HTC One M9 vs. Apple iPhone 6: The Tale of the Tape

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Want a smartphone that looks good and feels like it’s worth the price of admission? If you dig Android, you have plenty of options, but your best bet probably still comes from HTC, this year in the form of its smooth, all-aluminum One M9. If you dig the iPhone, you have, well, the iPhone, which is still heavy on the metal and arguably as comfortable in the hand as it’s ever been. (You also have the big iPhone, which is bigger and stronger but a bit unwieldy by comparison.)

HTC One M9 vs. Apple iPhone 6

HTC One M9 vs. Apple iPhone 6

The One M9 and iPhone 6 have their failings, but in terms of giving off that pure, “Wow, I’m happy to be holding this” kind of feeling, they are two of the best. So which one might be right for you? Well, to help you better understand what you’re looking at, let’s run down what each flagship brings to the table. Here’s another tale of the tape.

Design

As noted above, these are two phones that really accentuate professional feeling build quality and a clean, consistent aesthetic. They’re both primarily made of metal, meaning that they’re more solid, more sturdily put together, and cooler to the touch than any plastic counterparts.

Having aluminum on your phone doesn’t change how you use it—you’re still texting and browsing and gaming the same way—but because so many of today’s flagships are effectively identical on the spec sheet, it’s one way to feel like you’re getting a better value for your dollar. It makes each device more susceptible to scratches, and it prevents both from being water-resistant, but ultimately we think the improved feel outweighs any functionality-related cons here.

All of this goes out the window if the phones aren’t comfortable to hold, but thankfully neither device comes up short in that regard. The One M9 is really just an incremental deviation from last year’s One M8, which itself was an incremental deviation from the original One, so it keeps the same curved back that made phones fit snugly in the hand. It also sharpens the edges of its predecessor, making that metal finish a little less slippery, and relocates its power button from the top of the phone to a more convenient position on the right edge.

The changes do make for a slightly unseemly gap where the rear coat of aluminum ends, but it hardly makes the phone look sloppy. Less acceptable is the return of the “HTC bar” across its front, which has no discernible purpose other than chewing up unnecessary screen space and making the One taller than it needs to be. Outside of that, the One M9 takes the same cues as the Ones before it. It’s not the most exciting look for mobile industry diehards, but then again most people don’t buy a new flagship every year. We’ll take an improved version of something that doesn’t need much work over an unnecessary risk that could crash and burn—for one more year, at least.

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

The iPhone 6, meanwhile, is a more drastic evolution. It’s taller and heavier than its predecessor, the iPhone 5s, and it features more rounded edges that slide nicely into your palms. It too moves its power button from the top to the side. It’s still very much an iPhone, however, and so it features a similar design language most everywhere else. Its back is totally flat, and its front includes a lone home button, which is equipped with another highly responsive fingerprint scanner. The One doesn’t have one of those, but it’s not exactly a crucial omission, and it might not be such a huge loss given HTC’s past struggles with such tech on the One Max.

If you want something compact, neither device is outright “small,” but the iPhone is the more diminutive of the two. Even after boosting the 5s’ dimensions, it’s still wonderfully light (at 129g) and even thinner (at 6.9mm, compared to 7.6mm) than before. Much of that comes down to the fact that it has a smaller screen, but it’s still the rare high-end phone that’s actually usable with one hand almost all the time.

The One M9, on the other hand, isn’t what we’d call “chunky,” but it’s slightly heavier (157g) and thicker (9.6mm) than some of its top-tier Android competitors. We could see the One M9 being too tall (at 144.6mm) for certain smaller hands, but it’s not cumbersome for its size.

Display

Neither display can match the brilliance of the Samsung’s Galaxy S6’s, but they’re still high-quality enough to belong on an expensive flagship. The One M9 sports a 5-inch, 1080p panel that’s very much similar to that of the One M8, while the iPhone 6 carries a 4.7-inch, 750 x 1334 resolution display that’s a big major leap in size from the its predecessor’s 4-inch equivalent.

HTC One M9

HTC One M9

Both are somewhat conservative in light of the 1440p panels put out by the Galaxy S6, Nexus 6, LG G3, and others, but between the two, the One M9 is both bigger and more pixel dense. The extra 0.3 inches of space doesn’t sound like much on paper, but spend a long enough time perusing YouTube or Netflix on a 5-inch screen before shrinking down again and the difference is noticeable. Media consumption is just more enjoyable on a bigger screen.

And at 441 ppi, you have less chance of finding the odd lapse in sharpness on the One; the iPhone 6’s pixel density of 326 ppi—the same as the 5s—is closer to Android flagships from a couple of years ago. Even still, that difference is imperceptible to the naked eye more often than not.

Both screens are of the IPS LCD variety—technically, HTC uses a variant called Super LCD3—so you won’t get quite the same level of deep colors and contrast you’d get on a good OLED display, but again, they’re plenty rich in their own right. If we had to nitpick, the iPhone gets you deeper black tones and is generally calibrated better, as the One projects a slight greenish tint that can be distracting if you hone in on it. Other than that, both displays can get plenty bright and remain visible under sunlight.

These two could be more efficient in their display-to-body ratios, however. The One makes more out of its available space—its screen takes up 68.5% of its front, while the iPhone’s takes up 65.8% —but we’ve seen thinner bezels on competing devices for some time now. The tops and bottom ones in particular could stand to be diminished on both phones.

Internals

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Here’s another area where the apparent discrepancy between the One and iPhone’s spec sheets doesn’t do their real-world experiences justice. On paper, common thinking would suggest that the One M9’s Snapdragon 810 chipset—made up of four high-performance 2 GHz Cortex-A57 cores, four low-power 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 cores, and an Adreno 430 graphics processor—and 3 GB would run circles around the iPhone’s Apple A8 SoC, with its dual-core 1.4 GHz CPU, quad-core GPU, and lone GB of RAM.

In practice, the greater level of harmony between the iPhone 6’s hardware and software makes it nearly as fast, and in some cases faster, than many of its Android rivals, the One M9 included. This has been the case for a while now, but because iOS is made by Apple, for Apple devices, the iPhone is consistently capable of zipping through games, apps, web pages, and the like with minimal delays or stuttering. There are very few, if any, things that both ordinary and power users won’t be able to run comfortably on the iPhone 6.

HTC, meanwhile, has to throw stronger and stronger chips at its heavier Android skin each year to keep up with the Joneses, and for the most part that works out fine. The One M9, like the One M8 and One M7 before it, is undoubtedly fast and capable—especially for everyday tasks, it loads up and runs most things without much of any issue.

Push it a little bit harder, though, and you can actually notice slight drop-offs from last year’s model. Those issues largely fall at the feet of Qualcomm, unfortunately: The Snapdragon 810 has some well-publicized issues with overheating, and certain functions can take longer to get going with prolonged use as a result. As we’ve said before, this isn’t enough to really ruin most people’s experience—it’s likely faster than nine out of ten Android devices even with the 810’s shortcomings—but it prevents you from going on auto-pilot with the One M9 the way you can with something like the Galaxy S6. The heat and subsequent delays can get in the way of whatever you’re doing, and we’re at a point now where the highest-end phones are moving beyond that.

HTC One M9

HTC One M9

As far as battery life is concerned, the One M9 and iPhone 6 are just okay, at least next to their flagship counterparts. Whereas today’s top-of-the-line devices get you close to a day and a half of power with everyday use, both the One and the iPhone usually top out before the average day is done. It’s not uncommon for either to die out even before then. Technically, the One’s 2840 mAh pack is beefier than the iPhone’s 1810 mAh unit, but in both cases you’ll pay for forgetting to charge your device before bedtime. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s another annoyance many other flagships have overcome. The fact that neither battery is removable doesn’t help either.

One phone does have the advantage in storage, however. The One M9 comes with 32 GB of space by default, which is about average for a modern flagship but still twice as much as the entry-level iPhone. More importantly, it also supports microSD cards, allowing you to add up to an extra 128 GB of room whenever you see fit. Additional iPhone models come with 64 GB and 128 GB of storage built in, but those are $100 and $200 more expensive, respectively. Simply adding microSD support would make Apple’s devices a better bargain, but we wouldn’t hold our breath for that happening anytime soon.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the One M9’s pair of front-facing “BoomSound” speakers. They’ve spawned some excellent clones on competing devices, but listening to media without headphones is still superb on the originator of the trend. Apple’s single-output speaker isn’t shoddy at all, but it provides the kind of audio that’s good for a smartphone. The One M9’s are just solid speakers in general—full, loud, and capable of covering the low and high ends properly.

Software

Apple iPhone 6 bottom

Apple iPhone 6 bottom

Telling you Android is better than iOS or vice versa is a fruitless endeavor at this point—there was a time years ago where you could argue iOS’ app advantage was too overwhelming for Google to overcome, but, on phones at least, that difference has largely shrunk, and the latest Lollipop update has made Android just as pretty as it is functional. Any concerns about Android’s general security or sloppiness have mostly been tidied up as well.

The lines have been clearly drawn by now: iOS is generally easier to grasp (though navigating the basics of Android is decidedly not rocket science) and usually the default platform for app developers, while Android is more flexible, customizable, and integrated with Google’s various services. The latter puts its apps in a drawer, the former doesn’t. They’re both not Windows Phone. For people who just want to do the basics, they won’t feel too different.

The thing to note here is that HTC doesn’t run “Android” in the purest sense, unlike how iPhone only runs iOS the way Apple intended. Instead, it runs the latest iteration of Sense UI, an HTC-made skin plastered on top of Lollipop. This doesn’t carry the same charm or smoothness as the stock OS, but actually using it isn’t much different than the genuine article. It’s got some nifty features of its own, too, like the ability to double-tap the display to wake it, a theme store for added visual customization, and a (totally optional) “BlinkFeed” homescreen that aggregates content from your various social media feeds and preferred news sources. iOS isn’t capable of anything like that.

HTC One M9 side

HTC One M9 side

Then again, iOS also doesn’t have to deal with a bunch of redundant pre-loaded apps the way Sense UI does. It also runs faster and carries a more consistent, understated aesthetic. You’ll never go through a four-month delay waiting for the next version of iOS when you own an iPhone, either, because Apple makes the phone and the software it runs on. You do run that risk when you buy an Android phone from a third-party manufacturer like HTC. Ultimately, it’ll come down to how much you want to get out of your device.

Camera

This is the one area where we can’t talk about these two as if they’re equals: The iPhone 6’s camera is better than the One M9’s, and really it’s not that close. HTC has made a few smart moves with the One M9’s camera setup—ditching the gimmicky (albeit fun) Duo Camera depth sensor of the One M8, moving its 4-megapixel “UltraPixel” shooter to the front, and beefing the main unit up to 20.7-megapixels—but the actual quality of its photos hasn’t improved as much as all of that suggests.

For selfies, that repurposed cam on the front holds up alright. Goofy branding aside, HTC’s UltraPixel tech is designed to work well in low-light surroundings, so it plays nice with any spontaneous bar or concert shots you and your pals may want to take. Four megapixels is sharp enough for a front-facing shooter, too. It doesn’t touch the 13-megapixel unit on the face of HTC’s own Desire Eye, but it’s at least a class above the iPhone’s grainy 1.2-megapixel equivalent.

On the back is where it matters most, though, and it’s mostly no contest around there. The One M9 is capable of some great shots in sunlight, and the megapixel boost makes it so sharpness is never too much of an issue. In fact, it can pack more detail at its best than the iPhone 6’s 8-megapixel shooter.

Apple iPhone 6 side

Apple iPhone 6 side

That’s the case with many Android cameras, though. In less-than-ideal surroundings, the One M9 has an affinity for overexposure, and sometimes leads colors to bleed into each other. Its low-light performance is especially rough, often plagued by mushy textures and a lack of brightness. It can also suffer from some shutter lag. It isn’t outright bad, but it isn’t flagship-level either.

The iPhone’s camera, meanwhile, continues to be one of the best on the market. What it lacks in resolution it more than makes up for in consistency—in daytime, low-light, and most settings in between, it presents accurate colors, minimal noise, and precise exposure. And it’s not like having just eight megapixels presents it from capturing enough detail either. It doesn’t come with optical image stabilization, which is unfortunate, but the digital autofocus system that is onboard is suitable enough. All of this comes in an easy-to-comprehend UI, though the One M9 can largely claim the same.

Price

HTC One M9

HTC One M9

These are two flagships, and as such they both come at flagship prices. The One M9 is available on all four of the “big” US carriers—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile—for anywhere between $600 and $700 unlocked, or $200 with a two-year contract.

The iPhone 6 is out on those same four, along with US Cellular and Boost Mobile, for $650 unlocked or the same $200 with a two-year agreement.

One last thing to note is that the iPhone has been out for close to seven months at this point, so it has a shorter period of time before the inevitable iPhone 6s makes it “dated” later this fall. The One M9, on the other hand, only arrived in early April, giving you at least another 11 months to wave it around as a shiny new toy.

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