The software is not final.
The above proviso should be kept at the front of your mind when perusing the following images. HTC tells me that it's pushing out updates to the One M9 on a daily basis and 95 percent of their content is camera-related. The Taiwanese company has heard a chorus of discontent with its latest camera echoing throughout early previews and is working hard to improve the quality of its images. That being said, the HTC One M9 is expected to launch in mid-March in Taiwan, so we're only a couple of weeks away from the release software — what we are looking at here isn't too far off from what the final retail units will be able to produce.
The overwhelming reason for why I found myself disappointed with the One M9 this past week was its camera. It works quickly, impressively so. But the pictures that come out of it just aren't good enough. Things you'll see below include excessive chromatic noise, blown-out highlights, and unacceptably poor results in low light. HTC is the company that spent two years evangelizing the benefit of larger pixels for capturing more light — that's the big selling point behind its lower-resolution UltraPixel camera — and now it's leapt in the exact opposite direction by cramming in 20 million smaller pixels to obtain greater resolution. I'm not alone in suspecting that using the front-facing UltraPixel camera on this phone will be a better bet than its proper camera on the back.
In low light, you might be better off with the front ultrapixel camera
The absence of optical image stabilization isn't a huge issue when shooting photos. The fast capture of the One M9 means I rarely get any motion blur in my shots. Video, however, is a whole other matter. The 4K video sample below illustrates the problem well: even with my best efforts to keep a steady grip while panning, the recording ended up distractingly shaky.
HTC is continuing to work hard on improving the quality of the One M9's camera. I like the clarity of the audio it records and I find the HDR mode makes a real difference when used outdoors. Just see for yourself below. Still, there's a lot more work left to be done.
Left: HTC One M9 auto mode. Right: HTC One M9 HDR mode.