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The HTC One A9 Is a $399 Android-Based iPhone Look-Alike, and That Could Be a Problem

It seems unlikely HTC will claw its way back with software that is not its own and hardware that looks like something out of Cupertino.


For years, it has been easy to tell an HTC flagship phone. Even from a distance, the all-metal body and gently curved back helped the Taiwanese phone maker’s phones stand out from the pack.

However, the $399 HTC One A9 model being announced Tuesday is far more likely to be mistaken for Apple’s iPhone than another HTC device.

 HTC A9 (left) looks a whole lot like the iPhone 6s (right),
HTC A9 (left) looks a whole lot like the iPhone 6s (right),
Ina Fried for Re/code

To combat the notion that the phone is just an iPhone lookalike, HTC brought out lead designer Catherine Kim, who pointed out subtle differences in the design as well as some similarities to past HTC designs.

On the software side, HTC is doing away with most of its separate user interface in favor of quickly getting to market with a device running the new Marshmallow flavor of Android.

The real question is whether the changes are good are bad.

In the short term, HTC has a very good looking phone with the latest version of Android that costs less than a new iPhone or Galaxy S6. It even has a couple things that the iPhone doesn’t like a slot for an expandable memory card.

To hit that price, the company used a mid-range Qualcomm chip, a slightly smaller screen and a 13-megapixel camera (vs. a 20-megapixel shooter on the M9), and also eliminated one of the front-facing speakers in favor of a fingerprint reader.

Still, that’s probably enough for all but the most demanding smartphone buyers.

Ina Fried for Re/code

The real problem is that HTC is trading an aging but unique design for one that is impossible to own. Likewise on the software side, HTC is giving up a software skin that not all appreciated, but in its place is software that is largely Google’s creation.

That is certainly more cost efficient and maybe necessary for a company that is struggling to make money amid plummeting sales.

But others are better at this game, especially Lenovo’s Motorola, which offers near-stock Android at highly aggressive prices thanks to its volume and cost advantages.

As for the A9, HTC plans to sell it directly in two flavors, one tailored to Sprint’s network and the other optimized for AT&T and T-Mobile. The latter will work on Verizon’s LTE network, but not the company’s CDMA, meaning coverage is limited to areas with the higher-speed network.

Those who buy direct get covered by HTC’s “uh-oh” protection which allows one free replacement in the first year as well as a promise that it will get any new version of Android within 15 days of when Google makes it available for a Nexus device. HTC is offering customers a 30-day money back guarantee.

Carriers will also sell the device, though each is making separate announcements on that.

Update, 9:30 a.m. PT: Sprint says it will lease the A9 for $20 per month for 24 months, though it will make the first two lease payments itself. That said, you are still paying $440 over 12 months to lease the device, which is more than it costs to buy the device outright.

AT&T also said it will carry the device, but said pricing and availability will be announced at a later date.

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