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Hands-on with the HTC One A9: An Android in iPhone clothing

Florence Ion | Oct. 21, 2015
Make no mistake: this is an Android phone, through and through. Down to its unnecessary interface overhaul and a misplaced fingerprint reader.

The HTC One A9 comes with 16GB or 32GB of space, and there’s an expansion slot if you need extra room. It’s powered by a relatively small battery pack, however, at least compared to what other Android devices are sporting these days. The 2150mAh battery pack is supposed to get you through the day, but compared to the Nexus 5X’s 2700mAh battery pack, that doesn’t seem like enough fuel. I’ll be curious to see how the One A9 fares in a real world battery test.

I like the One A9’s fingerprint sensor. It’s easy to use and much more responsive that Samsung’s embedded fingerprint reader, though it’s sort of a lone wolf there on the chassis. The One A9 uses onscreen navigation buttons, so the fingerprint sensor takes up space where capitative buttons could have been placed instead. I would have rather seen the fingerprint sensor live on the backside of the device, a la the HTC One Max. Like the fingerprint sensor on the OnePlus 2, this one isn’t an actual button you can click, but tapping it does work as a Home button.

Mid-tier innards in a high-end package

htconea9 0146 
This is still a Sense UI device.  Credit: Florence Ion

Admittedly, I’m confused about whether HTC is positioning the One A9 as a mid-tier or high-end device. It runs on a 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor with 3GB of RAM, which is substantial enough for everyday smartphone tasks, though it’s classified as a mid-range chip and certainly not as fast as the latest 800-series Snapdragon chips. At the very least, it supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, but that also comes with a caveat in HTC’s press release that states support for the feature will be available “in the coming months.” And to take advantage of it, you’d have to buy a separate charger.

HTC also said it worked closely with Google to pare down its customizations to Android Marshmallow to make the phone easier to update, but the One A9 still uses elements of Sense UI on top of Android 6.0. For instance, you’ll still have to contend with things like BlinkFeed and the suggested apps widget on the Home screen. And while the Quick Settings and Notification shade have been left Google-styled, the Application Drawer is HTC’s interpretation. I didn’t mind HTC’s Sense UI overlay in the past, but Material Design and Android Lollipop changed Android for the better, and as more developers come on board with the design paradigm, there’s no need for so many different Android interfaces to exist. I’d rather HTC just drop Sense altogether and stick with the stock-like interface like Motorola, Nvidia, and OnePlus. They can still bundle the Zoe app in there, but it’s about time that BlinkFeed goes the way of the Dodo.


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