handle the most demanding games for at least another generation or two.
Battery life is another tick in the Galaxy S6's column. In our benchmark (streaming video over Wi-Fi with brightness at 75 percent), the Galaxy S6 dropped 11 percent per hour, while the One M9 dropped 18 percent per hour.
In regular use, we also find that the GS6 tends to last a bit longer.
Both handsets run Android Lollipop, with respective manufacturer UIs (Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense) sitting on top. Our best advice here is to play around with both phones in a retail store and see which software you prefer. Fortunately both Samsung and HTC kept things relatively subtle this year, avoiding the temptation to cram too much goop and glitz on top of an already-rock solid OS (something Samsung wasn't so good at in years past).
There are lots of great smartphones you can buy today, and if you can wait a bit longer, we should see some new flagships from Apple, Motorola, Samsung (the Note 5), Google and perhaps even HTC between now and the holidays. If you can hold your horses, you may have better options very soon.
If you insist on buying a phone right now, though, then the One M9 is a solid enough choice (it's only "disappointing" because HTC has set such a high bar for itself), while the GS6 is easily one of your top choices. If you're drawn to the One M9's design, performance and warranty – and can live with its inferior camera, display and battery life – then maybe it's the phone for you. Otherwise you can't go wrong with the GS6's awesome display, camera and longer battery life.
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