HTC One A9 Hands-On: An iPhone 6S for Android Fans

By Gerald Lynch on at

Set to land just below the this year's HTC One M9 in HTC's flagship "One" range, HTC's new HTC One A9 is a premium-build Android Marshmallow smartphone with specs that sit just under those found in the top tier HTC One M9.

It also looks unavoidably like an iPhone 6 or 6S. Like, a lot.

htc one a9

HTC One A9 Design

That's not a bad thing at all; the latest iPhones feel great, and the HTC One A9 does, too. But if you're looking for inspiration, the claim that HTC's San Francisco design team have been working on the phone for the last four years seems a little weak when you see how close it looks to the year-old iPhone 6. Whether Apple or HTC got to the design first on the drawing board will remain an industrial mystery, but it's a shame to seemingly see HTC following the pack when its One range's greatest success historically has been its beautiful metal builds.

Again, it's worth stressing that this is still a wonderful-feeling phone. A "Metal(Morphic)" brushed aluminium design makes use of curved corners, embedded rear antenna bands, a side-mounted textured power button just below a volume rocker and a physical, touch-sensitive home button that doubles up as a fingerprint sensor. Weighing 143g and measuring 145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26mm with a 5-inch Full HD AMOLED display, it's undeniably familiar.

Two shades will be available when it launches early next month – "carbon grey" with a black front plate and "opal silver" with a white front plate. These will be followed up later with "garnet red" with black front and "topaz gold" with white front options, too. The nifty Dot View cases, letting you check notifications, play games and take calls without lifting off the bespoke, hole-filled cover, will also return for the HTC One A9.

HTC One A9 Specs

Whereas the HTC One M9 made use of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset, the HTC One A9 steps down to a Snapdragon 617 chip. With Octa-core processing (four cores at 1.5GHz and four at 1.2GHz), it's still a speedy phone, but it's clear that HTC isn't keen to position this as a replacement for the M9. Likewise, RAM drops from 3GB to 2GB here. 16GB of storage comes as standard, with microSD expansion supported.

htc one a9

The battery size seems a little on the small size at 2150mAh (no USB-C port here, either), but HTC assure that optimisations with the Qualcomm chipset means it won't disappoint. NFC will let the fingerprint sensor play nicely with Android Pay in territories where it's available, while that fingerprint sensor can also track scans for five digits – it worked to unlock the phone with a reasonable amount of reliability in my short test, but it crucially didn't work every single time, even when lining my thumb up precisely.

The HTC One A9 will also take advantage of hi-res audio, using a 24-bit high resolution DSP and housing the ability to upscale 16-bit MP3s. The rear mounted headphone jack will support higher-voltage connections to ensure the best quality is delivered to fancier headphones, and all the upscaling tech should work fine with streaming services like Spotify as well as locally-stored files too.

htc one a9

HTC One A9 Camera and Photography

HTC took a chance with its HTC One line's unusual Ultrapixel camera, but with the One M9 it seemed to concede that most phone buyers didn't "get" it, settling on a standard 20MP rear sensor instead, relegating Ultrapixels to the front-facing selfie camera. The HTC One A9 carries on in this tradition, but frustratingly dials back the rear sensor's megapixel count to 13.1MP.

htc one a9

The HTC One family through the ages - left to right, the HTC One M7, One M8, One M9 and the new One A9.

HTC has still added a few new bells and whistles to its camera features though. For starters, images shot in RAW format can now be edited directly on the phone. For its "casual" target audience, the auto shot UI has also been simplified, letting you jump to important setting shortcuts with just a few taps. There's also a 12x speed hyperlapse recording option, which works with videos you've previously shot in standard formats as well. Optical image stabilisation is onboard too, helping to reduce judder and blur in shots.

HTC One A9 Sense and Android Marshmallow

If you're familiar with the HTC One M9, you'll know exactly what to expect from the A9's interface. HTC Sense is back, and with it again comes customisable themes, location aware contextually served app collections on your homescreens, and the optional Blinkfeed, offering a stream of articles from chosen news sources and social feeds. Little has changed here.

htc one a9

However, this time it all sits on top of the latest Android build, Marshmallow. HTC has worked closely alongside Google to ensure the A9 lands with Android 6.0 at roughly the same time as the latest Nexus devices, which is quite the coup for HTC. That means the HTC One A9 can make use of features including Now on Tap, Android Pay, improved battery performance and the ability to have microSD cards recognised as internal, built-in storage.

HTC One A9 Price and Release Date

Set to launch globally in early November, HTC has yet to reveal pricing beyond the fact that the HTC One A9 will cost less than the HTC One M9's launch price, which puts it somewhere below £579. Given the slightly scaled-back specs, that's still probably going to be quite expensive then, and potentially more so than its specs should be able to dictate.

But hey! The same can be said of iPhones. If you've a soft-spot for Apple's hardware, but want the freedom that Android brings, the HTC One A9 certainly looks worth checking out.