A story of love and hate


Detailed review HTC One A9

We all criticized HTC for playing it safe with its flagship designs this year, so the company set out to make an iPhone. Aside from the obvious, the HTC One A9 has a lot more going for it than just the design, which is more than what can be said of HTC phones lately. It’s a likeable phone that you’ll really hate at times. The attention to detail is wonderful, but the lack of attention to the obvious is surprising. It’s the best of HTC and the worst of HTC, all in one phone. I’ve been wondering how to describe this phone in a review for a while and have come to a conclusion. This review will yearn to describe my use of the HTC One A9.

Day one: getting used to an Android iPhone

As much as it looks like an iPhone, the A9 has several HTC elements† The sides are flattened instead of rounded, while the power button on the right is placed exactly where your thumb would rest. It’s also structured, making it easier to find and get used to. As much as I like these elements of the design, I absolutely hate how impractical this phone can be at times. The combination of metal construction and thinness makes it a bit slippery, but what disappoints me the most is how big it is for a phone with a 5 inch screen. The size is somewhere between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which many may not expect when reading the spec sheet.

Speaking of the display, from the first time I picked up this phone I’ve been nagging about it. The 5 inch 1080p AMOLED panel is the HTC we all know and love. It has the warmth of AMOLED screens, but is in no way as oversaturated as Samsung’s Super AMOLED. HTC screens have traditionally been well balanced and this one goes back to that. The screen is bright but not overly vibrant, it is warm but not overly so. It’s just right, especially for reading. I always keep my phone’s screen at full brightness and not once have I found the HTC One A9’s screen too bright or too dim.

Day two: When the going gets tough

The second day with the HTC One A9 was the real test of its overall performance. I have never been more amazed at the performance of an HTC phone. The company has done its best to optimize performance for everything but gaming on this phone. For those looking for benchmarks, the GFX Bench Manhattan test returns 420 frames (6.8 fps), which is way below what phones in this price range should be. Also, AnTuTu 6.0’s 66k plus rating is a result of the newer benchmark and should not be used for comparison with other phones tested with older versions of AnTuTu. The new AnTuTu 3D Bench test puts the HTC One A9 at 7782, which is low compared to its competition.

Coming from the iPhone 6S, which means I expected delays, but after the first few hours, I often exclaimed how smooth the UI performance is on the One A9. It’s obviously not as good as the iPhone, but it’s better than any Snapdragon 615 smartphone I’ve tested. The Moto X Play might be the closest thing to any phone. The One A9 has both stock and Sense UI options and whatever you choose, for normal browsing and apps it’s one of the smoothest phones yet.

That said, this phone wasn’t really put to the test until its second day. Background app activity was at its peak and the phone was filled almost to the brim with my music, games, and apps. I was playing the first game, Need For Speed: No Limits, on this phone right now, and then I was surprised. No Limits ran almost frame by frame on this device, while Marvel: Contest of Champions was more playable, but still full of hitches. It’s almost as if HTC doesn’t want this to be a phone that mobile gamers like me buy.

Disappointed, I quit the game and went back to browsing and reading everything I had saved on Pocket and the various websites I follow. Within minutes, I was again amazed at how well the Snapdragon 615 performed. There is 3GB of RAM which is very well managed so you can multitask to glory. I had 16 tabs open in Google Chrome, with Apple Music playing in the background, Pocket finishing downloading stuff, and tons of other apps running.

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Update: Developer mode on HTC One A9 shows that High Performance mode is disabled on the phone by default. Enabling this will lead to much better gaming performance and improve our view of the phone. However, it does affect the battery life of the phone and thus does not change our overall rating of the phone.

Day Three: Noticing the Finer Details

While it was clear from the start, it took me three days to make sure that the HTC One A9’s fingerprint sensor almost never misses. Android Marshmallow’s support for fingerprint readers makes this oval fingerprint reader much more user-friendly. The HTC One M9 Plus’ for fingerprint reader I had to put the finger in an awkward position to get the printout but with the A9 I barely pay attention to how my fingerprint is placed on the sensor. It picks the print and unlocks the phone in a matter of milliseconds, faster than Apple’s Touch ID, but slightly slower than Nexus Imprint on the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P† Of course, that can also be attributed to the processor, but the Snapdragon 615 on the Lenovo Vibe P1 takes much longer than the HTC One A9, so the software does play a role here.

The attention to finer details continues with the audio quality on this phone. It doesn’t make a huge difference when listening to music through in-ear headphones like the House of Marley Little Bird headphones, but my Audio Technica CKX9 picks up a little more volume. However, the difference will be obvious to audiophiles, who use really high-end headphones, in the range of the Sennheise Orpheus. I’m not sure if it’s a big bonus for the majority of consumers, but it’s something we’ve appreciated HTC over the years.

The third day was also the day when the battery was tested the most. The HTC One A9 has a 2150 mAh battery, which is low by industry standards these days and won’t last you all day, except I expected it to last a lot less anyway. On any given day, with lots of screen on time, the HTC One A9 easily got me past 12 hours. It’s the industry average these days and we still long for longer battery life on smartphones in general, but the fact that the HTC One A9 can meet the standard with a smaller battery shows more attention to detail in terms of software and I’m not talking about Marshmallow’s Doze feature. Instead of dropping 10 percent or more battery overnight, the HTC One A9 drops about 7-8 percent over five idle hours, which is still more than I’d like. However, you should realize that the battery life I got is with the screen brightness at maximum and without using any power saving modes, so it will be significantly longer for most users.

However, there were more delays at this point. The Gmail app sometimes stuttered when switching emails, while Chrome and Drive took a little longer to load, but for the most part, the phone’s performance remained consistent and very sympathetic. It’s one of those things that just works no matter what you think of the spec sheet.

There is also the camera. A 13MP sensor on the back and a 4MP ultrapixel selfie shooter is now very HTC-esque, and while the HTC One A9’s camera is definitely better than what we’ve gotten from HTC so far, it doesn’t make any sense. with most of its competition. There are Lumia phones in this price range, while the OnePlus 2, Yu Yutopia, Honor 7 and Qiku Q Terra are all faster and better. The One A9 takes some time to focus and the colours, details and sharpness are good as I like it, but all the other phones I mentioned above are better. Also, the low-light performance is still below par. The front camera softens images to make them suitable for selfies, but it is definitely too soft like in the M9 Plus.

Camera samples (LR) Normal outdoor light (2), white studio lights, indoor fluorescent, low light (Click on images to enlarge)

Everything else: would I buy this phone?

Honestly I wouldn’t, but the reason for that is just the poor game performance. I like to play a lot of games on my phone and the HTC One A9 doesn’t allow that. However, it is a high end phone for the more basic and basic users and if you can get over it looking like an iPhone then your money is well spent. But that’s when you ask me how much this phone costs and for all its goodness I can’t explain the Rs. 29,990 price. There are plenty of phones out there that are much cheaper and well… they just work, like the HTC One A9. Names like the OnePlus 2Honor 7 and Qiku Q Terra come to mind here and make sure not to recommend this phone to my readers. However, I personally enjoyed this phone more than the Snapdragon 810 powered Yu Yutopia and many other android phones today. The HTC One A9 just isn’t the best phone for its price range and that’s a major drawback for a phone that’s significantly more expensive than its competitors.

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