I was more than curious to try out the HTC One A9, the phone accused of being an iPhone 6 lookalike. HTC has been quite vocal about its feelings on the subject, but there is no denying the fact that the One A9 does look like the iPhone 6. A disclosure is in order here – I use the iPhone 6 as my primary smartphone and I absolutely love the design. HTC has done its bit to make the smartphone look distinctive by adding a fingerprint sensor below the display and changing the placement of the camera at the rear. But the One A9 does look and even feel like the iPhone 6, which might make HTC’s designers look uninspiring but isn’t really a bad thing for users who get one of the best designed Android smartphones. Also Read - HTC Desire 20+ launched with 48-megapixel quad rear camera setupAlso Read - HTC Wildfire E Lite smartphone design leaks online
With the design controversy out of the way, let’s look at what the One A9 has to offer. Priced at Rs 29,990, the smartphone runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, a 5-inch full HD display, a 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization (OIS) and a 4-UltraPixel front-facing camera. HTC has made an interesting play with the One A9’s specifications – while the processor is undoubtedly mid-end but clubbed it with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage and OIS on the rear camera. These are better specs than what you’d find in most smartphones hovering around the Rs 30,000 price point. With an inspired but nevertheless top notch design and alluring hardware specifications, can the One A9 revive HTC’s fortunes in India? We have spent considerable time with the One A9, and here s our detailed review:
HTC has gone to great lengths to imitate the iPhone 6 – right down to the speaker holes at the bottom to the bump on the rear camera. With a 5-inch display, the One A9 offers a brilliant form factor and the all metal uni-body design with rounded corners and curved edges make it one of the best designed Android smartphones in our books.
Below the display is the fingerprint sensor, which reminded us of the OnePlus 2 as it is not exactly a button. However, like its implementation on the OnePlus 2, it also acts like a home button. This arrangement gets confusing as HTC’s Sense UI also gives an onscreen home button. Ideally, HTC should have flanked the fingerprint sensor with capacitive buttons on either side. The implementation, somehow, gives us a sense of disconnect between HTC’s hardware and software teams. There is no other way to explain the implementation of the fingerprint sensor and the onscreen buttons.
The 5-inch 1080p display on the One A9 hugs the edges with slight curves, not very different from what we have seen on the iPhone 6 and more recently on the OnePlus X. The AMOLED display is surprisingly slightly on the warmer side but offers decent sunlight and indoor visibility. Colors are vivid but at times you can notice some over saturation. You can customize the display output to either AMOLED for optimized color range and saturation or sRGB for standard RGB color range. We prefer the AMOLED setting as it makes color pop out while the sRGB one make them flat.
The HTC One A9 is one of the first non-Google smartphones to come with Android Marshmallow 6.0 out of the box. HTC has put its Sense UI on top of it, which brings some interesting customization options. The star of the Sense UI is Blinkfeed as it lets you create a customized stream of content from your social networking sites such as Twitter, Google+ and Instagram. You can swipe left to access your Blinkfeed stream. On the home screen, HTC has a section for app suggestions for you that includes third party and HTC apps. Then there are usual features to let you customize the theme, create videos from your pictures via Zoe Editor among others. Overall, the Sense UI is quite fluid, easy to navigate, though has different gestures from usual Android smartphones, but not very complicated.
Talking about the phone’s camera chops, the One A9 offers a 13-megapixel camera with a back side illuminated sensor, f/2.0 aperture and optical image stabilization. It is capable of shooting videos in 1080p and also offers the option of clicking photos in RAW format. The camera also offers a Pro mode where you can control the white balance, ISO, aperture, exposure and manual focus.
Despite having the hardware and software settings, the camera didn’t really blow my mind. The camera thrives in good light conditions, delivering impressive details and depth of field. OIS helps you take more stable shot and macro shots in proper light are quite impressive. However, the camera often struggled to focus, and at times I have found the images to be washed out and oversaturated. Low light images are quite average as noise creeps in and the color balance is offset. OIS comes in handy while shooting videos and the camera interface also offers the ability to shoot slow motion and timelapse videos.
The front facing 4-UltraPixel camera is mediocre for a top-end smartphone. Though it has standard beauty mode, we have seen much better front cameras on mid-range and budget Android smartphones. The One A9 may not impress selfie enthusiasts very much.
In terms of performance, the One A9 is powered by a Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor coupled with 3GB of RAM. The combination makes the device good enough for multi-tasking and power usage. Switching between applications, excessive social media usage, camera shoots and other regular tasks such as calling and texting is quite smooth on the smartphone. It handled graphic intensive games such as Real Racing and WWE Immortals very well.
I also found the sound quality of the smartphone to be pretty good and HTC is bundling a pretty decent pair of earphones. The One A9 has Dolby Surround Sound, which delivers quite impressive results in terms of clarity and overall balance. The smartphone also comes with built-in DAC that converts 16-bit audio to 24-bit high-resolution for better sound quality. I don’t have any qualms about the in-call audio quality either – be it via the ear piece or the speakerphone. HTC is launching the 32GB variant of the One A9 in India and a microSD card slot ensures you won’t run out of storage space.
One casualty of the small footprint of the smartphone is its battery. The 2,150 mAh battery doesn’t last an entire day unless you look at extreme power saving tactics but that’s the bane of most Android smartphones. It runs out of juice on in 4-5 hours on excessive usage, which includes prolonged camera sessions for roughly 15-20 minutes and 2-3 hours Internet usage, and background running e-mails and Slack. Add prolonged gaming sessions, about 30-40 minutes, to this, you may end up with lesser battery life.
Should you buy the HTC One A9? As said earlier, One A9 is among one of the most beautiful Android smartphones in the market, and is perhaps most suited for the style conscious customers. The HTC One A9 isn t a powerhouse, but it isn t slouch either. Had battery life been bit better, the One A9 s contention in the mid-range would have been much stronger. Nonetheless, it looks pretty and is one of the rare non-Nexus phones to come with Android 6.0 out of the box. The smartphone is likely to face strong competition from the Google Nexus 5X 32GB, which is available at a similar price point.