Carphone Warehouse's SIM-free price for the HTC One A9 is embarrassing for everyone involved.
Let's start this off by saying I like the HTC One A9. I've been using it for a few days, and as I said in our preview, it's a great mid-level phone, and potentially a strong contender against mid-priced "sub-flagship" Android handsets. In the United States that's exactly where it's positioned, with $399.99 getting you an unlocked A9 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.
In the UK? Not so much. The UK-spec A9 comes with less RAM and internal storage than its american cousin — 2GB and 16GB — and a significantly higher price tag. HTC's guideline price, given to press yesterday, was £429.99. And that's pretty steep. But fair enough, RRPs like this are usually towards the upper end of the scale.
Then today Carphone Warehouse, the country's biggest phone seller, revealed how much it'll actually cost on the high street. And they're asking for £469.99 SIM-free. Four-hundred and sixty-nine pounds and ninety-nine pence.
At $400, the 3/32GB A9 is great value. At £470 for 2/16GB, you're getting ripped off.
A direct conversion puts that at $725 in U.S. dollars, within striking distance of double the American price, for an inferior model. Sure, taxes are applied differently in the UK, and each region sets its own pricing independently. (It's also unclear what's going on behind the scenes with HTC's own online store to launch the A9 at this competitive price.) But online media means consumers are more aware than ever of products outside of their own geographic bubbles. And such a vast difference in price between regions gives British consumers the impression that they're being screwed, even if other factors are involved. This should be obvious to anyone in the smartphone business.
With this kind of price tag, what might have been seen as a lean, mean mid-ranger instead appears a poor imitation of a flagship smartphone. Let's take a look at what else your £470 can get you in the world of unlocked smartphones.
- The HTC One M9, the company's current European flagship, which sells for between £460-470 from independent retailers, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, a similarly impressive metal unibody, faster processor and significantly bigger battery.
- Samsung's Galaxy S6 — the regular S6 goes for around £420 online, the S6 edge is little more expensive than the A9, at around £480. Same industry-leading internals as the Note 5 and S6 edge+, only with a smaller screen and battery.
- The LG G4, going for £370 with a plastic back, or £410 with leather. More plastic than the A9, but high-end internals, a speedy CPU and one of the best cameras around.
- Motorola's Moto X Style for £350, with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, front-facing speakers, a higher-resolution display and a faster processor. Metal-framed, not metal bodied, but great build quality regardless.
- The Nexus 5X, but more importantly the trailblazing Nexus 6P. It's likely Google's eating some of the cost here, but Carphone itself will sell you an unlocked 6P, with bleeding-edge internals for £439.99 off-contract.
- Current OS version: Android 6.0
- Current security: Nov. 2015 (More info)
- HTC One A9 review
- HTC One A9 specs
- HTC One A9 photos
- Join our A9 forums
We can't tell you definitively which of these to spend your money on — after all, we've yet to deliver our verdict on the A9 in our full review. But look at how much phone you're getting with any of the six options above and compare it to the A9. And then ask yourself what kind of spiral of retail madness led to its going on sale at that price point.
HTC's in a position where it needs all the sales it can get, and having the A9 effectively priced out of the market at launch won't help. A price drop will be inevitable at some point; until then we'll watch American HTC customers, with their 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 15-day updates and Uh-Oh protection, with envious eyes.