HTC One A9 review: Flagship pricing, without the performance

Price when reviewed

Update: The HTC One A9 turned out the be the last in the line of HTC Ones, with the Taiwanese manufacturer’s latest handset dropping the ‘One’ and ‘M’. We raved about the HTC 10 in our review recently, and coming back to the HTC One A9 reveals exactly why the HTC 10 is so good.

HTC One A9 review: Flagship pricing, without the performance

While the A9 was – and is – style over substance, the HTC 10 offers performance and features up with the best of them. The price may have dropped since I wrote this review back in November, but people looking for a low-cost handset with similar performance are better off with the OnePlus 2, while those looking for a true flagship performance should be prepared to pay more.

The original review continues below.

When HTC announced its latest not-quite-a-flagship-but-priced-like-one handset, the HTC One A9, it turned a lot of heads. Unfortunately, while there was a lot of praise for the handset’s aesthetic, there was less for the Taiwanese manufacturer’s originality: the HTC One A9 will look very familiar indeed to Apple enthusiasts.

The shape, the lines, the curves. Put the A9 side-by-side with an iPhone 6s and it’s really just the camera placement and the company logos that give the game away. That’s a touch unfair, perhaps – smartphones can only be so different from each other, after all – but if you’re drawing comparisons with the most popular premium handset of its generation, you’d better be sure the comparison is flattering. Or, at least, not too embarrassing.

Early impressions are good. Being compared with the iPhone – even if it’s being accused of copycat tactics – is aesthetically a good place to be. The HTC A9 looks great, and feels wonderful in the hand. The large, slightly raised glass display looks expensive and sleek, and the curved edges complement the flat metal unibody design perfectly. It very much looks the part.htc_a9_e

However, it does lose a mark against past HTC flagships in one key design area: it now has a physical button on the front, which rather spoils the sense of minimalism. There’s a very good reason for this, though. It’s the first HTC smartphone to have fingerprint security built in, and it mostly works very well, allowing you to unlock the screen with just a thumb press. It doesn’t always detect straight away, but it works consistently enough that it’s preferable to tapping out your passcode.

HTC One A9 review: Performance

The screen is also excellent. So far, HTC has stuck resolutely to a resolution of 1080p, which is absolutely fine for the handset’s 5in corner-to-corner size, providing a pixel density of 440ppi. It uses AMOLED technology and puts in a splendid effort, covering 100% of the sRGB spectrum, with images appearing sharp and vibrant. At its top brightness, it achieves a luminance of 347cd/m2, which isn’t the brightest around, but is a decent effort.

So far, so good. Where the phone begins to fall down, though, is in performance. In day-to-day usage, the handset appears as nippy and smooth as many other box-fresh Android smartphones, but there are warning signs that, despite its high price, the A9 is not going to offer performance on a par with its flagship rivals.htc_a9_a

It’s the first phone we’ve seen with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 inside, and backed up with the handset’s 2GB of RAM, it manages respectable, if not stunning results. In Geekbench 3, it achieved a single-core score of 732 and a multi-core score of 3,050. In comparison, that puts it a little way behind the company’s eight month-old One M9 flagship (838 and 3,677) and more in the ballpark of the OnePlus One (972 and 3,018) and Huawei Honor 6 (864 and 3,095). It’s a long way behind its stylistic sibling, the iPhone 6s (2,523 and 4,396).

Things get worse in the gaming tests, where the HTC One A9 managed 6.9fps in the Manhattan test. This is intensive, to be fair, with the Samsung Galaxy S6 only managing 15fps, but it places the A9 alongside the likes of the Motorola Moto E2 (6.4fps) and Alcatel Idol 3 (6fps). That’s hardly the kind of company the A9 should be keeping, considering how expensive it is.

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