HTC One A9 Review
In this review I take a look at the HTC One A9 (cheers to Vodafone for lending this to me), which is an Android handset sporting the latest Marshmallow operating system (aka Android 6.0).
It does not take a genius to recognise the design influence of the HTC One A9 as it's pretty similar to the iPhone 6/6s with the same curved edges, a minimalistic front with a fingerprint sensor at the base and a translucent band that moves from the sides of the phone to around the back.
Personally I’m not really too bothered about this, especially as the phone’s aluminium body and thin profile (not to mention the build quality) provides a complete premium feel that I have not seen before on an Android device.
However for me in practical use the design is still not perfect. By this I mean I needed a work-around in order to get the most from the phone during use.
For example the body of the phone (especially when colder) feels a little too slippery to hold when utilising the camera.
The underside of the phone also has the speaker added at the bottom left edge, but because I prefer using my phones to play games/watch videos (in landscape orientation) with the home button towards the right side, this resulted in my right hand muffling the speaker.
Granted I could rotate the phone around so that the speaker is on the top-left side of the phone but I then found my finger was catching the over-sensitive finger print sensor resulting in me being dumped back to the Home screen.
Subsequently I then had to head into the settings to disable the finger print sensor from being used in this capacity.
Of course these are my own personal opinions and you may have no such problems, however I just feel that the design could have been better implemented from my own selfish point of view.
Continuing the Design
Next to the speaker you have a microUSB port which is used for data transfer and charging, but unlike the new Android 6.0 OS - which supports the new type C specification – HTC have opted for the older USB 2.0 variant.
You then have the microphone pickup and 3.5mm headphone port; which works well when paired with the supplied in-the-ear headphones. The latter are adorned in black with red interchangeable ear buds.
The headphones for me were comfortable to wear and the call-end button could be used with the default Google Play Music to control music playback.
I need to point out here that the HTC BoomSound (with Dolby Audio) is not available on the loud speaker anymore, it only works via the headphones. On the plus side this allowed for an immersive and enjoyable listening experience with ample base and clarity to the lyrics being sung.
On the flip-side without the BoomSound profile headphone quality is pretty flat, so the option will be left on that’s for sure!
Sides of the Phone
To the left side of the phone you will find two closed covers that are opened using the supplied tool. The covers incorporate the Nano sim and the welcome return of the microSD card slot, which supports up to a whopping 200GB!
The above inclusion is thanks to Android 6.0 which has improved security support for microSD cards (which I will talk about later).
To the right of the phone you have your standard volume rocker and power buttons, which does have a nice touch in that the edges of the latter are ridged and this makes life easier when trying to take screenshots using the power and volume down button combo short-cut.
Back of the Phone
The back of the phone has the 13MP camera lens positioned at the center of the phone (you also get a 4MP front facing camera as well), next to a dual-tone flash. I’m not sure on this placement per-say as I think it could get hampered by your fingers during use.
The only other design touch is the HTC logo in the center.
Booting up the HTC One A9 is not the quickest in the world but this is down to how the phone’s new Android 6.0 OS works.
Security on this OS has been ramped up significantly so when you first use the HTC you are prompted to setup the sensor with your finger/thumb print and a fall back passcode.
Your phone is then encrypted so that the data is more secure. As a result you will need to decrypt the phone each time the phone boots up which of course causes the delay. By decrypting all you need is your passcode.
Additional security measures that will kick in are related to how you use Apps. So for example if you launch a 3rd party App it will prompt you to ‘Allow’ the program access to certain functions of your phone.
Likewise with microSD cards you can encrypt these now so they will only work on your own phone or you can leave the phone accessible if you want to transfer photos across. Encryption can also be added to existing microSD cards but will only encrypt new data. This way you can have the best of both worlds.
While all of these options can also slow down the use of the phone it does provide added peace of mind, especially with more and more hackers attacking the mobile devices. So for me it’s a welcome feature.
HTC’s Sense 7's implementation is added on top of Android 6.0 and this provides plenty of options to customise the appearance of your phone; from the wallpaper all the way to the fonts and icon set. You will need a HTC account to do this (as you can download additional themes) but you can easily add this to your standard Google login to speed up the setup process.
Note: You also have customisation options in the Apps view, so for example you can Hide/Unhide apps, arrange them into folders or view apps by alphabetical order.
Surprisingly I could not see a great deal of HTC software on the phone, with the exception of the HTC Help and HTC Club Apps (the latter provides a portal to access info on how best to use your HTC and a shop link to grab accessories) most of the software was standard Android. Plus with the Hide function you can easily remove any unwanted programs from view.
Home Screen Refinement
I nearly forgot to mention that the Home screen of the HTC also has a few adjustable options in terms of its drop down profile list; which will list different Apps/suggestions based on your choice (Home, Work or Out). So expect a few more Games for 'Out' use.
You can also swipe across from the left of the Home screen to get access to various News/Services from a number of linked apps, such as News Republic, Twitter and Facebook.
However one of the new improvements I think works pretty well is Google Now’s enhanced functionality. Alongside being able to speak ‘OK Google’ from within any App or screen you can now press and hold the Home button in certain Apps to gain access to additional topics that are linked to the item you are viewing.
For example if I was on my Twitter account looking at a Tweet made from Game about the latest Xbox or PS4 game, I could then hold down the Home button and gain additional content such as Map info relating to the area that the Game store comes from, News related articles, images and YouTube content based on the game I was reading about. It’s a feature that is implemented pretty well and one that I can see myself using in the future.
Another refinement I like is that Notifications can now be managed to a greater degree.
Via the settings option, which in itself offers an intuitive means to control your phones features, you can adjust an Apps ‘Peek’ and ‘Priority Setting’.
‘Peek’ is essentially the new name for the lollipop ‘Heads up notification’ feature that allows incoming notifications to appear at the top of the screen - from where you could action the latter.
To be honest 'Peek' was designed primarily for important notifications from the system, such as messages and missed calls, but Google allowed developers to implement this into their own Apps.
The problem I suppose was that all the developers thought their Apps were important also, so you ended up being bombarded with notifications! Not anymore, as with Android 6.0 you can toggle these on/off for each individual app.
You can also set Apps to ‘Priority’ so even if you enabled the phone's ‘Do not disturb’ setting you can still get notifications from them. Note: The ‘Do not disturb’ option has to be set via the Notification bar with the 'Priority only' setting enabled for the effect to kick in.
Delving into the settings further I also liked the Daydream option that is found under the 'Display & Gestures' sub option. In here you can get the phone to display relevant content from supporting Apps even when the phone is being charged.