Take a glance at the new HTC One A9 and a single thought will spring to mind, ‘Does it come in Rose Gold?’
Of course, the A9 isn’t made by Apple but it looks just like the iPhone 6s. If your dad saw the two handsets side-by-side in a phone store, he’d struggle to tell the difference. And that’s why this sibling of HTC’s One M9 exists.
Shop assistants are going to hate it, ‘For the last time sir, it doesn’t have 3D Touch.’ Normal folk, who want a 6s but don’t have the funds to afford one may well buy it.
That might strike you as a cheap way for HTC to make a buck. As a wise turtleneck-wearer once said, 'Good artists copy; great artists steal.'
Judging a book by its cover
The One A9 is HTC’s answer to the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha. It’s a premium smartphone with an emphasis on design that sits below the One M9 in HTC’s product line-up. It also shares the same all-metal unibody construction that was introduced over two years ago in the One M7.
You could justifiably accuse Apple of cribbing that same aesthetic for its own iPhone 6 handsets, meaning the One A9 is a sort of tit-for-tat response. Even in the trillion dollar smartphone schoolyard, HTC’s handset is a proper crotch short. The kind of short-termist response that happens when you’re backed against the bikeshed and have been wet-willied into submission, or recently reported losses of US$91m over just three months.
So just how similar is the HTC One A9 to Apple’s iPhone 6s? At 143g, both handsets weigh exactly the same – even though the One A9 has a slightly bigger 5.0in display compared to the 6s’ 4.7in effort. Because of this, the One A9 is also slightly bigger in size (146 x 71 x 7.3mm) than the iPhone 6s (138 x 67 x 7.1mm).
Not that you’d notice this difference when you’ve got the HTC One A9 in your mitts. I’m packing the iPhone 6s at the moment, and both models feel pleasingly lightweight. You can happily use them one-handed without worrying whether they’ll soon make friends with the concrete below your feet.
Snap the difference
When I went to check out the One A9, HTC was fairly insistent that its camera was a big point of design differentiation between it and the iPhone 6s. As per Macbeth, I think it’s protesting a little too much.
Whereas the 6s’ rear-facing snapper sits in the top lefthand corner of the phone above its aerial band, the One A9’s camera sits in the middle above the same band. See? We’re talking about decorative semantics here.
That said, on paper at least, the One A9 should take a good photo. It has a 13 megapixel sensor and a f/2.0 aperture for capturing a decent amount of light. Comparatively, speaking the iPhone 6s has a 12MP camera with a smaller f2.2 aperture. It also lacks the A9’s optical image stabilisation, which compensates for camera shake when taking photos and also allows you to take better photos in dim conditions. Potentially, the A9 is a better phone for party animals.
Sorted for point and shooting
Under the strip lighting of a central London office building, I managed to achieve some reasonably detailed photos with the A9. At least the fruit basket in front of me looked OK, and I’d expect as much. As smartphone photo hounds will know, HTC’s One M9 was undercut by issues with its exposure metering in high contrast photos – ones where there’s a big difference between light and dark. It remains to be seen whether the One A9 resolves this flaw.
At least its camera app has been rejigged so that it’s easier to use for point and shoot sorts. A nifty HDR mode is available when first clocking up the app, allowing you to take better shots with a minimum fuss, and there’s a sweet hyperlapse mode included too. With the help of this feature, even the most humdrum commute can be transformed into Rocky-style montage.
As for its selfie camera? The One A9 share’s the One M9’s 4-megapixel UltraPixel snapper, which was a worthy offering for Instagram addicts with impressive sensitivity and good low light performance.
Although pricing details haven’t been announced for the One A9 yet, you can be sure it’ll cost less than the Samsung Galaxy S6s and LG G4s of this world. That’s due to its Snapdragon 617 processor, which is a slower beast compared to the 810 chip you’ll find in the OnePlus 2 and Sony Xperia Z5 – the G4 has a slightly different 808 processor.
With a healthy 2GB RAM in its entry-level 16GB configuration and 3GB in its 32GB model, the One A9 won’t be wheezing when you run it through a daily gamut of Crossy Road, Netflix and Citymapper. I’m more concerned about how power efficient the phone will prove to be. With a 2150 mAh battery, the One A9 will have to be plenty economic to last a full day’s usage.
HTC claims it offers around 12 hours of video playback and up to 9 hours of internet browsing on wi-fi. Phablet fans may scoff at those stats, but the iPhone 6s survives with much a smaller 1715mAh battery. Unlike Apple’s handset, the One A9 has a Full HD screen with 1080x1920 resolution. That means more pixels to power when you’re squeezing in just one more episode of Parks and Recreation.
Android Marshmallow, now
To that end, you won’t have to wait for Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the HTC One A9. Similarly to Google’s Nexus 6P, this handset runs the new operating system straight out of the box albeit via a modified version of HTC’s own Sense 7 UI. This means it offers the operating system’s Doze feature, which places your phone in an airplane-like mode when you’re not using it – giving you some vital minutes of extra usage when you really need them.
Marshmallow also offers the latest version of Google Now and Android Pay compatibility when/if that NFC-enabled service eventually rolls out in the Middle East. Any wireless payment mechanism of course requires a fingerprint scanner and the One A9’s model is noticeably speedy. Drop your chosen digit on the phone rectangular nub on the front of the phone and it’ll snap into action. It’s a reassuringly slick function.
For fans of Tidal...
Is anyone really fussed about high-resolution sound? I suppose Jay Z and his Tidal posse would have you believe they are, so they’ll be glad to hear the One A9 supports 24-bit, 192KHz audio – something that most flagship handsets don’t offer at the moment. It’ll also upscale lower res tunes into the superior format.
Finally, you can enjoy ‘Like A Prayer’ on a smartphone just as Madonna intended. Audiophiles rejoice!
HTC One A9 Initial Verdict
Details such as these are mere garnish on an inarguably Apple-inspired salad. The story of the HTC One A9 is this: it looks like an iPhone 6s but won’t cost you as much to own.
Sold? Some people who want to fit in on a budget undoubtedly will be. For my part, the One A9 seems to be a cynical but well-made phone. So long as its battery life holds up in testing, it may turn out be a very good device indeed.
Having made some inspired phones that haven’t shifted in great numbers, it’s sad but perhaps understandable to see HTC churn out an identikit handset in the One A9.
You can expect the HTC One A9 to hit stores in the Middle East in early November although we have yet to be given a price. It will be available in four colours: Topaz Gold, Carbon Grey, Opal Silver, and Deep Garnet.