It's that special time again -- that time when Mobile World Congress looms, and HTC fans wonder what design philosophy they'll live with for the next year. We might have just been given a peek at their future. Android Police claims to have a photo and screenshots for the M7, a prototype HTC smartphone that previously only existed in a slightly sketchy 3D render. The design appears to take a handful of cues from the Droid DNA, although there's touches front and back (such as different front camera and rear flash positions) that suggest it's not a carbon copy. What may matter most is the software: the M7 appears to be running Sense 5.0, which could bring a stripped-back look while adding new widgets for at-a-glance news and tips.
Before we declare this a preview of what we'll see in Barcelona, though, we'd do well to point out some of the more glaring uncertainties beyond just the lack of internal hardware details. The capacitive buttons sit unusually high on the front, for one; and they are in an unusual order -- the home button isn't in the middle. There's also none of the usual regulatory markings on the back -- even if authentic, this may be a prototype that doesn't reflect the final result. Whether it's the real thing or just wishful thinking, we may find out in a little over a month's time.
Update: It is worth pointing out that the time, weather and the length of the black bar over the location name in the widget suggest this device was spied in Taipei, the home of HTC. Unless, of course, this was a carefully calculated hoax.