HTC One M9

HTC One M9 camera, take 2: Can a software update make things better?

HTC says a new software update should improve camera performance on its One M9 phone -- so how much difference does it really make? A hands-on comparison.

HTC One M9 Camera - Take 2

HTC's One M9 has plenty of good things going for it -- but as I discovered while reviewing the phone last week, the phone's camera isn't exactly its greatest strength.

During my time evaluating the One M9, its images generally turned out okay -- good enough, perhaps, but not great. Especially when you compare them side-by-side with the spectacular photos produced by Samsung's Galaxy S6.

Well, HTC thinks it can do better. The company is in the midst of pushing a software update to the U.S. models of the device that it says will "enhance" the "overall camera experience" based on "initial feedback" from reviewers and other early users. With the new update in tow, I decided to revisit a few of the shots from my initial One M9-Galaxy S6 camera comparison to see how much things had actually improved.

Now, keep in mind that the new photos were obviously taken on a different day than the originals -- so lighting and other conditions (and even my exact positioning and framing) aren't identical. There's no real way around that. But even with that caveat, the comparisons can give us a general idea of the phone's updated imaging capability and how much it has -- or hasn't -- changed.

Let's check things out (and as usual, click on any image to view it in full resolution):

01 htc one m9 camera a
01 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. It's subtle, but there is some improvement here: The new image looks a little lighter and less muddied than the original. It's still nowhere near as sharp and color-realistic as the Galaxy S6's equivalent (look back at my original M9-S6 shootout if you want to do some cross-device comparisons) -- but in and of itself, it really isn't half-bad.

02 htc one m9 camera a
02 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. Wow -- definite difference on this one: The new image is far lighter, less murky, and less inappropriately colored. Once again, it's nowhere near the Galaxy's level: Samsung's equivalent photo is less washed out and generally superior in its overall composition, but HTC's has progressed from "ugh" to "pretty decent."

03 htc one m9 camera a
03 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. Noticeable (though still relatively subtle) improvements in coloring, clarity, and saturation. The trend continues.

04 htc one m9 camera a
04 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. Same as the previous image, only with HDR activated (in both cases). There's something slightly strange about the new image -- an almost unrealistic painting-like effect, as if the processing was taken a touch too far. I wouldn't necessarily say it's bad, but it's definitely a little...odd.

05 htc one m9 camera a
05 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. No two ways around it: This one did not go particularly well. I tried taking it several times, too, but each one seemed to turn out worse than the last. (And in real life, you don't usually take an image more than once; consistency and reliability are crucial qualities in a smartphone camera.)

07 htc one m9 camera a
06 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. The all-important low-light test, with the phone's default camera settings. If anything, the light in this garage was actually better on the day of the post-update image -- yet the new image looks significantly darker than the original.

07 htc one m9 camera a
07 htc one m9 camera b

Original M9 image on top; post-update image on bottom. The same low-light image, only with night mode manually activated (in both cases). That seems to bring things up to be equal to where they were before.

So that's a handful of examples to show you how things have evolved. All in all, it seems that HTC has indeed managed to deliver some meaningful if not entirely consistent improvements to the M9's imaging experience. We're still talking "okay" to "decent" as opposed to "great" in terms of overall quality -- and there are still areas where the phone just plain struggles -- but as I found in my initial assessment, it's certainly possible to get reasonably good-looking photos for sharing and printing much of the time (especially if you add in a little post-capture processing or Google Auto Enhance assistance). 

This new update makes things a touch better -- and that can only be a good thing for anyone interested in the One M9.

[SEE ALSO: Galaxy S6, One M9, and the search for smartphone perfection]

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