HTC made introduced another mid-range phone for One series. HTC One A9 is a mid-range phone indeed, but with higher price point. However, does this phone justified the price that HTC set it to be? Or is it just another mediocre mid-range phone that HTC made just to fill the gap for the cheaper flagship-ish phone?
HTC present the device in rather familiar format that they always do. Overly big square box with the phone and the usual miscellaneous items like cable, charger and the earphones. Tbh, I think it’s a waste to do so, because it’s not efficient and obviously not really ‘green’. The charger is just a typical normal charger, although the One A9 does support Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. If you wish to utilise the quick charging rate, you’ll need to opt for optional third party QC 3.0 certified charger.
The build for the phone is pretty solid. It’s like an iPhone solid. Well, to be honest, it does resemble the iPhone 6 a lot. In a glance, you wouldn’t notice it. The phone feels so light in hand and it has quite slipper grip, mostly due to the all-metal body. The display covered by 2.5D curved glass toward the side body. At the bottom of the display, situated the fingerprint scanner. Unlike the iPhone, the scanner is not a physical button, a capacitive one instead. Imo, it works better than a physical button like the iPhone or Samsung.
At the top of the phone, you’ll see a bar of black antenna. The whole bar is the antenna for the phone itself. There’s no sign of IR blaster or whatsoever, so if you use your phone as a remote control for your TV or Blu-Ray player you’re out of luck with this phone.
Both power button and volume rocker situated at the right side of the phone. The volume rocker placed at the top of the power button, making it easier for you to reach the power button and unlock your phone, if you need to. The nice groove of the power button which make you easier to differentiate when you’re either reaching for the power or the volume rocker.
The nanoSIM as well as the microSD card slot is on the left side of the phone. The phone only supports single SIM usage, so you’ll have to swap out your home SIM if you’re out traveling. HTC separated the slot for both nanoSIM and microSD make it easier to swap out your microSD card without ejecting your SIM card.
At the bottom side of the phone, you get your audio jack, speakers and a little bit off-centred microUSB slot for charging. I’m not sure the reason why it is off-centred, but it is looking very weird to me. It should have enough space to make the microUSB right at the centre underneath the fingerprint scanner.
Although the One A9 looks and feels premium, it is considered as mid-range smartphones, high-tier mid-range to be exact. It is the first HTC phones that resembles iPhone a lot. You wouldn’t recognise the different from afar. The One A9 is preloaded with Android Marshmallow 6.0, and it is one of the first mid-range to get the latest version of Android and it shipped with it too. HTC also released an update for the device to the newest Android 6.0.1.
Under the hood, the One A9 powered by Qualcomm 617 Octa-core, with Adreno 405. The Qualcomm 617 is one of the mid-range chip that support Quick Charge 3.0 at the time of release. Its 3GB of RAM also gives enough memory for it to handle multitasking flawlessly. I hardly feel any lags or stutter when I was using it as my daily driver. It is mainly thanks to HTC decision to keep the minimal tweak onto the software part as well. You can install enough apps with the 32GB on-board memory, and use the microSD card for the camera.
The One A9 comes with LTE Cat7 support, which enable you to download at very fast speed if your carrier connection supports it. There’s no additional sensor comes with the HTC One A9, only the typical Bluetooth LE and the sort. It’s a disappointment that HTC doesn’t equip IR into the phone, but given the limited usage of the IR itself, it makes sense.
HTC One A9 featured a 5” Full HD AMOLED display. As we all know AMOLED is known for their very vibrant colour mode. The display on the One A9 looks about the same. However, if you don’t like the vibrant looking colour, you have the option to opt out for a typical wash out LCD (sRGB) colour mode.
With 441 PPI, you wouldn’t have to worry about seeing the pixel on the screen. It is crystal clear and you won’t notice any pixels on the screen unless you’re peeping it with microscope or macro lens. The brightness works well under the bright sun as well. I usually just set the brightness to auto mode with the slider right in the middle, and it will automatically bumped the brightness as high as it can under the sun. If I feel like I need a little more bump, I can manually add the brightness by adjusting the slider towards the right side to significantly increase the screen brightness. However, along the period I’m using it, I don’t really need to do so.
Around the display, you’ll get the very nice looking yet fragile 2.5D glass. I have to say if you plan to own this device, you must get a case with it else you’ll risk shattering the front glass panel. Although is covered with Gorilla Glass, it is not shatterproof, and given curvy glass sides, it make it ten times more fragile than it is.
If you’re used to HTC devices, you probably accustomed to the out of the screen capacitive buttons, but for this device the navigational buttons are located in the display itself so you’ll have to sacrifice portion of the 5” display like the other Android devices out there.
How is the camera for a mid-range phone? It is good. The back camera can capture image at 13 MP at f/2.0. For a mid-range phone, the aperture of the back camera is pretty big. It has bigger aperture than the camera on iPhone 6S. Having a big aperture lens is a big plus especially if you’re taking low light photos. The kicker for the phone is not just the big aperture, but it also feature an OIS (optical image stabiliser) which will help a hell lot more when taking night shots. It will reduce the motion blur made by your hands and give you a cleaner image. It’s rare to see such feature in the device of this range. The camera also feature a true-tone (dual-tone) flash to make sure your night photo with flash won’t look too white or overexposed.
Aside all the goodness, I always love a very well positioned camera, and the One A9 is one of them. The back camera is position right in the middle of the back body. It will ease you to compose and position your phone properly before taking a shot. I’m not sure if this applied to all of you out there, but I always take a long time to position properly if the camera is at the side of the back body. Even a tiny slant will irk me when I’m trying to compose my shot. Having the camera in the middle helps a little because what you see on the screen is symmetrical to what the camera sees. You won’t need to compensate the lens being off-position from your viewfinder.
The front camera isn’t half as back too. It has the same big aperture as the back camera and it has a wider viewing angle too. It’s a good camera for selfie or even a group selfie. The front camera has face exposure detection, when the camera will determine the proper exposure for your selfie just to make sure your selfie were exposed correctly. Both front and back camera has the capability to shoot video at 1080P at 30 fps.
The camera software has pretty nifty stuff in it too. First, you’ll have the option to shoot photo in pro mode. In this mode, you can tweak the settings to your liking and utilising the new camera API in Lollipop, you can capture your photo in RAW mode. Noted that if you’re shooting in RAW mode, you might sacrifice more memory space due to huge RAW file size. You still can edit your RAW photos in the phone itself, but if you want to utilise the massively detailed images, you’ll need to transfer it to your PC and use powerful imaging software such as Photoshop etc.
Aside from that, the camera has a few configuration that can help you to take photo automatically without having to press the shutter. As example, in selfie mode you can set the camera to automatically snap a photo whenever smile detected in the frame. You can also opt for voice snap if you don’t feel like smiling in your photo, or if the camera can’t detect smile when in low-light condition.
The video mode doesn’t shine much on this phone, but with the built-in OIS, it helps to lose the shakiness that you’ll get on normal phone camera. You can manually change the exposure and focus by tapping around the screen while you’re still recording too. At the same time, if you find something funny and wanted to snap a photo while you’re still recording, you can do that too. I do wish the phone support 4K video recording, but given the limitation of the Adreno 405, it can only record up to 1080P.
The speakers on this phone is a disappointment. If you’re familiar with HTC, the BoomSound what makes HTC stands out of the rest but this phone lacks it. Primarily due to the device design itself, placing the speaker grill at the bottom of the device. Not only that, it almost doesn’t feature stereo-feel speakers anymore. It only have one speaker like what you typically see on other devices.
The sound quality of the speaker also subpar at best. Not to mention, the position of the speaker is at the wrong side of the body. If you’re viewing videos or playing games, you’ll often muffled the sound by accidentally close off portion of the speaker if not all. I tend to rotate my device 90 degree to left leaving my index finger to accidentally close off the speaker grill. Almost all devices that have bottom speaker usually place them on right side instead of the left side like on the One A9. I do hope HTC stops this mediocre speaker design and return back to their good ol’ BoomSound speakers sooner in the future.
HTC One A9 is one of the first smartphone that is shipped with pre-loaded Android 6.0, aside from Nexus device that is. Android Marshmallow has bring a tons of improvement in term of user experience as well as cosmetic In the One A9, the amount of Sense UI also has been minimalized in order to give room to the beautiful stock Android UI. However, there are still few Sense element that HTC present themselves into the UI.
Looking back the old Sense UI, almost everything has been changed to follow HTC UX design sense. However, on this phone, the notification panels as well as the Overview windows has been stripped down to bare pure Android. HTC however did add addition button to the user in case they wanted to clear all the apps in the Overview section.
Another change that HTC made on this One A9 is its navigational button. As I mentioned earlier, HTC no longer included their usual home and back button layout as it appeared on the previous phone, but instead they follow the usual style that you’ll often seen on other Android device, the on-screen button. Although I do like the on-screen button, having it on AMOLED screen is a bit a turn off because over the time, the black navigation bar will cause the AMOLED to have burn screen.
On the HTC One A9, the fingerprint scanner doubled as the home button as well. Therefore, if you’re in an immersive app, you can just tap the scanner to go back to the home button. Although it looks like a redundancy to have two home button, it does feel like so. Instead, you have option to go exit the app immediately without making the on-screen button appears.
Out of the box, the HTC One A9 runs a pre-encrypted Android OS. You’ll need to set up a security measure such as pattern or password to enable this. Thus, every single time you restart the device, you’ll need to re-enter the security measure you’ve set to decrypt the data. The data on your phone will always be protected and if anyone get your device, they won’t be able to access the data without decrypting it first. The security measure go beyond the OS itself. With Marshmallow, you’ll get device protection as well, where no one else can use the device when they formatted it by enter the wrong pattern or password, rendered the phone useless for the black market.
HTC One A9 browsing performance was average for the range it falls in. According to Vellamo, the performance of the HTC One A9 is about the same as the old LG Nexus 5, but given the time of the phone was released, it was not looking very good. It scores XXXX marks on Vellamo, and this is pretty low in comparison of other smartphones that in the same price range.
For gaming, One A9 is just above average. With Epic Citadel benchmark, the phone can only run about 33 fps at Ultra High Resolution with full resolution settings. Although the fps performance was okay with 33 fps, however, playing games with the One A9 gives you a slightly laggy feeling.
As for the thermal, when I ran the Epic Citadel for three times, the thermal sensor shows a spiked to 79 C. This is quite high and it seems that HTC didn’t do any thermal throttle for the CPU itself. It will allow it to run at maximum capacity despite the temperature ramp-up.
The HTC One A9 only packs about 2150 mAh of juice. Even though this doesn’t seems a lot compared to other mid-range phone such as ASUS ZenFone Max (5,000 mAh battery), HTC compensate it with the newest Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 has significantly improve the charging rate for the phone. On average
Like the predecessor Quick Charge 2.0, QC 3.0 works the same way. You can only use charger head that support QC 3.0 to fully utilise the feature. Sadly, being a mid-range phone, QC 3.0 charger is not included in the package. You’ll have to buy a certified charger for it to work. I got mine for a nifty 70 bucks just to see how well it performs. With the QC 3.0, the One A9 charger at about 1.5% per minute. In case of emergency, with the QC 3.0 charger, you can easily charge from 15% to 60% in under half hour. It’s very fast if you need a quick re-juice on your way out. Due to the fast charging rate, the phone can be quite hot when using QC 3.0.
Although the charging rate is very fast, it still doesn’t have enough juice for my heavy usage. Not to mention, I will need to carry my charger wherever I go just in case I need to top up the juice faster than the conventional charger. However, if you’re into power banks, there are plenty of QC 3.0 power banks option out there. Do note that the price for it might a little steep than your normal power banks if it’s a certified accessories.
Overall, HTC One A9 is a pretty solid phone. Despite the iPhone-ish look, the One A9 is very nice to hold on, but you must be very careful with it. The back is slippery and the 2.5D front glass is quite fragile. As a mid-range phone, it is tad overprice but the specs isn’t that bad so it’s a win-win. I do hope HTC is going to go with a cleaner Android UX in the future, rather than still using it Sense UI.
With the One A9, you can additional goodies too. HTC One A9 has special case made for it like other HTC phones with the Dot View. It previewed a dot matrix like display on your phone screen with it on. And if you’re an avid Google user, you’ll find the 100GB free Drive storage comes in handy. If you’re not, you could just claimed it for yourself and maybe use it in the future. It’ll last for 2 years upon redemption.
The HTC One A9 is already in the market here in Malaysia and you can get one for merely RM 2,299 at any Brightstar dealers or HTC store.