A few years ago, HTC was pretty much THE brand when it came to design this side of Apple. The company had built a formidable reputation for itself by coming out different designs, shapes and materials – remember the slightly tilted HTC Hero or the large but still compact HTC HD? It all however seemed to get just a bit predictable after the One series began with HTC high-end phones falling into a rough template – longish with speakers on top and below the display, metal or metallic finish, and more often than not in shades of grey or white. No, it was not as if the phones were badly designed – it was just that they had started looking similar. And of course, there was the matter of there being a few too many of them, with a number of variations besides.
Which is why, allegations of similarity with a famous phone (or two) notwithstanding, we were pleasantly surprised to clap eyes on the HTC One A9. Yes, we know that there are those who will go “iPhone” at the rounded metallic sides or the grey back with bands on the top and the base, not to mention the speaker grille next to the micro-USB port at the base. And we also know that some will go “Samsung” at the metal-ringed, oval shaped home button, which also doubles as a fingerprint reader. And no, we are not going to applaud the design of the One A9 on the grounds of sheer uniqueness and innovation.
We will just say this: hey, it looks good. VERY good.
Coming to the Indian market even as 2015 was running out of days, the One A9 was one of a brigade relatively compact devices (we so hope 2016 will see more). It comes with a 5.0-inch AMOLED display, with that oval Home key and fingerprint scanner beneath it, and unlike HTC devices of late, has a single speaker grille in front – right above the display. Right next to it is an Ultrapixel front facing camera. The sides are metallic as is the back, with the sides curving out gently – the right houses a display/power button with a rather rough pattern on it and the volume rocker, while on the left reside the SIM and memory slots. On the back are the 13.0-megapixel camera and dual tone flash, and oh, those two bands. With the HTC logo in the middle. The top is totally plain, and the base has both the micro USB port as well as the 3.5 mm audio jack.
The front of our model was the Pearl Silver one with a snow white front, and it was very striking indeed (as is the other variant, the Carbon Grey one – we have seen it). It also fit our hands very easily (just 7.3 mm thin and 70.8 mm wide) and at 143 grammes, had a very solid feel to it. And perhaps that is the word that best sums up our initial impressions of the HTC One A9 – feel. This is a device that feels premium from the word ‘go.’ You like holding it, with the gently curved edges and the smooth back. And there are not too many devices about which you can say that these days.
And it packs in some very decent hardware too. The display is a full HD AMOLED one, and the device is one of the few high-profile ones to come with Android 6.0 out of the box, although you might not spot it under HTC’s pretty well-endowed (and thankfully now more colorful) Sense UI. Powering the device is an octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB of storage, which is expandable using a memory card. The phone claims that both its cameras are outstanding and has ticked off most of the connectivity options with 4G, GPS, Bluetooth and even NFC. There is also the promise of high class audio with HTC promising 24-bit high-resolution sound with Dolby Audio Surround. Our one area of concern is the 2150 mAh battery, which might have helped keep the device slim, but definitely seems a bit on the smaller side for a phone that is betting so much on multimedia (great cameras, great sound).
Is all this worth the Rs 29,999 tag it carries in India? Wait for our review to find out. But for now, judging from the way in which we like to keep it in our hands and the glances people throw at it when it is on our table, we can simply say: “Welcome back to the world of great design, HTC. We missed you.” It might not look original, but the One A9 certainly has the looks!