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HTC One M9 Hands On: Familiar, Yet More Personal

BARCELONA – After a slew of rumors and leaks, HTC finally unveiled the One M9, the manufacturer’s newest smartphone and successor to the One M8. Featuring a similar design to the M8, the M9 shows that HTC is opting for a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, while adding some new features to the cameras and Sense UI to make the phone more personal.

The HTC One M9 has an all-metal, unibody design, a 5-inch, 1080-pixel display, and comes with 3GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage that’s expandable to 128 GB with a microSD card. That's all similar to the specs of the M8, although the M9 is minutely smaller in size. When we went hands-on with the smartphone, I could tell it was slightly lighter (three grams less weighty, to be exact), and its body is smaller all around as well (5.69 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches versus the M8’s 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 inches.) Though the size and shape is quite similar to its predecessor, the One M9 comes in four new colors: gold, silver, pink and gunmetal gray. We were particularly impressed with the gold model and its combination of a lighter colored bezel with dark gold sides and back.

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The biggest differences come in processing power as well as the phone's camera. The M9 has an upgraded Snapdragon 810 processor and the rear camera has been given a big boost, now sporting a 20-megapixel lens that’s covered in scratch-resistant sapphire glass. The front-facing camera is now UltraPixel quality and supports HD video recording.

While the M9 runs Android Lollipop 5.0, HTC also updated its Sense UI to Sense 7, giving the smartphone an extra personality boost. A new feature populates the lock screen during meal times, automatically giving you Yelp restaurant suggestions depending on where you are. Unfortunately, you cannot change meal times (sorry, early lunchers), so you’ll just have to wait for the recommendations to appear on your phone at the designated times. However, you can set different locations by entering the addresses of your home and workplace -- this allows the home screen of the M9 to suggests the apps you use most wherever you are.

Sense 7 gets even more personal by letting you create your own themes. In the Gallery app you can turn any photo into a custom theme where it becomes your home screen background, and its dominant color determines what your status bars and icons will look like. When we shot a picture of a swimming pool and selected it for a theme, it turned our status bar and application icons blue like like the water in our photo. There's also a huge Theme store with lots of premade designs for you to download.

The Gallery App has a number of interesting new photo-editing features. Using the "elements" feature, we put animations of falling snow and leaves on top of our photo; you can share these animations either as videos or stills. We also used the prismatic filter to turn our image into a kaleidoscope, and the double exposure feature to combine two images in one.

Overall, if you've used the M8, you'll know your way around the M9. The differences are subtle and more personalized, and provided those features work as desired, it could help the smartphone set itself apart from the competition. The HTC One M9 will come to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in Spring -- stay tuned for our full review.

Valentina Palladino is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Follow her at @valentinalucia. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.