HTC One A9 review

The iPhone with the brains of an Android

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Our Verdict

To compare this too much to an iPhone would be unfair to the genuinely impressive power under the hood - but it's curious that HTC has decided on this design path.

For

  • Improved camera
  • Awesome design
  • Good Marshmallow mix

Against

  • Battery life too poor
  • Some rattling in case
  • Cost too high

Let's get a couple of things straight: the HTC One A9 isn't a flagship phone, which explains why so many iconic elements have been left out. And yes, it looks a lot like an iPhone 6S.

But that would miss the point of this phone. It's a 'fashion' device, one for those who want a slightly cheaper smartphone with decent build and some attractive specs, sitting apart from the usual bun-fight for attention that happens twice a year when Sony, Samsung, HTC, LG and Apple throw their new phones into the ring.

I'll get to the points about design later on in the review, but let's deal with something now: this is an iPhone in shape to the untrained eye, something most people commented on when they saw the handset.

The argument is already raging about whether or not this is HTC's DNA in the phone (the brand did popularise the metal-body-with-plastic-strips look on the original One) but the fact is that it looks like an iPhone 6S.

HTC One A9 review

Whether Apple copied HTC or HTC copied Apple is irrelevant. The iPhone is the world's most popular single device, and as such is easily identifiable. Any brand that makes a phone that looks remotely similar does so with both eyes open.

Want to see the HTC One A9 in action? Check out our video review.

The desire to have this specific 'flat body, rounded edges' look on the One A9 has led to a few things going missing – things that are iconic elements of the HTC brand. The biggest loss is the Boomsound speakers on the front of the phone, which were an integral part of why I loved to recommend HTC devices.

HTC One A9 review

These have been replaced with a small mono speaker at the bottom, as HTC tried to find ways to slim the device down while also including a fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone.

HTC One A9 review

Let's leave the 'who copied who' debate though, and focus on what this phone actually is: a well-made Nexus phone with a few touches of HTC's smarts. Because it won't be a phone that any fan of the Taiwanese brand will recognise on a software level, such is the integration with Android Marshmallow.

The interface is much, much closer to stock Android than ever, with loads of HTC's apps being dropped in favor of just presenting the Google options; this is a phone that's designed to be sleek when it comes to software, with HTC elevating the best parts of the new Android OS instead of putting its own stamp on the phone.

It's stripped-back, clean and easy to use, with just a hint of HTC's touch on top. It's a Nexus with less of a Google stamp on it, with more freedom from the manufacturer to create the phone it wants.

There's an issue around price though. In the US the HTC One A9 will be retailing at $399 until November 7, after which the price increases to $499. In the UK, however, it'll launch at £429, which is about $650 – and that's for a lower-spec phone.

In the US, there's 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM; in the UK, 16GB and 2GB. I'll get on to what that means in terms of performance later on, but it's an incredibly odd strategy to make the lower-spec model more expensive in certain parts of the world.

Is this a phone that's only designed to compete in the US? With the raft of excellent low-cost phones from Motorola, OnePlus, Huawei and more in Europe it seems that HTC is already giving up the fight with such a high price – which is a shame, as this is a phone that treads a new path for the brand and, mostly, does it very well.

Plus then there's the issue of the HTC 10. HTC has brought out its latest flagship device in the form of the 10, which comes with a premium and more traditional HTC design, to compete in a similar market to the One A9.

It offers a slightly higher level of spec and if you're looking for a phone which looks just like previous HTC handsets, this will be the choice for you. But that doesn't mean you should write off the HTC One A9 yet. Even though it's older, it's still worth paying attention to and you won't regret it when you realize it's even cheaper than the HTC 10.