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In a mobile world that runs on rumor and speculation, the HTC devicecodenamed the “M7″ is this season’s belle of the ball. The smartphone broke cover courtesy of an analyst leak back on December 5th, and it’s been generating all manner of excitement ever since.

That’s not just because the M7 is purported to be an Android flagship device(though that’s scintillating enough on its own). The M7 is especially intriguing because its parent company has, for over a year, been trying to claw itself out of a hole it fell into back in 2011. If it were a less remarkable corporation, that wouldn’t merit so many editorials, videos, and podcast discussions on the matter. But we’re talking about HTC here. The company that’s been with us from the early days of Windows Mobile. The company with an eye forhardware design that not many can match.

It was that boldness, that panache, that characterized the first leaked render of the M7 we saw just a few days ago. While it wasn’t anything worth blowing gaskets over, the render gave us a taste of something different: a suggestion of an edge-to-edge display flanked on the top and bottom by identical rows of perforations, connoting a dual-speaker arrangement of some kind. The corners were curved, but something about the design intimated that its other edges might be sharp. We were looking at something that at once resembled and rejected the design of other high-profile devices on the market today.

Hello, you beautiful weirdo.

Well, where there’s one leak, there’s many, and it didn’t take long for the M7 floodgates to open. Yesterday, we ran a storyfeaturing a new render called out by the folks over at Czujnym Okiem. This isn’t an official one from HTC, but a render of a device photo that the ever-knowledgeable “people familiar with the matter” vouched for as accurate. Again, none of the leaked information came directly from Pocketnow. For the original source material, see the source links at the bottom of our linked news stories.

This version of the M7, its veracity since further vouched for by the source, shows a much more conventional-looking device – and not just because it’s ditched its trendy white casing color.

Oh. You’re … not exactly how you looked online.

As you can see, the earpiece has reverted to the more familiar slot type, there’s no delineation between the glass covering the screen and the top and bottom regions of the faceplate, and there’s no sign of the perforations along the bottom seen in the previous render. In fact, aside from the glimpse at software (presumably HTC Sense 5) and the reordered capacitive buttons, this doesn’t look all that different than what HTC’s been doing already. Overall, it seems less impressive than the beautifully designedOne X, released almost a year ago.

Just today, other news sources posted photos that, at first glance, seem to validate the more unimaginative of the two possibilities above:

Present in this latest photo, once again, are the earpiece and revamped Android keys, with no sign of the first render’s perforated accents. A tiny amount of sidelight also gives us a glimpse at the edge of the screen, which might curve into the device’s chassis using the same smooth division as found on the Droid DNA. The similarity to that device -and its less-American sibling- doesn’t end there: the glimpse we get of the device’s backside shows it to be something of a cross between that 1080p-toting monster and the company’s Windows Phone 8X.

Assuming these latest leaks are accurate, none of this is a bad thing. We’ve said time and time again how much we enjoy HTC’s aesthetics, lavishing praise on the build quality of both the Windows Phone 8X and the Droid DNA in recent reviews. This looks to be a fine evolution on both those proven designs.

The problem is that HTC can’t rely on “more of the same” to dig itself out of the hole it’s still very much mired in. The company’s high-profile partnership with Microsoft and its status as builder of the world’s first 1080p smartphone did much to erase the sting of a mediocre 2012, but it needs a huge boom to start 2013 off with enough momentum for a tough uphill climb. Samsung’sGalaxy S IV might not break cover as early as MWC, but it’s coming soon. To avoid being steamrolled once again by the South Korean mammoth, HTC needs to bring the heat.

Proposal for new HTC employee uniform.

If these latest renders are accurate, it seems HTC will be relying on features rather than design to set itself apart. No doubt the Sense revamp -which seems extensive- will lend the new M7 some utility, and folks will no doubt ooh and aah over a 4.7-inch display at 1080p resolution. But without a flashy chassis, there better be a whole lot more packed into the M7′s hull to snag -and keep- the public’s interest, otherwise it’s 2012 all over again. I don’t know about you, but while I had a good time last year, I have no desire to repeat it, and neither should HTC.


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