After disappointing sales of their flagship One M9 and a spate of bad news, HTC has been in need of a drastic shift in strategy to keep itself competitive in the smartphone market. We’re not sure if the One A9 they announced today qualifies, but it seems like a step in the right direction — a mid-range, more affordable phone focused on getting the most out of pretty good specs.
While the internal specs make this a mid-range phone, the premium build of the M9 has been retained. The A9 still has an all-metal frame and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protecting the display, but the aesthetic design departs significantly from what we’ve been seeing on the One line of phones. The A9 opts for more rounded edges and swaps out the dual front facing speakers for one speaker on the bottom of the phone near the charging port. The fingerprint scanner has been built into the oblong physical home button on the front of the device. The net result is a phone that looks more like an iPhone than an HTC One, although part of that might be a reflection of those dual speakers getting the axe over cost considerations. It’s also sufficiently thin for any pocket at 7.26 mm.
The internal specs, while mid-range, look good enough to handle most smartphone apps easily. This is a 5″ smartphone with a 1080p AMOLED display, making it one of the first HTC phones we can remember to spring for AMOLED. The One A9 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 SoC with an octa-core processor (4 x 1.5 GHz, 4 x 1.2 GHz). The standard model will come with 2 GB of RAM, but the phone can be purchased with 3 GB. Storage options are limited at 16 GB or 32 GB, but fortunately, there is a MicroSD card slot. The battery seems small at 2,150 mAh (and is not removable), but with mid-range specs, it might be good enough — we’ll have to test it out to know for sure.
The cameras take some steps forward and some steps back. The 12 MP sensor on the rear camera isn’t as robust as the 20 MP sensor on the One M9, but the return of optical image stabilization more than makes up for it. The front camera has a 4 MP UltraPixel sensor, which takes in more light than usual to help up your indoor selfie game. While they’re no DSLRs, you can take control of most camera settings using Pro mode and take pictures in RAW format. The one disappointment is that the rear camera can’t take 4k video, but it’s hard to fault a mid-range phone for leaving that feature off.
Despite the removal of the dual front-facing speakers, HTC says audio was a big focal point of the A9. Instead of focusing on the internal speakers, the A9 tries to get the most out of headphones. Inside, there’s a 192 KHz/24-bit DAC and a dedicated headphone amplifier, so anyone with high-end headphones should get a better listening experience with the A9 than with other mid-range phones.
With the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, HTC has decided to start stripping down its Sense UI. A lot of HTC apps that duplicated native Google apps will no longer be preloaded on the phone, which should help a little with performance and storage. The UI itself is still largely intact, however, so we’ll have to do more testing to see how much the tweaks to Sense will help battery life and performance.
The HTC One A9 will come in Carbon Gray, Opal Silver, Topaz Gold, and Deep Garnet and will be available in November. Pricing will vary by carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint confirmed, with Verizon on the way), but the big prize is the unlocked version that HTC is selling directly. For $400, you can get an unlocked A9 with 32 GB and 3 GB of RAM with one year of HTC Uh Oh protection, which gives you one free replacement phone in the event of a cracked screen, water damage, or the like. HTC is also allowing buyers to unlock the bootloader on this $400 A9 without voiding the warranty, so if you ever wanted a phone you could risk bricking for the sake of trying to root, this would be it. The unlocked A9 can be preordered today and will come in Carbon Gray and Opal Silver initially, with Topaz Gold and Deep Garnet coming later.