HTC One A9 review
|Review: November 2015|
In a nutshell: The HTC One A9 is an Android phone that looks like an iPhone! Sharing a very similar superslim metal unibody, it has a fingerprint sensor on the home button, and a slightly larger screen. The A9 has premium looks and a premium price to match, but its performance is decidedly mid-range, and the battery is far too small.
Looks like an iPhone
"Design worth imitating" is HTC's cheeky slogan for the One A9, a phone that looks uncannily like the iPhone 6s. Hmm. There's definitely some imitating going on here. If you ever wanted an iPhone but prefer the Android OS, the One A9 is the phone with your name on it.
It's undeniably attractive, with a slimline metal unibody and edge-to-edge glass that curves to meet the metal body. It comes in a range of metallic colours - Acid Gold, Opal Silver, Deep Garnet, Carbon Grey, Rose Gold and Cast Iron. The back is flat, and the camera lens protrudes slightly. And just like the iPhone, it has a fingerprint sensor built into the home button. This feels oddly out of place, as the home button is reproduced virtually on-screen, immediately above.
One feature that the A9 doesn't have, is the dual BoomSound speakers that have enhanced previous generations of the HTC One. Instead the speakers are placed in the bottom of the phone, just like the iPhone, and are much less capable. The One M9 or One M8s do have this feature. Was HTC so committed to the idea of replicating Apple's design that it threw away its own best assets?
The screen is actually slightly larger than the iPhone 6s, measuring 5 inches, which is an excellent size, and has a higher 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution too. It's an AMOLED display, and has excellent contrast, but is a little less bright.
Despite its iPhone looks, the A9 runs Android 6 with HTC Sense. Android Marshmallow is a good reason to opt for this phone. Android 6 brings features such as Now on Tap, which is an extension of Google Now, and provides context-sensitive information within apps when you press the home button. Doze is another handy feature, that saves battery power when in standby. Spoiler alert - this phone really needs to do everything it can to preserve battery power (see Battery Life below.)
HTC Sense offers customisable themes, and the BlinkFeed news aggregator.
8-core power, but not fast enough
The processor used for the A9 is the all-new 64-bit 8-core Snapdragon 617. This has a combination of 4 cores running at 1.5GHz and another 4 at 1.2GHz. These are modest speeds, and this really isn't the right processor for a high-end smartphone. It would be good for a mid-range phone, and in fact phones like the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, which costs about £150, has the same kind of performance. The 2GB of RAM helps, but the A9 doesn't have the kind of power that we expect from a flagship device.
The built-in memory is 16GB, which again isn't a lot for a high-end phone, although you can increase this by a monstrously massive 2000GB with a microSD card.
13 megapixel camera
The A9 has a similar rear camera to the One M8s. It's a 13 megapixel BSI camera with autofocus, LED flash and Optical Image Stabilisation. HDR mode helps to compensate when parts of the scene are in shadow. These features make it a good performer even in poor lighting conditions, such as indoors or at night.
The video can capture 1080p HD, but not 4K, again betraying the fact that this isn't really a high-end model.
The front camera is one of HTC's trademark UltraPixel cameras, with enhanced low light performance, making it good for indoor use.
This is a 4G phone that supports fast Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB and a headphone jack. GPS and GLONASS positioning are included. Oddly for a phone supporting Android Marshmallow, it uses a micro-USB port instead of the new USB Type-C.
HTC has a bad habit of giving its phones under-powered batteries, and it's happened again here. The 2150mAh battery is much smaller than most Android phones with similar specs. It's almost as small as the battery in the iPhone 6s, and anyone who's used an iPhone will know how terrible their battery life is. HTC optimistically quotes a maximum of 9 hours continuous Wi-Fi use for this phone. In your dreams, we say.
Fortunately, the phone does support Quick Charge technology, so at least you can give your phone a quick boost to get it through the day.
Making an Android phone that looks like an iPhone might have seemed like an amazing idea at HTC headquarters, and the phone does look and feel amazing. But things went wrong in the implementation phase. Firstly, a phone that looks this good and is priced this high needs to have flagship specifications to match. The mid-range processor, modest memory and unremarkable camera just don't cut it here. And that battery is far too small.
If you want an expensive phone that looks nice, but may ultimately prove frustrating, then the A9 could be that phone. Instead, we'd opt for the iPhone 6, which costs about the same and at least is the real thing, or we'd look at genuine flagship Android phones that are priced the same. We're talking about phones like HTC's own One M9, or the Samsung S6 or LG G4.
If, as we suspect may happen before too long, the price falls to around £250, then this phone will become a much better option.
HTC One A9 features include:
- Android 6 with HTC Sense
- 13 megapixel camera with autofocus, BSI sensor, OIS and LED flash
- 1080p HD video recording
- UltraPixel fixed-focus front camera
- Display: 5 inches, AMOLED, 1920 x 1080 pixels
- GPS & GLONASS
- Dolby Audio with Hi-Res Audio
- Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617, 4 x 1.5GHz & 4 x 1.2GHz, 2GB RAM
- Memory: 16GB plus microSD card (up to 2TB)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz), Bluetooth 4.1, micro-USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack
- 4G LTE, HSPA/WCDMA, GSM/GPRS/EDGE
- Size: 146 x 71 x 7.3 mm
- Weight: 143g
- Battery: 2150 mAh
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