HTC is trying to make some waves with the HTC One A9, and while the A9 has certainly made something of a splash, we're still not quite sure if it was a cannonball or a belly flop. This is a solid little phone that's got a lot going for it, including being the first non-Nexus phone to ship with Marshmallow and one of the most decent camera offerings we've seen from HTC in a while. But there's also a fair bit going against it.
If you're considering picking one up, you need to make up your mind soon for reasons we'll get to in a moment. And to help you make up your mind, and help those who've already jumped in with an A9, we've got a few things we think you ought to know.
It's a nice, pocketable phone, but you're gonna want a case
The HTC One A9 is a beautifully compact phone. It's got a 5-inch screen covered in Gorilla Glass 4, and it's a slick little customer. Too slick, actually, because not only does it slide around in my sweaty little hands, but it slides around in my jacket pockets. I spent a lot of time keeping my hand on the pocket my phone was tucked into, just to reassure myself it hadn't fallen out yet.
As wonderful as this phone feels in the hand, from the moment I was handed the phone, I've been searching out a case for it. I don't need much, but I need some traction. And that's been hard to find, as cases for this phone are just now starting to trickle out apart from the ever-popular HTC DotView case.
You should get a portable battery pack, while you're at it
The battery in the A9 is small. The battery life that Alex Dobie and I have seen bears that out. Marshmallow's new Doze feature helps, but sometimes Doze doesn't quite kick in, and that means that your battery life can get a bit unpredictable. I've made it through almost a work day on a single charge, but that was a day where I could set the phone on my desk and let it Doze while I used my Chromebook.
You're gonna want a portable battery of some kind to help charge it up. Good news is that the A9 is Quick Charge 2.0 compatible and ready for Quick Charge 3.0 when that hits the market, so it'll charge quickly. So grab a power pack with Quick Charge and leave it in your car/purse/jacket pocket.
Adoptable storage is great
The A9 is the first non-Nexus phone to ship with Marshmallow, and that makes it the first smartphone to take advantage of a much-anticipated feature: Adoptable Storage. This phone comes with 32GB or 16GB of storage depending on where you are, but thankfully, the A9 can encrypt your microSD card and format it to act like internal storage.
So my 32GB A9 is now a 90GB A9, thanks to a two-year-old SD card I threw in it and formatted. More room for pinning Google Play Movies. More room for games that don't play nice when they're moved to SD. And no more pesky 'out of room' notifications when there's plenty of space on my SD card.
Doze is cool, and the new app permissions are welcome, even if a lot of apps haven't adopted the new system yet, but Adoptable Storage beats them both. And I cannot wait to see this on more budget phones.
The fingerprint sensor is worth falling in love with
Before the A9, the only phone I had with a fingerprint sensor was a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, and it wasn't a great experience. I had to wake the phone, then unlock it with my fingerprint. It smudged incessantly, and I got as many bad reads as good it seemed. I wasn't impressed with it. The experience on the A9 is like night and day.
Just like on the Nexus 6P and 5X, you can wake the A9 by placing your fingerprint on the scanner and leave it there to unlock your phone. It's a second and a half from sleep to unlocked. I haven't even bothered setting up my usual bevy of Trusted Devices because the fingerprints are working so well.
BoomSound is only here for wired headphones, and it shows
The One line has been famed for their front-facing BoomSound speakers. Unfortunately, that did not carry on to the A9, at least not in the on-board speaker. The speaker we have here is a tiny, bottom-mounted speaker that's easy to cover up and is quite tinny.
When you plug in headphones, you'll still get that lovely HTC BoomSound, but if you're on the phone speaker or Bluetooth, you're out of luck. Also, there is no built-in Equalizer, so if you're someone who likes to tweak your output for a particular type of music (or just need to try and offset a particular quirk in your headphones/speakers), you're out of luck.
Watch the pricing movements, and buy at the right time
The A9's pricing has resulted in a lot of head-scratching. The price discrepancy between the US and UK at launch was more than a little alarming. And when that was cleared up, it wasn't in the way we expected: we heard that HTC regional reps had lowered the US price to $400 for the launch and were raising it back to $500 on November 7th.
If you can get the A9 for $400, it might be perfect for some users looking for a compact, metal-body phone with Marshmallow, a fingerprint scanner, and the most decent camera we've seen from HTC in a while. But please don't pay 470 pounds for the HTC One A9 in the UK, and for $500 after November 7, you're going to need some serious soul-searching to get an A9 over a Nexus 6P, Moto X Style, or many other phones.
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