By now you’ve probably heard all about HTC’s new One A9 (which we just reviewed). There are two camps in regard to the company’s late-2015 flagship, and it seems like everyone either loves it or hates it. And while there is plenty of criticism that you can throw at HTC and the One A9, this phone is arguably the best chance the company has to plug the holes in its financially-sinking ship.
There are two distinct parts of the One A9 that are important here: price and design. The pricing is probably the more important of the two and is very telling about the direction HTC is planning on taking the One A9. It’s launching at $399 (in the United States, at least) which puts it directly between the two most competitive markets in the smartphone game.
It’s more expensive and more premium than the cutthroat budget market, going against the legion of budget Chinese smartphones and Motorola’s fantastic Moto E and Moto G, but remains priced below the heavy hitters like Samsung, LG, and Apple. That’s important because there really aren’t many smartphones in this price range, unless you count discounted older models. The biggest competitor HTC has to contend with at $399 Google’s and its Nexus line, which has always struggled to claim tons of market share thanks to a strained relationship with carriers and a lack of any real advertising. That last point might change with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, but so far we haven’t seen a wildly successful Nexus device in the mainstream.
In this decidedly mid-range market, HTC has an opportunity to stand out more than they do at the extreme high-end and the extreme low-end. The HTC One line has struggled to stand up to Samsung and Apple in previous years, and HTC isn’t profitable enough to compete in a race to the bottom with shrinking margins. The One A9 hits a sweet spot between someone trying to save some cash but still looking for a premium, powerful device.
The One A9 doesn’t have ridiculous high-end specs on paper that match the Galaxy Note 5 or the LG V10, of course, but does it really need them? The Snapdragon 617 is the more advanced cousin of what we’ve seen in phones from just a couple years ago. The Galaxy S4 and original One M7 both used the Snapdragon 600, and if you’ve played with either of those devices recently, they still run pretty well. They aren’t going to do laps around a Galaxy S6, especially when it comes to gaming, but they hold up extremely well for web browsing, checking Facebook, sending text messages, and all of the things that most of us use our phones for 95% of the time. Processors have really only gotten better for things like gaming, and even older processors do just fine for all but the most demanding mobile games.
On top of that, the Snapdragon 617 is more power efficient than the original Snapdragon 600, which should make up for the admittedly small battery in the One A9. But between a more efficient processor, opting for a perfectly acceptable Full HD (1920×1080) AMOLED screen, and focusing on software, all signs point towards the One A9 doing more with less. It’s too early to say for sure just how the battery will hold up. At first glance, it looks like that’s been a serious priority for HTC.
And aside from the processor, HTC crammed in high-end specs where it mattered. The internal storage here, set at 32GB, should be a standard on all phones, and HTC included a microSD card slot. There’s 3GB of RAM on board, more than enough for multitasking, and the camera is shaping up to be one of the best HTC’s ever featured. There’s still the fantastic UltraPixel camera on the front of the device, which is really where it excels. The only thing that’s really missing would be the famous BoomSound speakers, but with all of the other hardware and software tweaks HTC has made for music listeners, that’s almost an acceptable loss.
HTC has also doubled down on software updates, promising the newest version of Android within 15 days of when Nexus devices receive software updates for its unlocked version. That’s as close to a Nexus device that you’re going to find from any manufacturer, bar none.
All of this brings up to the second major point about the One A9, and that’s the design. And we can all be completely honest here; it looks like an iPhone 6. You can argue that Apple subtly ripped HTC off with the original design of the iPhone 6, but what HTC did was a straight up, shameless rip-off of Apple’s flagship. And really, that’s not a bad thing. Love ’em or hate ’em, Apple knows how to design a smartphone. Even if you don’t like Apple’s design language, the iPhone 6 (and soon to be iPhone 6S) is the single most popular smartphone on the planet in terms of popularity and sales.
So while it’s kind of funny to see HTC boldly snag another company’s design quite so blatantly, that’s one less thing HTC had to worry about when designing the One A9. The iPhone 6 design is nearly universally loved with barely any complaints, excluding the protruding camera lens. There aren’t many high-end smartphones in 2015 that don’t have protruding cameras, and if that’s your biggest complaint with a device, it’s clearly doing everything else pretty well. The design fits well in hand, feels fantastic to use, and honestly just looks like one of the most attractive phones ever. There are some snags when you see the home button on the front of the device that acts as a fingerprint scanner, but again, Samsung and Apple are both selling phones by the truckload with front-facing fingerprint scanners, so that’s clearly something consumers want. Good artists copy, great artists steal, right?
The HTC One A9 is a mashup of the things that the vocal minority say they want. It has the attractive design and hardware of Apple’s iPhone, it offers the latest and greatest from Google, albeit with HTC Sense on top of everything, it’s easily unlockable for the tech crowd that wants to tinker and customize, and it focuses on doing the most with its hardware through software instead of just piling on more memory and faster processors, which doesn’t always work out. HTC found that out first-hand with the thermonuclear Snapdragon 810 incident earlier this year. The One A9 isn’t original, and it isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it offers the best of multiple manufacturers in a price point that gives HTC a chance to survive to make another round of flagship phones.
This is all in theory, anyway. It’s up to HTC to execute. Fingers crossed.