What do we want to see from the next HTC flagship?
We're reaching the time of year when new phones start to become available, and the first wave of 2015 flagships looks set to arrive at Mobile World Congress in just a few weeks time. Among the many announcements in Barcelona will be the next flagship phone from HTC, which we're assuming will be the HTC One M9.
This will be the third year of the HTC One series (or the fourth, if you include the One X and its contemporaries). Sure, the latest in HTC's line of flagship phones will be faster and more feature-filled than before, that goes without saying. But moving beyond the basic specs, there are a few things we'd like to see from the HTC One M9, based on our time with last year's M8.
1. Same great build quality, less slipperiness
There's no denying that the last HTC One, the M8, is one of the best-looking Android phones of all time, sporting a beautiful curved metal unibody finished with chamfered edges. However, one unfortunate side effect of the M8's shape and materials — particularly in the slick "gunmetal grey" model — is that it's extremely slippery, and just not as easy to hold onto as most other smartphones. In fact, in our experience, it feels less secure in-hand than many larger, "phablet"-sized phones.
Most of us at Mobile Nations have been fortunate enough not to drop our M8s as a result of this, but some haven't been so lucky. And while HTC offers a free screen replacement for the first six months in the U.S., we feel like fewer M8 owners would need to resort to this if the device was a little more secure in the hand.
We don't want to see HTC take a step backwards in terms of build quality. But perhaps it's time to look again at some of the merits of the HTC One M7, or even Motorola's 2014 Moto X with their more angular sides.
2. Ditch the Duo camera, step up the image quality
One of the great mysteries in the run up to the launch of the HTC One M8 was just what HTC was doing with that second rear camera. As it turned out the "Duo camera" was designed to capture depth information for photos, allowing M8 owners to add simulated lens blur and other effects to their images. It was a neat trick, but it never took off the way HTC had hoped — nor was it helped by the fact that the second-gen UltraPixel camera capturing these images just wasn't very good to begin with. Aside from the obvious problems associated with shooting at just four megapixels, pics from the rear shooter of M8 are been noisy, and frequently washed out, with poor dynamic range.
HTC needs to ensure it gets the basics right with its next camera.
Instead of sticking with its old strategy, we'd like to see HTC go back to basics — get a really great rear camera in the M9, with a megapixel count high enough that zooming and cropping isn't problematic — and then add the gravy. Many manufacturers have included depth-based effects in their phones in the past year, and all except HTC have managed to do so without additional hardware. What's more, phones like the Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus have shown the value of OIS (optical image stabilization) in a smartphone, and we think HTC could achieve great things by reintroducing this feature, originally found in the M7 but dropped from the M8.
An improved rear camera would also give HTC's Zoe sharing app a chance to really shine.
On the software side, the HTC camera app could use an overhaul, too. Currently, vital features like HDR mode and unique HTC capabilities like Zoe mode are hidden behind too many layers of menus, and there's just generally too much tapping involved to change settings, adding unnecessary slowdown. Ironic, as HTC's phone cameras are among the fastest to actually capture images after tapping the shutter.
3. Slim down the bezels, stay around the 5-inch mark
Last year's HTC One wasn't exactly bulky — its dimensions are on par with most other 5-inch Android phones — however it is fairly tall, with a reasonable amount of space around the display. In part that's an unavoidable side-effect of those bassy BoomSound front-facing speakers. There are also engineering and usability reasons why you might not want your display pressed right up to the edges of the chassis. Nevertheless, HTC's had a year to work out how to squeeze more stuff into a smaller space, and we'd like to see the company work towards a better surface-to-screen ratio on its next flagship model.
That might mean reducing the much maligned "blank" space around the HTC logo at the bottom of the phone. Or maybe reconfiguring the speakers into a more Nexus 9-like layout, thus saving space at the top and bottom. However HTC manages it, a more compact 5-inch handset would make our hands and pockets happier.
Sticking with a 5-inch screen would also make sense if HTC is to release a larger version of the M9 at some point, as has been rumored recently. The sweet spot for regular smartphone screen sizes seems to be settling around the 5- to 5.5-inch mark, and we feel like HTC is smart enough to not go big just for the sake of it.
Oh, and here's hoping the rumored side-mounted power button becomes a thing too. Motion Launch made the M8's power button less of an issue, but there's really no reason to keep sticking this most important of hardware keys in this awkward-to-reach location.
4. Keep everything we loved about the M8
From the display to the battery life to the build quality, the HTC One M8 was one of our favorite Android phones of 2014. HTC Sense 6 also turned out to be one of the fastest, slickest Android customizations out there, improved further by HTC's recent efforts to blend Android 5.0 Lollipop into the mix.
There's arguably more that HTC needs to not screw up this time around than problems that need fixing. The M8's recent Lollipop update proved that HTC can incorporate Google's Material Design, and many of the Android 5.0 features we love without trampling all over what it had previously built atop KitKat. With that said, it'll be interesting to see how HTC plans to brings Sense up to date, perhaps drawing more inspiration from Material Design from the outset.
We also hope HTC agrees with us that 32GB is the bare minimum when it comes to internal storage in a high-end phone in 2015.
Whatever form HTC's new flagship smartphone takes, we'll be live from Barcelona on March 1 to bring you full coverage of the announcement.
What would you like to see from the next flagship HTC phone? Shout out in the comments and let us know!