Let’s Talk About the HTC One A9
HTC's upcoming handset, forever destined to be compared to the iPhone 6.
It’s no secret that HTC need a win at the moment. Their last few flagships have been met with tepid approval, where their class-leading design and solid software has been habitually let down by a few key points. We’ve discussed HTC’s success and strategy in previous articles, but it remains clear that the One m9 was a bit of a let down on some fronts, and hasn’t brought the Taiwanese company the success it sorely needs.
Recently it’s come to light that a new smartphone is planned, under a separate range from the company’s flagship ‘M’ and budget Desire offerings, suggesting a new tack, aimed somewhere between the two. This is a fairly sensible choice; it’s clear now more than ever before that Android devices can perform really well without bleeding-edge internals, that is, if they’re well thought through. What’s really polarizing opinion however, is the design of this upcoming A9. Those paying attention to any Android news stories recently would have been hard-pushed to miss the pictures below, and it’s safe to say that some strong opinions have been made clear regarding HTC’s aesthetic decisions. Clearly, the new A9 looks a lot like an iPhone 6/S.
This is a problem, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it almost cements the idea that HTC are struggling in the consumer’s mind. iPhone-clones are commonly found in extremely competitive markets like China, and are an accepted part of the culture, but the companies that generally partake in this habit are usually on the small, unknown side. For a previous market-leader like HTC to enter into this practice is shocking, and smacks strongly of desperation. That’s justified considering their current position as they really should be pulling out all the stops at this point, but those in the media that were previously excited about this rumored device will have performed a mutual wince after these pictures began to leak. On the other hand, this derivative attempt might work well in countries where this technique is common, and where iPhones are generally too expensive to be popular, making the A9’s weakness actually one of its biggest strengths.
However, this design is unfortunately quite impractical. One element that is constantly being argued back and across the forums and Reddit is bezel size, and HTC doesn’t have a particularly good record in this area. The A9 continues this trend, introducing even larger bezels than those that kicked up such a fuss when the One M8 was announced. Obviously, the included fingerprint sensor is partly to blame here, but there’s more going on that just that. HTC’s ever-present logo is clearly displayed below the screen, and although previous reports from HTC employees have stated that this isn’t wasted space and would be there regardless of the logo’s presence, you have to wonder how other manufacturers manage it. No other company seems to need this much unused room, and the A9 sticks out even further by not integrating the company’s famous BoomSound speakers. This remains an inefficient use of space and will serve to make the handset more difficult to handle than others with comparable screen sizes.
The rear of the device is where the A9 is most iPhone-like; the top and bottom signal bands bring HTC into startlingly litigious territory, with the only obvious difference between the smartphones being the centered camera module. To be fair, HTC have favored all-metal unibody designs since before Apple added it to their iPhone range, but the particular arrangement of the elements here is particularly worrying, especially once colors like ‘Rose Gold’ are thrown in the mix.
HTC One A9 (Hima Aero): SD617, 5" FHD AMOLED, 2GB/16GB, 13MP/4UP OIS BSI, 2150mAh, microSD, fingerprint, metal, ~7mm, 6 colors. November.
— Evan Blass (@evleaks) September 15, 2015
In terms of specifications there’s rather a lot we do know, thankfully, and this is where the mid-range direction is at its most clear. The Snapdragon 617 is an unknown element, having only been announced by Qualcomm recently, but looks capable on paper. Having 2GB’s of RAM is not far off the minimum you would hope for when using a skinned version of Android for an extended period of time, but is perfectly satisfactory, and the MicroSD support should ease any fears over storage space. A 5-inch 1080p display contains plenty of pixels, and the fact that it is AMOLED should ensure that it’s pretty enough regardless of its panel generation, and with more advanced panels it could even save extra power. The cameras sound adequate, and the inclusion of OIS on the rear facing unit is a welcome decision, but the thinness of the body has clearly impacted on battery size, and that is a genuine concern. In many ways in fact, the A9 takes after the nominally-similar Galaxy A-range, containing premium build materials and decent specs.
But beyond all of the above and the speculation leaks incite, there is one main reason why the One A9 could fail: the price. HTC has a history of valuing their smartphones above similar competitors, and this isn’t something it can afford to repeat. Taking the specifications and build into consideration, the enthusiast should expect good performance from this device, but should equally expect to not pay through the nose. HTC need to be extremely careful about where they place this in the market, as a competitive price-point could ensure that worries about the design are forgotten, as consumers pick up a well-built and snappy smartphone. Shooting below the flagships level means that features like the camera don’t have to be class-leading, and the Sense UI overlay is still one of the best-loved implementations of Android and a huge factor in followers of the brand’s continuing purchases. In this sense, the A9 doesn’t have much to prove beyond HTC’s market strategy, especially in 2015 when bang-for-buck handsets from companies like Xiaomi and Meizu are easier to get hold of than ever.
But what do you think? Does the design prevent you from being interested about this otherwise compelling effort from the struggling Taiwanese manufacturer? At what price-point do you think HTC would be wise to aim the A9?