No big changes for the HTC One M9, and that’s a good thing

HTC revealed its next flagship, the HTC One M9, at Mobile World Congress on Sunday. Take a close look: If you’re not careful, you might end up mistaking it for its predecessor, the HTC One M8.

It’s clear that the HTC One M9 is an evolutionary model. The two devices are essentially the same size. The spottable differences include the power/wake button, which has finally been moved to the right side of the handset, and the camera — instead of last year’s Duo camera setup with two lenses, the rear camera on the M9 only has a single lens focusing light on a new 20MP camera sensor that shoots video in 4K resolution.

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Of course, the HTC One M9 sports a few expected upgrades under its familiar facade. It has a similar 5-inch 1080p screen to its older sibling, but it’s sporting Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line mobile processor, the 64-bit capable Snapdragon 810. The front-facing camera gets a huge upgrade, too, taking HTC’s light-gobbling Ultrapixel tech and putting it on the other side of the device, which means it should be much better for selfies in the club. With the right charger, sold separately, the One M9 will support turbo charging, which can fill the battery up to 40 percent faster.

I was able to handle a pre-production unit briefly and I found the ergonomics of the HTC One M9 singificantly improved. The metallic rear surface has a grippier texture, and the slightly less curved body alleviated my main issue with the HTC One M8, which is that it always felt like it was slipping out of my hands. The wake button moved to the side helps, too as it’s easier to reach. Front-facing BoomSound speakers are in evidence too, and they can simulate Dolby surround sound.

HTC has also spent time on its Sense 7 skin and its own apps. The HTC One M9 will ship with Google Android 5.0 installed, and HTC has done a great job updating its look — it’s unique among Android phones, but still distinctly Lollipop. If you don’t like it, HTC is offering a theming app for the first time, which allows you to tweak icons and accent colors, as well as download themes other users made available online. At this time, all the themes are free, but HTC might include a way to charge for them in the future, if sports teams and other corporations with lots of fans make them.

There’s also a slick Android app called HTC Connect on the HTC One M9, which promises to be able to bring up a list of every wireless speaker your phone can beam music to, whether they’re connected by Miracast, Bluetooth, Qualcomm AllPlay or DNLA standards. It can also bridge two speakers into a stereo setup, too. I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but if it works as billed, I could see it being very handy.

Other software tweaks that could be less useful include a lockscreen app that serves nearby restaurant suggestions from Yelp. HTC’s also updated its Zoe social networking app, which will soon be available on iOS.

It’s interesting to look at the differences between Samsung’s approach with its Galaxy S6 and what HTC has done with the One M9. Whereas Samsung went back to the drawing board — curved screens, fewer apps, its own processor — HTC decided to simply iterate its already well-reviewed device and work on its software chops.

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Qualcomm confirms a Microsoft Lumia flagship phone is on the way

Qualcomm is feeling the heat regarding its latest flagship mobile chip, the Snapdragon 810. The chip reportedly has thermal issues, and Samsung is apparently dropping it for its own processors, which led to a bad week for Qualcomm’s stock price. The company put out a press release on Monday saying the chip remains in many manufacturers’ plans, and includes a confirmation that the Snapdragon 810 will be used in a Microsoft Lumia device, which would make it the flagship device that Windows Phone users have been clamoring for for nearly a year.

The press release includes a quote from Juha Kokkonen, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s the vice president in charge of high-end phones at Microsoft Devices. It reads:

We look forward to continuing this relationship to deliver best in class Lumia smartphones, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processors, and offer an unprecedented combination of processing power, rich multimedia, high-performance graphics and wireless connectivity for our customers.

The rest of the press release goes into the Snapdragon 810’s features on top of improved processing performance, including the new Adreno 430 GPU, high-definition audio support, and the ability to smoothly record 4K video.

At Microsoft’s consumer-focused Windows 10 summit in January, executives repeatedly mentioned that a “flagship” Windows Phone is on its way — after all, they’re the exact people who are dying for a fast and powerful Windows Phone as opposed to the less expensive Lumia devices for developing markets that Microsoft mainly released last year.

Since Windows Phones only run on Qualcomm processors, it’s not a huge surprise that the new flagship will be using Qualcomm’s most advanced chip. There’s still no time frame for the new flagship Lumia except that the device will come out around when Windows 10 is officially launched in late 2015. Still, if you’re holding onto a Lumia 1520 or a Lumia 930, it does look as if you’ll be able to upgrade to something faster and newer this year.

Samsung is preparing a improved Galaxy Note 4, probably for Korea

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is less than a few months old, but it’s already getting an upgrade: On Monday, Samsung announced a new Galaxy Note 4 variant powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor.

The Snapdragon 810 will be Qualcomm’s flagship mobile chip in 2015. It’s likely to be at the heart of most of the top-tier Android phones launching this upcoming year — like the Galaxy S6, Sony’s Xperia Z4 and the high-end phone HTC is working onIMG_3533

The new Galaxy Note 4 is likely to benefit from the new silicon in two specific ways.

The United States version of the  Note 4 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805, which is one of the last 32-bit mobile chips. The Snapdragon 810 uses eight 64-bit cores, which the latest version of Android can take advantage of. Android 5.0 launched without a flagship 64-bit capable phone, and the new Note 4 can fill that gap until more Snapdragon 810-equipped devices hit the market.

The new Note should also be able to take advantage of Category 9 carrier aggregation for LTE-Advanced which should result in faster mobile broadband speeds. The new Note 4 supports aggregating 3 x 20 MHz data channels, so the device can theoretically download data as quickly as 450 Mbps on networks that support it. In reality, users won’t see speeds close to the what can be done in a lab. The United States is somewhat behind other countries at adopting carrier aggregation. For instance, South Korea’s SK Telecom started testing the technology on its network in 2013. AT&T has used only used carrier aggregation to boost speeds in some parts of the United States since March.

The Snapdragon 810-equipped Note 4 will be the phone’s third variant. In addition to the two [company]Qualcomm[/company]-powered versions, there’s a Galaxy Note 4 variant equipped with Samsung’s own Exynos 5433 chip.

[company]Samsung[/company] has a habit of launching slightly upgraded versions of its flagship phones in its home country. Last year, it sold a special version of the Galaxy S5 with a sharper screen and faster processor, but this year’s special Note 4 should be identical to the current Note 4 except for the upgraded processor. Although there’s no official price or word on availability, Americans shouldn’t save their dollars for this device — this phone’s likely staying overseas.