HTC One A9 Review: More than Just a Mid-Range

HTC One A9 Review: More than Just a Mid-Range

Ever since the day that the HTC One A9 was announced, I was super excited about it. I reviewed the HTC One M9, HTC’s flagship, in the Spring. It was a good phone but it stayed in the shadows of amazing phones like the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6.

The HTC One M9 had some key problems. One was the display. Anything that was supposed to be white looked like it was tinted green. Another problem was the camera. It was a good camera, but when Apple and Samsung were using PDAF and LG was using laser focus, the HTC One M9 just didn’t hold up. When you’re comparing good to great, good suddenly seems terrible.

The HTC One A9 solves both of these issues. The display issue is solved by replacing the LCD panel with AMOLED. The camera issue is solved with phase detection autofocus (PDAF).

HTC One A9: Specs

CPU Snapdragon 617, 1.5 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53, 1.2 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 405
Display 5″, 1080p, 441 ppi, AMOLED
Body 145.8×70.8×7.3 mm, 143 g
Camera 13 MP, 4128×3096, 4 MP Front
Video 1080p – 30 fps, Front 1080p – 30 fps
Aperture f/2
Sensor Size 1/3″
Storage 16/32 GB
RAM 2/3 GB
Battery 2150 mAh

Many people like to say that the HTC One A9 is overpriced at $499, as it has a mid-range chipset, the Snapdragon 617. The idea behind that thought is that you can get flagship phones for cheaper, such as the OnePlus 2, Moto X, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P.

I wholeheartedly disagree. I’ve always applauded HTC because they never seemed to play in the specs war. They stuck with 4 MP cameras for a long time because they thought it was better. It wasn’t, but I respect that.

It’s like Apple. People bash Apple for using a 750p display, for using an 8 MP rear camera for so long. I really think that Apple would rather not mention specs at all. They would rather have you judge the phone by actual user experience.

I think HTC would have you do the same, and if you did, the HTC One A9 would be a true flagship. It’s definitely the best phone in HTC’s lineup.

HTC One A9: Design and Display

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. Yes, it looks like an iPhone. HTC doesn’t even deny that. In fact, HTC went all out with this phone trying to make sure that everyone knows that everyone else copied them.

Let’s look at this a little closer though. The iPhone 6 looked similar to the HTC One M8 in that it has an aluminum unibody and had the plastic antenna lines. The iPhone 6 was flat and the HTC One M8 had a rounded back, so they still looked like different phones. On the other hand, the HTC One A9 is the spitting image of the iPhone 6S.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who copied who. What matters is 1) the HTC One A9 is a beautiful phone and 2) the general audience isn’t going to hear the words that HTC had the design first. They’re going to see it as an iPhone clone, which can be a good or a bad thing.

The display on the HTC One A9 is a beautiful AMOLED display and it’s the best display that HTC has ever used. It’s 1080p, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not a 1440p display will make you unable to play the games you love. For example, with some flagships, such as the LG V10 or the Samsung Galaxy S6, they’re so lagged by the 1440p display that you can’t play a game with high definition graphics, such as Injustice: Gods Among Us.

If you’re one of the few people that’s into virtual reality with a Google Cardboard or the like, you will see a benefit to 1440p. If you don’t frequently use a VR headset with your phone, all of the advantages lie with 1080p, as it’s impossible to tell the difference between the two by looking at it.

HTC One A9: Audio

I don’t always include an audio section in a review, but it’s important when it comes to HTC. HTC is one of very few companies that focuses on the speakers.

Unfortunately, the HTC One A9 does not use BoomSound speakers anymore. BoomSound is the speakers that HTC is renowned for. It;s those front facing speakers that won awards for the various members of the HTC One and HTC Desire families.

It’s still possible to get BoomSound with the HTC One A9. It’s still available through the headphones. This is a good and a bad thing. The good thing is that for many people, speakers through a phone isn’t really necessary. A lot of people just don’t use them. Personally, I hate when someone is nearby and listening to music through their phone’s speakers.

The bad news is that it requires that the user use the headphones that come with the phone. I don’t know about you, but when I get a pair of headphones, they last a couple months until I lose them or they break and I get new ones, almost never from the original OEM. You can’t lose the speaker attached to the phone.

HTC One A9: Rear Camera

As I mentioned, this is the best rear camera that HTC has ever used. The reason for that is phase detection autofocus (PDAF). This is the technology that Apple and Samsung use in their flagship cameras to take fast, perfectly focused images.

Being able to take perfectly focused images quickly is an underrated feature, like the importance of having a phone that’s thin and light. Most people want to be able to take their phone out of their pocket, quickly launch the camera, and quickly snap a great photo. That’s possible with things like PDAF and LG’s laser focus; however, I prefer PDAF over laser focus.

Other than that, it’s your average Sense 7 Camera software, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always felt that HTC had a strong Camera app. It has a Pro mode, Camera, Selfie, Hyperlapse, Slow Motion, and Panorama.

As you can see, with the exception of one photo, these photos are razor sharp, a marked improvement from former HTC devices.

Unfortunately, nighttime photos aren’t the best, but still, this is the best HTC rear camera that we have seen to date.

HTC One A9: Front Camera

HTC made a genius move when they released the One M9. The HTC One M8 has a 4 MP “ultrapixel” camera. The idea was a lower resolution photo with larger pixels would provide better low light photos with less noise.

It worked. The only problem was that the user was left with a 4 MP photo. If the user cropped the photo, even a little, the image degraded rapidly. To put things in perspective, a 4K display is about 8.3 MP, 1440p is 3.7 MP, 1080p is 2.1 MP, and 720p is less than 1 MP.

For the HTC One M9, HTC took that ultrapixel camera and stuck it on the front of the phone. Sure, 4 MP simply isn’t enough for a rear camera, but for a front camera? 4 MP is just fine, and with HTC’s ultrapixel technology, it makes for an amazing front camera.

HTC still hasn’t adopted the LCD flash idea that Apple, Motorola, and LG use in their front cameras, so there’s no flash here. They were among the first to use an LED flash on the front camera with the HTC Desire Eye, but that hasn’t happened since.

Note that all of the photos are 16:9. Personally, I prefer to take photos at 4:3. You usually get a higher resolution photo and it puts you in much better shape if you want to print the photo or even to share it to Instagram, as Instagram forces the user to crop the photo to a square. With a 4:3 photo, you’re cropping less.

Oddly enough, there are only two settings for the HTC One A9’s front camera, and it’s probably the only really negative thing I can say about the device. One setting is 16:9, which is 4.1 MP, or 2688×1520.

The other setting is 4:3, which is 1.2 MP, or 1280×960. Most phones offer different aspect ratios at resolutions based on the size of the sensor. If that was the case here, HTC would allow us to take 4:3 photos at 3 MP, or 2026×1520. There is no legitimate reason to not allow that.

HTC One A9: Benchmarks

I hate benchmarks. I wish they didn’t exist. They just so rarely reflect real world usage. Unfortunately, they are the best tools we have for actually recording the performance of a device and occasionally, they do provide some insights.

First, we have battery tests performed in Geekbench 3. Geekbench 3 has two settings, with the dim screen toggled on or off. The left test will be with the dim screen toggled off, as that’s how we use our phones. The right test is with the dim screen toggled, you guess it, on.

HTC One A9 Battery

I’ve found the battery life of the HTC One A9 to be great, despite scoring lower than other phones on battery tests. The one thing you should take away from this tests is that brightness doesn’t effect battery life all that much, but it does effect it.

Next, we have benchmarks from Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu.

HTC One A9 Bench

There’s a big difference between the way that Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu run tests. Geekbench 3 tests the CPU while AnTuTu provides an overall score between the CPU and the GPU.

As we can see from the benchmarks, this is a pretty powerful phone. I know that there’s a popular meme floating around that apps only use a single core, but how often do you only have one app open on your phone?

Next up is GPu texts from GFXBench. First up is GFXBench 3.1 and after that is GFXBench 4.

HTC One A9 GFX 3.1 HTC One A9 GFX 4

Conclusion

One thing that I really wanted to make clear in this review is that the HTC One A9 is a flagship phone and it’s worth the money you pay for it, especially if you like HTC Sense 7. In fact, it’s the best phone you can buy if you like Sense. Personally, I think Sense 7 is the best mainstream Android skin.

I review quite a few phones. I’ve reviewed the brand new LG V10 as well. While the LG V10 is a solid phone, certain games that I play stutter so much that they’re unplayable. So tell me, if I have a better experience on the HTC One A9 than I do on the LG V10, what makes the LG V10 a flagship and the One A9 a mid-range?

This is the first phone that I’ve reviewed that uses Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 617 processor. It’s impressive. It can surely handle a 1080p phone just fine. Considering that Qualcomm’s flagship processors can’t handle 1440p and OEMs are using them anyway, I’d say that the HTC One A9 isn’t just worth the money but it’s a good deal.

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Great camera
  • Best HTC phone on the market
  • 1080p display, so it doesn’t lag
  • Sense 7

Cons

  • No front facing speakers
  • Low resolution front camera at 4:3
  • No 4K or 1080p 60 fps video recording
About the author
Rich Woods

Being a computer programmer wasn't enough to fulfill his love of technology. In 2013, Rich founded For the Love of Tech and has been writing about his love of tech ever since.