The leaked images of the new HTC One A9 were correct. This new phone looks and feels a lot like an iPhone 6. There are major differences across the board, including a much lower cost than the iPhone 6, but let's first address the elephant in the room.
The HTC One A9 looks like an iPhone 6
The visually obvious design aspects that have people immediately comparing the new HTC One A9 to the Apple iPhone 6 include the polycarbonate antenna bands across the back, the move from curved back designs to a flat back, the move from distinctive beveled edges to smooth edges, the loss of BoomSound stereo front facing speakers to a single bottom facing speaker, and the small round camera lens. Let's look at each of these a bit closer.
Antenna bands: HTC launched the unibody aluminum HTC One M7 in February 2013. HTC used zero-gap injection molding to insert the polycarbonate bands that insulated the antennas. Apple added similar bands to its aluminum phone design with the iPhone 6 in late 2014. It seems that Apple copied HTC on this method of using embedded polycarbonate to address antenna issues in an aluminum body phone. Apple took things further and added in the ugly banding around the upper and lower back edges as well.
Flat back: The HTC One M7, M8, and M9 all had curved backs that gave HTC a bit more room to work with internal components in the middle while tapering out to the sides. These curved back designs always led to a more comfortable feel in the palm of your hand and were fairly distinctive of HTC One designs. The HTC One A9 is now flat just like the Apple iPhone.
Edge design: The beveled silver edges on the HTC One M7 looked great and the interesting split edge design of the M9 provided a cool effect where gold and silver came together. The edges are now rounded aluminum with the front glass on the display curving into the edges. HTC has a brushed finish back and bead-blasted sides that are polished while Apple has polished metal all around. It's a subtle difference to most people and the HTC One A9 really just looks and feels like an iPhone 6.
BoomSound speakers: HTC BoomSound front-facing stereo speakers set the bar that all other smartphone speakers were measured against. HTC even inspired others to move to front facing speakers as we now see Sony, Motorola, Huawei, and others with devices including this design feature. HTC's One A9 has a bottom mounted speaker just like the Samsung Galaxy phones and the iPhone 6.
BoomSound front-facing speakers were a hallmark of HTC. However, most people listen to music with headphones so while front facing speakers make for great demos, HTC's new focus on 24-bit high-resolution audio through the headset is the right move.
Round camera with raised edge: With the HTC One M7, HTC tried something new with the UltraPixel camera and HTC Zoe. The UltraPixel camera helped push Android photography forward and we now see Android smartphones with cameras better than the Apple iPhone. The camera lens area was usually much larger than the opening on previous HTC phones, but now it's about the size of the lens and has a raised metal ring. Just like the iPhone 6. It is positioned in the center, I understand that took a lot of engineering to achieve, and early testing shows the 13 megapixel shooter performs better than the one in the M9.
Presenting the HTC One A9
The HTC One A9 feels fantastic in the hand and is one of the most pocketable smartphones available today. While most phone manufacturers continue to go big, HTC went small with the HTC One A9. I personally love the design and as Myriam Joire stated, "The A9 out-iPhones the iPhone."
The HTC One A9 continues with the all-metal unibody design, improves the camera by adding OIS and improved software, improves the headset audio experience, and is the first Android smartphone, other than a Nexus, to launch with Android 6.0 Marshmallow inside.
I was afraid HTC would stumble somewhere, particularly with pricing. However, Android fans will be pleased to know the HTC One A9 will launch in the US with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot. You can pre-order the HTC One A9 on htc.com today for a special, limited time promotional price of $399.99, available in Opal Silver and Carbon Gray initially. Deep Garnet and Topaz Gold will be made available in the coming weeks.
HTC will also offer free Uh Oh protection that includes one free replacement within the first 12 months of ownership for a cracked screen, water damage, or carrier switch. HTC will also include 6 months of Google Play Music if you purchase your new HTC One A9 from HTC.com. In the U.S., the HTC One A9 will be available across multiple carriers and retailers. Carriers will announce colors, availability, and pricing for their respective channels.
HTC will offer two U.S. unlocked HTC One A9 variants through HTC.com. One will be compatible with Sprint's network, and the second will be compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile's networks and will be compatible with the Verizon network through a software update that will roll out shortly after launch. Once the update rolls out, the phone can be used on Verizon's network using LTE only (no CDMA necessary) with a previously activated SIM, and it will support full voice, data, SMS and MMS capabilities.
The specifications are different than you might expect and are listed below. However, I've been testing the HTC One A9 for a few days and at this time can say that the specs don't necessarily reflect the performance of the device. You would think the processor would provide a compromised performance and that battery life would be terrible with the small capacity -- so far neither assumption has proven correct. I've even been able to play Need For Speed No Limits and battery life rivals some of the best. Stay tuned for my full review next week.
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor
- Display: 5 inch LCD at 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution, 401 ppi, Gorilla Glass 4
- Operating system: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- RAM: 2GB or 3GB
- Storage: 16GB or 32GB internal options with microSD card slot
- Cameras: Rear 13 megapixel camera with OIS, f/2.0 aperture, and RAW support and 4 megapixel UltraPixel front facing camera
- Sensors: Fingerprint, proximity, motion, compass, gyro, magnetic
- Wireless: Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, GPS, NFC
- Battery: 2,150 mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 (and 3.0 with future software update)
- Dimensions: 145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26 mm and 143 grams
- Colors: Opal Silver, Carbon Gray, Deep Garnet, and Gold (limited in some markets)
I'm testing an international 2GB RAM/16GB internal storage model that doesn't support LTE on T-Mobile in the USA. I'm testing the gray one that is blacker than Apple's space gray color.
Like Samsung's recent move with the IR transmitter, HTC cut it out of the HTC One A9 as well. I guess the days of using your phone as a remote control are gone.
HTC includes a fingerprint scanner and home button below the display. Unlike the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy line, the button is capacitive and doesn't physically press in. It's indented a bit from the full front glass display so is easy to find and activate with your finger. It's shaped oblong like a Galaxy, not round like an iPhone. So far, it has been extremely accurate and fast. The textured side power button is easy to find and press when you want to turn the display off.
As I continue to test this European model, please let me know what you want to hear about in my upcoming full review.
The HTC One A9 will be positioned in the US as a flagship that takes the place of the M9 on most store shelves. In other parts of the world, the One A9 may coexist with the One M9 and M9+.
There is a lot of competition in the $350 to $500 price range for Android smartphones with the top devices being the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Moto X Pure Edition, and ZTE Axon. Given HTC's history of fantastic designs, the included fingerprint scanner, and Android Marshmallow OS at launch, it has the potential to be best in the mid-range class of devices.