From a price-to-spec perspective, there is really no justification for the One A9’s absurd price tag. But, I wouldn’t be here if that was the end of the One A9’s discussion.
On paper, the One A9’s specs are almost laughable when paired to its RM2,299 price tag. In fact, I had quite the hearty laugh when I saw that price printed — no doubt to the chagrin of everyone else there. Nonetheless, I was interested to see how HTC could possibly justify it.
No surprise that I didn’t find it in the performance aspect of the smartphone, nor did I find it in what was previously (before the HTC 10) the Taiwanese company’s best camera smartphone according to DxO Mark.
So, what’s left?
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I’ll admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for HTC and their smartphones. The HTC Desire was my first smartphone ever and I absolutely adored it. It didn’t matter that I paid a whopping RM700 for it second hand, nor that it had a bunch of dents and scratches, it just had so much character and it was the best feel-in-hand smartphone I’ve ever held.
HTC were an innovative bunch and for the longest time they set the stage on how Android smartphones should have been made. The Sense UI was intuitive and beautiful, the devices themselves were built like tanks and unlike any of the other cheap feeling Android smartphones out there.
They were the true iPhone challengers. Then, all of that went down the drain and now they’re struggling to stay afloat.
I could tell you about the disappointing Snapdragon 617 processor that is mated to 3GB of RAM, but you probably already know that. I could tell you that the performance isn’t magnificent or even particularly smooth, but I think you would’ve probably heard that from somewhere else too.
On Geekbench 3, the smartphone scored a Single-Core score of 731 while it hit 3,154 on the Multi-Core score. On AnTuTu, the highest score this smartphone achieved was 66,559, while subsequent tests placed it around the 65,000 mark.
It’s not incredibly laggy per se as light to medium tasks are pretty snappy, but once you get to gaming and more intensive multitasking, the device starts choking. Not that you’d be able to see it choke that much considering the abysmal battery life from that 2,150 mAh cell. On average, I would be lucky to be able to eek out 3 hours of screen on time, with it often dying in about 2 hours.
However, what you should know is that this Sense UI built on top of Android Marshmallow is pretty awesome and it goes a long way to making this smartphone liveable with. Sense is intuitive enough to identify your frequent apps and switch between them depending on whether you’re at work, at home, or out and about.
It’s also incredibly pretty — one of the prettiest Android skins I’ve used by far.
Speaking of pretty, the 5-inch full-HD AMOLED display smack dab in front of the One A9 is rather beautiful. Placing 1920×1080 pixels into a small 5-inch form factor gives the display a nice and crisp look thanks to the high ppi. I’m glad HTC didn’t try to cut corners by giving it a 720p panel instead.
HTC has also slapped a fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone just under the display. It’s not a physical button, rather a recessed pothole ala OnePlus 2 and is fairly accurate to use. Around a 70% success rate — which is admirable.
A reasonable camera
Imaging is important to me because a good camera helps me hide how bad I am at photography. With the One A9, the 13MP rear snapper isn’t anything to shout about. It’ll take good pictures in nice lighting, but when things get a little too dark or too bright, it falters.
I’m rather impressed with the accurate colour reproduction and (occasionally) good dynamic range, but in terms of sharpness and detail, it does leave some to be desired. Make no mistake, it’s no S7 edge or Nexus 6P, but it should be good enough for all your Instagramming needs.
If you’d like to see more photos, check out the gallery section of this review.
An incredible build
When I first picked up the HTC One A9, the one thing that hit me was that a lot of what made me fall in love with HTC was in this smartphone. The build, for example, is absolutely phenomenal.
Nobody does metal smartphones like HTC and the One A9 is the bastion that upholds that truth. Did you think the Nexus 6P felt like a premium device? Well, the One A9 blows that out of the water.
The moment I picked this smartphone up, without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that this was a glorious metal smartphone. The satisfying clack of steel on marble when you place this phone down is gern inducing.
The fit and finish is about as precise as it gets. The rounded edges feel sublime and I could go on for days about how much I loved holding this smartphone, but I think you get the point. It’s easily the best metal-bodied smartphone I’ve ever held.
Now if only I could say the same about the rest of the smartphone.
Not the smartphone you buy with your head
I like to think of the HTC One A9 as the “smartphone that could have been”. Across the board, the HTC One A9 isn’t the logical man’s smartphone purchase. After spending time reviewing the device, I still can’t find a way to justify the performance-per-dollar this smartphone offers.
In the rolling sea of all the things this smartphone gets wrong, there are flashes of brilliance that I simply cannot ignore. The One A9 brought me back to a time where I didn’t care so much about what was written on a piece of paper — to a time where I loved a smartphone for more than what processor was powering it.
Now though, as a tech enthusiast, I can’t ignore this smartphone’s spec sheet. However, if you could somehow ignore what’s written on paper and have a large sum of money to blow on a smartphone, then this could be the device for you. It should hold up just fine for everyone but the most heavy of users in all the smartphone-y things you would want from it.
I struggled with a dilemma throughout my time reviewing this smartphone. I loved the One A9 as much as I was annoyed at it and while I wouldn’t buy one myself, this was a smartphone I never wanted to let go of. It was a device I simply had to own. It was an exhilarating yet painful experience that I can only liken to one thing — a torrid love affair with a stranger in a foreign land over the weekend.
HTC’s One A9 is someone you know would never work out in the long-term relationship, but the time you did spend with that person is something you’d never forget. It will linger in the back of your mind as the biggest “What if…”, the biggest bittersweet memory. But alas, a year or two down the road, you would look back and be glad that you didn’t take the dive because boy would that have been a big mistake.
[nextpage title=”Gallery”]Here are some shots taken with the HTC One A9’s 13-megapixel camera. Click on each picture to see the original image. If you’d like to see more pictures of the device itself, be sure to check out our gallery on Facebook.
Low light shot
Extreme low light