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First Look: HTC One M9 Brings Better Camera, More Contextual Awareness

Meet HTC's latest flagship smartphone. It's a lot like the old one.

Bonnie Cha

HTC might be expanding into new product categories, but the company is still very much focused on its smartphone business.

Today, the Taiwanese phone maker unveiled its latest flagship handset, the HTC One M9, at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona.

Sticking with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage, the One M9 doesn’t bring a ton of major changes over its predecessor. Rather, it enhances some of the previous models’ best features and addresses some customer pain points.

On the design front, you’d be hard pressed to see a difference between the One M9 and One M8 at a glance. It keeps the same five-inch, full-HD 1080p display, but the One M9 is slightly slimmer and lighter than the M8. It also has a more subtle curve on the back for better ergonomics, and the power button has been relocated from the top of the device to the right side, just beneath the volume buttons.

 The One M9 comes in a new dual-tone color.
The One M9 comes in a new dual-tone color.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

The One M9 still features a unibody metal design, but the company is introducing a new dual-color model that features rose gold edges and a brushed silver back. The phone will also be available in gunmetal gray.

The biggest hardware change comes in the camera department. Replacing the One M8’s dual rear cameras is a single 20.7-megapixel camera. The front-facing camera has also been upgraded to an Ultrapixel camera, which promises better low-high performance.

 Replacing last year’s dual camera system is a single 20-megapixel camera.
Replacing last year’s dual camera system is a single 20-megapixel camera.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

You should also see an uptick in performance, as the One M9 has a faster octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and 3 gigabytes of RAM instead of 2GB. In addition, the front-facing speakers now has integrated Dolby technology for surround sound.

On the software side, the phone is running Android 5.0 Lollipop and the latest version of HTC’s Sense user interface, which brings more contextual awareness to the phone. In HTC Sense 7, there is now a home-screen widget that can serve up frequently used apps based on your location.

So for example, when you arrive at your office the widget will be populated with apps like email, Google Drive or Evernote. But when you return home, it will automatically switch to things like Facebook, Netflix or Sonos. You’ll be able to designate these locations during setup.

 The new HTC Sense software serves up frequently used apps based on location.
The new HTC Sense software serves up frequently used apps based on location.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

In addition to the home-screen widget, HTC Blinkfeed (the company’s news and social feed application) also displays personalized, location-based recommendations for points of interests, pulling information from sites like Yelp and Foursquare for restaurant suggestions. The feature can be disabled if you don’t want your feed clogged with such information.

Lastly, on the software side, there is a new Themes app that offers more advanced personalization features. It can pull colors from your wallpaper and incorporate into other aspects of your phone, like your icons and Blinkfeed.

 A new Themes app allows you to personalize backgrounds, color schemes and app icons.
A new Themes app allows you to personalize backgrounds, color schemes and app icons.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

The One M9 looks to be another beautiful Android smartphone from HTC, but I don’t know if there’s enough there to warrant an upgrade from the One M8. While some of the new features are welcome, it’s just not that incredibly different from last year’s model. And if I could nitpick for a second, I’m not loving the new placement of the power button. Having it below the volume controls doesn’t feel natural, and all the buttons are roughly the same size, so it’s hard to distinguish by feel.

I could take or leave the new software features. I’ve always preferred the stock Android experience, though if I had to choose between HTC Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, I’d go with the former.

 The HTC One M9 will be available in gunmetal gray and new gold-silver dual-tone.
The HTC One M9 will be available in gunmetal gray and new gold-silver dual-tone.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

Aside from the software, one way HTC has always been able to differentiate itself from other Android devices, particularly the Samsung Galaxy S series, is with its premium design. But Samsung is expected to announce its latest flagship smartphones later today, and if the rumors are true, the Korean electronics company will finally ditch the plastic construction for a more high-quality, glass-and-metal design. We’ll reserve our final judgment till we review both smartphones.

The HTC One M9 will be available from AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon in early spring, plus Amazon, Best Buy, Costco and Target. Pricing was not revealed at this time, but it should be similar to the One M8’s pricing of $200 on contract or between $500 and $650 off contract.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.