When we talk about Android flagships, each year HTC is usually one of the first names to pop up. However, 2015ís flagship, the One M9, has been maligned a bit in the media because itís not that much better than itís predecessor, the M8. While it ships with a more powerful SoC, due to heat issues, it rarely gets a chance to stretch its legs; the camera, while higher resolution doesnít take very good pictures. That sort of thing.
Fortunately, HTC usually releases something interesting in Q3/Q4. Previous Q3/Q4 releases include the HTC Butterfly (one of the first 1080P phones), HTC One Max (their first phablet) and the Nexus 9 (their first tablet in a while).
Since the M9 is the most maligned HTC flagship in a while, theyíve decided to market their Q3 curiosity as their new flagship.
Indeed, the A9ís slick metal body is certainly a good start. What about the rest of it?
vs LG Nexus 5x:
For slightly less money, you can pick up the Nexus 5x. While the pricing is similar, each is a very different animal.
The 5x has a flagship-ish Snapdragon 808 while the A9 makes do with a mid-range 618. The 5x camera also takes the best still photos of any phone right now. It also has a slightly larger 2700mAh battery.
Otherwise, the A9 has some pretty big advantages; it has a much nicer looking 5Ē 1920x1080 AMOLED display. 3GB of RAM is a little bit more convenient as is the 32GB of storage and MicroSD slot. I also find the front-mounted fingerprint reader more intuitive to use. While the A9ís camera isnít as good as the 5xís, the HTCís optical image stabilization helps it take better looking video though it's limited to 1080P whereas the 5x goes up to 4K.
However, the best thing about the A9 is its metal body. The brushed metal back feels like glass and has a sense of occasion sorely missing from the 5x.
Is a Snapdragon 808 better than having 3GB of RAM?
Is the 5xís market leading camera better than the A9ís?
Despite the advantages, the 32GB 5x is priced nearly $90 lower so Iíd say you canít go wrong with either.
vs OnePlus 2:
Then thereís the OnePlus 2. If youíre able to get an invite, the 2 offers a bit more of everything. It comes with a more powerful Snapdragon 810 SoC, more RAM, more storage, bigger screen.
Heck, it even has a snazzy metal body.
The only thing the A9 has going for it is a MicroSD and arguably a more classy body.
The A9 is a nice phone but itís priced about $150 too high.
vs Motorola Moto X Play:
The Moto X Play has a slightly less powerful 615 SoC, only 16GB of storage, less RAM (2 vs 3GB), plastic body and no image stabilization.
Then again, it comes with a very useful 3630mAh battery and a larger 5.5Ē display.
The A9 is undoubtedly a nicer phone with more RAM and storage but Iím not sure itís worth paying an extra $250 for it.
- 5Ē AMOLED display
- 1920x1080 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB of storage
- 13 megapixel rear camera
- optical image stabilization
- dual tone LED flash
- 5 megapixel front camera
- LTE bands
- fingerprint sensor
- nano SIM
- 2150mAh battery
The A9ís body is positively delicious. First off, at 5Ē, itís quite a bit smaller than most similarly priced phones. While phablet and phablet-ish phones are nice, 5Ē is still large big enough to display a lot of information while simultaneously being very usable with just one hand.
In terms of how it feels in your hand, it's even fancier than an iPhone 6.
The shape is very organic - there are no sharp edges so itís very pleasant to hold.
The polished metal back is so smooth it feels like glass - at the same time it doesnít feel like itís been covered with a ton of lacquer so it feels real unlike its predecessor the M8.
Look at the finish on the power button - it looks awesome.
However, while the buttons stick out the right amount, they could use a tiny bit more feel when you press them in.
Notice how the back and sides are one piece of metal but they have 2 different finishes. They spent a lot of time trying to make the A9 look classy yet at the same time itís not gauche.
It provides both a sense of occasion yet is also very usable at the same time.
Itís been awhile since Iíve used an HTC phone with an AMOLED screen. I think the last one I tried was my Nexus One from many years ago. The A9ís is actually a SuperAMOLED display.
At a glance, the display on the A9 is excellent. Blacks are very deep so colours pop. While colors pop, theyíre also very restrained at the same time so the display looks more realistic.
Upon closer inspection, there is noticeable colour shift when you view if off-angle but this is par for the course for AMOLED displays.
Another thing I noticed is that the display isnít very bright. I suspect HTC dialed down the maximum brightness since the A9 comes with an undersized 2150mAh battery. A mostly white screen, at maximum brightness can draw a crazy amount of power on a SuperAMOLED so this is necessary trade-off.
Lately it been pretty overcast so I havenít had a chance to try the A9 outside. I mention this because AMOLED screen in general washout outdoors. Most recent Samsung phones tackle this problem with good results by having ridiculously bright displays.
The HTC One M7 was one of the first phones to ship with optical image stabilization, so I was positively gutted this useful feature was left off the M8 and M9.
Fortunately, itís back. This time, it's paired with a 13 megapixel sensor.
The sensor can take decent pictures but I found that in the 10 days or so that Iíve had it, it has taken very few keepers. Seems every single picture I took was either slightly out of focus, had too much motion blur, had large dark swaths or was too bright.
The camera also tends to miss certain colours. Particularly blue which can sometimes end up almost purple.
There is a RAW mode which saves pictures in DNG format. I didnít play with it much - just remember that saving photos in DNG format slows down the shot-to-shot speeds.
Video was fairly smooth thanks to the stabilization but it also tends to crush dark areas so that they donít have any detail. The mic is quite good.
While the A9 is positioned as a flagship phone, it just might be the only 2015 flagship that doesnít required 4K video.
The front facing camera is a 4 megapixel ďUltrapixelĒ camera with a wide angle lens. The same sensor has been on the back of some past HTC flagships like the M7 and M8.
It tends to take gritty looking pictures. I generally wasnít that pleased with it either.
The A9 is one of the first non-Nexus phones to ship with Android 6 Marshmallow.
At a launch event a few months back, I was told by HTC that they would be ditching a lot of their built-in apps that duplicate the existing ones that come with Android.
However, the A9 which I have right now seems to have more or less the same amount of extra stuff youíd normally get with an HTC phone.
I donít have a M9 handy to compare but the only things I donít see on the A9 is duplicate web browser from HTC and Blinkfeed.
Otherwise, you still extras like Mail, Zoe along with some HTC utilities like Weather, Flashlight, Voice recorder, etc
Itís not to say that the A9 comes with lots of crap wear (it doesnít) but if youíre looking for a Nexus like experience you should stick with a Nexus. The A9ís software is still fundamentally HTC.
Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617. In 2015, 600 series Snapdragons are generally found on phones that cost 300-400 so youíre probably wondering what itís doing in a $650 phone.
At a glance, the 617 isnít all that different from the 615 in the Moto X Play. Actually, the 4 faster cores in the A9ís 617 are clocked slightly slower than the 615 in the play - 1.7 vs 1.5Ghz.
Still, despite the slightly lower speeds, the A9 actually scores slightly higher in most benchmarks.
Iím guessing the higher scores are probably due to the fact that the 617 supports slight faster RAM (According to Qualcommís site).
The 617ís Adreno 405 GPU is also slightly updated, it supports OpenGL ES 3.1.
While the A9 scores a bit higher than the Moto X, it's no match for a 800 series Snapdragon (808 in the 5x and 810 in the OnePlus 2) when it comes to graphics.
The real difference between the 615 and the 617 is that the 617 supports carrier aggregation for speeds of up to 300Mbps. Of course, while youíll probably never encounter these speeds in real life, it can also benefit when the network is congested.
As a Phone:
Maximum earpiece is good while the speakerphone is only average.
RF performance is average.
I recently started testing battery life by playing Netflix for an hour and then extrapolating how long it would take for a phone to run out of juice. Now that Iíve tested a few phones, it seems the test favors AMOLED display. AMOLED displays thrive indoors when youíre watching video because videos tend to be darker than webpages (in general) and AMOLED screens draw less power when the screen is darker.
Unlike the last couple of HTC flagships, the A9 lacks stereo speakers. You get a earpiece and a bottom mounted speaker like most phones but you can only use one at a time.
Itís reasonably loud and while I wouldnít say it sounds terrible, itís worse than what you get in the M9, M8 and M7.
Thereís 32GB of storage which you can expand with MicroSD cards.
HTC claims that the headphone amp on the A9 has double the volume of competitors. While I am unable to verify that the A9ís headphone amp really is 3dB louder than some competitors, I can say that it kicks like a mule - itís really loud.
Theyíre also saying that the A9 is able to process 24bit/192Khz audio files.
HTC included their optional HTC Pro Studio Earphones which are a pair of in-ear monitor style headphones. They do get quite loud and can easily damage your hearing so make sure you donít play with the higher volume settings unless youíre listening to a really quiet song.
The A9 has one of the fanciest bodies of any phone this year. That said, while itís a reasonably well rounded phone, itís price is just too high.
The problem with the A9 is that at 649 it basically costs about the same as a full-fat flagship like the Nexus 6p ($50 more), LG G4 or a Sony Xperia Z5.
Is the A9 a lot nicer than a mid-range phone? Absolutely, but the other phones I mentioned offer better processors and cameras for about the same money.
3.5 Howies out of 5.
- metal body
- nice looking display
- convenient fingerprint reader
- expensive for what it is
- given the price, it should come with a 800 series Snapdragon
- no stereo speakers