HTC One A9 Review

At first glance you might think you're looking at an iPhone, whether or not that was HTC's strategy is of little consequence. The iPhone 6 and 6S are gorgeous in terms of design so I wouldn't take the comparison as a negative. It is worth mentioning that the A9 brings the profile of their recent Desire line but with a full-metal body. The result does have a resemblance to the iPhone but we're not here to judge HTC as a copy cat we're here to look whether or not you should be buying the A9.
by Nicole on November 1, 2015
Positives
  • respectable performance
  • impeccable build quality
  • Android 6.0
  • Very lean Sense UI
  • fast fingerprint scanner
  • all day battery life
Negatives
  • The design looks very familiar
  • Average camera with poor low light performance
  • No BoomSound speakers
  • The alluring price tag is temporary and in Germany it's flagship price for a mid range handset.

Size wise the A9 sports a 5 inch display is 7.26mm thin and weighs in at 143g. It’s slim, with great curves and is a departure from the M9, making it much nicer to hold but the price you pay is that you’ve got one slippery phone with the finish adding to this. If the A9 was any larger it would feel quite as gripable in hand the opting for a smaller 5 inch display was a great call in a sea of 5.5 inch handsets. A resolution of 1920 x 1080 on an AMOLED panel with 2.5D curves to the edges is topped with Gorilla Glass 3. Viewing angles are solid, and colors are punchy and vibrant in that typically AMOLED way. If you enjoy the over saturation of AMOLED HTC has included sRGB mode which makes the screen less vibrant by technically more accurate.

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The two-finish on the aircraft grade aluminum body plays a big part in why it feels so sweet in hand. On the top it looks like we’ve got an IR blaster, it’s not, it’s actually a polycarbonate window for the GPS antenna. So if you were hoping to use your phone to control your Tv you’ll have to wait for their next generation.

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The one feature that’s noticeably absent is Boom Sound, and in terms of single speakers what we have here is a poor effort. HTC has always been known for their audio quality but removing this shortens the length of the phone making it easier to manage with one hand. Sound does get better when using headphones, you have Dolby audio processing and support for 24 bit lossless audio. What you are getting in stead of Boom Sound is a fingerprint sensor that has yet to register a single mis. The more time I spend looking at the home button the more I’m impressed by just how good it feels and how sexy the 2.5D glass meets the smooth matte finish of the reader. And if im being perfectly honest, I’d rather have a fingerprint sensor than loud sound in terms of daily usefulness…but maybe check back in with me the next time I try to show someone a video on my phone.

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Under the hood we have Qualcomm’s new 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 617 processor. If you’re not familiar with the 617 it’s the latest silicon from Qualcomm and takes advantage of all the extra benefits in efficiency developed over the past year. The A9 won’t be winning any benchmark battles, but in hand real world performance going in and out of apps, scrolling through webpages, chat and emails feels surprisingly smooth most of the time. There have been a few visual hiccups and there were a few times it did slow down, but I never felt like I was using a midrange handset that compromised.

Ice Storm Unlimited                  9165
AnTuTu 64 bit                        40535
Geekbench single core              738
Geekbench Multicore               3015
Vellamo Browser                     2608

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When it comes to the Camera HTC has had trouble getting it right. The A9 is a good camera, like most smartphones these days in good lighting you can take a great photo, in this regard the A9 doesn’t disappoint. The A9’s optical image stabilization really does help level off some of the shake that often screws up low-light photos, but there’s a trade-off in accurate exposure, night shots are inconsistent and can easily be blown out. It’s essential they included OIS but unfortunately it can’t do much to combat all the grain and noise that overtakes your darker photos. When taking video OIS helps keep the shake away but you do see the occasional pulse for refocusing and 4K shooting is absent. Of course, if you fancy yourself a proper photographer, the simple camera UI is supplemented by a Pro Mode that lets you (among many other things) fiddle with your exposure, ISO, white balance and RAW capture modes that really let you get in there and do some post processing.

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If nothing else, the A9’s camera is consistently middle-of-the-road that can take some amazing quality photos but a bad out of focus picture will appear fairly regularly to remind you that the camera is average.

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Looking at the Software, shipping with Marshmallow has it’s advantages and HTC has started to pair back its custom interface doing little to hide Google’s latest version. Sense 7 looks familiar, you have Binkfeed an information aggregation tool to the left, suggested apps is still on the home screen, but this is HTC has gradually pared back its custom interface, and the A9 is arguably the leanest version of Sense we’ve seen yet. The company’s custom Music and Mail apps have been dropped on certain M9 models, according to HTC it’s because Android is maturing. And if you take a look at the companies financial situation it makes sense to scale back on making stuff that you can get from Google for free.

Looking at things I’m glad they kept HTC Themes marketplace allows for amazing levels of customization with wallpapers, fonts and icons. Another thing that is going to make a lot of people happy is that HTC has vowed to push updates 15 days after google issues them.

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Looking at Battery Life 2,150mAh seems too small, but using the device it seems HTC has sprinkled a little bit of magic inside. An optimized Snapdragon 617, Marshmallow’s Doze feature and HTC own tweaks have lead to a phone that will get you through the day. I was able to go about 18 and a half hours checking email, streaming Soundcloud for 2 hours using headphones, 20 minutes of maps navigation, regular Facebook and whats app chat and all the photo and video taking I did for this review. When it comes to charging you’ve quick charge 2.0 and with a software update at some point you’ll get quick charge 3.0.

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Now let’s talk storage and RAM, because this is quite a mess. The version that’s shipping in the US gets 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage in Germany we’re getting 2GB or RAM and 16GB of storage, so that’s the version we’re testing. Naturally running the 16GB version has me nervous, but the A9 comes with Marshmallow which offers Flex Storage. This lets you format a memory card as internal storage which lets the A9 migrate over some data. The downside is you don’t decide what makes it over so my immediate concern would be moving app data and sacrificing performance, but so far this hasn’t been an issue.

Pricing

HTC has come up with a pretty interesting pricing structure, in the US at launch it will cost $400 and in two weeks it’ll jump to 5, In Germany there will be no such discount, and it is going to cost a whopping 579 euros and be under speced with 2GB RAM and only 16GB of storage. Like all companies that sell globally the regional teams make local decisions, so carriers and local market trends dictate the price. Having said that if I lived in Germany and were keen on grabbing I likely wouldn’t be able to see past my blind rage at being over charged. I might be mad enough to completely boycott the phone because of the massive price and specification disparity. But in the US for 400 I’d have no problem pulling the trigger.

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The HTC A9 is a well-built device and it’s one of the first to ship with Google’s latest version of Android, but being light weight, shorter and adding a finger print sensor cost the A9 some the One series’ hallmark features like Boom Sound. What you are getting is respectable performance, impeccable build quality, Android 6.0, a very lean Sense UI, fast fingerprint scanner & all day battery life. This comes at the expense of an average camera, a familiar design, no BoomSound speakers and the the US the alluring price tag is temporary and in Germany it’s a flagship price for a mid range phone.

Rating
Design / 8.5
Camera / 6.5
Sound / 7
Performance / 8.5
Battery Life / 7.8
Software / 9
Price / 6.5
Editor's Choice / 8
Hardware / 9
Display / 8
HTC A9

If you're looking for a pocket friendly handset that's built like a tank with an average camera that can't take pictures at night the A9 could be a good fit for you. There aren't many 5 inch phones on the market that are this sleek and sexy...well, as long as you don't count the iPhone.

7.9
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