HTC One A9 review: Excellent phone, if a bit expensive

11 Jan 2016

HTC One A9, all images (and green 3D-printed head) via Luke Maxwell

Nothing says Android like a convoluted basic-to-premium spread of smartphones and, with that, HTC’s One A9 fits nicely in the upper range of a truly overpopulated spectrum.

Not quite HTC’s M range, but so superior to the old Desire bricks, the One A9 is a seriously impressive phone.

The screen size is 5in and, when held against my own Desire 620 it’s essentially the same phone but far sleeker, weighing far less, and looking far better.

HTC One A9

As with all standard relatively high-end phone nowadays, Gorilla Glass shields the face from any wayward gorilla punches and the fingerprint sensor works well as an unlock tool.

The last device I messed around with was the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ and its fingerprint sensor was a nightmare as you tried heaving the mammoth shard of glass from your pocket.

The A9, though, is the right size, the right shape and does the right job. Before we get into the pros and cons, though, let’s look at just how much this phone looks like an iPhone 6S!

HTC One A9

Someone, somewhere, has been copying off the person sitting next to them in class, methinks. It’s probably fine though, that Apple crowd are hardly the litigious type…

So let’s start with the positives

There’s still a radio! I’ve droned on about the lack of FM radios on smartphones before but, thankfully, HTC keeps flying the flag for us fans.

The interface is actually really good. Coming from another HTC device meant the learning curve for me was pretty handy but, even still, there are some nice touches to this phone.

For example, when sharing images, after you’ve done it once or twice the big annoying swathe of social media icons that emerge after you press the share button actually hide.

HTC One A9

In their place is a bunch of WhatsApp or Viber conversations that you’ve engaged with (above). The odds are these are where you are mostly sharing content, so that’s a very nice touch that I hadn’t seen before.

The One A9 is powered by an octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 2GB of RAM – that’s not quite the standard of ingredients the M9 works off but everything is super quick, so no complaints. I’ve 16GB of memory on this one, which is more than enough.

Enough juice to keep me happy

The battery is grand. I’m getting a good solid day out of the phone without too much danger of it going dead. It charges relatively quick too – quick charge 2.0 – so you’re never more than an hour away from full battery. It’s no Sony device, but what can you do.

The camera quality is very good. The finished product is as good as you can expect, with the 13MP on offer packing a decent punch and putting it above most non-premium rivals.

HTC One A9

The screen is nice, too, when watching videos. Its 1920×1080 AMOLED display shows no real flaws from what I can see and, when the screen is compared to the M8 (which I had handy), for example, this lower-end device seems an improvement.

Operating on Marshmallow 6.0, the Sense 7.0 interface still hosts the home screen so nothing new there. It all just feels right.

Now the negatives

First up, the tabs button and back button are hosted on screen. This is becoming the de facto design on plenty of devices now but I don’t like it. Touch screen is great, but buttons have their place too.

When watching videos in landscape, full-screen format, you can often touch one of these two commands by accident and interrupt your viewing – much like when using a tablet.

HTC One A9 iPhone

Another quibble is on the home screen. The bottom half of it is dedicated to special ‘at home’ or ‘out’ apps (above), with the HTC One A9 adapting to the apps you most use during particular times of the day.

This is stupid. I know what apps I use, thus, they are the ones that I place on the home screen. Stop cluttering it up.

Also, although the camera quality is very good, I found it a touch too slow (ƒ/2.0) to focus and capture images.

HTC One A9

Lastly, and something I’m starting to think HTCs are now hardwired to repeat, is the speaker. When you’re in a quiet room the volume is more than enough but any exterior noise and the phone is completely drowned out.

Oh, one more thing: The price. Costing €530 at Carphone Warehouse (right up to €570 at ID Mobile) it’s a fair bit more expensive than most other non-premium devices.

Oddly enough, it seems to work as good as the M9, which is its expensive cousin, so, in that regard, this seems good value. But this still seems a touch expensive.

Overall? A fine phone

However, despite the flaws (with the price hard to truly appreciate when reviewing a device), this phone is excellent.

When standing beside the M8 (below), for example, you could be surprised to find out which is the premium phone and which is the (relative) budget option.

HTC One A9

If top-end premium phones are not to your taste, but you don’t mind spending a little extra, then you’ll do well to find a better option than this.

Rating: 4/5.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic