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New high-end HTC One M9 phone doesn’t offer a whole lot of new (+video)

HTC's newest smart phone, the One M9, has a new name but a lot of old features. 

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As the smart phone race rages on, you’d expect runner-up mobile companies to impress us with new features and design to tempt us away from Apple and Samsung.

But strangely enough, reviewers say HTC did little to its newest smart phone, the One M9. That doesn’t mean the M9 isn’t still a great Android phone that offers an array of attractive features. But it isn’t a spectacle of a device in a year of smart phone fireworks.

Let’s start with the good: HTC makes reliably good devices, and if you liked the HTC One M8, you will like the M9. The design is quite similar – a 5-inch 1080p HD screen with top and bottom bezels for a navigation bar and impressive BoomSound speakers (now with Dolby Audio). One small change is that the power button is now on the right side, rather than the top.

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Spec-wise, the M9 runs a Snapdragon 810 processor, 3 gigabytes of RAM, 32 gigabytes of internal storage, and has an improved battery that can run up to a day of normal processing.

HTC is offering the M9 with an aluminum body featuring a jewel-tone finish: gold-on-silver, all gold, or charcoal gray. Most reviewers said this model looked and felt very similar to the M8, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – HTC has always made sleek phones. But if you’re looking for something different, the M9 won’t provide it outside of color choice.

Its camera is still nothing to write home about compared to the Galaxy line or iPhone, but HTC has made improvements. It has a 20-megapixel rear-facing camera with a sapphire lens, and it moved its UltraPixel feature to the front-facing camera (read: better night selfies). It also shoots ultra-HD 4K video. There are a ton of little editing tools, some that they kept from the last round (the “Zoe” camera that automatically makes mini montages of your multimedia events) and some new (like the ability to take front and rear facing images at the same time).

It runs the latest version of Android, but boasts a super customizable interface. You get to choose every part of your aesthetic, from the wallpaper to the size of the icons. There are also free and premium paid themes if you’d rather go with one of HTC’s looks. The M9 still has the BlinkFeed, a constantly updating home screen mosaic of news, weather, and social media updates.

One of the best additions to the M8 has been continued to the M9: “UH OH” protection. This included service gives HTC users a one-time free replacement phone in case of screen cracks or water damage. All smart phone users should be jealous of this feature.

Sound great? It sure is. But reviewers were quick to point out it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

“The smartphone market is a race—you've got to come up with better designs and ideas faster than everyone else,” writes Ron Amadeo in a review for Ars Technica. “If you're in the back of the pack, you can never catch up to the leader if you're running slower, and that's what's so frustrating about HTC. Its response to losing the race is to move even slower.”

“HTC One's have a strong pedigree, and I don't think anyone who buys this evolutionary device will come away disappointed,” writes USA Today’s Edward C. Baig. “I just wanted more.”

The HTC One M9 is available online now without a two-year contract for $649. It drops in retail stores April 10, and is available on all major US carriers.

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