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Review: Updated: HTC One A9
3:01 am | April 26, 2016

Author: admin | Category: Mobile phones | Comments: None

Review: Updated: HTC One A9

Introduction

Let’s get a couple of things straight: the HTC One A9 isn’t a flagship phone, which explains why so many iconic elements have been left out. And yes, it looks a lot like an iPhone 6S.

But that would miss the point of this phone. It’s a ‘fashion’ device, one for those who want a slightly cheaper smartphone with decent build and some attractive specs, sitting apart from the usual bun-fight for attention that happens twice a year when Sony, Samsung, HTC, LG and Apple throw their new phones into the ring.

I’ll get to the points about design later on in the review, but let’s deal with something now: this is an iPhone in shape to the untrained eye, something most people commented on when they saw the handset.

The argument is already raging about whether or not this is HTC’s DNA in the phone (the brand did popularise the metal-body-with-plastic-strips look on the original One) but the fact is that it looks like an iPhone 6S.

HTC One A9 review

Whether Apple copied HTC or HTC copied Apple is irrelevant. The iPhone is the world’s most popular single device, and as such is easily identifiable. Any brand that makes a phone that looks remotely similar does so with both eyes open.

Want to see the HTC One A9 in action? Check out our video review.

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IeVLgWZjmE

The desire to have this specific ‘flat body, rounded edges’ look on the One A9 has led to a few things going missing – things that are iconic elements of the HTC brand. The biggest loss is the Boomsound speakers on the front of the phone, which were an integral part of why I loved to recommend HTC devices.

HTC One A9 review

These have been replaced with a small mono speaker at the bottom, as HTC tried to find ways to slim the device down while also including a fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone.

HTC One A9 review

Let’s leave the ‘who copied who’ debate though, and focus on what this phone actually is: a well-made Nexus phone with a few touches of HTC’s smarts. Because it won’t be a phone that any fan of the Taiwanese brand will recognise on a software level, such is the integration with Android Marshmallow.

The interface is much, much closer to stock Android than ever, with loads of HTC’s apps being dropped in favor of just presenting the Google options; this is a phone that’s designed to be sleek when it comes to software, with HTC elevating the best parts of the new Android OS instead of putting its own stamp on the phone.

It’s stripped-back, clean and easy to use, with just a hint of HTC’s touch on top. It’s a Nexus with less of a Google stamp on it, with more freedom from the manufacturer to create the phone it wants.

There’s an issue around price though. In the US the HTC One A9 will be retailing at $399 until November 7, after which the price increases to $499. In the UK, however, it’ll launch at £429, which is about $650 – and that’s for a lower-spec phone.

In the US, there’s 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM; in the UK, 16GB and 2GB. I’ll get on to what that means in terms of performance later on, but it’s an incredibly odd strategy to make the lower-spec model more expensive in certain parts of the world.

Is this a phone that’s only designed to compete in the US? With the raft of excellent low-cost phones from Motorola, OnePlus, Huawei and more in Europe it seems that HTC is already giving up the fight with such a high price – which is a shame, as this is a phone that treads a new path for the brand and, mostly, does it very well.

Plus then there’s the issue of the HTC 10. HTC has brought out its latest flagship device in the form of the 10, which comes with a premium and more traditional HTC design, to compete in a similar market to the One A9.

It offers a slightly higher level of spec and if you’re looking for a phone which looks just like previous HTC handsets, this will be the choice for you. But that doesn’t mean you should write off the HTC One A9 yet. Even though it’s older, it’s still worth paying attention to and you won’t regret it when you realize it’s even cheaper than the HTC 10.

New camera, better battery and finger fun

In terms of real innovation there’s not actually not that much to talk about on the One A9, as HTC has refined, rather than revolutionized, the parts of the phone it’s touting.

That’s not to say that a brand has to change everything just to placate an insatiable need from today’s consumer to have the latest and greatest elements in one place.

Sometimes, just putting together some good bits in an attractive package yields something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

But HTC does need to get those parts right – the wail that the brand is in trouble has continued for a year now, and while it can’t make a silver bullet handset that can put and end to that criticism, a decent device will start to shift the momentum forwards, creating a space for the HTC One M10 to build into and start really impressing.

Camera

The camera on the One A9 isn’t as good as some might have been expecting from a phone like this; 13MP isn’t enough for the spec fans. But it’s more than enough for day to day snapping, and combined with optical image stabilisation it’s a decent option.

HTC One A9 review

For instance, there’s a raw mode on there – this takes a little longer to take pictures, but really does give you the full experience – and it can even automatically sharpen such snaps without needing to drag the pics off the phone and onto a computer.

Pictures looks great on the 5-inch Full HD screen – much better than on the One M9. Zooming into the snaps reveals very little in the way of over-processing, and it’s clear that HTC has worked hard to improve the camera on this phone to ensure it doesn’t see a repeat of the criticism it picked up for the earlier model.

There are some issues – the speed of opening the app and the shutter speed are far from industry-leading – but that, again, is down to the chipset used.

Battery up-and-downgrade

Anyone picking up a spec sheet will instantly be worried about the battery life of the One A9. It’s gone from a 2850mAh cell to 2150mAh, as there’s now a much thinner frame to squish the power pack into.

Given that HTC has never been great at battery management (and generally, it’s one of the worst around in past flagships) this doesn’t bode well.

But, the smaller power pack aside, there are reasons to think HTC could have solved the battery issue: the improved efficiency of Android Marshmallow, the sleeker software HTC has created, and the lower-res Full HD screen (well, compared to the likes of the Galaxy S6 and LG G4).

HTC One A9 review

The phone supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0 standard for super-speedy battery re-juicing, and will also get even better when v3.0 appears to speed things up further and improve efficiency.

Sadly, there’s no QuickCharge power block in the box, which is a real shame – HTC says it’s about giving users the choice, but in reality it’s just a cost-saving exercise that sadly means most people will never get the benefit.

All about the tunes

HTC’s always been great at making its phones sound brilliant, whether it’s from using Boomsound front facing speakers, Dolby support to make movies and music sound amazing, or just sticking a dedicated amplifier in the mix to improve the level of sound output.

What’s different this year is that HTC has taken the stereo front-facing speakers off the phone and shoved them into a mono speaker at the bottom of the handset.

This is a bad move – given the fact this brand needs to maintain its identity, to do the same thing as the iPhone and Samsung’s flagships seems a real shame.

Front-facing speakers genuinely offer something different for the consumer, and there were multiple times in this two week test when I bemoaned not being able to play music back by just sticking my phone on the side while cooking or cleaning.

HTC One A9 review

The brand has added in a decent DAC to help upscale all sound a warmer (and louder) analogue output, and combined with the 24-bit, 192Khz quality that the One A9 is capable of, most of your tunes will sound a lot better – the better your headphones, the better this will sound.

It’ll support Hi-Res audio files (FLAC etc) and just tune any other music (even through Spotify) to make sure you get the best quality.

However, it’s hard to say whether this is going to be enough of a game-changer, as LG, Samsung and Sony (the latter in particular) have been banging the Hi-Res audio drum for a long time now, and it’s not really setting the world alight in terms of the ‘must-have’ feature of a new smartphone.

That said, the sound output is really rather good – I found myself reaching for the HTC One A9 when wanting to watch a new trailer or indulge in a spot of Spotify music thanks to the richness and level of detail pumping into my ears.

Is it needed? No, but it’s a nice luxury.

Fingerprint scanner

No new phone with Android on is complete without a fingerprint scanner, and HTC’s One A9 is no exception, allowing for biometric security to lock your phone. The process of setting up the fingerprint is nice and clear – plus thankfully swift – and the lozenge on the front of the phone is very quick to recognise your digits.

It’s not clickable, which feels weird if you’ve used the Samsung Galaxy S6 or TouchID, but it scans fingerprints really well, functions as a second home button and should be a great addition when Android Pay turns up on a wider level.

HTC One A9 review

In longer-term testing, the scanner was excellent. It’s a very good way to open the phone when it’s turned off, and the only real issue I encountered was when the phone wouldn’t switch on when I pressed my thumb to the sensor.

The fact that the button doesn’t click – and therefore wake the phone up and tell me that the scan wasn’t recognised – feels weird and is rather annoying, but thankfully the instance was very sporadic.

Design

The HTC One A9 looks like an iPhone. I’ve covered this above, and I really don’t think that it matters compared to the phone it is underneath.

There’s no way this is an accident, of course – and I’m genuinely worried that HTC is going to invoke the Cupertino wrath with this phone – but it was a decision for a reason, and let’s judge the phone on how it performs, rather than what it looks like. You’ll have to decide yourself whether it’s something you want to buy into.

HTC One A9 review

Let’s focus on what’s not the same: the power button is jagged and much nicer to hit, the volume key is on the right-hand side of the phone and the headphone jack is in a easier to use place at the bottom of the phone.

HTC One A9 review

The smooth back of the phone is still really nice, no matter what it looks like, and invokes the smooth ceramic nature of the HTC One S from a few years ago. However, it’s flatter and the corners far more rounded – I’m trying hard to not to talk about the comparison, but I’ve written things very similar about this recently…

The top of the phone has a large plastic section too – usually we’d expect the infra red blaster to live here, but that’s gone – possibly hinting at a new design direction for HTC. The strip now houses the GPS chip, and the speed with which is locates you is impressive, so this bears out.

Overall, I think the One A9 is a phone that still shows HTC knows how to make a decent-looking phone, irrespective of how it looks compared to other brands. It’s certainly slimline: 7.3mm compared to the 9.6mm of the One M9. The iPhone 6S comes in at 7.1mm, so it’s certainly in that category.

HTC One A9 review

But for so long HTC was the industry leader in terms of design (and perhaps it will continue to be with the One M10 – this is a different kind of phone, after all) but this doesn’t feel like the jewellery-grade phone we’ve come to expect and it’s a shame that the talk about the design will be totally marred by its similarities to others.

The One A9 is very, very well made though. It feels like a dream in the hand and certainly won’t be subject to claims of bending any time soon – this thing is amazingly rigid and feels premium.

HTC One A9 review

However, in terms of design I’m getting a similar feeling as the one I got when handling the Samsung Galaxy Alpha – it’s a nice design, but it’s not one that will make the phone desirable to all. Just those that crave a slimline ‘fashionable’ phone – and the battery size suffers as a result.

Screen

The screen on the HTC One A9 is squarely what you’d expect with a phone of this price point. It’s a 5-inch AMOLED display, reportedly supplied by Samsung.

It’s not a QHD resolution like many others around at the moment, but even though it’s 1080p (or Full HD to those that prefer words) it doesn’t lack for sharpness.

OLED technology brings such a rich contrast ratio that it helps offset the issue, as the color reproduction brings a level of sharpness to make most things you watch look good.

HTC One A9 review

There are some issues, as web browsing doesn’t look as clear and crisp (thanks to mostly just being black text on white backgrounds) as it might on the Samsung Galaxy S6, and viewing photos doesn’t have the same clarity either.

But in theory that’s not a bad thing, as the lower pixel count requires less of an effort from the graphics chip, and therefore saves battery life – when you’ve put a 2150mA power pack in there, anything is helpful.

It’s not terrible in direct sunlight but not brilliant either – there could definitely be some more effort made to help with the auto brightness mode here.

It’s a pretty good screen for a phone of this size and category – it looks great with real clarity in the colors. It’s not the best out there, but the upper limit of what we’d be happy to accept.

Specs and performance

The new HTC Sense UI is completely changed, thanks to being much more Google-focused. It’s still Sense 7, but with a _g appended to the end in the settings to show that this is has had Google’s fingers in it.

Everything that could look more like stock Android 6.0 has had the brush applied to it, meaning the notification shade is now almost identical to that offered by the new Nexus phones, the icons look more similar and the general operation will feel very familiar to anyone with the latest Android phone from Google.

Google On Tap is supported through the home button (on the screen), and is a neat addition, accessed through holding the virtual home button. It’s not speedy, and does come up with some odd options, but it’s clearly going to get faster and more intelligent as time goes on.

HTC One A9 review

(In case you’ve forgotten, this will look for information on the screen and give you automatic search terms to enhance the information, as you can see on the left here).

The key thing here is that a lot of the apps that HTC fans have come to know and, well, not love but recognise, have been eradicated in favor of Google’s own: Play Music, Mail and Chrome are all in.

This might not bother the thousands upon thousands that auto-download these anyway, but it does take another level of control – and thus ability to differentiate – away from HTC. By removing its own stamp on a device the speed and design take center stage and, well, we’ve been there in the previous section.

That’s not to say it isn’t an attractive interface. The notifications shade, for example, is cleaner and easier to use (although annoyingly can’t be customised). The layout of the icons is the same, and the menu still has a sheen of HTC on top, looking very similar to the ‘normal’ Sense 7.

I’m still not a fan of the way the buttons pop in and out virtually on recent versions of Android – having them as physical keys left and right of the home button still just feels nicer, and there are times when they don’t appear when you want to, even with the swipe of the screen you need.

I definitely want to give a shout out here to HTC’s Themes: they’re really cool and help slow down the amount of time until you download a new launcher… if at all with the new One A9, as you can customise it to such a degree that it gives it a whole new feel.

HTC One A9 review

I’m starting to completely lose interest in Blinkfeed. It was something that could have been so awesome from HTC, but each time I pick up a phone to review from the brand I find myself loathing having to go through and update my news preferences time and again.

It should a) remember it from my HTC login and b) have become so fluid and relevant in the three years of development that it will always be surfacing content that I want to see.

Instead it’s mostly Google+ updates, random Facebook posts and – for some reason – lunch and dinner ideas very, very sporadically.

The best so far was suggesting lunch at the Breakfast Club. Not entirely sure that’s the right idea there…

Lower power engine

The HTC One A9 uses the Snapdragon 617 chipset and throws in 3GB of RAM. Well, 2GB of RAM. Wait, no, 3GB… the reason for the confusion is that it depends where you live. Europe is getting 2GB (and 16GB of internal storage) and US 3GB (with 32GB).

Asia, the lucky devil, gets both variants. Fun.

The difference could be marked, but I’m testing the 3GB variant and it’s pretty nippy when it comes to most tasks. It’s about as powerful as the new Nexus 5X in our Geekbench 3 test, which runs the Snapdragon 808 chipset, and for the most part it’s slick under the finger.

It’s not perfect though. Gaming is a notable issue, with the framerate rather lagging, despite HTC claiming that the 617’s GPU should be powerful enough to handle most titles.

There are also some apps that don’t like to open speedily: the camera is the biggest culprit, and that has to be down to the engine running it.

I hate to bring it up as it sounds like I’m making the same comparison for the sake of it, but there’s something similar to the iPhone here.

HTC One A9 review

A lower power processor combined with a smaller battery, and the only way to optimise it is to be vertically integrated with the software – which HTC is doing as hard as it can.

I’d argue it could have gone quad core here – I can’t see where the heavy lifting is happening, and even when trying to tidy up RAW files it’s so slow that it might as well take a few seconds longer.

The battery might be saved too – although the way the chipset is split into four ‘hard’ cores and four ‘soft’ cores to work different tasks might actually make that moot.

Music

There’s a decent amount of storage on this phone if you’re a US or Asian dweller, and you can supplement that with a microSD card to increase things obviously.

One A9

Here’s the better news though: you can upgrade that internal storage by formatting the microSD card to be absorbed as internal storage – that means you can put apps, games, music and movies on there and if you’ve got a decent card it’ll function almost as well as the internal storage thanks to the new ‘Flex’ mode in Marshmallow.

That means you can easily the world of music on there and still have reams of space – but Google doesn’t want you to do that. It wants you to use Play Music, sync all your files to the cloud and then pay $9.99 / £9.99 / AU$11.99 to get the world of streaming content too.

One A9

Don’t worry, you can still play your own music on there, and the sound is much upgraded thanks to HTC’s algorithms, Boomsound enhancement and a dedicated DAC to boost the sound and quality of the tunes.

Google Play Music isn’t the most intuitive of interfaces, but it can play the upscaled music well and once you’ve had a nose around to see what’s what, it’s not hard to work out how to get the best out of your tunes.

Movies

The video playback capability of the HTC range still irks me over a half a decade on. Put a video player on there HTC. Put a brilliant one on there.

Make one that’s like all the smart TVs out there, which sucks up all the video playing apps on your phone and lets you choose to go through them in one place. Let me see all my side-loaded videos on there so I can play them in the order I want.

One A9

Make it so that I don’t have to wriggle through the gallery to just get to the current series I’m watching – make it so that I can easily connect to Google Play Store from it and I can finish off the series I’m watching but don’t have all the episodes for.

The issue here is that yeah, watching Netflix or your own content on the One A9 is a good experience visually, but the playback sucks. HTC needs to bite the bullet and develop its own amazing app – or at least cajole Google into making Play Movies as described above.

The screen is lovely and sharp for video though – as mentioned before the OLED technology is great for color reproduction and contrast ratio, so you’ll get a decent experience.

Battery life

The battery life on the One A9 was something I’ve been looking forward to checking out, as HTC’s rolled the dice a little bit by going smaller on the battery pack (2150mAh compared to the 2850mA of the One M9) and keeping nearly everything else the same.

The engine is dialled down a little bit, with the Snapdragon 617 chipset running an octa-core design but revving at lower power – it’s newer than the 810 used in the One M9 though, so should get some power efficiency through just being newer.

The key thing here is Marshmallow – the new version of Android has Doze within it, which is meant to be more efficient than ever before at keeping apps from pinging for data when they’re not supposed to (or just don’t need to).

In practice… well, it’s hard to say. There have definitely been instances where the battery life has exceeded expectations, thanks to it being nearly 25% smaller in terms of cell size yet matching the One M9 for power management.

Then again, that only meant I got to to the evening most days before needing to charge. If I ever made it to bedtime before needing to hit up the charger, it was because I’d given it a little bit of a boost in the day.

The culprits varied too. Sometimes it was just apps going a bit rogue and asking for a bit too much data – but that was supposed to be culled in the upgrade to Android.

The other times it was little things like Bluetooth taking too much power (hello, blast from 2011) but rarely did it seems consistent.

One A9

There are some good elements to the power situation, as QuickCharge 2.0 is enabled from the outset and version 3.0 will work when it begins rolling out from Qualcomm. That will lead to even great efficiency and speedier charging – right now it’s only average.

And in truth, the ability to charge speedily is irrelevant anyway, as the charger that comes out of the box isn’t QuickCharge enabled. HTC reckons this is to offer choice, but it’s a bit hard to tout it as a feature when you have to buy an accessory.

The same is true of wireless charging – well, less so as it’s just not enabled full stop. In fairness, making it happen with the all-metal back would be rather tricky, but it’s something that people are starting to look for in their smartphones now, and it would have been a welcome addition.

In terms of out and out battery life power, our standard rundown test yielded very predictable results: after a 90 minute Full HD video run at full brightness, it has lost 25% of the battery life.

This is better than HTC devices of previous fame – 6% better than the One M9 – but nowhere near the performance of the Samsung range, which are excellent at media playback.

Camera

HTC One A9 review

The camera on the HTC One A9 is a 13MP affair on the rear, and the ‘normal’ Ultrapixel on the front front (4MP, but with much larger pixels for good light).

The rear camera is an odd one – HTC was all about the Ultrapixels for the One M7 and One M8, and looked to be making a point about what constitutes a good camera in a smartphone.

Then it completely gave up and went for a generic 20.7MP sensor for the One M9, and that was ripped to shreds critically by all and sundry, coming nowhere in nearly every camera test.

There’s a definite sense that the camera on the One A9 has to be a lot better, as it seemed like it was something of a shock to the brand that the camera on the previous flagship wasn’t deemed as one of the best.

HTC One A9 review

The One A9, well, is good enough. Given it’s a 13MP sensor, it performs well enough to create photos you’ll be relatively pleased with – but it’s nothing stellar.

The shots taken by automatic mode don’t have any real aberrations or weird curling at the edge of the picture, but the sharpness and color reproduction still seem a little, little muted compared to the very best out there.

The low light performance is quite impressive though – it’s no great shakes, paling in comparison to the likes of the iPhone or the previous Ultrapixel-enabled HTC phones – but as you can see on the next page, the sharpness and level of detail picked out is good, with the focus especially impressive for not much light to work with.

This is down to the optical image stabilisation offered, as it helps increase the amount of light going in while keeping things nicely in focus.

HTC One A9 review

There are loads of modes though – and if you drill into the Pro mode specifically you’ll start to really improve things. RAW mode is rather professional and takes (massive file size) photos, but the results are decent – plus you can upgrade them with an enhancement to make things look a lot nicer.

The enhancement itself takes a long time to do, seemingly as the chipset struggles with the workload – it really heats up the phone as well to use the camera for a while.

Macro performance is very good – as usual from HTC – and being able to tweak the settings in the Pro mode to tailor the photo to your desires can lead to some much more impressive shots. It’s a shame you can’t save the tailored settings, as you can mess with ISO, shutter speed and focal length to really get some cool effects.

HTC One A9 review

The other modes are largely novelty – slow motion isn’t a patch on what Apple has inbuilt naturally, with 240fps compared to the 720p (and quite grainy) 120fps on offer here.

Hyperlapse is pretty cool though – you can mess with the end result to speed it up and slow it down for different parts, which you don’t see often. It makes a more cultured video at the end, and while you won’t use it a lot, the video stabilisation is effective.

In short, the camera on the HTC One A9 is competent and capable – but unlike the Samsung or Sony phones of this world the automatic mode isn’t as impressive as it could be.

Camera samples

HTC One A9 review

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HTC One A9 review

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HTC One A9 review

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HTC One A9 review

Click here for the full-res image

HTC One A9 review

Click here for the full-res image

HTC One A9 review

Click here for the full-res image

HTC One A9 review

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HTC One A9 review

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The competition

Samsung Galaxy S6

HTC One A9 review

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is an ideal candidate as a rival as it’s the same price as the phone, yet does a whole lot more. The camera and screen are better than that offer by HTC, and the size isn’t that much larger either.

The power is off the chart in comparison, and battery life doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as you’d expect given the thinner dimensions.

The interface is more garish and it’s stuck on Android Lollipop – but there are upgrades coming that will probably make the battery even better. A great phone that it’s hard to argue against unless you’re really opposed to the overlay or sharper glass/metal design.

Moto X Style

HTC One A9 review

In fairness, this is a phablet vs a ‘normal-sized’ phone, but in price there’s a lot of similarity here. The power isn’t that far off either – Snapdragon 808 vs 617 will offer relatively similar power output in a few areas, and both have a battery life that will last until around twilight each day.

The X Style is slightly cheaper though, and has a much better screen in terms of resolution – it’s just whether you fancy the larger size. Both have a less-touched interface in terms of the manufacturer messing too much with it.

HTC 10

HTC 10

HTC has a brand new flagship phone on the market that was released about half a year after the HTC One A9. We really liked the HTC 10 while it’s still not perfect, but if you’re a fan of the HTC brand it’s worth taking a look at whether this slightly more powerful phone is for you.

It comes with a thicker yet premium looking design, a 5.2-inch 2K display, 4GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 820 processor and a 3000mAh battery. It’ll come with Android 6 Marshmallow software pre-loaded on your phone and you’ll get the choice of either 32GB or 64GB storage options.

I think it comes down to the design of the phone though on whether you’d prefer this over the HTC One A9. If you’re after that thinner, iPhone-esque design this won’t excite you as much as the One A9.

iPhone 6S

HTC One A9 review

I’m only putting this in the list as the design similarities have led to three different people asking if I was holding an iPhone when using the One A9 when out and about.

The iPhone has an inferior screen, a much higher price tag and a simpler (and less impressive) camera. The battery life is better, and many prefer the interface and appreciate the larger selection of high-quality apps.

However, there’s not really a comparison here. If you’re in the iPhone camp, the current crop is perfectly decent and probably enough to entice you to stay. If you are thinking of switching, it’s only the lower price of the One A9 that will lure you here – otherwise, it’s just the design similarity.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

HTC One A9 review

In my eyes, the biggest competitor. It’s got a reasonably similar-sized screen, the same price and is the little brother to a flagship.

In terms of power, battery life and camera though it’s got the One A9 licked – it’s a little chunkier in the design stakes and the interface is much uglier compared to naked Android (which the One A9 mostly has) but in terms of what you can do with the thing, the Z5 Compact seems to be a much more compelling buy.

Verdict

I’ve always been a fan of what HTC has done: tried to make Android into a workable thing in a shell that doesn’t look horrible.

The Desire, Hero, Legend, One S and then the ‘proper’ One line all have that heritage, and people shouldn’t care who much this looks like an iPhone – more how well it works in the hand.

One A9

HTC’s got very confused with how much the phone is and how powerful it should be, which is an indication of how little sway it has in the markets around the world – it’s a shame that it needs to kowtow to the desires of retailers who dictate how this phone should sit on shop shelves, as it’s actually a very decent smartphone.

We liked

Similarities aside, the design of the One A9 is the thing that marks it out so well. It’s well made, uses strong materials to create an excellent build quality and offers a delightful look and feel in the hand.

If you want to be blunt about it, you could say it’s the perfect phone for those that want the iPhone 6S look but prefer Android.

One A9

The camera is upgraded and takes decent stills when your work with the Pro mode to get the snap you want, and there are some cool other features on there to make it worth playing with. It’s certainly a step up from the One M9, which is the key thing here as that camera simply didn’t impress at all.

The audio capabilities are also strong and above expectations here – the amplifier that HTC has employed in the past has been upgraded to improve things sonically and it really shows, bringing an even further dimension to songs (and reiterating that it’s a really sad thing that the Boomsound speakers aren’t being used here).

Closer-to-native Android Marshmallow is also a great addition to the mix, and it’s nice to see how well it improves things. I’m not a massive fan of stock Android, but it does allow you to customise it as you see fit. And being able to still use things like the HTC Calendar is nice, given then offer genuine upgrades over the stock Google one.

We disliked

Sigh. Battery life again isn’t brilliant – and the stupid thing is it’s a decent performance. It’s just not a big enough power pack to be able to keep this phone going all day long despite the higher efficiency.

Make the phone slightly thicker HTC. It surely wouldn’t hurt that much. At least it means that when the One M10 appears, Android Marshmallow and the battery optimisations will have helped to the point of being able to last more than a day. Hopefully.

While the design is good, there are still some loose elements in the phone that shudder when you tap the screen – not what you’d expect even for a slightly cheaper phone.

The decision to split the spec of the One A9 across the globe really irks as well. Europe and parts of Asia just aren’t getting a phone that’s good enough really, where the more powerful model seems to be a much better performer.

While we’re here, the price is too high as well, especially in Europe where the lower-spec model costs more than the higher-spec variant in the US. Go figure.

One A9

I still feel like media could be handled better here too. Letting Google have its way with apps is fine if they’re brilliant (like Google Mail) but the movie and music experience is still sub par, and HTC could still have made a much better model.

Early verdict

I’m still not entirely sure what this phone is all about. It’s a well-crafted device that’s almost a flagship in many ways, and yet goes in a completely different design direction to the M line-up.

Yes, it looks like an iPhone, and HTC should have done more to avoid that if cries that it’s a mere coincidence are to be believed. That said, there are those that want the iFrame and Android together at last – this is that phone.

It’s a good tag that the One A9 is one of the first non-Nexus phones to come with Android Marshmallow, but that’s a title that won’t last very long and soon other brands will come with better variants.

The size of the phone is one of it’s big selling points though. Combined with a decent finish, this is a very tactile and usable handset, and the lower-spec chipset doesn’t really harm it most of the time.

The key question here: does the HTC One A9 warrant the cost? It’s hard to say yes beyond the polish the fact that paying more for a phone made by a top brand usually removes some of the worry about whether you’re getting a good one.

The One A9 works well, but there are many, many other more powerful and better specified phones out there, with equal effort put into design.

HTC screamingly needs a win, but despite trying to go back to basics here it hasn’t quite managed it in a way that’s going to make the One A9 stand out on the shop shelves.

First reviewed October 2015

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