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HTC One A9 review: iDentity crisis

HTC has made a clear dive for holiday season sales with the release of its latest smartphone, the HTC One A9. The focus of this device is less on high-end hardware, and more on design and functionality. Whether the Taiwanese manufacturer becomes the new hero of Android – or falls flat on the nose – we’ll find out in this HTC One A9 review.

Rating

Good

  • Solid main camera
  • Camera software
  • Little bloatware

Bad

  • Low benchmark performance
  • Incomplete software
  • Poor selfie camera

HTC One A9 release date and price

So it's finally here. We’ve now resolved the confusion surrounding the HTC One A9’s name; it was rumored to be the HTC Aero, which turned out to be the One A9’s codename. HTC boss Cher Wang had said it would be the company’s "hero smartphone" when it hit the market, but it's clearly a more mid-range device. The HTC One A9 will be available in carbon gray and opal silver, topaz gold and deep garnet, although it looks as though the gold version will be coming a little later.

The HTC One A9 price is currently available for pre-order, with a promotional price of US$399. This only lasts for a week – after that it’ll jump to US$499, which will put it in a different price bracket. At nearly US$500 you're moving away from the Nexus 5X, Moto X Pure Edition and OnePlus 2, and into Xperia Z5 and Galaxy S6 territory. 

HTC One A9 back 2
HTC can say what it likes, but the HTC One A9 looks an awful lot like the iPhone 6. / © ANDROIDPIT

The US version has 32 GB of internal storage and 3 GB of RAM, while in the UK there's two variants: one with the same configuration as the US model and one with just 16 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM.

HTC One A9 design and build quality

HTC has very obviously copied the design and features of the iPhone 6. In stress tests, the aluminum casing heats up to more than 122 degrees, so you might not want to hold onto it at these temperatures. The Gorilla Glass 4 display is scratch-resistant and the aluminum unibody looks good and feels good.

The similarity to the Apple iPhone 6 is striking - even shocking

HTC has repeatedly stressed that it was one of the first manufacturers to build a smartphone with a metal unibody and that the One A9 was a further development of its own design language. Nevertheless, the similarity to the Apple iPhone 6 is striking. Even CEO Cher Wang reportedly said that the One A9 was a good alternative to an iPhone 6s at a company event.

androidpit HTC One A9 3
Without the HTC logo, you might think that this is an iPhone 6s. / © ANDROIDPIT

The soft curves of the housing, the back inset with two antennas and a slightly protruding camera lens, all hark back to the iPhone 6. The camera’s dual-tone LED flash is positioned at the center of the One A9, rather than to the side, so that's one difference.

The flat back surface of the HTC One A9 is polished, rather than the usual brushed back of HTC’s M series. The sleep/wake button is corrugated with very deep grooves, so the button can be identified easily without looking at it.

androidpit HTC One A9 7
Only on second glance can you see differences between the One A9 and the iPhone. / © ANDROIDPIT

At the bottom of the face, underneath the display, sits the home button, which is similar in design to OnePlus 2. It's a capacitive button – ie non-depressible – with an integrated fingerprint sensor that unlocks the device.

HTC One A9 home button
The home button has a capacitive fingerprint sensor. / © ANDROIDPIT

It is surprising that HTC has only equipped the One A9 with a 5-inch AMOLED display, considering how large the bezels above and below it are. There's certainly room for a bit more screen on the front of the device.

HTC One A9 screen 2
The 5-inch screen looks great . / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC One A9 display

The HTC One A9 display brightness is as good as you’d expect of AMOLED technology. You might think that Full HD resolution is inadequate in late 2015; to the naked eye, however, it’s difficult to perceive the difference between Full and QHD on a 5-inch screen.

HTC One A9 screen viewing angle
The HTC One A9 AMOLED display isn't bad at all. / © ANDROIDPIT

The inclusion of sturdy Gorilla Glass 4 screen was a good choice. The HTC One A9 display also features softly rounded edges, just like those of similar displays using 2.5D glass edges (such as the Moto X Pure Edition or the iPhone 6s). When wiping over the edge of the screen, there are no sharp edges. It’s a pleasure to use.

HTC One A9 screen 1
The HTC One A9 has Gorilla Glass 4 on the front to protect it from scratches. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC One A9 special features

Like all Android flagships of the Marshmallow generation, the HTC One A9 packs a fingerprint sensor. It can store prints of up to four fingers and recognize them from many different angles. The way it works is excellent and its placement in the capacitive home button is especially cool. 

HTC One A9 finge print
Once set up, the fingerprint scanner works well. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC One A9 software

The HTC One A9’s software is so new that it’s not even finished yet. Our review unit has already received an update, so we can’t make any conclusive evaluations just yet, but so far the software is light and stable, although battery life isn’t great (based on display-on time) and benchmark results are pretty poor.

The HTC One A9’s software is so new that it’s not even finished

The phone comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and as expected, HTC has skinned it with its Sense user interface.

HTC One A9 android version
HTC One A9 could be the first smartphone with Android 6.0 in many markets. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sense 7.0 is a thin skin. It’s not overloaded with new functionality, but has a few visual enhancements. Menus are nicely animated and it has an overall gloss to it.

The One A9 isn't overflowing with pre-installed apps

It’s good to see that the One A9 isn't overflowing with pre-installed apps. HTC removed many of them from the pile, leaving you to choose which ones you want from the Play Store. That means you can get new camera app features, for example, without waiting for a major firmware update.

Still, HTC has some software development to do here. Our review unit received a software patch, with improvements that weren’t easy to find. In performance and stress tests there were crashes and overheating pains. These teething troubles will hopefully be resolved before customers being buying this device.

HTC One A9 performance

Inside the HTC One A9 is a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 617. This 64-bit octa-core processor is based on two quad-core ARM Cortex A53 CPUs. They are clocked at either 1.5 GHz or 1.2 GHz.

In Europe, HTC has equipped the One A9 with a very average 2 GB of RAM and just 16 GB internal memory. But at least memory can be expanded via the MicroSD slot, which offers support for microSDXC cards up to 2 TB.

androidpit HTC One A9 8
The MicroSD slot can accommodate microSDXC cards to a maximum of 2 TB. / © ANDROIDPIT

Our benchmarking suite for testing the HTC One A9 performance comprised AnTuTu, Geekbench 3, Base Mark X 1.1 and Vellamo and we carried out three runs of each. The phone performed well enough that it survived, but still struggled under heavy load.

In one pass with Base Mark X 1.1, the app ran into a speed bump; the phone heated to 140 degrees and battery life dropped suddenly to 18 percent. Android actually stepped in and tried to stop the app. HTC still has plenty of work to do. It offers only 49 percent of the performance of our benchmarking gold standard, the Galaxy S6. 

androidpit HTC One A9 4
The HTC One A9 faltered during our benchmark testing. / © ANDROIDPIT

The benchmark scores ​​are all far below what you'd expect from looking at the hardware. You could also assume that software updates would increase performance significantly. We’ll test this device further and report back.

HTC One A9 audio

Unlike many good HTC One devices, the A9 doesn't have stereo sound. Sound squeezes only through a small grill at the lower edge of the housing and sounds tinny. HTC has forgotten the equalizer too, and even dropped its own music app.

androidpit HTC One A9 6
You can use BoomSound with your headphones. / © ANDROIDPIT

The supplied headphones sound a little better than the speakers. You can activate BoomSound to raise the bass and mids, but its low-frequency performance isn't great.

HTC One A9 camera

The main camera is the top feature of the HTC One A9. It takes surprisingly good shots and the camera app provides professional features for manual control, including the option of RAW output.

The main camera is the top feature of the HTC One A9

Our results with the main camera were impressive, partially considering HTC used no stunning high-end hardware here. It shoots images with a maximum of 13 MP in 4:3 format. Those who prefer 16:9 format snaps will be locked down at 10 MP. The sensor allows for an aperture of f/2.0.

androidpit HTC One A9 9
Like on the iPhone, this sapphire glass camera lens protrudes from the body. / © ANDROIDPIT

The camera also has optical image stabilization (OIS), and a Hyperlapse time-lapse feature. You can find a test video for this feature in the gallery below.

androidpit HTC One A9 1
Maximum resolution is only available in 4:3 format. / © ANDROIDPIT

The camera records video in Full HD. The manual mode of the app allows you to adjust color temperature, shutter speed, ISO speed and exposure.

HTC One A9 camera manual settings
In manual mode, you can lend a hand with the slider. / © ANDROIDPIT

White balance is adjustable too, and ISO ranges from 100-1600. But up to 800, image noise is kept within limits. Shutter speed range gets as fast as 1/8000th of a second. In addition, you can set focus manually.

RAW images can be edited with the preinstalled image editor. Even in heavily over or underexposed shots you can still find detail that would be lost with JPEGs.

On the front, there's a 4 MP shooter with an aperture of f/2.0. The images it takes aren’t so great and the pictures look a little smeared.

Color reproduction of both cameras is great

Color reproduction of both cameras is great though, and white and flesh tones look quite natural. Take a look through the gallery below to see the results of the camera at full resolution.

Image gallery of the HTC One A9

HTC One A9 battery

The 2,150 mAh HTC One A9 battery proved mediocre. Thanks to Android Marshmallow, there are some battery savings that help you along, but heavy use will drain the A9 quickly.

androidpit HTC One A9 3
The HTC One A9 doesn't impress with its battery life. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC is on the ball, so it included the Marshmallow update off-the-bat. The power saving mode Doze means this phone’s background apps will sleep while you’re not using it, and 15 percent of synchronization operations are completely stopped when in standby.

There's also Extreme energy-saving, which only allows you to contact the outside world by phone, SMS or email.

HTC One A9 usb
A Quick Charge 2.0 port is in the HTC One A9. / © ANDROIDPIT

As with other HTC devices, the One A9 has Quick Charge 2.0 support. The included 1.5-amp power supply fully charges the One A9 in just over an hour. Quick Charge 3.0 is offered too, but you would have to buy a new charger to use the technology. Whether 3.0 is really as fast as Qualcomm promises, we can’t say, due to lack of hardware.

HTC One A9 technical specifications

    • Type:
    • Phone
    • Model:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Manufacturer:
    • HTC
    • Dimensions:
    • 145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26 mm
    • Weight:
    • 143 g
    • Battery size:
    • 2150 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5 in
    • Display technology:
    • AMOLED
    • Screen:
    • 1920 x 1080 pixels (441 ppi)
    • Front camera:
    • 4 megapixels
    • Rear camera:
    • 13 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • LED
    • Android version:
    • 6.0 - Marshmallow
    • User interface:
    • HTC Sense
    • RAM:
    • 2 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 16 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • microSD
    • Chipset:
    • Sorry, not yet available!
    • Number of cores:
    • 8
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 1.5 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1

Final verdict

The HTC One A9 was apparently built for users who want an iPhone that runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow at a reasonable price. You get what you pay for, as they say, but here you might be disappointed. Apart from the good camera and lightweight software, the One A9 falls short in too many places.

androidpit htc one a9 vs iPhone 6 5
We told you so... / © ANDROIDPIT

The software is not finished yet, the performance is below average and the price just too high. Hardware like this normally sells for less than US$400, not the nearly US$500 that HTC is asking. I'd even recommend a 16 GB Moto G (2015) as an alternative. It takes equally good pictures and has better battery life.

androidpit htc one a9 vs iPhone 6 8
The iPhone 6 and 6s are the One A9's 'inspiration'. / © ANDROIDPIT

Those who actually buy the One A9 as an iPhone alternative will probably be angry a short time after the purchase. The One A9's internal memory fills too fast and the battery dies too quickly. Commuters will have to charge their A9s several times a day if they want to read their newsfeeds both in the morning and evening.

What do you think of the HTC One A9? Do you think an Android iPhone-lookalike could take off? Let us know in the comments.

Readers' favorite comments

  • Fred Brown Oct 23, 2015

    But this phone is almost half the price of the iPhone, with much better specs !!! The iPhone 6 copied HTC's metal design, iphone copied HTC's long slender body, iPhone copied HTC's antenna bands, all of these predate the iPhone and were seen on the HTC one m7 and m8 before the iPhone 6 was ever out !! Iphone also copied HTC's ZOE camera, and HTC's 5mp front facing camera !!! All originally found on HTC !! The iPhone stole the finger print scanner idea from motorola ! And did you really just say the A9 has a circular camera lens like the iPhone lol, all camera lens are either circular or square !!! HTC had Circular camera lens way back before smart phones were even around !! Compare the one m7 to the iPhone 6 and you'll see where this design came from !! The only thing that could be said was copied from the iPhone would be the bottom speaker !!! Everything else was first copied by Apple off HTC !!! The A9 is a combination of HTC's one series phones and it's butterfly phones !! If you look the butterfly has the same shape with rounded edges and the same camera look, and the HTC one series have the all metal design and antenna bands !!! Maybe people are just now realizing how bad the iPhone copied HTC !!!

15 comments

Write new comment:
  • Agora que já está nas lojas aí fora eu aqui no Brasil to querendo comprar um e gostaria muito que vocês que entendem tão bem esse aparelho mim ajudaria a escolher falando sobre ele e bom mesmo ou não bonito ele é como não posso compra um iPhone ele é bem parecido kkkk obrigado

  • Well- The One A9 is better than the One M9 in some areas but falls short in others. The performance may be sub-par but this phone was made to be MID RANGE. Seriously, FIVE hundred bucks for this phone. Camera is much, MUCH better than the One M9, having OIS and RAW support. But no 4K is a drag, even my Galaxy s3 can record 1080p video! At least HTC remains with a great design and screen, and even better battery with Marshmallow software efficiency.

  • I think the A9 is just terrific. Smart looking, smooth and crystal clear. I bought 3. waiting for delivery. Its a terrific upgrade from my HTC One S and I also like the feel in hand of an iPhone but with the freedom of Android. As the software is finished it will just be even better and after watching the launch I really like all the attention to detail that has gone into a superb high-mid range device. The quality of mine and others HTC units has never let us down.

  • I am far from an HTC fan but this phone is intended to be mid-range. We all get this and it is sad that this knuckle head of a writer does not. "The HTC One A9’s software is so new that it’s not even finished." Really...and you "write" for AndroidPit? Agreed that other reviews have been far more objective.

    HTC is brave for slimming down Sense and for that, I will give this HTC phone a try for 30 days as well as the Nexus 6P(for 15 days) knowing they are VERY different phones.

    I love pure Android but the Nexus program is losing me. The Nexus 5 required an early replacement then the 2nd one died too early but not early enough to get replaced again; Nexus 6 was purchased to replace (this Summer) but it is just too big for my San Francisco apartment.

  • Eric H Oct 31, 2015 Link to comment

    I honestly think the best thing can say is this is a horrible review. have only had one in my hand for a minute, but I have seen a dozen + reviews that seem totally objective. This one not only appears non-objective, but bias to Apple (I would lay odds that you are carrying an iPhone at this moment) but most importantly, you have to read other reviews. No matter the bad ones, the ok ones, or the great ones (yes there were several) you missed out on so many points, and in many cases had a differing opinion on almost all the other reviews.

  • A lot of other phones may have slightly better specs, but they also have so much shit on the phone that it compromises battery life and performance !!! I could care less about a 2-4k display on a 5" phone, honestly it's not worth the cost of performance and battery life !! Phones like Samsung run great in the beggining but shortly start to lag and stutter due to so much junk and bloatware on the phone !! HTC keeps things simple and that's why the phones run great and don't lag like other androids !! I haven't had 1 issue with my HTC one m8, it's as smooth, and fluid as it was on day 1 when I got it ! With HTC you can also easily make the phone more fluid and snappy by going to developer options, and checking, "force gpu rendering" and "force msaa" and also changing all 3 of your animations setting from (1) down to (.5) , and your phone will be much more responsive and a lot more fluid , as well as sharper graphics !!! You can even maximize the cpu performance but it will drain your battery quicker, so I usually leave it alone !!

  • But this phone is almost half the price of the iPhone, with much better specs !!! The iPhone 6 copied HTC's metal design, iphone copied HTC's long slender body, iPhone copied HTC's antenna bands, all of these predate the iPhone and were seen on the HTC one m7 and m8 before the iPhone 6 was ever out !! Iphone also copied HTC's ZOE camera, and HTC's 5mp front facing camera !!! All originally found on HTC !! The iPhone stole the finger print scanner idea from motorola ! And did you really just say the A9 has a circular camera lens like the iPhone lol, all camera lens are either circular or square !!! HTC had Circular camera lens way back before smart phones were even around !! Compare the one m7 to the iPhone 6 and you'll see where this design came from !! The only thing that could be said was copied from the iPhone would be the bottom speaker !!! Everything else was first copied by Apple off HTC !!! The A9 is a combination of HTC's one series phones and it's butterfly phones !! If you look the butterfly has the same shape with rounded edges and the same camera look, and the HTC one series have the all metal design and antenna bands !!! Maybe people are just now realizing how bad the iPhone copied HTC !!!

  • I think this new smartphone One A9 will become the game changer for HTC unlike One M9 which was a total piece of crap. Though its quite early to say but I find out the device to be a good one in terms of processor and camera too.

    • Xchris Nov 13, 2015 Link to comment

      So in what way was the m9 a piece of crap? Seriously if you think the m9 is a piece of crap you know absolutely nothing!

      • It's not a piece of crap. But I must say, I was a tiny bit more content about the M8. I've had that one for about a good year, when I switched to the M9 and sold the M8. My M8 never had any issues whatsoever, the M9 does have the occassional stutter. But all in all, still a HTC fan

  • Shreedhar Oct 22, 2015 Link to comment

    Its the media who bias while delivering to customers the right information. Yes Apple copied HTC design, back then when HTC released its first touch screen smartphone, everyone copied the same design. At the end of the day HTC and Apple signed 10 year no lawsuit agreement in 2012 so that both the companies can cross utilize the efforts of designers and researchers in both companies. Being a customer one shouldn't be worried at this fact, because ultimately we are getting the best phones

  • More than an IPhone clone, I think this is HTC's insult for apple, like saying that they can make a phone that looks nice like apple's, but still has an external MicroSD card slot and powerful internals. As seen in this comparison, versus.com/en/htc-one-a9-vs-apple-iphone-6s-vs-samsung-galaxy-s6 , surely HTC isn't messing around with choosing the internals well. With a 1.5 ghz octa core processor, I think this is the perfect balance between battery life and performance. Not too high a clock, but also not too low. The Galaxy S6 though has much more features so that may be a competitor for this phone. Apple now just has the ForceTouch feature as their biggest advantage, and maybe the iOS because some people prefer it over android of course.

  • currently@ carphonewharehouse UK its £469 for 16 GB version....... that's just insulting....must be trying for apple size profit margin

  • The half life of the device will determine whether the device lives up to its look. But otherwise, this is SOLID!

  • my daughter loves it....., but I can't get past iclone and home key instead of speaker, a company with the design chops and heritage of HTC could have done a much better job of an iclone, maybe an iPhone with boomsound and highly optimised bezels and tight construction..... someone needs to challenge apples design and build quality and their profit margins....shame it's not the A9.

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