HTC has been in turbulent waters for some time now. The top models of the Taiwanese manufacturer do not want to appeal to the general public. This has to change with this recognizable HTC One A9.
The One A9 should turn the tide and was also presented as an iPhone killer. It features a 5-inch AMOLED display with Full HD resolution protected by Gorilla Glass 4. The similarity to the iPhone is not only in its appearance. There are also similarities in terms of functionality. For example, we find a fingerprint scanner under the screen. At the back there is a 13.1 megapixel camera, more about which later.
Content of the box
HTC Pro Studio headset
Identifying competition for the HTC One A9 is not that easy. This is not because it is better than all the others, but because of its hefty price tag. At the moment it still costs more than 500 euros and that puts you in a segment where most phones have better processors and larger displays. If you look purely at the specs, we point to the 150 euros cheaper Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) as a competitor. And that is exactly the problem for the One A9. Actually, it deserves a considerable price drop so that it becomes a serious alternative. In the US, HTC had already started with this, but it was only temporary. Here on the other side of the puddle they didn't think such an introduction discount was necessary. At the time of writing, the price of the device had already dropped from 599 euros to 526 euros. Still a considerable amount if you ask us.
HTC itself says that the A9 is inspired by the first One; the M7. It reminds us of an iPhone. That doesn't alter the fact that we found our test model in 'Carbon Grey' to look very neat. The whole front of the device is black and is covered by a plate of Gorilla Glass 4 which slopes a bit towards the edges. So there are no metal grilles for stereo speakers because they are missing on the A9. Therefore there is space under the screen for a fingerprint scanner. It looks like a physical key, but it cannot be pressed. Above the screen there is a slot for the earpiece with the camera on the right side. There is also an invisible notification light on the left above the slot.
All sides are slightly convex, making it comfortable to handle. On the left there is a drawer for the SIM card and one for a microSD card. On the right side we find the volume buttons and below that the power button. The latter seems to be a slider because of its profile, but it is not.
The top forms one whole with the metal of the rest of the appliance but is inlaid with plastic. Presumably to improve reception. At the bottom is a grill for the speaker, the regular microUSB and headset connection. Strangely enough none of them are nicely centered or aligned and it looks a bit messy. The speaker also sits in a place that is quickly accidentally covered by a finger.
The metal back has no bulging and is only interrupted by two plastic lines. These are not nearly as conspicuous as on the iPhone. At the very top is the camera with double LED flash. The camera protrudes about a millimeter but there is still a small rim around the lens so it will not damage easily.
Just like the iPhone, the One A9 has a slightly narrower and longer screen. This also makes the device narrower than most other smartphones. This makes the device easier to hold. Furthermore, the phone also feels very solid and premium. The only drawback is that all the metal offers little grip, so you have to be careful that the device doesn't slip out of your hands.
The battery of the A9 has a capacity of 2,150 mAh. This is not really large, but there is no need to power a heavy processor or large screen with the corresponding resolution.
With a screen on time of between four and five hours, the A9 could generally maintain 24 hours on a single battery charge. In addition, the screen brightness was just under 50%. Over the entire test period, it is particularly noticeable that its endurance is unstable. Some days are better than others and there is no clear cause for the differences.
Doze, the new battery saving feature in Android 6.0, does not yet seem to function optimally on the A9. The purpose of this feature is to ensure that the device goes into a sleep mode and consumes hardly any energy when unused. This may cause some notifications to come through a little later, but should save money especially at night. After a few days it seemed to go better but we are not completely convinced.
The One A9 also has its own (extreme) energy saving mode. Both can be switched on automatically at a certain battery level. In extreme mode, only the telephone, message, calendar, calculator and clock functions remain available. The A9 has support for Quick Charge 2.0 and 3.0, but a quick charger will probably have to be purchased separately.
Despite its price, the One A9 is not powered by a high-end processor. Although the Snapdragon 617 processor of the A9 has eight cores, it cannot compete with the Snapdragon 810 that we find in many other flagships of the competition. In general the processor performs properly and the unit works smoothly, but in some cases the unit needs considerably more time to start up an application. This is especially apparent when opening Google. This could also be due to the fact that the One A9 has 2 GB of working memory in the Netherlands while it has 3 GB in the US. Moreover, one for a lower price.
The One A9 is equipped with an AMOLED display. The 5-inch screen has a resolution of 1,920 × 1,080 pixels, giving a pixel density of 441 PPI. This ensures a beautiful and amply detailed image with good viewing angles. Normally we see a very vivid color reproduction on AMOLED screens, sometimes against the excessive, and deep black tones. On the A9, colours and black also look good, but it's not so overly saturated that you immediately recognize the AMOLED technique. The color profile can be adjusted to standard RGB but that makes the image a bit yellowish.
In addition to the fingerprint scanner and the power button, the unit can also be activated using Motion Launch. Although this works most conveniently when no security is set. This function uses gestures that you make on the turned off screen. One of those gestures is the familiar and convenient double-tap to wake up the phone. You can also swipe in one direction on the screen to open a certain window or function. A total of five gestures are available that can only be turned on or off. However, it can lead to accidental activation of the device and the camera does not start up flawlessly.
The One A9 runs on Android 6.0 and a lite-version of HTC's Sense shell lies over it to spare the processor a bit. This means that the notification screen and the quick settings, which are displayed by dragging the status bar down, look almost the same as with standard Android. Furthermore, HTC has left out the necessary widgets. For example, there is no widget available for its own calendar and mail applications. We don't think the latter is really a useful development.
Unfortunately there is still a screen for BlinkFeed on the far left of the start screens that listens to the name Highlights in Dutch. Here you can load feeds from social media, your agenda, recommendations for restaurants in the neighbourhood and news via News Republic. Adding RSS feeds manually is still not possible. As far as we are concerned, HTC would have been better off removing this from Sense. It is possible to turn off the BlinkFeed screen but replacing it with Google Now is not possible.
The application menu is divided into separate pages that need to be browsed vertically. The sorting and grid size can easily be adjusted. It is also possible to hide apps. To the standard Google package for Android, HTC adds the apps calendar, file management, FM radio, gallery, photo editor, help, HTC Club, HTC Dot View, clock, News Republic, voice recording, themes, weather, flashlight and Zoe video editor. Only HTC Club can be removed from it. As far as we are concerned, HTC makes a good assessment here as to which apps should be added or given their own signature and they hardly impose anything.
HTC's virtual QWERTY keyboard is easy to use in terms of layout, but the operation could use some improvement. In the meantime HTC has been somewhat overtaken in this respect by other manufacturers and developers. For example, after a comma or point a space is not automatically entered. The keyboard is fast and can be adjusted to your personal preferences via the settings. It is possible to use prediction for two languages at the same time, but switching between two or more languages is easier in practice.
You can also enter text by dragging your finger from letter to letter. This should work faster but the dictionary often chooses rather illogical words. Next, you need to improve this by making the transition between typing and swiping awkward, and here too, spaces are not entered correctly automatically.
The A9 is the first HTC device with a fingerprint scanner on the front and HTC succeeds in our view. With the scanner on the front under the screen, the device can easily be unlocked with one thumb in the hand and lying on the table with another finger of your choice. The scanner quickly recognizes stored fingerprints from all possible angles and usually one attempt is enough. The device is activated and unlocked at once. The scanner can also be used as a home button but has no additional functions.
We are used to HTC devices having BoomSound. The A9 is no exception, but as said, the device has no stereo speakers on the front. This is one of the distinguishing features of HTC. Moreover, the technology is now only available for connected headsets.
An NFC chip is also missing from the device. This is not a technique you use on a daily basis, but you can expect a new phone in 2015/2016 to have one. The reason why it is missing is unclear. The metal unibody can't be the reason because the HTC One M9 also has it and it does have NFC.
In the Netherlands, the One A9 is only available with a meagre 16 GB of storage. A little over 7 GB of this is taken up by the firmware. In order to expand the memory, a microSD card of up to 2 TB can be inserted in the A9.
HTC's cameras have not always been convincing, but the camera of the One A9 is equipped with optical image stabilization and phase detection autofocus. The latter can also be used to automatically take a picture when the camera detects a smile. The 13.1 megapixels of the camera are all used as standard in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The camera can be quickly started from the lock screen by dragging the icon upwards. The camera does not need to be unlocked to take a picture. Furthermore, the camera opens and reacts reasonably quickly.
There are a lot of buttons in the interface, which makes it a bit messy. There are buttons for HDR, flash, gallery, other settings, video and self-image camera. The four dots in the corner can also be used to switch between the recording modes selfie, camera, panorama, pro, hyperlapse and slow motion. In addition, it is also possible to scroll horizontally or vertically, depending on how you hold the camera, through the various recording modes. In pro mode, photos can also be captured in RAW format. You can also manually adjust white balance, brightness, ISO, shutter speed and focus. If you want to shoot photos in up to 13.1 megapixels, Zoe mode is not available and if you want HDR, the flash is no longer available.
The camera on the One A9 is clearly an improvement over its predecessors. The iPhone 6s or Samsung Galaxy S6 to the throne is a bit too high, but the results are certainly satisfactory. Colour rendering, details and lighting look good, especially in daylight. Focus is a bit less strong and sometimes goes wrong, especially in less ambient light. Also the flash cannot always compensate for this.
The 4.0 UltraPixel self-image camera on the front is solid and gives you the opportunity to use Live Makeup to soften your appearance a little. Taking a picture can be done using the timer, but also by means of a car selfie or speech selfie.
Video can be recorded at most in 1080p (Full HD) and not in 4K. This is a bit strange because the camera and other hardware should be able to handle it. Many similar phones can do it, so this is a bit of a shortcoming. Possibly HTC deleted the function to create enough difference with the flagship M9.
The HTC One A9 looks and feels very premium on the outside. The fact that it is slightly less premium on the inside doesn't make it a less pleasant device in daily use. Although you won't always reach the end of the day on one battery charge and it sometimes takes a little longer to complete certain tasks. The fingerprint scanner works very well but at the expense of stereo speakers on the front. Also the camera is, especially for HTC terms, more than good. All in all, HTC has a device that could break a lot of jars in the midrange segment.
However, should we eventually decide to buy, we would still shy away from the price. His price tag is not met by the delivered hardware. Processor, monitor and camera are solid and perform well, but not strong enough to compete with the competition in this price segment. Or sometimes even cheaper. Moreover, in the US people pay considerably less for better specifications and repair service. That's a bit offensive to us.