HTC One E9+ Review: Could this be the One even without the Desire?
By Keith Liu October 9, 2015
TAIWANESE handset manufacturer HTC may not be in the best shape business-wise, but one cannot deny the company’s smartphones have its fair share of fans worldwide, whether for the premium One series or the mid-tier Desire range.
The new One E9+ then, seems aimed at those who want the hardware specifications of the company’s One flagship devices, but at a lower price point.
To achieve this compromise, HTC traded in the high-end feel of the metal unibody of its One M9 and One M9+ flagships for a polycarbonate construction on the E9+.
Make no mistake however, this is pretty high-quality plastic.
Our review unit, a dual SIM version, came in a matte brown finish which feels nice and soft in the hand, and gold edges around the device.
The design tricks you into thinking that the back cover can be easily removed, but in fact is non-removable.
In order to insert the SIM and micro SD cards, you will need to open a long, thin plastic flap on the left. Not particularly refined, in my opinion, but it does the job – though I wouldn’t suggest opening up this enclosure too often since that strip of plastic seems quite fragile.
The camera lens on the back is conspicuously large, highlighted with a gold circular edge and below that sits is the single LED flash and a tiny microphone.
On the front, you will find HTC’s now familiar Boom Sound speakers flanking the top and bottom of the display, similar to what you’ll find on its more expensive devices, with a selfie camera placed at the top right corner.
The bezels at the top and bottom are fairly thick since it needed to fit the HTC logo at the bottom (which I find completely unnecessary) and as such, the device is slightly long compared to other phablets.
This E9+ is also larger than both the M9 models, as it comes with a 5.5-inch display, compared to the 5-inch screen on the M9 and 5.2-inch screen on the M9+. However it feels light in spite of the size, thanks to the plastic materials used.
Most mid-range phablets today already sport a Full HD, 1080P resolution, so it was a nice surprise that HTC included an even higher Quad HD (2560 x 1440) resolution display, providing an impressive 534 PPI (pixels per inch).
To be honest, the naked eye under normal circumstances would not be able to make out the differences between a Full HD screen and Quad HD screen on anything smaller than a 6-inch display, but some spec-hunters see this as justification for the higher price.
Thankfully the other aspects of the display are very good for an IPS (in-plane switching) display. It offers a wide viewing angle, good contrasts (deep blacks) and performs well in bright sunlight.
If there is one small gripe about the display, it would be the colour balancing seems to lean towards the warm side of things. That’s good for watching movies though and believe me, I watched a lot of movies on this device – but not great if you need high colour accuracy (for instance photographers).
An additional benefit is the option to turn on ‘Glove Mode’, so if you can still check your WhatsApp even when you’re in the middle of your skiing trip.
Imaging was never a strong point with HTC’s One devices compared to flagships from Apple, Samsung or Sony. In fact, the M9 flagship’s camera performance disappointed me when I reviewed that a few months ago.
However, HTC seems to have learnt a lesson or two from that experience and the camera this time focuses faster and was more dependable both in bright and dark situations.
I’m still not a fan of the interface, since some options require more steps than necessary (for example changing from rear to front camera needs 2 taps instead of a single tap) and the menu structure can be pretty daunting for some users.
The rear camera lets your shoot up to 20.1 megapixels, but the software doesn’t actually state the actual resolution. Instead if offers the choice of high, medium or small resolution.
One other useful feature is it allows me to use the volume keys as a zoom lever or shutter button, which is always nice for an old-school photographer like myself, who prefers physical buttons.
The front camera offers HTC’s UltraPixel technology, so even with the stated 4 megapixels, each pixel is actually larger and therefore able to capture more light. Like the M9, the front camera is quite a marvel for capturing selfies in low light environments.
If you’re looking for the best camera in a smartphone, you won’t find it here but the E9+ certainly didn’t disappoint me at all, and I believe most users will be more than satisfied with the photographs from this device.
Powering the HTC One E9+ is MediaTek’s Helio X10 octa-core 64-bit processor, also known as MT6795M, running at 2.0GHz. This is complemented by 3GB or memory and 32GB of internal storage, which is par on course for a premium device.
It’s almost as powerful as the rival Snapdragon 810 processor from Qualcomm, but without the same amount of heat. In fact, we were able to use this device without feeling any thermal issues at all, which is gratifying.
We were able to run high-end games on this device easily, and the E9+ coped really well even with multiple apps and web pages open at the same time.
The benchmarks put it squarely above the mainstream mid-range devices and definitely much better than last year’s flagships, but trailing today’s premium range of smartphones by a little.
In other words, you will not find any performance concerns with this device. It simply flies.
Now if you enjoy movies and music, then this is certainly one of the best media players in the business. The BoomSound front-firing speakers, along with audio tweaks from Dolby are top notch and works very well for music, movies and as a speakerphone for conference calls.
I can also send media files from my PC or phone straight to the television with just a simple 3-finger swipe. It’s a simple but excellent feature for media hounds since you can control your PC’s multimedia content from the phone, as long as they all share the same Wi-Fi connection.
What is unfortunate is HTC didn’t choose to include a larger capacity battery on this device, despite having a larger footprint and a higher resolution display (which sucks up more power). The 2800mAh is good enough to last about a day and a bit more, but if the screen is on consistently, either for games or YouTube, expect the battery low warning to pop up by sunset.
Thankfully there are power saving options to squeeze a bit more life out of the remaining juice until you find a wall socket.
The other glaring omission is the fingerprint sensor or any type of biometric security solution. With more and more devices (including its very own One M9+) providing this feature, it would have been great to see this being offered here as well.
Making ‘Sense’ of the experience
The HTC Sense 7 user interface, overlaying Google’s Android 5.0 (Lollipop) is fairly new, introduced this year with the One M9.
The E9+ comes with the same software setup, offering a wide variety of themes to choose from (and you can always customise or create your own), a plethora of settings which you can adjust, and even a widget that tries to predict where you are so it can offer you the apps you may need to use – something I found disorienting since it kept changing the icons on my home screen, so I removed it.
In fact, it tried to take the prediction to a new level, by asking me if I was thinking of dinner and even suggesting some restaurants nearby. No doubt this is tied to HTC’s new ad-revenue models, but it was cool and creepy at the same time.
HTC’s smartphones don’t come with as much bloatware as Sony’s or Asus’ models, but there were still a few HTC apps and third-party apps I uninstalled since I was not going to ever use them.
The other jarring part about Sense is that the apps drawer actually scrolls vertically (up and down), rather than horizontally. I believe HTC is one of the last few vendors that offer a vertical rather than horizontal scrolling system – so you will have to get used to it, if you’re coming from an iPhone or any other leading Android smartphone vendor’s user interface.
Alternatively just replace Sense with the dozens of capable launchers you can find from the Google Play store.
Premium, mid-range, or premium mid-range?
There seems to be an almost endless number of choices in the market today when it comes to mid-range Android smartphones, but there are still a few brands hoping to address the high-end of the mid-range segment, notably Sony, Samsung and HTC.
These manufacturers are working hard to maintain a premium (and profit margins) on their devices compared to the Chinese vendors who are offering similar specifications at a lower price.
HTC here has delivered a smartphone that delivers a high-resolution screen and great sound quality as high points, something the company’s long-time fans will appreciate.
However, the large footprint, standard build quality and above-average performance may not be enough to stand out from the crowd nor win over new fans.