A totally objective review of the HTC One A9

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Everyone’s Trying to Kill the iPhone by Copying It.

I owned several handsets with touchscreens in those pre-iPhone years, including another HTC, the TyTN II, a smartphone running Windows Mobile which also had a slide-out physical keyboard. “HTC is a smartphone pioneer, having delivered the first Android smartphone, the first Windows smartphone, the first 4G smartphone, and the first all-metal smartphone,” she said. The subtext of the history lesson was now clear: “Before you accuse us of copying Apple, please be aware that they copied all these other things from us.” I suppose if you’re going to copy another handset, you could do worse than choose one of the best-looking phones around, and the A9 is doubtless a real stunner. It featured two headlines, both published a few days earlier after photos of the A9 leaked to the Internet, and both said almost the same thing in the same words: Wow, HTC’s phone looks a lot like the iPhone. While HTC purists might be miffed at this departure from the design aesthetic they’ve come to love, it has been clear for some time that the company needed to do something drastic to revive its flagging fortunes.

Executives and PR people find unimaginative ways of alluding to Apple—“one of our competitors,” or “a company in Cupertino,” or my favorite, “a certain fruit company.” For years, only a few companies who were bold enough to take potshots in public. The “Here’s what we have that the iPhone doesn’t” ad is among Samsung’s favorites, and the Windows team at Microsoft has borrowed it before too. HTC’s defense on the cloning accusations is that the One A9’s metal design is the natural evolution of the design language that it introduced with the One M7 in 2013.

Sales of the M9, released earlier this year, have been particularly disappointing and HTC clearly felt it needed to pull something radically different out of the hat with the A9. For instance, HTC’s One M7/M8/M9 all have front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers and the iPhone doesn’t, and the iPhone has a glass front that curves on the edges and HTC’s are flat. For one thing, it runs the latest version of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow, making HTC the first manufacturer to offer this after Google’s Nexus 5X and 6P devices. In virtually every meeting I’ve taken with a manufacturer during the last six months, people have spoken openly about how they’re competing with, and improving upon, Apple’s stuff.

It has HTC’s own Sense user interface running on top of Android and while I prefer the pure Android experience, Sense is fairly inoffensive compared to the bloatware some manufacturers cram onto their devices. Apple borrowed our solution,” Nigel Newbyhouse, HTC’s executive director of product planning, told me. (Apple declined to comment.) No matter how you slice it, though, the world will see the A9 as “the Android iPhone.” And for HTC, which never became a household name, that’s not a bad move. Rather than offering gimmicky eye-tracking features or touting their removable batteries, they’re talking about cameras, about design, and about delighting users.

HTC has also included a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) that upscales 16-bit audio to 24-bit so you can get the best out of expensive, high-end headphones. They have to. “Right now, everyone has woken up to the realities of competition in the market, and have realized that Apple is now stealing everyone’s business,” says Avi Greengart, a research director at Current Analysis. “If you can’t steal some share away from Apple, there’s not much share left.” There’s a huge market, but no money, in making unlocked phones for $200.

I like it more than the iPhone 6’s TouchID sensor because you don’t need to wake up the phone’s screen first, just place your finger on the sensor and the phone unlocks and authenticates in one go. It’s unlikely to bother most people, but I dislike how the Micro USB port, speaker holes and headphone jack on the bottom of the phone all skew to the right side. It may sound like I’m nitpicking (and maybe I am), but these are the little details that bother you when you start using a product as personal as a phone all day, everyday.

The One feels noticeably more solid than the metal, glass and plastic combinations of the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Huawei-built Nexus 6P and the LG-built Nexus 5X. Harsher critics and fans will bemoan the full HD resolution and wonder why HTC hasn’t moved up to a higher resolution QuadHD display, but I’m a realist and full HD is more than adequate on a phone. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor won’t beat out any flagship phones with faster 808 or 810 chips on benchmarks or even compare when it comes to 3D gaming, but it’s powerful enough for normal smartphone usage — and it doesn’t overheat (a big issue the One M9 suffered from). But HTC presumably doesn’t want you to notice that the front-facing camera doesn’t align with the speaker, or that the proximity sensor appears to have been thrown on there randomly.

Doze, another under the hood feature that turns off background processes when the phone’s idle to extend battery life didn’t appear to give the phone’s puny (for an Android phone) 2,150 milliamp-hour battery a huge boost. So you need to be competitive on design and camera, and then offer something extra.” The good news for everyone not in Cupertino is that there is room in the premium market for devices that aren’t the iPhone. That said, the One A9 does have one useful trick: Quick Charging 3.0, which lets you quickly juice it up from 0 to 80% in 35 minutes, which is a nice plus.

The Android ecosystem has flourished recently—from the new Nexus devices to Samsung’s currently lineup, Google phones are the best they’ve ever been. They looked great on the phone’s full HD screen, but not really so hot when I looked at them on a computer screen; the photos weren’t nearly as sharp and were blurrier around the edges. Apple’s been making and improving the iPhone for a long time. “On the other hand, if Apple’s game is the only game there is, you either play it or you find a different game to play.” If you’re lucky enough to pick it up for $399.99 (sale lasts until Oct. 30 in the U.S.), I’d say the phone is a good deal, so long as you know you’re not getting a flagship-performing device.

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