HTC has been missing the mark on its last few phones, and it's not been a good year for the company as a result. With the One A9, we thought it was finding its way back. An iPhone doppelganger, the A9 is a compact 5 inches while the majority of the Android field is pushing 5.5. The camera was better than HTC had ever given us. It was the first non-Nexus phone to ship with Android Marshmallow, and the first phone to take advantage of Adoptable Storage. It was even promised updates within 15 days of Google releasing a patch. In Alex Dobie's review, the biggest sticking point was the price.
But then the price went up a sharp hundred dollars. And the update promise was scaled back for all but the U.S. unlocked model.
Is the HTC One A9 still a phone you want in your pocket? In my humble opinion, yes. Is the HTC One A9 still a phone you should buy right now? That's a bit tougher to answer...
About this review
I have been using an unlocked US HTC One A9 as my daily driver for about a month on the AT&T network in Texas, mostly around Waco and Austin, on Android 6.0, build number 1.12.617.6 CL 639737. I have been connected to a Huawei Watch at all times and my Kinivo BTH240 bluetooth headphones several hours a day.
HTC One A9 Hardware
As a 5-foot 2-inch, 120 pound girl, let's say that my idea of the perfect phone size is probably different from most technology enthusiasts. I've used an LG G4 for a few weeks mostly comfortably, and my Galaxy S6 edge will fit in the front pockets of maybe half my jeans. Coming to the HTC One A9 is like a small breath of fresh air in relation to size. It's light, it's lithe ... and it is without a doubt the slipperiest phone I've used in a long time.
The two weeks before I was able to get some cases in were full of sweaty hands, small slips, and keeping a hand on my pocket just to make sure it hadn't slipped out again. With Uh-Oh protection you don't need much out of a case, but at least get a TPU case so you can get some grip.
It's light, it's lithe and without a doubt the slipperiest phone I've used in a long time
Adjusting to the power button being below the volume rocker rather than above took a few days, but now the only time it frustrates me is when I'm going back and forth between the A9 and my 2014 Moto X. I wish the speaker was front-facing, but at least it's loud. I do cover it up quite frequently, though. I'm happy with the fingerprint sensor's placement and reliability; it has worked very well over the last month of heavy use. I didn't even both setting up Smart Lock the first two weeks because the fingerprint sensor worked so well.
For a premium-feeling aluminum-body phone, it is predictably smooth and slick … except for the microSD and SIM trays on the left side of the phone. Neither tray sits completely flush, and both trays are somewhat floppy, as there's a not quite stiff hinge between the actual tray and the aluminum door. The SIM tray is also a loose fit with my AT&T SIM card, which doesn't help the cheap feel that comes over me every time I open either tray. Not something most folks will be doing often, but definitely not something you'd expect from a $500 phone.
HTC One A9 Software
I've never been the biggest Sense fan, but on the A9, it's come a bit closer to stock and works well. I can also easily turn off most of Sense and turn the A9 into a 85 percent stock phone. Even if you don't intend to use the Sense launcher, take a browse through HTC Themes; they'll extend to HTC apps like the dialer and Settings. I wish they were searchable, but at least they work well and add a little flair where normal personalization apps will not tread. Sense handles the lockscreen well, especially in conjunction with Smart Lock and the fingerprint scanner.
Marshmallow has played well with the A9, and most of the small hiccups I run into relate to Adoptable storage, which is only on a handful of phones so far. Google Play Music, for instance, only shows the actual internal storage in Manage downloads, and it appears to only be storing music there rather than offloading them to the adopted microSD card. Solid Explorer has likewise hiccuped when attempting to copy batches of files from Google Drive to merged local storage. I have no doubts that as adoptable storage comes to more phones and as developers spend more time with it, the kinks will be ironed out.
Yes, everyone has ragged the A9 about its battery, including me from time to time, but in reality, it isn't any worse than my Moto X or my Galaxy S6 edge. The problem for me lies not in consistently bad performance, but in the inconsistency of the battery life I've seen. I present to you a tale of two work days.
I woke up one morning with my phone around 50 percent from the previous evening's charge. I used it in bed for over two hours (productive morning, I know), and then stuck it on the charger while I showered and got ready for the day. It was fully charged by the time I finished lunch, and I took it to work for notification answering and casual music listening. It was a light day, and at 9:38 p.m., the phone sat on my desk at work, still at 73 percent.
Another day, I took the phone off the charger right before heading to work. Again, I had a light day answering texts, notifications, and listening to music. My only prolonged interaction with the phone that day was installing a system update. The A9 was pushing 40 percent by dinner not even seven hours later. I made it through the rest of the night, barely, but I was itchin' for a charger.
If my battery goes down quickly during a heavy day, or even a medium-use day, I understand. I'm consistently if not constantly using the device. But on days when I'm not, on days when Doze takes over — or it should be taking over — I'm left with inconsistencies, thanks to just how often notifications are waking up my phone and just how well Doze is actually keeping things subdued.
HTC One A9 Camera
HTC does not have a long tradition of impressing us with its cameras, but the HTC One A9 actually has a camera worth using. And it's a camera that I'm happy to have in hand as I encounter life and its capturable moments. The camera is an improvement over my previous daily driver the 2014 Moto X, not that that takes much.
The camera app is quick, responsive, the Pro controls are both useful and relatively simple to figure out, but I'm not a fan of swiping left and right for different modes. Almost every single phone I've used in the last few years that same swipe send you to the gallery, and instead, I end up going to the selfie mode. And while I think HyperLapse is awesome, it's not a camera setting that I use everyday.
But the A9 has not let me down in a pinch, focusing and snapping off shots quickly and fairly accurately. I've accidentally hit the video button rather than the shutter quite a few times, but the shots produced have been more than enough for my needs: sharing on social media and the odd photo for an article. And while I may not be going selfie-crazy over here, the front-facing camera has performed quite well for video chats in Hangouts.
My bottom line: Find it on sale
There's a lot to love about this little phone once you've got a case on it. But there's one big hurdle to actually putting one in your pocket: the price. When it was at $400 dollars during the launch period, the A9 seemed to justify its price, just barely. But since then, the price has gone up a hundred dollars, and what do we have to show for it? The 15-day update promise has been bent (not quite broken) right out the gate for the U.S. unlocked model (albeit by a matter of days rather than weeks or months), and outright taken away for every other model. The Verizon compatibility has been delayed, as well.
It's not been a good month for a good phone. And yes, it is a good phone — at least for me and my dainty pockets.
The HTC One A9 is a slick phone, literally, and while its updates may be up in the air right now, the phone in my hand is compact but more than ready to work. It's got Sense-ible software, a good camera (at last), an inconsistent battery, and Android Marshmallow-y goodness. Adoptable storage will change your device habits, and Doze helps make a small battery manageable, if slightly inconsistent. For those looking for a decently-spec'd phone that won't wear out your small pockets or hands, the A9 might be just right.
Just wait for it to go back on sale, which will also give you time to see how HTC fares over the next few months of security updates. Please don't pay $500 dollars for one. (And for the love of Lloyd, don't pay £470 for one.)
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