In our HTC One A9 review, we will find out if this is the device the company needs and the one that its fans yearn for

With the struggles HTC have endured over the last couple of years, they needed something new and different to make themselves relevant again. Not even the great HTC One M9 could bring them back from the abyss. Therefore, the One A9 is a rejuvenation of sorts for the company.
In our HTC One A9 review, we will find out if this is the device the company needs and the one that its fans yearn for. The One A9 is a new direction for HTC, sitting below its flagship One M9 but with a price, materials and design typically associated with the top end.
Before we find out if this is a winning recipe, here are some key features:

  • 5″ 1080p capacitive touchscreen with 441pi; Corning Gorilla Glass 4
  • Snapdragon 617 chipset with a 4x 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & 4x 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53 processor, Adreno 405 GPU, 2GB/3GB of RAM
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with HTC Sense 7 UI
  • 13MP AF camera with optical stabilization with a BSI sensor; dual-tone dual-LED flash; 1080p@30fps video capture
  • 4MP fixed-focus UltraPixel front-facing camera with a BSI sensor; HDR; 1080p video recording
  • 16/32GB of built-in memory; microSD card slot
  • 2,150mAh battery

Design and Build
To say the HTC One A9 looks a little like an iPhone 6S would be an understatement. But in fact, HTC claim they aren‘t copying the Apple design, instead the newest iPhones are copying their design of the HTC One M7, which they are taking forward in another direction here.
While that may be true, the design is more known because of Apple‘s devices, immediately prompting people to think: “œThey have just copied Apple.“ That‘s not a favourable reaction to a design that is undoubtedly beautiful. The phone feels very well made. The smooth metal back and curved sides are a delight to hold.
There’s also a physical home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner on the front, the screen’s glass curves at the edges to meet the body and there are speaker holes drilled into the bottom edge, just like on the iPhone.
The power button has a nice jagged design, making it feel distinct. The volume buttons are also nice a clicky, something we have found wanting in HTC‘s in the past. The One A9 is very, very well made overall. It feels like a dream in the hand and certainly won’t be subject to claims of bending ““ it‘s amazingly rigid and feels premium.
We feel HTC has hit the sweet spot with this 5-inch display size, also coming in at a comfortable 1080p. As we‘ve posited before, we don‘t mind having a 1080p display instead of the Quad HD displays in many flagships these days, the average person can‘t tell the difference. That being said, this isn‘t quite a flagship (more on this later).
This display, reported produced by Samsung, doesn‘t lack for sharpness. It has a pixel density of 441ppi, so you won‘t be able to spot any pixels with the naked eye. This time HTC have employed an AMOLED display as opposed to the usual LCD tech they have used in the past, meaning the blacks are deeper than we‘ve seen before from HTC.
There are only a few issues holding it back. One is the brightness, which is good enough but not outstanding. Another is that whites can appear slightly subdued, gloomy even.
This is a tolerable weakness in the display, and it is still a good display. Not in the same league and the Samsungs and iPhones of this world, but nothing to scoff at.
User Interface
The HTC One A9 was one of the first Android devices to ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. It is a great Android update, with great features such as Google Now on Tap and Doze.
Doze significantly reduces battery drain when the device is on standby (more on this later). Google Now on Tap is an extension of Google Now and is supported through the home button, where it can automatically contextualise text in any app you are currently using to bring up relevant information, such as even information, restaurant listings or even reading a time mentioned in order to create a calendar event.
The Home widget remains as a suggestion platform to get you the apps you need, for where you are. It includes 3 sets of apps; one for home, one for work, and another for away. You can adjust which apps show up when, and it will automatically detect which screen should be showing based off of GPS or to which WiFi you are connected to. One of the bubbles that can’t be customized on this widget are the suggestions; filled with apps that HTC thinks you might like depending on your usage.
Blinkfeed is another interesting feature of the Sense UI. There are other devices that have a similar feed, but HTC‘s seems to be the best at picking the most important parts of your various feeds to show you what is happening in the world around you and with your friends and interests.
If you don‘t like the look of the software, HTC also offer a range of different looks through its Themes engine. The software is certainly solid and Sense UI still remains our favourite Android skin. It might be getting a little stale after a couple of iterations with little change, so let‘s hope HTC takes that to heart.
Performance and Battery Life
The phone runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor – an octa-core chip that’s a step down from the more potent Snapdragon 810 processor in the higher-end M9. This means the device isn‘t exactly a flagship, but it does carry a flagship price tag.
For general navigation around the Sense interface, this chip copes adequately, providing smooth transitions and quick-opening of apps. Unfortunately, we were surprised with sluggish performance when pushing the One A9 a little further.
Opening the camera app and shooting raw photos felt really slow at times, playing graphic intensive games was prone to stutters and slowdowns, making the game often difficult to play. We could forgive a less powerful device for these bumps in the road, but at this price point we expect more.
On the battery life front, we have already talking about Doze. It does greatly improve standby time ““ which is very noticeable over a weekend when you aren‘t attached to your phone. It will last you an entire weekend if you don‘t often check your phone or get a lot of notifications.
That being said, overall battery performance is actually disappointing. The battery has a 2,150mAh capacity, which should last a full day, but rarely does. Using data or watching videos a couple of times a day will often drop the battery charge by 10-20% in no time. Also, don‘t even attempt to play a game if you want to get through the day with the charge.
The One A9 is unfortunately one of those devices where you have to keep a charger close by wherever you go.
Fingerprint Scanner
The fingerprint sensor, which doubles as a Home button, is excellent. It read my fingerprint quickly and I never had trouble unlocking the phone. The fingerprint sensor is just as good as Apple‘s Touch ID, and it works with Android Pay.
Interestingly, it doesn‘t click like the button you will find on the iPhone or Samsung. Also, it does make for strange interactions sometimes in that the fingerprint sensor is a home button, but then you have a software one on the screen as well.
Although some Android users (us included) will be annoyed that it‘s on the front and not on the back of the phone like many competitors, some may find it easier to use because they‘re used to the iPhone and Samsung placement of the button. You won‘t be disappointed with its performance, though, it is top notch.
The 13MP shooter on the back has an f/2.0 aperture, supports RAW and manual Pro modes, Hyperlapse, 1080p video, and has OIS.
It takes decent photos, though the colours looked a bit cool to our tastes. Details were crisp in close ups, and most shots looked good even on a cloudy day. At night, the A9 suffered from the same problems that plague most smartphone cameras. The headlights from taxis and the glare from streetlights resulted in washed out flares of light.
The manual mode helped produce better images with some fiddling, and it‘s a great addition to the camera software.
In auto mode the white balance can be a bit off, which is distracting in many photographs with a lot of light.
The camera can‘t go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4. Then again, few can. Most people will be more than happy with this camera, as it deliver everything we all want in one on an everyday basis.
Even though they always seem to make sensationally beautiful devices, HTC can‘t seem to get them of the shelves and into hands of consumers. The HTC One M9 was a great device, and sadly we still prefer that one to the A9.
The A9 costs about R8,000 which just seems too steep for what you get. For that price, you can get a 64GB Moto X Style Pure Edition, which has a significantly better processor, sharper screen, more storage, and a customizable design that‘s also quite premium. It may not be all metal, but it‘s a more powerful phone, which will likely get software updates more quickly than the A9.
While it is a good phone, and gorgeous like few others, with the performance difficulties and only better than average camera performance, we can‘t recommend it over some others in the same price range.
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