HTC One A9 goes official: brand-new Android Marshmallow, familiar design
After a less-than-successful 2015 flagship, a change of leadership, and a heap of financial troubles, it's obvious that HTC is going to need to change the way it has been doing some things – and change it fast. The company opted to launch another significant smartphone in the second half of the year, but with some tweaks in its philosophy. To get this out of the way – the new One A9 does not try to be a more powerful handset than the flagship One M9. It does, however, try to do things a bit differently, possibly showing us the direction that HTC intends to go in with its future smartphones.
The HTC One A9 is a beautiful, all-metal piece of tech, which measures at 5.74 x 2.79 x 0.28 inches (145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26 mm) and weighs 5 oz (143 g). On its front, it has a 5-inch display, accompanied by a fingerprint sensor at the bottom — something that is new for HTC. The scanner does double as a home button, but there are no hardware navigational keys to be found, however – the phone still emplys Android's virtual buttons for that. Additionally, the handset's bezels are fairly thick, with its screen-to-body ratio falling at 67%.
The One's A9 metal body has smooth, non-aggressive shapes, with rounded-off corners. Its front is entirely covered by a 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4 slab and its back is slightly arched towards its ends to ensure an easier grip. Unlike other HTC flagships or higher-end midrangers, the A9 has one speaker, nested on its bottom. Hardcore Android fans will be happy to know that despite the phone looking like a sealed, all-metal handset, it actually has a microSD card slot, which can accept theoretical cards of up to 2 TB.
On launch, the handset will be available in Carbon Gray, Opal Silver, Topaz Gold, and Deep Garnet. Some finishes will be region-specific, so the rumored Rose Gold and Cast Iron may only be sold in select markets.
The HTC One A9 rocks a 5-inch AMOLED panel on its front with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, bringing its pixel density up to 440 ppi. This should all result in a pretty sharp, dense, bright, and vivid imagery. Of course, the downside is that AMOLED screens can suffer from overblown and inaccurate colors, but we will judge that when we have more time with the handset.
As previously mentioned, the phone's display is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 4, spreading on the phone's front edge to edge, and rounding off at the ends to keep uniformity with the metal body's soft corners.
Processor and memory
The One A9 doesn't aspire to be a powerhouse. Under its hood, there is a 64-bit midrange-class Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 humming with 4 of its cores clocked at 1.5 GHz, and the other 4 – at 1.2 GHz. The phone will be available in two variants – one with 32 GB of internal storage and 3 GB of RAM, while the second will have 16 GB of storage and just 2 GB of RAM. Both variants will accept microSD cards for expansion purposes.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box
"Meet the new Marshmallow from HTC on 10/20" the invitation for today's virtual event stated. And indeed, the HTC One A9's Sense is built on top of Android 6.0, making it the first non-Google handset to bear the brand-new Android version. This means granular app permissions, native fingerprint support, Google Now on Tap, and Doze mode, which will hopefully mean more battery life out of that 2,150 mAh juicer. Android Pay works with the phone's fingerprint sensor out of the box. HTC's Sense UI is known to be a pretty light reskin over stock Android, so if the manufacturer continues this trend with the One A9, we should expect a snappy, nearly unaltered functionality, with HTC's visual themes slapped over it.
Additionally, customers that buy the unlocked phone directly from www.htc.com will be able to enjoy timely Android updates - HTC promises that patches will hit the A9 15 days after any official Nexus update is pushed. How long it will receive updates for, however, is yet unknown. To sweeten the pot, phones bought directly from HTC will have an unlockable bootloader, without voiding their warranty.
It seems that HTC has finally steered away from the idea of using the UltraPixel tech for its main cameras for good – the One A9 rocks a 13 MP sensor for its rear camera, assisted by optical image stabilization for those dynamic or low-light scenarios. The camera app does not fall behind the competition and offers a Pro mode, granting the user control over ISO, shutter speed, and white balance. The One A9's camera can also capture RAW images, allowing those who are a bit more knowledgeable edit their own photos post-shot. Alternatively, one can use the the phone's own Photo Editor, which has a one-tap enhancer that auto-corrects RAW images.
The UltraPixel tech can be found on the front - the phone's selfie snapper employs HTC's signature tech to provide superior performance in low-light scenarios. The company is currently keeping mum about the resolution of the frontal snapper, but we would assume that it's the equivalent of 4 MP – just like it's on the HTC One M9's front camera.
The phone also allows video edits, such as hyperlapse and slow motion, allowing users to create various dramatic effects in clips. HTC's Zoe app is also on board, making the creation of quick collages a breeze.
The HTC One A9 doesn't have stereo front-firing speakers like the One Mx series used to have, however, BoomSound has still found its way to the new phone. This time around, its incorporated with the headset that comes with the phone, combined with Dolby Audio surround tech. The A9's headphone amplifier is said to deliver “double the output” of other handsets, which should give users more headroom for superior dynamics. HTC will also be selling the HTC Pro Studio Earphones for superior noise isolation and sound reproduction.
The brand-new Snapdragon 617 sports a X8 LTE modem, allowing for Cat 7 download speeds of up to 300 Mbps and upload of up to 100 Mbps. VoLTE support is also on board and, in the US, the phone will support FDD bands 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, 29.
HTC didn't make the jump to USB Type-C with this phone – there is a standard micro USB port on its bottom. It does, however, support fast charging, via HTC's optional Rapid Charger. Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support is also promised to be upcoming in the near future.
Price and release date
The HTC One A9 will be released worldwide and will be sold by various retailers as well as straight from HTC. In the USA, you will be able to pre-order an unlocked variant of the phone, in Opal Silver or Carbon Gray, as soon as 12:30 pm ET. Carriers should start offering their own exclusive colors soon.
Customers who purchase the handset from www.htc.com will also get 1 year protection under the UH OH program, which should net them a replacement unit, should they accidentally damage their phone. The devices will also come with a 6-month subscription for Google Play Music.