OK, let's talk about the fruity elephant in the room. The HTC One A9 looks a heck of a lot like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. It's not just the plastic antenna lines that HTC said they came up with first (they did), it's the flat design, the side tapers, the beveled glass on the front and the size. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, and various considerations about the HTC design team's sudden lack of originality and whether you want your iPhone evangelist friends to think you've converted, let's talk about this Android smartphone's basic features. It has a 5" AMOLED full HD for vibrant colors, a midrange Snapdragon 617 CPU, a much improved camera (vs. the HTC One M8 and M9), a very good fingerprint scanner and a microSD card slot. It's the first non-Nexus phone to ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and it's available from a variety of carriers or unlocked direct from HTC. The unlocked model is one of the few that supports both GSM and CDMA networks, so it works on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon complete with 4G LTE. There's a separate Sprint model, no worries Sprint customers. The pre-order price was an attractive $399, but alas, that ends November 7, 2015 and the actual retail price is $499. Carriers may sell it at different prices, and in fact AT&T sells it for $520 and Sprint (goodness knows why) is currently listing it for $696.
Design and Ergonomics
The HTC One A9 is extremely comfortable in hand, and we didn't have problems with accidental screen presses despite fairly narrow bezels. Following the iPhone's lead works here, since the iPhone puts strong emphasis on ergonomics and usability. I love handling the A9, and for those with small hands, it's a godsend. I have long fingers and large hands for a woman, which is often a recipe for disaster with a small phone (the combo causes all sorts of accidental presses), but I had no problems with the HTC. The phone is attractive, again (sorry, it's not our fault) in an iPhone sort of way. It's slim, svelte and the tapered glass looks lovely. The HTC One A9 is available in a variety of colors, and color availability depends on carrier and country. Ours is silver and is widely available. The phone's finish (at least our silver model) is extremely slippery--get a case.
HTC has improved the power button, giving it a strongly ridged texture that's welcome, though not quite as necessary as on the HTC One M9 where the volume buttons were stacked right above the power button, making it harder to tell them apart by feel. The One A9 has a volume rocker, and that feels very different from the M9's separate buttons--add on that textured power button and you'll be operating this phone by feel instantly. The HTC's unibody aluminum casing is classy, and the plastic antenna window up top detracts only a bit from the overall look. It is curious that HTC needs that plastic up top when they have two plastic antenna lines that cross the body.
The phone has the usual micro USB port on the bottom and a 3.5mm audio jack for the 24-bit DAC audio amplifier within. HTC's focus on audio continues here, though the BoomSound stereo front-facing speakers are gone, replaced by a down-firing speaker on the bottom edge like the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S6. Audio from the speaker is average among smartphones rather than stellar like the One M9, though headphone audio sounds excellent.
Samsung phone lovers will appreciate the AMOLED display that delivers more vibrant colors, richer blacks and higher contrast than HTC's usual SLCD displays. This is a midrange phone, so we're not getting the latest Samsung AMOLED panels that you'd find in the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5, but it's still very colorful and bright. HTC offers a few color tunings and a gloves mode for heightened sensitivity. The display's 1920 x 1080 full HD resolution mates well with the 5" panel, and QHD would be pointless overkill, not mention unlikely in what HTC views as the more affordable offering. The display is bright enough to be useable outdoors and is pleasingly sharp for extended reading.
This may not run on Qualcomm's fastest mobile CPUs, but the HTC One A9 with the 1.5 GHz Snapdragon 617 feels very fluid and responsive. This is an octa-core CPU with 4 high power 1.5 GHz cores and 4 lower power 1.2 GHz cores (the phone switches between the high and low power set of cores, so only 4 cores are active at a time). The 3 gigs of RAM helps with multitasking, and the clean Android experience doesn't bog things down. If you're a serious 3D gamer always playing the latest intensive titles, then the A9 might not impress you as much; you'll notice occasional frame drops in games like Asphalt 8, though the game is still very playable and enjoyable. The US model has 32 gigs of storage plus a microSD card slot for storage expansion. That puts it ahead of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S6 that lack card slots, but on parity with the LG G4 and HTC's own One M9.
Deals and Shopping:
HTC One A9 Video Review
Calling and Data
The unlocked model we have for review supports voice and fast 4G LTE data on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon (Verizon activation is coming in December according to HTC). Sprint users will have to buy the Sprint-specific model, either direct from HTC (much cheaper) or from Sprint. The unlocked model supports a wealth of bands and even handles T-Mobile WiFi calling and their new band 12. Data speeds are good and voice quality is very good. Voice sounds full and natural without digitization, and call volume is average.
Finally, a good, albeit not best of breed camera in an HTC phone. Their long foray into Ultrapixel rear cameras left us unenthused--sure they were good in low light thanks to enlarge pixel sites on the sensor, but the resolution and clarity fell far behind the competition. The HTC One A9 uses a 13MP Sony sensor that was tops in 2013 and 2014, and has now been surpassed, but it's still quite good and captures sharp photos with lively color and good light balance. Indeed, the days of HTC's severely blown out highlights are gone, and photos are decently exposed, even if not as well as the LG G4, Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6s. When using the two-tone flash in dark settings, we see some white-out of bright areas, but in outdoor sunny settings, highlights are decently controlled. The camera is on par with the LG G3, and that phone's camera still holds up well. The rear camera has optical image stabilization (OIS) to help with shaky hands, though we saw more bounce in videos than expected with OIS.
The front camera is an Ultrapixel model, and that's fine since we tend to shoot low light selfies often and don't need the very high resolution of a rear camera for up close and personal shots. Both the front and rear camera can shoot 1080p video, and the rear camera has time lapse and fast motion video too.
Here's a mystery: a phone with a midrange CPU and a smallish 1080p screen should have good battery life, even if that battery has 2150 mAh capacity vs. the big screen, hungry CPU flagships with their 3,000+ mAh batteries. Alas, the HTC One A9 has thoroughly average battery life. With light to moderate use it manages a day on a charge, but with moderate to heavy use you'll be looking for the charger or an external battery pack. We averaged 4 hours of screen on time (that's actual use time). Standby times are excellent thanks to Android Doze, a new feature in Marshmallow that cuts down on app power consumption during sleep. The phone supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, but as usual, HTC doesn't include a quick charger in the box, so you'll have to buy one separately for around $35.
The HTC One A9 is an easy phone to like at the pre-order price of $399, though we wouldn't call it a bargain. At the Nov. 7 release price of $499 (more at some carriers), it's hard to recommend as a wise buy when there are even better phones available at a similar price. The LG G4 is often discounted now, the Nexus 6P is a higher end piece at the same price and even the Samsung Galaxy S6 is seeing sales and discounts as Samsung tries to boost sales. If you particularly want a small screen unlocked phone, the choices are narrower, but the Moto X and Nexus 5X are both cheaper and fine phones. Granted the Moto X is no longer a small phone, but the Nexus 5X is suitable for smallish hands.
Pricing aside, HTC has made an attractive phone, though it's an almost embarrassing iPhone clone. It's fast and responsive, has expandable storage and the AMOLED display is colorful and sharp. It's one of the first phones with Android 6.0, though that appeal will fade as more phones get upgrades and new models are launched.
Price: $499 unlocked, carrier models pricing varies by carrier.
Display:5" AMOLED display. Resolution:
1920 x 1080. Gorilla Glass 3. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor Has gloves mode.
Battery:2150 mAh Lithium
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable. Supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 but you'll have to buy the QuickCharger separately (standard rate charger is included).
Performance:1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon617 octa-core CPU with Adreno 405 graphics. 3 gigs RAM, 32 gigs storage.
x 2.78 x 0.53 inches. Weight: 4.67 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone plus CDMA with 2G. 3G and 4G LTE. Unlocked (non-Sprint) model bands: 2,3,4,5,7,12,13,17,29.
Camera:Front Ultrapixel camera and rear 13MP camera with dual LED flash, OIS and f/2.0 lens (Sony sensor). Front and rear cameras can record 1080p video.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Integrated dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.
Software:Android OS 6.0 Marshmallow with HTC Sense software.